William Johnson Cory

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William Cory
William Cory

William Johnson Cory (1823 - 1892, born William Johnson) was an educator and poet, born at Torrington, and educated at Eton, where he was afterwards a renowned master, nicknamed Tute (short for "tutor") by his pupils. He was a brilliant writer of Latin verse. His chief poetical work is Ionica, a collection including homoerotic and pederastic poems in which he showed a true lyrical gift.

Considered an exemplary school teacher, he strove to educate boys who might become future leaders, and numbered among his former students members of Parliament, cabinet ministers and several prime ministers. Despite his pedagogical talent he was forced to resign his position, under suspicion of improper relations with one of the boys.


  • 1 Teaching and writings
  • 2 Influence on homoerotic thought
  • 3 Notes
  • 4 See also
  • 5 External links

Teaching and writings

Cory became an assistant master at Eton in 1845. 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 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.

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.

Influence on homoerotic thought

Johnson has been described as the "coach" of the cult of Victorian pederasty, a role that he carried out through his interactions with his students at Eton[1] as well as his literary output.[2] In 1858 Johnson published a book of Uranian poems, Ionica, written in 1850 in the space of two weeks and dedicated to one of his pupils, the "pretty-faced" Charles Wood, later Lord Halifax. The second part, titled Ionica II was privately printed in 1877. The book was widely read and caused a stir also at Oxford, where John Addington Symonds and Walter Pater were undergraduates – and friends – at the time. Symonds, given the book by his tutor, John Connington – himself a friend of Johnson's, was deeply moved by it and wrote Johnson seeking advice about his analogous feelings, receiving in response

A long epistle on paiderastia in modern times, defending it and laying down the principle that affection between people of the same sex is no less natural and rational than the ordinary passionate relations.[3]

Ionica, considered to be an inspiration and example to the Uranian poets that followed, is itself thought to be the first work of that school.

In 1872, after twenty seven years of service to the school, he was forced to resign from his position at Eton under a cloud of suspicion for improper relations with boys. That same summer, during the course of a trip through Europe with two favorite students, Charles Williams and "Ivy" Bickersteth, a second tragedy struck. Bickersteth came down with a fever in Germany, and a couple of days later died. Eventually Johnson adopted the name "Cory," married, became a father and set up house in London. He maintained close contact with many of his students for the rest of his life.

Another pupil influenced by Johnson's philosophy was Oscar Browning, who returned to Eton as a Master and also engaged in passionate - if chaste - friendships with his own pupils. He did not long outlast his former teacher, being forced out on trumped-up charges three years later, an event widely considered to have been triggered by his intimacy with his pupils.

Among Johnson's works are a number of educational texts which were in use at Eton during his time there, and which continued to be used after his departure but with his name removed. He is also the author of the well-known Eton Boating Song, which became an anthem of the British elite.

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. The boy Reginald had begun a correspondence with Cory at the age of 16, and continued it until the time of Cory's death, a sign of very high esteem, indeed. The dedication mentions three Prime Ministers (Rosebery, Balfour, and Asquith) "who at Eton learnt the elements of high politics from IONICUS."


  1. ^ Michael Matthew Kaylor, Secreted Desires: The Major Uranians: Hopkins, Pater and Wilde (2006); p.xvi
  2. ^ Brian Reade, Sexual Heretics: Male Homosexuality in English Literature from 1850 to 1900
  3. ^ Sodom on the Thames: Sex, Love, and Scandal in Wilde Times, Morris B. Kaplan pp110-111

See also

  • Eton college
  • Historical pederastic couples
  • Ionica. With biographical introd. and notes by Arthur C. Benson (1905)
  • This article incorporates public domain text from: Cousin, John William (1910). A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London, J.M. Dent & sons; New York, E.P. Dutton.

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