1824 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Charles Cotton

Bryan Waller Procter, in Effigies Poeticae, or, the Portraits of the British Poets (1824) 57-58.



From a Picture by Lely, in the possession of John Beresford, Esq.

It is unlucky for us that the likeness of COTTON should not have been different. The translator of Montaigne, the author of the Voyage to Ireland, and other very delightful poems, should have lived at a different period: for the French fashions have been too much for him. With the exception of a little quickness in the eye, we can detect nothing of the witty or the humorous in the countenance of Cotton: in fact, he is absolutely overshadowed by the forest of hair, which weighs upon his bead. We wonder how his wit (for he had a good deal) could possibly have endured to assume so preposterous a disguise. And we wonder more, that the friend and companion of Isaac Walton, who was accustomed to take his stand in the wet spring mornings by the side of the rippling Dove, could have so utterly forgotten the green looks of the country and the simplicities of his old silver-haired friend, as to have enshrouded his own clever brain in such a mass of wig, or affronted the divinity of Nature by assuming a dress so foreign to her own. We can understand how a fop of the West, or a full-pursed citizen, may be ambitious to eclipse the half-starved hedgerows which are powdered all over with dust in the neighbourhood of London; but how a frequenter of meadows and rivers — how the friend of Isaac Walton the angler, and a man who was himself expert in the practice and learned in the theory of an art which sets at nought the aristocracy of dress — should have ventured into such a bushel of hair, is more than we can guess. We think that his own sense of the ridiculous must have interfered occasionally with this fashionable ambition. Can it be that his fishing-house, near the Dove, presented, amongst its rural ornaments and sylvan scenes, such a portrait as we have here? Did he walk the wet meadows in this disguise? Did he hear the milkmaid's song, and the carolling of the sky-lark (the "lyrique lark") through this hedge of hair? Or did he put off these austerities of fashion (if we may so term them) and slip his town skin, like a snake, when he went into the clear air of Derbyshire with his friend "Piscator," and angled, and mused, and rhymed, and twisted flies, and wrote dialogues, and talked over his morning's sport like a true brother of the rod and the angle? — We hope so, for the sake of the sportsman's character.