[The author and publisher have kindly shared with readers of the Victorian Web this discussion of homosocial and homosexual activity from the second chapter of The Prince, His Tutor and the Ripper by Deborah McDonald. Published by McFarland Press. 2010. ISBN 978-0-7864-3018-5.]


After supper at the Trap, Elliot and I lay together on the long morocco sofa. He put his dear strong arms round me & his face against mine. Chat, not very well, sat near the fire ... WJ in the big red chair close to our sofa. We kept calling for Chat, & finally he was lifted on to us, nestling in between Elliot and me. My arms were round him, and Elliot’s were round him and me. Chat liked our both breathing in his ears. We kept on repeating this. All things must end.

So wrote Reginald Brett (later Lord Esher) in his diary in October 1868. “Spooning,” as this type of romantic behavior between the boys at Eton was known, was very common; it took place with the overt acceptance and, indeed, encouragement of some of the housemasters.

“WJ” or William Johnson was their housemaster. He took pleasure in watching Elliot and Brett kissing. He may have joined their “spooning” for he had developed a passionate love for Elliot, as he had for other boys before him. By the time Elliot was in the final year, Johnson wrote:

I can’t conceive how anyone can love a son or daughter or wife more than I love [Elliot] and I get away from myself in thinking about him much more than I could if he belonged to my family. I have seen him this last year, as I never saw any other person, openly and unreservedly loving his two boyfriends and enjoying their love; in truth we have all of us lived together in such intimacy and joyousness as never was described or thought possible; he has been the central object, the greatest of us. Day after day his lovely countenance has been getting more expressive and more tender and kind.

Johnson remained in contact with Brett for a couple of years after he had left the school. They spent the vacation together at his holiday home at Halsdon. Johnson’s behavior seems to have proven too brazen for the headmaster to ignore. In 1878 Johnson hurriedly resigned from Eton. The exact reason why is undocumented.

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Last modified 14 April 2010