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pened to have had by me the Poems of Cotton, more but far less deservedly celebrated as the author of the VIRGIL TRAVESTIED, 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. 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 one 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 can not conceive how indeed he could have expressed such thoughts otherwise, without loss or injury to his meaning.*
* [Charles Cotton, the poet, was born of a good family in Staffordshire in 1630, died at Westminster in 1687. His Scarronides or Virgil Travestie, a burlesque on the first and fourth books of the Æneid, was printed for the fifteenth time in 1771. The first book was first published in 1664. It seems to have owed its popularity less to its merits than to its piquant demerits, which were infused into it, because, as the author says in the Epilogue to another work in the same style, Burlesque upon Burlesque (quoted in Sir H. Nicolas's Memoirs), in the "precious age" in which he lived.
thus coolly resolving to minister to the worse than levity of his age instead of aiming to correct it. The Biographie Universelle affirms that to compare the Virgil Travestie to Hudibras is to compare a caricature to a painting which, though a little overcharged, has a great foundation of truth. He published several prose works beside the Second Part of the Complete Angler. Sir Harris Nicolas observes, that as these "consist almost entirely of translations, and with the exception of Montaigne's Essays, of Memoirs of warriors whose deeds have been eclipsed by modern prowess, it is not surprising that his labors should be forgotten." His volume of Poems on several Occasions was in a sixth edition in 1770.
As a poet Cotton appears to most advantage, when teaching in easy verse and transparent language, a sort of Horatian morality, serious but not ardent or profound, as in his poem called Contentation: or in lively pictures of nature and rustic life, as in his Quatrains on Morning and Noon, on Evening and Night, particularly the two last, which are like Milton's Allegro and Penseroso pitched at a lower key: or in poems of sentiment, as
But in truth our language is, and from the first dawn of poetry ever has been, particularly rich in compositions distinguished by this excellence. The final e, which is now mute, in Chaucer's age was either sounded or dropt indifferently. We ourselves still use either "beloved" or "belov'd" according as the rhyme, or
the Ode to Chlorinda: or the sportive Epistle, as that to Bradshaw quarrelling with him for epistolary neglect; or in the picturesque Anacreontic, a fine specimen of which is his Ode entitled Winter. This poem Mr. Wordsworth describes, in his Preface, as "an admirable composition;" and he quotes the latter part of it as "an instance still more happy of Fancy employed in the treatment of feeling than in the preceding passages, the Poem supplies of her management of forms.”
The poems of Cotton have the same moral stain as Herrick's, with not less fancy but a less Arcadian air,-more of the world that is about them. The spirit of poetry was indeed on the way downward from "great Eliza's golden time" till its reascent into the region of the pure and elevated towards the end of the last century, and a declension may even be observed, I think, from Herrick to Cotton, who came into the world about thirty-nine years later. His poetry, indeed, has more of Charles II.'s time and less of the Elizabethan period in its manner and spirit than that of Waller, who was but twenty-five years his senior. Cotton writes like a man of this world, who has glimpses now and then of the other; not as if he lived utterly out of sight of it, like the dramatists characterized by C. Lamb. There are more detailed corporeal descriptions in his poetry than in any that I know, of not more than equal extent; descriptions of the youthful body more vividly real than is to be desired, and of the body in age, when it "demands the translucency of mind not to be worse than indifferent" so full of mortality, or, what it grieves us more to contemplate than ashes and the grave, the partial perishing of the natural man while he is yet alive, that they excite an indignant disgust on behalf of our common humanity. That Cotton was "an ardent royalist," appears in many of his poems, and with special vehemence in his denunciation of Waller for his Panegyric upon Cromwell, which exhibits, in its features, all the ugliness, with some of the energy, of anger. If, as is said, the admirer of Saccharissa leant to monarchy in his heart, his poetic genius had a heart of its own, and a far stronger one, which leant another way; for both his poems on Cromwell have vastly more heart in them than his poetical address to Charles at the Restoration. And this the King himself, among whose faults want of discernment was not to be reckoned, took care to point out, enjoying, no doubt, the versatile poet's double mortification as much as he would have done the best verses. Cotton should have given Waller a receipt for writing as finely about an hereditary monarch, as about a king of "noble nature's crowning"- -a Hero.
