1805 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Charles Cotton

Anonymous, "Charles Cotton" European Magazine 47 (January 1805) 5-6.



The chief merit of this writer is humour; and in this, it must be universally allowed, he excels. I believe he may be stiled the first English writer of burlesque translation. None, I am confident, that has perused his "Virgil Travestie," or his burlesque translation of Lucian, can begrudge him a place among the British Poets. I have seen a small poem by him in some collection, entitled "Evening Quatrains," which had considerable merit, and which proves that he enjoyed, besides a rich vein of humour, some talents for descriptive poetry. I cannot say, however, that his poem entitled "The Wonders of the Peak" affords us any reason to think that his talents for this species of poetry were of a high nature. On the contrary, the language of this poem very seldom rises above that of prose; and the versification is very careless and inharmonious. Although it does not possess many poetical beauties, it is said to be a correct description of the Peak; and on that account affords amusement. It is observable, that notwithstanding it is dedicated to a Countess of Devonshire, the first eight lines contain an expression which no modest Lady of the present age could read without a blush. Such has been the alteration in manners since he wrote.

"The Wonders of the Peak" contain, likewise, the following apostrophe to the memory of the unfortunate Queen Mary, which I shall take the liberty of quoting; as it is the earliest poetical attempt I have seen to brand with merited infamy the perfidious cruelty of Queen Elizabeth towards that unhappy Princess.

Illustrious Mary! it had happy been,
Had you then found a cave like this to skreen
Your sacred person from those frontier spies,
That of a sov'reign Princess durst make prize,
When Neptune too officiously bore
Your cred'lous inn'cence to this faithless shore.
O England! once who hadst the only fame
Of being kind to all who hither came
For refuge and protection; how couldst thou
So strangely alter thy good nature now,
Where thine was so much excellence to move,
Not only the companion, but thy love?
'Twas strange on earth (save Caledonian ground)
So impudent a villain could be found,
Such majesty and sweetness to accuse;
Or after that, a Judge would not refuse
Her sentence to pronounce; or that being done,
E'en 'mongst the bloody'st hangmen to find one
Durst, tho' her face was veil'd, and neck laid down,
Strike off the fairest head ere wore a crown.
And what state-policy there might be here,
Which does with right too often interfere,
I'm not to judge; yet thus far dare be bold,
A fouler act the sun did ne'er behold;
And 'twas the worst, if not the only stain,
I' th' brightest annals of a female reign.

For these lines, rugged as they are, I respect the author. Some reasons might, perhaps, tempt me to wish he had not been so severe on the Caledonians; but when I reflect on their conduct towards this ill-fated Queen, I can scarce wish the passage erased.