Symonds, John Addington (1807-1871) (DNB00)

SYMONDS, JOHN ADDINGTON (1807–1871), physician, was born on 10 April 1807 at Oxford, where his father, John Symonds, had settled as a medical practitioner. Through five generations the family had been connected with the medical profession. It claimed affinity with the Symons or Symeons of Pyrton, an heiress of which branch married John Hampden. Symonds's ancestors removed from Shrewsbury to Kidderminster, where they remained for a century. His mother was Mary Williams, a descendant of a family long established at Aston, Oxfordshire. Symonds was educated at Magdalen College school, where he showed an aptitude for classical studies and a strong bent towards literature. At the age of sixteen he proceeded to Edinburgh for medical training. There he distinguished himself alike by his devotion to scientific work and by his interest in philosophy and poetry. He wrote verse with skill and vigour, and through life combined with his professional work and studies a keen taste for philosophy and literature. He graduated M.D. at Edinburgh in 1828. Returning to Oxford, Symonds began the practice of his profession as assistant to his father. In 1831 he removed to Bristol, and there he held a leading position till near the close of his life. He was soon appointed physician to the general hospital, and lectured on forensic medicine at the Bristol medical school. This latter post he exchanged in 1836 for the lectureship on the practice of medicine, which he held till 1845. He retired from active service on the hospital staff in 1848. In 1853 he was elected an associate of the Royal College of Physicians, and in 1857 a fellow.

While successfully conducting a large practice, Symonds found time for much literary work on professional and other topics. In his early years at Bristol he contributed to the ‘Cyclopædia of Practical Medicine,’ the ‘British and Foreign Medical Review,’ and other professional periodicals. A close friendship which he formed with Dr. James Cowles Prichard [q. v.] specially stimulated his interest in the psychological problems presented by cases of insanity. In an essay on ‘Criminal Responsibility’ published in 1869, he supported Prichard's opinions as to the existence of a distinct disease of ‘moral insanity.’ He also devoted much attention to the relations of mind and muscles, and to the phenomena of dreams and sleep. He analysed the interaction of memory, association, and imagination in the formation of dreams. With his scientific insight and philosophical temper Symonds combined strong artistic feeling. His reading embraced such subjects as Greek and Italian art, Egyptian antiquities, ethnology, and military science, and he formed valuable collections of books, pictures, statuary, and engravings.

In the autumn of 1868 his health began to fail. In 1869 he delivered an address on health when presiding over the health section of the Social Science Association at the meeting at Clifton. He finally abandoned practice early in 1870, and died on 25 Feb. 1871. In 1834 Symonds married Harriet, eldest daughter of James Sykes of Leatherhead; she died in 1844. There were five children of the marriage, one of whom was John Addington Symonds (1840–1893) [q. v.] A daughter, Charlotte Byron, married Thomas Hill Green [q. v.], the philosopher.

Symonds prepared in 1849 a life of his friend Prichard for the Bath and Bristol branch of the Provincial Medical and Surgical Association (printed in Journal, 1850, vol. ii.), and published some lectures and essays in separate volumes, including:

  1. ‘Address on Knowledge,’ Bristol, 1846, 12mo.
  2. ‘Sleep and Dreams,’ two lectures, London, 1851, 8vo; 2nd edit. 1857.
  3. ‘The Principles of Beauty,’ London, 1857, 8vo.
  4. ‘Ten Years, an Inaugural Lecture,’ London, 1861, 8vo.

A collected edition of his essays, with some occasional verses and a memoir by his son, appeared under the title of ‘Miscellanies’ in 1871.

A bust of Symonds, executed by Woolner, is in the possession of the family.

[Miscellanies by John Addington Symonds, M.D., selected and edited with an Introductory Memoir by his Son, 1871; Prichard and Symonds in especial relation to Mental Science, by Daniel Hack Tuke, M.D., 1891; Brown's Life of J. A. Symonds the younger (with portrait).]

A. R. U.