Some men are worse upon the whole than they appear in their writings: there is reason to hope that Cotton, though an imprudent, was a better man than might be inferred from the tone of much of his poetry, which
measure, or the purpose of more or less solemnity may require. Let the reader then only adopt the pronunciation of the poet and of the court, at which he lived, both with respect to the final e and to the accentuation of the last syllable: I would then venture to ask, what even in the colloquial language of elegant and unaffected women, (who are the peculiar mistresses of " pure English and undefiled,") what could we hear more natural, or seemingly more unstudied, than the following stanzas from Chaucer's TROILUS AND CRESEIDE.
"And after this forth to the gate he wente,
Fro hennis rode my blisse and my solas:
And to the yondir hil I gan her gide,
That he had of himselfe suche fantasie.
Anothir time imaginin he would
probably exaggerates the features of his earthly mind as much as that of many others exalts the heavenly part of them. The persistent friendship of Isaac Walton is a great testimony in his favor, and it might be conjectured, from the internal evidence of his productions in verse, that of all the poets of his day he was the most agreeable companion, the least apt to fly above his company though never lagging behind in any conversation.
A memoir of Cotton by Sir Harris Nicolas is prefixed to the beautifully illustrated edition of the Complete Angler of 1836. This edition was published by Mr. Pickering, and, as his friend the Editor declares, is very largely indebted to his taste and exertions and biographical knowledge for the value which the volumes possess.
I believe that Mr. Pickering intends to bring out a select edition of the occasional poems of Cotton.-S. C.]
Had of him routhe, and that thei saien should,
For which him likid in his songis shewe
This song, when he thus songin had, ful sone
And every night, as was his wonte to done;
And all his sorowe to the moone he tolde,
Another exquisite master of this species of style, where the scholar and the poet supplies the material, but the perfect wellbred gentleman the expressions and the arrangement, is George Herbert. As from the nature of the subject, and the too frequent quaintness of the thoughts, his TEMPLE; or SACRED POEMS AND PRIVATE EJACULATIONS are comparatively but little known, I shall extract two poems. The first is a sonnet, equally admirable for the weight, number, and expression of the thoughts, and for the simple dignity of the language. Unless, indeed, a fastidious taste should object to the latter half of the sixth line. The second is a poem of greater length, which I have chosen not only for the present purpose, but likewise as a striking example and illustration of an assertion hazarded in a former page of these sketches: namely, that the characteristic fault of our elder poets is the reverse of that, which distinguishes too many of our more recent versifiers; the one conveying the most fantastic thoughts in the most correct and natural language; the other in the most fantastic language conveying the most trivial thoughts.
* [Boke V. The first lines of the first stanza stand thus in the original: And aftir this he to the yatis wente
and the first of the last stanza thus:
This songè when he thus songin had sone.-S. C.]
The latter is a riddle of words; the former an enigma of thoughts. The one reminds me of an old passage in Drayton's IDEAS:
As other men, so I myself do muse,
The other recalls a still odder passage in THE SYNAGOGUE: or THE SHADOW OF THE TEMPLE, a connected series of poems in imitation of Herbert's TEMPLE, and, in some editions, annexed to it.
O how my mind
That I can find,
All to naught!
Are my torn meditations' ragged clothing,
Immediately after these burlesque passages I can not proceed to the extracts promised, without changing the ludicrous tone of feeling by the interposition of the three following stanzas of Herbert's.
Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright,
The dew shall weep thy fall to-night;
[The Synagogue, a collection of poems generally appended to the Temple, has been retained in Mr. Pickering's edition of 1835. They were first printed," as the Preface mentions, A.D. 1640, and have been, with much probability, attributed to the Rev. Christopher Harvie, M.A. The poem quoted is at p. 274 of the edit.—S. C.]