"Born under the influence of passionate and perverse stars, my life has been utterly unlike that of any man I have ever known." - Arthur Symons


Arthur Symons: 1865-1945
A Chronology

1865 28th Feb. Symons born at Milford Haven, Wales, the son of a Wesleyan minister.
1866-81 The peripatetic life of a minister takes the family to Guernsey, Northumberland, Cornwall and Devon.
"As for myself, I have never known what it was to have a home, as most children know it; a home that one has lived in so long that it has got into the ways, the bodily creases, of its inhabitants, like an old comfortable garment, warmed through and through by the same flesh" A.S. (1931)
1882 First published article (on Browning) appears in Wesleyan-Methodist Magazine
1884 His paper "Is Browning Dramatic?" read to a meeting of the London Browning Society
1885 Writes an introduction to Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis for Furnivall's Quarto Facsimile series.
1886 His first book: Introduction to the Study of Browning.
1888 Meets Walter Pater and Havelock Ellis
1889 Publishes Days and Nights, his first volume of verse.
Meets Robert Browning.
1890 In Paris. Meets Verlaine, Mallarmé, Huysmans and others.
Becomes a member of the Rhymers Club. Meets Yeats, Dowson, Lionel Johnson.
1892 The Minister's Call, Symons's first play, produced by the Independent Theatre Society.
Publishes Silhouettes (poems).
1893 Publishes an essay, "The Decadent Movement in Literature":
It is the poetry of sensation, of evocation; poetry which paints as well as sings, and which paints as Whistler paints, seeming to think the colours and outlines upon the canvas, to think them only, and they are there... To fix the last fine shade, the quintessence of things; to fix it fleetingly; to be disembodied voice, and yet the voice of a human soul: that is the ideal of Decadence, and it is what Paul Verlaine has achieved.

Helps to arrange Verlaine's lecture tour in England.

1894 Travelled in Italy and visited Paris, where he met Yvette Guilbert, who described him thus:
Quite young,... fair hair plastered on his temples, a narrow thin face, pale skin, rather pink on the cheek-bones; thick, rather sensual, very red lips, wet and shiny; darting eyes, now looking blue, now black, eyelids and lashes that beat wildly like the wings of a frightened bird.
1895 'Stella Maris' appears in the first number of The Yellow Book. Its description of "The chance romances of the streets,/The Juliet of a night" is the cause of a good deal of the moralising disapproval that greets the volume.
A critic asked: Why should poetic art be employed to celebrate common fornication?
London Nights (poems) published by Leonard Smithers, to similar opprobrium.
Trial of Oscar Wilde. Symons will later visit Wilde in prison.
1896 With Aubrey Beardsley, edits The Savoy (published by Leonard Smithers.
1897 Second edition of London Nights, with a combative preface answering the "singular unanimity of abuse" that the critics had awarded it.
Amoris Victima (poems).
1898 Meets Rhoda Bowser
1899 Images of Good and Evil (poems)
1900 The Symbolist Movement in Literature published.

"I myself owe Mr Symons a great debt; but for having read his book I should not, in the year 1908, have heard of Laforgue or Rimbaud; I should probably not have begun to read Verlaine; and but for reading Verlaine, I should not have heard of Corbière. So the Symons book is one of those which have affected the course of my life." - T.S.Eliot

1901 Marries Rhoda Bowser.
1902 Meets James Joyce, to whom Yeats confided: "Symons has always had a longing to commit great sin, but he has never been able to get beyond ballet girls."
1905 Publishes Spiritual Adventures
1906 The Fool of the World (poems)

1908 Travels in Italy with Rhoda. Has mental breakdown in Bologna.
"I was troubled by one crisis after another, over which I had no control. My nerves reacted on my imagination; reacted, almost recoiled, on my body... I was hallucinated, obsessed..."

Symons wanders irrationally around Bologna. Is captured by the authorities, manacled and confined in a cell. Attempting to escape, he attacks three gaolers. "I caught one of them by the throat and nearly strangled him; I hit another in the pit of the stomach so furiously that he fell backward on the floor. Then - in Balzac's phrase - began my Gehenna. My feet were of course naked; these gaolers had iron-shod boots, and two of them attacked my naked feet with such venomous violence, such inhuman ferocity, that the blood was drained out of them by repeated kicks, so that the blood which covered my feet and which covered that part of the floor on which I lay is beyond calculation."

He is rescued from his prison, and confined in a lunatic asylum at Bologna. Returns to his wife in England, where he is still "filled with fears and terrors, with delerious hallucinations." Hospitalised in Crowborough, Sussex, where Nineties artist Charles Conder had previously been sent.

"I could neither read nor write. I understood nothing of what was going on in the literary world, which was my world, nor the world in general. Yet I was content..."

The doors of the hospital were not locked. Symons attempted another escape, but was swiftly apprehended. When his wife and a friend visied, he spoke as though he were the Pope.

2nd Nov. Transferred to the less expensive Brooke House, London. Certified insane.
"The doctors never gave me - as they ought to have done - any treatment of any kind; they gave me, as far as I know, no medicine... A prison it was, it was nothing but a prison... As for the sanitary conditions of this establishment, they were unspeakable."

1909 In the asylum he writes a great deal, but none of it publishable.
The Romantic Movement in English Poetry
, written before his breakdown, is published. Over the next few years he publishes several books, but most are composed of reworked earlier writing.
1910 Released from the asylum.
Rhoda wrote to Sylvia Beach:"He has improved somewhat mentally, but the doctors say he can never really recover."
1913 Knave of Hearts (Poems written between 1894 and 1908) published.
1916 Figures of Several Centuries published.
1919 Studies in the Elizabethan Drama.
1920 Charles Baudelaire: A Study
1923 Love's Cruelty (poems)
1930 Confessions: A Study in Pathology (This is the book containing Symons's description of his breakdown and treatment)
3 Nov. Rhoda dies.
1931 Jezebel Mort, and other poems
1934 A Study of Walter Pater
  In the thirties, the sight of Symons inspires this poem by John Betjeman:

On seeing an Old Poet in the Café Royal

      I saw him in the Café Royal
            Very old and very grand.
      Modernistic shone the lamplight
            There in London's fairyland.
      "Devilled chicken. Devilled whitebait.
            Devil if I understand.

      Where is Oscar? Where is Bosie?
            Have I seen that man before?
      And the old one in the corner,
            Is it really Wratislaw?"
      Scent of Tutti-Fritti-Sen-Sen
            And cheroots upon the floor.

1945 22 Jan. Symons dies of pneumonia.

This chronology is greatly indebted to the one produced by Karl Beckson and John M. Munro for their edition of Symons's Selected Letters (Iowa 1989)

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