A Case for “Job”

Thank you very much for Job. It is a beautiful copy. I have compared it with my father’s, & find the proofs wh you have given me far finer than his impressions.”

Symonds, Letters, 1:506 (360)

So John Addington Symonds wrote in a letter to his good friend Henry Graham Dakyns in November of 1864.

 At first glance, it would seem that Symonds is referring to the Book of Job from the Bible. After all, that is certainly the best-known literary Job, and it would not be at all unusual for Symonds’s father to already have a copy. However, there is a possibility–albeit less likely–that Symonds here is referring to a poem entitled “Job the White.”

“Job the White” was written by T.E. Brown. Brown was best known for his long narrative poems written in the Manx dialect–the traditional dialect of the Isle of Man. The first poems in his series of Fo’c’s’le Yarns were published in 1881; “Job the White,” in the third and final book of the series, was not published until 1895. While this publication date, 30 years after Symonds wrote his letter to Dakyns, makes it unlikely that Symonds is referring to the poem, there nevertheless exists a deeper literary relationship between the two.

T.E. Brown in his youth
T.E. Brown by Emery Walker, from Selected Poems of T. E. Brown, edited by H. F. B. and H. G. B. Macmillan, 1908. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

To begin with, Dakyns and Brown were good friends. Indeed, Brown even composed a poem addressed to Dakyns, entitled “Epistola Ad Dakyns,” which was published in his collection Old John and Other Poems.

DAKYNS, when I am dead,

Three places must by you be visited,

Three places excellent,

Where you may ponder what I meant,

And then pass on —

Three places you must visit when I’m gone.

Brown, “Epistola Ad Dakyns”

And while I do not know for sure whether Dakyns did visit these three places, he nevertheless played a part in perpetuating Brown’s legacy posthumously; Dakyns was one of the three editors of The Collected Poems of T.E. Brown.

More than just having a mutual friend in Dakyns, though, Symonds and Brown were themselves friends. In fact, the two shared unpublished poems with each other. While humble about his own poetry (describing it in one letter to Brown as “too diffuse & voluminously descriptive” (Letters, 2:118 (717))), Symonds was quite fond of Brown’s work.

Brown’s new poem is A…I do wish he would print one of his poems.”

Symonds, Letters, 2:119 (718)

It would be a decade before this wish would come true. Nevertheless, we can be certain that Symonds did indeed read Brown’s unpublished work; how closely those early versions resembled the final pieces we have in book form today is difficult to know. 

After reading Symonds’s (posthumous) biography by Horatio Brown, T.E. Brown expressed some measure of surprise at the contents. In particular, he was struck by the relative prevalence of “agony,” while literary matters fell somewhat by the side. Symonds’s biography was largely based on his Memoirs, and thus his own priorities of his story; but there exist other lenses through which he can be understood, and they are not necessarily any less true. Brown’s image of Symonds–an image formed through years of friendship and swapping of literature–is one of these other angles. But at present, we have yet to reach a full understanding of the relationship between the two. It is not certain that the “Job” Symonds referred to in his 1864 letter is Brown’s–but, if that is indeed the case, it stands as a very early instance of their relationship being put to paper.  


Amigoni, David. 2009. “Translating the Self: Sexuality, Religion, and Sanctuary in John Addington Symond’s Cellini and Other Acts of Life Writing,” Biography 32, no. 1 (2009): 161–72.

Brown, T.E. 1893. Old John and Other Poems. London: Macmillan and Co. 

Brown, T.E. 1909. The Collected Poems of T.E. Brown. Edited by H.F. Brown, H.G. Dakyns, and W.E. Henley. London: Macmillan and Co. https://hdl.handle.net/2027/uc2.ark:/13960/t6930zd83

Symonds, John Addington. 1967.The Letters of John Addington Symonds. Edited by Herbert M. Schueller and Robert L. Peters. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.

