Thomas Humphry Ward, ed. The English Poets. 18801918. Vol. V. Browning to Rupert Brooke
Critical Introduction by Thomas Humphry Ward
William Johnson Cory (18231892)
[The son of William Johnson, of Torrington, Devon, where he was born, 1823. His mother was a great-niece of Sir Joshua Reynolds. Educated at Eton (Newcastle Scholar, 1841) and afterwards at Kings College, Cambridge, gaining a Fellowship in 1845. Craven Scholar and Chancellors Prize for an English poem 18434. Master at Eton, 184572. Inherited an estate at Halsdon, and took the name of Cory, 1872. Lived at Madeira, 187882; there married Miss Guille; returned, and lived at Hampstead, where he died in 1892. His small collection of poems, called Ionica, was first published 1858.]
WILLIAM JOHNSON, who took the name of Cory in his fiftieth year, is still remembered by many friends and pupils for his brilliant qualities as a teacher and for his lovable temperament. He will be remembered by the lovers of literature for three books, the little collection of poems called Ionica (1858), the very original Guide to English History (1882), and the Extracts from the Letters and Journals of William Cory, collected by his friend F. Warre Cornish and published five years after the writers death. Of this last, the late Richard Garnett said It would not be easy to find a more charming volume of its class; and certainly none contains more pleasant self-portraiture or cleverer sketches, at once shrewd and sympathetic, of the boys and young men with whom the writer, as an Eton master, was brought into close relations. The sentences describing young Lord Dalmenythe Lord Rosebery of a later dayhave been often quoted. But while the Letters show Johnson as the friendly critic and guide, Ionica reveals him as feeling for one or more of his pupils a warmer interest; warmer, indeed, than is commonly either felt or expressed by a modern teacher. Many would regard it as not quite healthythey feel the same of Shakespeares Sonnets; but there can be no doubt that under the impulse of this sentiment Johnson wrote poetry of a high order. There are few poems of fifty years ago that so linger in the memory; greater there are in plenty, but not many that still have such a hold upon those who read them in their youth as A Study of Boyhood, Deteriora, and Parting.
We print these, and, to show that Johnsons admiration for boyhood was larger than any personal affection, the fine poem called A Queens Visit, which tells how a word and a smile from the Head of the State were enough to arouse the heroism latent in boy-nature. Another poem, Amaturus, is given to show how Johnson could understand and express the perfectly normal feeling of a man for a maid. The verses are charming; they have music, and they have that simple directness of expression which is eschewed by many moderns, anxious to leave the complexity of modern life even more complex than they find it. It may discredit Johnson with some of the votaries of these recondite writers to find him saying, so late as 1883, Tennyson is the sum and product of the art which begins with Homer He fills my soul, and makes the best part of the forty years of manhood that I have gone through. Certainly Johnson was a Tennysonian, but he was not an imitator of any contemporary. He was steeped in Greek and Latin literature. The lines that are given below (Guide me with song) are his translation of his own Greek verses; and of the Latin poems printed in his Lucretilis the great scholar Munro wrote, In my humble judgment they are the best and most Horatian Sapphics and Alcaics which I am acquainted with that have been written since Horace ceased to write.1