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English - Honderd
Printed in Great Britain by Butler & Tanner, Frome and London
I DESIRE, at the outset, to acknowledge my indebtedness to the Memoir of Cotton by Sir Harris Nicolas, contained in his magnificent 1836 edition of "The Compleat Angler." Sir Harris himself had been preceded by the eminent Antiquary William Oldys, who wrote a very pleasant essay about Cotton for Sir John Hawkins's 1760 edition of "The Compleat Angler." I am also indebted to Mr. A. H. Bullen's account of Cotton in the Dictionary of National Biography. But I am able to supplement the information given by these three scholars, partly from original documents, not hitherto published, and from family records; partly from certain of the reports issued by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, or from the Calendars of State Papers, etc.; and partly from a variety of isolated references scattered about, either in contemporary (i.e. seventeenth century) works, or in such publications as "Notes and Queries," those innumerable and invaluable volumes!
The Introduction is a very greatly enlarged and amended version of an essay of mine on Cotton which appeared in The London Mercury for November, 1921. I have to thank the editor, Mr. J. C. Squire, for permission to make use thus of the original essay.
I also wish to express my gratitude to Professor Saintsbury for most valuable and kindly counsel, and to Mr. Edmund Gosse, C.B., Mr. J. Middleton Murry, Mr. Edmund Blunden, Mr. Iolo Williams, Mr. Geoffrey Fry and Mr. H. J. Ellis for encouragement in what has been a laborious though fascinating task. Mr. John Drinkwater most kindly supplied me with an autograph poem, written by Cotton into a copy of the 1664 edition of his "Scarronides," in Mr. Drinkwater's possession. My uncle, the Reverend Edward Aden Beresford, put me on the track of much interesting information about Cotton. I need scarcely add that the Officials of the Reading Room and Manuscript Department of the British Museum (in particular Mr. F. D. Sladen and Mr. D. T. B. Wood) have wonderfully smoothed my way.
For leave to reproduce the Lely portrait of Cotton I am indebted
-as also for much useful information-to my cousin, the late Mr. Stapleton Martin, in whose family the picture is now an heirloom (for a history of this portrait see Note 34). The drawing of Beresford Hall-from the Bowling Green-was done by John Linnell, R.A., in the autumn of 1814 for Bagster's and Ellis's 1815 edition of "The Compleat Angler."
IN one of the chapters on Wordsworth's Theory of Poetry in the Biographia Literaria," 1 Coleridge says: " If I had happened to have had by me the Poems of Cotton, more but far less deservedly celebrated as the author of the Virgil Travestie,' I should have indulged myself, and I think have gratified many who are not acquainted with his serious works, by selecting some admirable specimens of this style [the neutral style, i.e. that common to both Poetry and Prose]. There are not a few poems in that volume replete with every excellence of thought, image and passion which we expect or desire in the poetry of the milder muse; and yet so worded, that the reader sees no reason either in the selection or the order of the words, why he might not have said the very same in an appropriate conversation, and cannot conceive how indeed he could have expressed such thoughts otherwise, without loss or injury to his meaning."
As a poet Charles Cotton is, to-day, hardly known. In prose his name is familiar as the author of Part II of "The Compleat Angler," a work which has gone through more editions than perhaps any other book in the English language, apart from Shakespeare's Plays or "The Pilgrim's Progress"; the catalogue in the British. Museum is, in itself, an almost tedious testimony to its popularity. But Part II of "The Compleat Angler," "being directions how to angle for a trout or grayling in a clear stream," beautiful prose though it is, is but an imitation of Walton's famous first and main part, and Cotton's Poems, were they better known, would certainly be recognized as his real contribution to English literature.
The truth is that if Cotton has benefited from his association with Walton, he has also suffered. The lustre of Izaak Walton's name has cast a faint reflected glow upon that of Charles Cotton, but it has also tended to obscure the true genius of Cotton, which lay in his poetry. It is, indeed, curious that Cotton's poetical work should to-day be so little known, for just over a century ago not only Coleridge 1 "Biographia Literaria," Vol. II, p. 71, edited by J. Shawcross. Clarendon Press, 1907.
but Wordsworth and Charles Lamb were enthusiastic in their admiration of his "Poems on several occasions," published two years after his death in 1689. But despite the good opinion of the most eminent literary authorities, no one has set to work to republish the rare edition of 1689, so that students of poetry and a wider public might have an opportunity of judging Cotton's merit as a Poet for themselves. It is true that Chalmers in his monumental edition of the "Works of the English Poets," published in 1810, has included the greater number of Cotton's poems in his sixth volume, but it is an expensive business to purchase twenty volumes in order to read one poet, and to-day of course, Chalmers's work is almost unprocurable except at a prohibitive price. Sanford's production, "The Works of the British Poets" (1819), can be disregarded for our purpose as it only contains two of Cotton's poems. To come to more modern days, a very good selection was published in 1903 by Mr. J. R. Tutin of Cottingham, Hull, but this edition contains only forty-two out of some one hundred and eighty of Cotton's poems, excluding translations. It is noteworthy that "The Oxford Book of English Verse" contains only one small lyric by Cotton. Professor Saintsbury inserts four of the love lyrics in his excellent anthology of "Seventeenth Century Lyrics."
That the" Poems on several occasions "should have been neglected so long, or, at least, known only to a few, is the more remarkable because certain other works in verse by Cotton had an immense popularity in his own day and throughout the eighteenth century. The "Virgil Travestie" went through edition after edition. It is a sort of burlesque of Books I and IV of the Aeneid in which Aeneas, Dido and the lesser human lights together with the gods are represented as the coarsest and commonest of beings. It is not simply obscene, it is exceedingly witty, but it is not poetry; it is a burlesque in verse intended to raise a laugh at the expense of gods and men.
* Since this was written the late Mr. Lovat Fraser's charming, illustrated selection of fourteen of Cotton's poems has been published by the Poetry Bookshop. The publication of this selection in itself emphasizes the need for a complete edition of a Poet who has pleased so many men whose critical judgement cannot be disregarded.