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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Charles Cotton

The engraving above was based on a painting whose authorship is matter of controversy. According the the London National Portrait Gallery, the author was one of the sons of John Linnel. Another hypothesis goes toward Peter Lely. Philosophi certant (or, as the French saying goes, qu'il est de belles batailles).

Also the engraving had a history of its own: it was reproduced in 1897 in a study by Alexander Cargill dedicated to Izaak Walton, published in the Angling magazine (the image of the engraving was scanned from there by Mike Cline in 2008, to be used then on Wikipedia).

So the image of Charles Cotton in a study dedicated to Izaak Walton. Let's see the reasons. 

Charles Cotton remained best known for his English rendering of the essays of Montaigne, also for his contributions to the book of his friend Izaak Walton, The Compleat Angler. Both Cotton and Walton were passionate anglers and they were very good friends. When Cotton erected the Fishing Home on the banks of River Dove, a secular shrine for all anglers, he made a cipher with his initials and the initials of Walton and placed it at the entrance.

Here is The Retirement, a poem written by Cotton and also included in the book of his friend, The Compleat Angler. Cotton (as also Walton) was a Royalist and during the times of English Revolution was forced to move to the countryside, far from London. So there is bitterness behind the bucolic lines of the poem.

Farewell, thou busy world, and may
We never meet again;
Here I can eat and sleep and pray,
And do more good in one short day
Than he who his whole age outwears
Upon the most conspicuous theaters,
Where naught but vanity and vice appears.

Good God! how sweet are all things here!
How beautiful the fields appear!
How cleanly do we feed and lie!
Lord! what good hours do we keep!
How quietly we sleep!
What peace, what unanimity!
How innocent from the lewd fashion
Is all our business, all our recreation!

O, how happy here's our leisure!
O, how innocent our pleasure!
O ye valleys! O ye mountains!
O ye groves, and crystal fountains!
How I love, at liberty,
By turns to come and visit ye!
Dear solitude, the soul's best friend,
That man acquainted with himself dost make,
And all his Maker's wonders to attend,
With thee I here converse at will,
And would be glad to do so still,
For it is thou alone that keep'st the soul awake.

How calm and quiet a delight
Is it, alone,
To read and meditate and write,
By none offended, and offending none!
To walk, ride, sit, or sleep at one's own ease;
And, pleasing a man's self, none other to displease.

O my beloved nymph, fair Dove,
Princess of rivers, how I love
Upon thy flowery banks to lie,
And view thy silver stream,
When gilded by a Summer's beam!
And in it all thy wanton fry
Playing at liberty,
And, with my angle, upon them
The all of treachery
I ever learned industriously to try!

Such streams Rome's yellow Tiber cannot show,
The Iberian Tagus, or Ligurian Po;
The Maese, the Danube, and the Rhine,
Are puddle-water, all, compared with thine;
And Loire's pure streams yet too polluted are
With thine, much purer, to compare;
The rapid Garonne and the winding Seine
Are both too mean,
Beloved Dove, with thee
To vie priority;
Nay, Tame and Isis, when conjoined, submit,
And lay their trophies at thy silver feet.

O my beloved rocks, that rise
To awe the earth and brave the skies!
From some aspiring mountain's crown
How dearly do I love,
Giddy with pleasure to look down;
And from the vales to view the noble heights above;
O my beloved caves! from dog-star's heat,
And all anxieties, my safe retreat;
What safety, privacy, what true delight,
In the artificial light
Your gloomy entrails make,
Have I taken, do I take!
How oft, when grief has made me fly,
To hide me from society
E'en of my dearest friends, have I,
In your recesses' friendly shade,
All my sorrows open laid,
And my most secret woes intrusted to your privacy!

Lord! would men let me alone,
What an over-happy one
Should I think myself to be -
Might I in this desert place,
(Which most men in discourse disgrace)
Live but undisturbed and free!
Here, in this despised recess,
Would I, maugre Winter's cold,
And the Summer's worst excess,
Try to live out to sixty full years old,
And, all the while,
Without an envious eye
On any thriving under Fortune's smile,
Contented live, and then contented die.

(A Life in Books)


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