William Cory on education

William Cory, the schoolmaster-poet, gave his views on the purpose of education in his paper Eton Reform II.

“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.”

– William Johnson (1823-1892)

This quotation is from Johnson’s Eton Reform II as adapted by George Lyttleton, writing to Rupert Hart-Davis. (Source: Eton College website.)

Johnson is better known as William Cory, having taken his paternal grandmother’s maiden name in 1872, after being dismissed from his post as a master at Eton College.

Johnson was an Eton King’s Scholar 1832-41 and Master 1845-72. Under the name Cory he became known as a poet, especially for his exceptionally beautiful translation from the Greek of Callimachus’s Elegy to Heraclitus.