“T.E. Brown.” Manx Literature. http://manxliterature.com/browse-by-author/t-e-brown/

Symonds, Harrow, and Plato: Different Forms of Love

In his Memoirs, Symonds describes his discovery of Plato–specifically the Phaedrus and the Symposium–as “the revelation I had been waiting for, the consecration of a long-cherished idealism. It was just as though the voice of my own soul spoke to me through Plato…” (Memoirs, 152). This refers specifically to the speeches made on love–particularly, “Greek love” between two men. As Symonds himself notes, these works realize a notion that he has been working towards for some time; however, they also, I believe, reflected elements of the world he had been living in at the time of discovery.

By his account, Symonds discovered these texts while reading Plato’s Apology for his schoolwork at Harrow. When discussing Harrow in his Memoirs, however, Symonds tends to put the focus less on the schoolwork and more on the social atmosphere—especially the overwhelming presence of sexual relationships between the students at the school. As he states in a chapter focused on the school:

One thing at Harrow very soon arrested my attention. It was the moral state of the school…The talk in the dormitories was incredibly obscene. Here and there one could not avoid seeing acts of onanism, mutual masturbation, the sports of naked boys in bed together. There was no refinement, no sentiment, no passion; nothing but animal lust in these occurrences. They filled me with disgust and loathing.

Memoirs, 147

In the Phaedrus, Plato gives two speeches to Socrates: the first, arguing for the friendship of a non-lover over a lover; and the second, the reverse. It is the first of these two in which Symonds may have seen the environment at Harrow reflected. The speech disparages the lover as a creature driven only by carnal desire, with no desire for betterment of the self or the beloved. In fact, both the lover and beloved are worse off for their relationship. 

These things, dear boy, you must bear in mind, and you must know that the fondness of the lover is not a matter of goodwill, but of appetite which he wishes to satisfy:

“Just as the wolf loves the lamb, so the lover adores his beloved.”

Phaedrus 241 c-d

Given Symonds’ extensive distress over the “crude sensuality” and “animalisms” of the relationships that he saw at Harrow, it would not be a stretch to believe that he saw these very factors represented clearly in the Phaedrus. In fact, although he did not actually participate in a sexual relationship while at Harrow, Symonds describes the prevalence of these carnal pairings as something that caused him great moral distress, perhaps even to the point of physical weakening. Reading a speech that directly points at these relationships as the cause of similar moral and mental degradation in the participants may very well have made Symonds feel justified in his own feelings towards the relationships he was surrounded by.

Plato i sin akademi (Plato and His Students), after Carl Wahlbom, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Of course, it was the second of these speeches that Symonds saw himself in. This one, concerned with the argument of the lover over the non-lover, placed love as a “divine madness” that is ultimately a philosophical and aesthetic affair. Writing a “Myth of the Soul,” wherein all human beings are drawn likewise towards divine beauty and earthly sin, Plato (through Socrates) makes the case that the ideal love is divine in nature and something, in fact, to be sought. One key aspect of this, however, is self-control; giving in to lustful urges is something that can either cut this ideal love off at the start or at least reduce its positive effects, depending on the point at which control is lost. 

If now the better elements of the mind, which lead to a well ordered life and to philosophy, prevail, they live a life of happiness and harmony here on earth, self controlled and orderly, holding in subjection that which causes evil in the soul and giving freedom to that which makes for virtue; and when this life is ended they are light and winged, for they have conquered in one of the three truly Olympic contests. Neither human wisdom nor divine inspiration can confer upon man any greater blessing than this.

Phaedrus 256 a-b

It was this concept of love that Symonds had been searching for and moving towards with his own thought. While of course his Memoirs were written in retrospect and so may very well have been influenced by the contrast between the two images of love in these speeches, it is truly striking how well they map onto the two types of male love that he encountered in his time at (and even before) Harrow: both the carnal relations of those around him, and the aesthetic ideal that he himself sought.

Work Cited:

Symonds, John Addington, and Amber K Regis. The Memoirs of John Addington Symonds : a Critical Edition. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

Plato, Phaedrus. http://data.perseus.org/citations/urn:cts:greekLit:tlg0059.tlg012.perseus-eng1:227a.