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MS 308

Reference code

MS 308


William Johnson Cory (Halsdon collection)



Administrative / Biographical history

Cory, William Johnson (1823-1892)

Born William Johnson, he abandoned the name Johnson and instead took the name Cory (the maiden name of his paternal grandmother) in October 1872. [Now commonly known as William Johnson Cory, for the purposes of consistency, this is how he is referred to throughout this description].

He was born at Great Torrington on 9 January 1823, and educated at Eton as a king's scholar, winning the Newcastle scholarship. He went on to study at King’s College, Cambridge, where he won the Chancellor's Medal for a poem on Plato in 1843 and the Craven Scholarship in 1844.

After graduating from Cambridge in 1845 he returned to Eton College as Assistant Master, where he became a renowned and popular master, gaining the nicknamed "Tute" (short for "tutor") by his pupils. He wrote text books which would continue to be used at Eton for over 100 years. He would also write extensively on school life and the reform of the school, including two pamphlets, ‘Eton Reform and Eton Reform II’, where he famously said ‘You go to a great school not so much for knowledge as for arts and habits’.

While at Eton he also wrote both Latin and English verse as well as his most notable work - Ionica. This work was published privately and anonymously in two slim editions in 1858 and 1877 and then enlarged in 1891.

In 1872 Cory suddenly resigned after an "indiscreet letter" that he had written to a pupil was intercepted by the boy's parents and brought to the notice of the headmaster. Although the exact circumstances surrounding the resignation are unclear, he was ‘dangerously fond of a number of boys’ and allowed them a great amount of freedom.

He retired to Halsdon before ill health forced him to move to Madeira in February 1878, where he married Rosa Caroline Guille, who was only twenty at the time. They had one son, named Andrew, born 1879.

In 1882 he returned to England to live in Hampstead, where he began tutoring a number of young girls, including Mary Coleridge. He died on 11 June 1892.

[Adapted from Curd, T. “Cory, William Johnson” (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)]



Extent & medium

8 boxes

Content description

The papers cover Cory’s life from his school days at Eton College to his adult life and include personal correspondence and journals, verses, writings and commonplace books.


This collection of papers and notebooks were preserved and added to by Cory’s brother Charles Wellington Johnson, who survived Cory by eight years. Wellington Johnson inherited Halsdon from his uncle, John Henry Furse, in 1854 and so subsequently changed his name to Furse.

The letters and journals were lent to Francis Warre Cornish, who published ‘Extracts from the letters and journals of William Johnson Cory' in 1897. After their return, the collection remained in the Furse family until Sir Ralph Furse bequeathed the collection to Eton College.

Associated material

Additional manuscripts acquired by Eton College are catalogued under MS 309.

Additional letters written by William Johnson Cory are held as part of the Stone family archive at Eton College: [MS 496 17 William Johnson Cory letters].

Eton College Library also holds a substantial collection of printed material by, or about Cory. Additional letters from or to Cory were frequently pasted into these volumes and full descriptions are provided in the catalogue entries for the individual books.

For research material relating to William Johnson Cory see the John Carter archive, held by Eton College Library [MS 435 01 03: Papers relating to William Johnson Cory].

Further Johnson Cory material is held at Churchill College Cambridge, as part of Lord Esher’s papers: Reference: GBR/0014/ ESHR.

Finding aids

The original typescript catalogue of this collection, completed by Felicity Strong, is held with the papers and is available to view on request. This catalogue provides a full item level description for the entire collection.

Publication note

A selection of his letters and journals were published by Francis Warre-Cornish in 1897
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