William Johnson Cory
William Johnson Cory (January 9, 1823 – June 11, 1892), born William Johnson, was an educator and poet, born at Great Torrington, and educated at Eton, where he was afterwards a renowned master, nicknamed Tute (short for "tutor") by his pupils. After Eton, he studied at King's College, Cambridge where he gained the chancellor's medal for an English poem on Plato in 1843, and the Craven Scholarship in 1844. He was a brilliant writer of Latin verse. Although best known for the much-anthologised Heraclitus ("They told me Heraclitus, they told me you were dead"), his chief poetical work is Ionica, showing a true lyrical gift (see below).
Cory became an assistant master at Eton in 1845 just after graduating from King's College Cambridge. As a pedagogue he insisted on the centrality of personal ties between teacher and student. The historian G. W. Prothero described him as "the most brilliant Eton tutor of his day." Arthur Coleridge described him as "the wisest master who has ever been at Eton." Among his former pupils are numbered several statesmen of the period, among whom are Lord Rosebery; Capt. Algernon Drummond; Reginald Baliol Brett, 2nd Viscount Esher; Henry Scott Holland; Francis Eliot; W. O. Burrows; Howard Overing Sturgis; Charles Wood, 2nd Viscount Halifax; Lord Chichester; and Arthur Balfour.
He was forced to resign from Eton at Easter 1872 after an "indiscreet letter" which Johnson had written to a pupil was intercepted by the parents and brought to the notice of the headmaster, who handled the matter poorly. He retired to Halsdon and changed his name on 17 October 1872 to Cory (the maiden name of his paternal grandmother) before emigrating for health reasons to Madeira in February 1878, where he married and had a son. He returned to England in September 1882, settling in Hampstead, where he died.
Cory is well noted for a letter in which he poignantly and succinctly articulates the purpose of education. His words are taken by many as a justification for studying Latin. The full quotation goes thus:
At school you are engaged not so much in acquiring knowledge as in making mental efforts under criticism. A certain amount of knowledge you can indeed with average faculties acquire so as to retain; nor need you regret the hours you spent on much that is forgotten, for the shadow of lost knowledge at least protects you from many illusions. But you go to a great school not so much for knowledge as for arts and habits; for the habit of attention, for the art of expression, for the art of assuming at a moment's notice a new intellectual position, for the art of entering quickly into another person's thoughts, for the habit of submitting to censure and refutation, for the art of indicating assent or dissent in graduated terms, for the habit of regarding minute points of accuracy, for the art of working out what is possible in a given time, for taste, for discrimination, for mental courage, and for mental soberness. Above all, you go to a great school for self-knowledge. Eton College
In 1924, an entire book devoted to Cory was printed, entitled Ionicus. The author was Reginald Baliol Brett, 2nd Viscount Esher, one of the most eminent and powerful men of his time. Reginald had begun a correspondence with Cory while at Eton, and continued it until the time of Cory's death. The dedication mentions three Prime Ministers (Rosebery, Balfour, and Asquith) "who at Eton learnt the elements of high politics from IONICUS."
Bibliographic note. Ionica (Smith, Elder & Co., 1858. iv, 116 pages) contained 48 poems, two dated 1851 and 1855. Ionica II (C.U.P., 1877. 48 pages) had 25 poems, several bearing dates in the period 1859-1877. Ionica (George Allen, 1891. vi, 210 pages) contained 85 poems, omitting six of the 1858 volume and two of the 1877 book, but adding 20 new poems, three dated 1877, 1885 and 1889. The collected edition Ionica edited by A. C. Benson (George Allen, 1905. xxxii, 220 pages) restored five poems dropped in 1891 - three from the 1858 volume and two from the 1877 book - and added one from a letter of 1862 (first published in the Letters and Journals of 1897). Still omitted were "A Chobham Song", "Rhymes at the Wrong End" and "The Bridesmaid".
- "Johnson [post Cory], William". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
- Heraclitus poem
- See Henry Salt: Memories of Bygone Eton (1928), pp. 112-119. Salt was also a master at Eton and had written in 1910 in Eton under Hornby (pp. 61-2) that "The real reason. . . will probably never be told."
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- Michael Matthew Kaylor, Secreted Desires: The Major Uranians: Hopkins, Pater and Wilde (2006), a 500-page scholarly volume that considers the prominent Victorian writers of Uranian poetry and prose, such as Johnson (the author has made this volume available in a free, open-access, PDF version).
- Ionica. With biographical introd. and notes by Arthur C. Benson (1905)
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Cousin, John William (1910). A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: J. M. Dent & Sons. Wikisource