he son of a Cornish minister, Arthur Symons was born into The Celtic Twilight and born into religion. The first he enthusiastically embraced, and second he spent the earlier part of his career trying to ignore, only to have it return with a vengeance during his later years. As a pupil of Walter Pater — and a more honestly productive one than The Grand Oscar--Symons came by his aestheticism honorably, and he mined it assiduously crafting essays on everything from the Can-Can to a bullfight in Valencia. As a founding member of The Rhymers' Club, he became their "Keeper of the Flame," refusing to jettison his past as fellow-Rhymer Yeats had done, endlessly given to ruminating over their tragic fates.
Symons had his own tragic fate in that he died young as far as his creativity was concerned. Although he lived into the year 1945, he was by then a living phantom from a bygone age. But between his precocious debut with the full-length critical work An Introduction to the Study of Browning in 1886 and his nervous breakdown in Venice in 1908, which effectively doused his creative fires, he produced an impressive catalogue of work. His finest books of verse (Silhouettes, 1892; London Nights, 1895; Amoris Victima, 1897; Images of Good and Evil, 1899) were collected in the two-volume Poems (1902). His great critical study The Symbolist Movement in Literature first appeared in 1899 and greatly influenced the emerging young poets of Modernism.
One of the great translators of his time, Symons helped introduce English audiences to Emile Verhaeren, Gabriele D'Annunzio, Paul Verlaine and Stephane Mallarmé. As a regular guest at Mallarmé's Tuesday Evenings, he was perfectly positioned to serve as a middleman between the French avant-garde and their British and American cousins. Those writers who Symons did not translate, he wrote critical appreciations of, thus introducing an entire generation of European writers and artists to the English-speaking world. Arthur Symons was tremendously important to his time and has been unjustly neglected by our own. The burden of that inferior later work has done its work too well. But it is high time for the early, vital work of Arthur Symons to be rediscovered.
Last modified 2000