The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIII. The Victorian Age, Part One.

VI. Lesser Poets of the Middle and Later Nineteenth Century

§ 39. William Johnson (Cory)

Exquisiteness and idiosyncrasy, rather than fullness, magnificence and force of general appeal, were the characteristics of the work in verse (his prose was singularly nervous and virile) of the author of Ionica—the double-edged punning title of the poems of William Johnson, otherwise Cory. They have been rebuked for “modern paganism”; but that does not much concern us, and it may be remembered that some have found traces of this quality even in Wordsworth himself. Johnson, whose object was to keep as much of the tone and style of the Greek anthologists as could be saturated with nineteenth-century temper and tone, could not have avoided the appearance of modern paganism if he would. In the inevitable, and, indeed, quite legitimate and instructive, comparison with Landor, it is this which chiefly distinguishes Johnson. Landor is Hellenic generally, but not definitely pagan; nor is he, strictly speaking, modern unless the eighteenth century be called modern. Johnson is late-Hellenic with intensely modern touches. The best of his few verses are exceptionally familiar to all who are likely to like them, and who have not missed them by chance. The most familiar and, perhaps, most general favourite, the short translated epitaph on Heraclitus, has been objected to (perhaps finically, perhaps not) because, in English, the first line

  • They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead
  • would, rather, raise expectation that the tidings were false. Mimnermus in Church, another great favourite, is, perhaps, a little overdosed with modernity. An Invocation, disclaiming any wish for the society of Greek nymphs and preferring that of Greek shepherds, has some excellent verse in it, though anybody is certainly at liberty to prefer the dryads as a subject of personal wish for their resurrection.