Thursday, January 22, 2009


This is a book to enjoy that's recently come into my hands. William Johnson, later William Cory was an assistant master at Eton in the early ninteteenth century. Apt to make favourites, he surrounded himself with a coterie and had an eye for the budding poet. Among his pupils, a number went on to become significant men of letters. Cory fell foul of a changing atmosphere in the larger public schools and, due to his close friendships among the boys he was removed from his post by the headmaster, Dr Hornby. Cory never recovered from the blow.

Ionica was first published in 1858 by Smith Elder and, with the addition of a series of new poems, Ionica II, it was republished in 1890 [dated 1891], bound in the light blue cloth of Eton colours. The poems are fairly typical of a rather sentimental but classically minded schoolmaster of the time and include many which are sentimental reflections on his relationships with a number of young men. For all this, he is by no means a bad poet of his time. These first two editions of Ionica were published anonymously and it wasn't until 1905 that Ionica was published with its author's name attatched and, on that occasion, with a memoir and preface by A. C. Benson. It was this 1905 edition in particular which popularised and made Cory's poetry widely known.

This copy is the later issue of the 1890 [1891] edition, in which corrections were made in the text and not by means of an errata, and whilst not exactly an association copy is padded out with a nice set of personalities on the endpapers. The note written on the half-title reads, "By William Cory, M. A. formerly William Johnson, one of the Assistant Masters at Eton. I was "up to him" when I first went to Eton in April 1846. R. M-T"

And then on the front endpaper R. M-T identifies himself with an ownership inscription "Robert Marsham-Townshend Nov 20. 1893." RMT was born simply Robert Marsham, son of the 2nd Earl of Romney. He adopted the Townshend in 1893 through his connections with another noble household. RMT was a prolific explorer, geologist and antiquary. I have found an anonymous auction catalogue on the internet listing some 16 vols (some 2,500 pages) of his unpublished journals, from 1853-76 and the list of places he visited covers pretty much the known world. Sadly the auction catalogue quoted gave no details of where, when or for how much these were sold. RMT was attache at the British Legation in 1857 and seems to have just about favoured South America in his travels.

The other enjoyable personality item about this book is the bookplate of Kenneth Newton Colvile, a minor writer (Fame's Twilight: Studies of Nine Men of Letters), whose bookplate I found described in someone else's book catalogue, thus:

"...a hybridised grotesquerie with the slavering head of Shakespeare and the body of a (?) ; front paw upraised, tail outstretched behind & legs like cricket pads upon a sledge containing the uneaten remains of Marlowe..."

I do enjoy books like this, with a visible history...

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