Dr John Beddoe, 1870s

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2 Lansdown Place, Victoria Square, Clifton

Home of Symonds’ friend and physician Dr John Beddoe, the husband of Bristolian suffragist Agnes Montgomerie Beddoe. Beddoe was an ethnologist and enthusiast of physiognomic measurement, developing his theories in ‘The Races of Britain’ which detailed the supposed ethnic roots of the British population. He believed that Symonds’ tuberculosis resulted from an inevitably “consumptive” nature, and discouraged him from indulging in literary society.

Beddoe came to Clifton in 1857 to begin his medical practice. He found it “an imprudent move, as the way was really completely blocked. Dr. John Addington Symonds, father of the gifted author of the same name, had the best practice of the kind out of London. He was a man of remarkable ability, character, and general accomplishments and still in middle life. William Budd, a man of brilliant genius, and Brittan, also of fair ability, and two or three younger men, were all in reality waiting for the reversion.”1

During his time at the Clifton Dispensary, the younger Symonds came under Beddoe’s care:

[Dr. Symonds] had put his only son, the younger and more widely-known John Addington Symonds, under my medical charge; and my young patient had become one of my most attached and dearest friends. This relation continued during his life, though after his removal to Davos, by the advice of Sir William Jenner and myself, I of course rarely saw him. There is hardly anything on which I look back with more satisfaction than the fact he dedicated to me his greatest work, The History of the Renaissance. My impression of his character and temperament was not exactly that which comes somewhat prominently forward in Mr. H. Brown’s life of him. There is, of course, somewhat of a neurotic temperament in the constitution of almost all poets, and Symonds was essentially a poet. And though it was long before pulmonary disease positively declared itself, yet from his youth I always felt that its development was but a question of time and opportunity, so distinctly was he in body and mind of the “consumptive” character. We are told nowadays that pthisis is not inherited, but this is little more than a play upon words; the pthisical constitution, the susceptible soil, is certainly heritable, and with it, as with him, often concurs a brilliant intellect and a most lovable character. All these he transmitted to his eldest daughter, who, alas! did not live to maturity.
He loved the literary society of London, and one was early forced to warn him off from it. He loved Italy, and Italy was fatal to him. It was after a visit to Mentone that I first detected actual mischief in his lungs.2

In May 1876, Symonds returned to England to lecture at the Royal Institution, only to discover that Dr Beddoe had written to the secretary to cancel the engagement.

It is provoking. If I had known this, we should have stayed another two weeks in Lombardy. Yet I believe he is right in checking me thus. I have never lost my cough, and I feel still extremely weak. Ill health is a terrible cross to me. Here is another instance : after all the work I have done in licking the Bristol University College into shape, I am not put upon its Council ; and I cannot complain, because I know that my residence at Clifton will be always liable to interruption by these health journeys.
I had taken much pains with my three lectures on Florence and the Medici. They lie before me now, a goodly MS. volume, destined apparently to lie so—inutilis alga.  ((John Addington Symonds, The Letters of John Addington Symonds, Vol 2, ed. by Herbert M. Schueller & Robert L. Peters (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1968), p.413))

  1. John Beddoe, Memories of Eighty Years (Bristol: J.W. Arrowsmith, 1910), p. 161 []
  2. Beddoe, p.222 []