The Memoirs of John Addington Symonds

edited and introduced by Phyllis Grosskurth. Random House, $19.95. Symonds (1840-1893) was in his day a respected British literary man, one of those all-purpose types who turned out reviews, criticism, poetry, and history with unflagging and promiscuous industry. He also wrote his memoirs, which have remained, bv his own direction, locked up and hitherto unpublished. He was a homosexual, and he wrote partly to explain and even, it possible, understand his situation, and partly in the hope that his account might at some future date prove useful. Symonds believed until a surprisingly late age that his sexual preferences were, if not unique, at least very rare—although how he could have carried such an idea through Harrow and Oxford is a mystery. There is in fact a good deal of mystery throughout the work, for Symonds had to invent his own terminology and this practical problem is complicated, for a modern reader, by his admitted inclination to be “too high-flown in rhetoric” (translation: to blather). Despite its exasperating elements his memoir is interesting for its revelation of Victorian thinking, and it is often touching in its description of the author’s bewilderment, frustration, and plain misery.