Charles Cotton

Anonymous, in Cibber-Shiels, Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1753) 3:301-04.

This ingenious gentleman lived in the reigns of Charles and James II. He resided for a great part of his life at Beresford in the county of Stafford. He had some reputation for lyric poetry, but was particularly famous for burlesque verse. He translated from the French Monsieur Corneille's Horace, printed in 4to. London 1671, and dedicated to his dear sister Mrs. Stanhope Hutchinson. This play was first finished in 1665, but in his prefatory epistle he tells us, "that neither at that time, nor for several years after, was it intended for the public view, it being written for the private divertissement of a fair young lady, and, ever since it had the honour first to kiss her hands, was so entirely hers, that the author did not reserve so much as the Brouillon to himself; however, she being prevailed upon, though with some difficulty, it was printed in 8vo. 1670." As to the merit of this play in the original, it is sufficient to observe, that the critics have allowed it to be the best tragedy of Corneille, and the author himself is of the same opinion, provided the three last acts had been equal to the two first. As to the translation by Mr. Cotton, we have very considerable authority to pronounce it better than that of Mrs. Katherine Philips, who could not number versification among her qualities. The plot of this play, so far as history is concerned, may be read in Livy, Florus, Dionysius Halicarnasseus, Etc. Our stage has lately had a play founded upon this story, added to the many it has received, called the Roman Father, by Mr. W. Whitehead.

Besides this translation, Mr. Cotton is author of many other works, such as his poem called the Wonders of the Peak, printed in 8vo. London 1681. His burlesque Poem, called Scarronides, or Virgil Travestie, a mock Poem, on the first and fourth Books of Virgil's Aeneid, printed in 8vo. London 1678. Though the title seems to imply as if his poem was in imitation of Scarron, who has translated eight books of Virgil in the same manner, yet they who will compare both these pieces, will possibly find, that he has not only exceeded the French, but all those who have made any attempts on that kind of poetry, the incomparable author of Hudibras excepted. Mr. Cotton likewise translated several of Lucian's Dialogues into burlesque verse, printed in 8vo. London 1675, under the title of the Scoffer Scoff'd. In 1689 a volume of poems, with Mr. Cotton's name prefixed, was published in London: on these poems colonel Lovelace, Sir Aston Cockaine, Robert Herrick, esq, and Mr. Alexander Brome, complimented the author by copies of verses prefixed; but Mr. Langbain observes, that the truest picture of Mr. Cotton's mind is to be seen in a little piece published at the end of these poems called Retirement; but the chief of Mr. Cotton's production, seems to be his translation of Montaigne's Essays, dedicated to George Lord Saville, Marquis of Hallifax; his lordship in a letter to him, thus expresses his esteem for the translator, and admiration of his performance. This letter is printed amongst the other pieces of the marquis's in a thin 12mo.


I have too long delayed my thanks to you for giving me such an obliging evidence of your remembrance: that alone would have been a welcome present, but when joined with the book in the world I am the best entertained with, it raiseth a strong desire in me to be better known, where I am sure to be much pleased. I have, 'till now, thought wit could not be translated, and do still retain so much of that opinion, that I believe it impossible, except by one, whose genius cometh up to the author. You have so kept the original strength of his thought, that it almost tempts a man to believe the transmigration of fouls. He hath by your means mended his first edition. To transplant and make him ours, is not only a valuable acquisition to us, but a just censure of the critical impertinence of those French scriblers, who have taken pains to make little cavils and exceptions, to lessen the reputation of this great man, whom nature hath made too big to confine himself to the exactness of a studied stile. He let his mind have its full flight, and shewed by a generous kind of negligence, that he did not write for praise, but to give to the world a true picture of him self, and of mankind. He scorned affected periods to please the mistaken reader with an empty chime of words; he hath no affectation to set himself out, and dependeth wholly upon the natural force of what is his own, and the excellent application of what he borroweth.

You see, sir, I have kindness enough for Monsieur de Montaigne to be your rival, but nobody can pretend to be in equal competition with you. I do willingly yield, which is no small matter for a man to do to a more prosperous lover, and if you will repay this piece of justice with another, pray believe, that he who can translate such an author without doing him wrong, must not only make me glad, but proud of being his most humble servant,


Thus far the testimony of the marquis of Hallifax in favour of our author's performance, and we have good reason to conclude, that the translation is not without great merit, when so accomplished a judge has praised it.

We cannot be certain in what year our author died, but it was probably some time about the revolution. He appears to have been a man of very considerable genius, to have had an extraordinary natural vein of humour, and an uncommon flow of pleasantry: he was certainly born a poet, and wrote his verses easily, but rather too loosely; his numbers being frequently harsh, and his stile negligent, and unpolished. The cause of his Life being inserted out of chronological order, was an accident, the particulars of which are not of importance enough to be mentioned.