1691 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Charles Cotton

Gerard Langbaine, in Account of the English Dramatick Poets (1691) 74-77.



An Ingenious Gentleman lately (as I am inform'd) Deceas'd, who sometimes dwelt at Beresford in the County of Stafford. He was an excellent Lyrick Poet, but particularly famous for Burlesque Verse: but mention'd here of a Translation of his call'd

Horace, a French Tragedy of Monsieur Corneille, printed in quarto Lond. 1671. and dedicated to his Dear Sister Mrs. Stanhope Hutchinson. This Play was first finished in 1665. "But neither at that time, nor of several years after, was it intended for the publick view; it being writ for the private divertisement of a fair young Lady, and ever since it had the honor first to kiss her Hands, so intirely hers, that the Author did not reserve so much as the Brouillon to himself. However she being prevail'd upon tho' with some difficulty to give her consent, it was printed in Octo. 1670."

I shall not extol, or particularise the Excellencies of this Play in the Original; 'tis sufficient to tell you, that the French Author thought it might pass for the best of his Productions if the three last Acts had been equal to the two First: and this he says was the general Opinion, as you may read in the beginning of his Examen of this Play. As to the Performance of this our Countryman, notwithstanding his Modesty, and Generosity in giving the preference to Madam Phillips her Translation, I think it no ways inferior to it, at least, I dare aver that it far transcends that Version publisht by Sr. William Lower.

The Plot of this Play, as far as it is founded on History, may be read in several Authors. See Livy, lib. 1. Florus, lib. 1. c. 3. Dionysius Hallicarnassaeus, &c.

There are other Works of this Author's writing, which speak him a great Wit, and Master of an excellent Fancy and Judgment: Such as his Poem call'd The Wonders of the Peak, printed in octavo Lond. 1681. His Burlesque Poems call'd Scarronides, or Virgil Travestie, a mock Poem, on the first and fourth Books of Virgil's Aeneis, printed in octavo Lond. 1678. Tho the Title seems to imply as if this Poem were an Imitation of Scarron, who has translated Eight Books of Virgil in the same manner: yet those who will compare both these Pieces, will possibly find that he has not only exceeded the French, but all others that have attempted in that kind, to the reserve of the incomparable Butler, the fam'd Author of Hudibras: and I think we may with little variation apply the following Tetrastick written by Scarron's Uncle to this our Author.

Si punctum omne tulit, qui miscuit utile dulcis
Ludendo scribens seria, quid meruit?
Virgilii miranda legens, ridere jubetur,
Hoc debet, Cotton, Anglica Musa tibi.

There are several of Lucian's Dialogues put into Burlesque Verse, printed in octavo Lond. 1675. under the Title of The Scoffer Scoft, which are said to be writ by our Author, but whether this be true, I must leave to those who were better acquainted with him. However I must acquaint the Reader, that there was not long since publisht a Volume of Poems on several Occasions, with his Name prefixt, which was printed in a large octavo, Lond. 1689. Amongst which is a Copy call'd The Anglers Ballad, which puts me in mind of another piece writ by him in Prose, call'd The Compleat Angler, being Instructions how to angle for a Trout or Grailing in a clear Stream, being a Second Part to Mr. Isaac Walton's Book on the same Subject, printed in octavo Lond. 1676. and dedicated to that Virtuous Man, the common Father of all Anglers. This Book is not unworthy the perusal of the gravest Men that are Lovers of this innocent Recreation, and those who are not Anglers, but have a tast of Poetry, may find Mr. Cotton's Character better describ'd by himself, in a Copy of Verses (printed at the end of that Book) called The Retirement, than any that I might present the Reader taken either from Colonel Lovelace, Sir Aston Cokain, Robert Herrick Esq; or Mr. Alexander Brome; all which have writ Verses in our Author's praise, but in my poor judgment far short of these Stanzes Irreguliers, where (as Mr. Walton truly says) the Reader may see so good a Picture of our Author's mind, that if he be blest with a generous Soul, it will cause him to love him, (and his Memory) the better.