Sea Walls and Durdham Downs

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The ‘Sea Walls’ are a line of cliffs edging the the Avon Gorge. The adjacent downs were a favoured walking spot, and Symonds often brought visitors to admire the dramatic views of the Avon.

In 1873, an incident occurred that presaged Symond’s eventual departure from Bristol:

“I was galloping my horse near the Sea Walls, when I fainted and fell off backwards on to my head on the ground. Partly through the faintness, and partly through the stunning, I remained insensible for nearly an hour, and was carried by my two old college pupils, Pearson and Nash, into that house close by the Sea Walls, which you may remember. They got Dr. Fox from Clifton, and then brought me home, with no bones broken or other injuries, thank God, but with a terribly shaken brain. ‘ I am told that I must attribute the cause of this accident to weakness from overwork; and I suppose this is true. Though what surprises me is, that for the last month I have been feeling more and more able to command my strength for mental labour.”1

Underlying the collapse was Symonds’ worsening pulmonary health, which eventually forced him to abandon Bristol for Switzerland.  His daughter, Madge, recalled the same incident, and its aftermath.

“One afternoon at sunset my Father came down the road, but not on Madge. She had thrown him, or else, which is far more probable, he had fainted and fallen from the saddle. A friend brought him home in a carriage. He was terribly ill.We children were taken to his room to see him. He lay quite still upon his bed — he who always welcomed us, he did not seem to see us now.”2

  1. H. F. Brown, John Addington Symonds: A Biography, Compiled from His Papers and Correspondence, 2nd edn (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1903) p.295 []
  2. Margaret Symonds, Out of the Past (London: Murray, 1925) p.174 []