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Charles Cotton (1630–1687) was an English poet and writer, best known for his translations and for being a close friend of Izaak Walton, author of "The Compleat Angler." His own contributions to literature are overshadowed by the fame of this association, but he was a notable figure in the literary landscape of Restoration England.

Literary Background

Cotton lived through the tumultuous period of the English Civil War, the Interregnum, and the Restoration, which significantly influenced the literature of the time. The Restoration period was characterized by a resurgence in theater, poetry, and prose, often marked by a reaction against the perceived austerity of Puritanism.

Early Influences

Educated at Cambridge, Cotton came from a literary background; his father, Charles Cotton the Elder, was also a poet. His work shows the influence of classical literature, which he would have studied extensively, as well as that of his contemporaries and the cavalier poets who celebrated beauty, love, and honor in a lighthearted, graceful manner.

Poetic Schools or Movements

Cotton is often associated with the Cavalier poets for their shared aristocratic background and themes, though his style was his own. His poetry is sometimes also linked to the Metaphysical poets due to the intellectual playfulness evident in some of his verse.

Poetic Oeuvre

Cotton's most famous literary endeavor is his contribution to the fifth edition of Izaak Walton's "The Compleat Angler," for which he wrote a second part focusing on fly fishing and the Derbyshire Wye, which runs through his estate. His poetic work, however, includes a broad range of subjects and styles.

Themes in Cotton’s poetry include:

*Nature and Pastoral Life: He often wrote about the English countryside and the pleasures of rural life, as seen in his writings on angling and nature.

*Wit and Leisure: Following in the footsteps of the cavalier tradition, his poems frequently celebrate the ease and playfulness of country leisure.

*Friendship and Companionship: His works reflect on the joys of friendship, which is most notably seen in his collaborative work with Walton.

Influence

Cotton's influence on subsequent literature is moderate. His translations of Montaigne's "Essays" are considered significant and introduced many English readers to Montaigne's thought. While not groundbreaking in poetic innovation, his contributions to "The Compleat Angler" have immortalized him among the lovers of angling and pastoral literature.

Honors

Unlike many of his peers, Cotton did not receive significant honors during his lifetime. His reputation was marred by debt and a reputation for being somewhat of a rake, which hindered his reception by the more conservative elements of society. Today, his work is appreciated more for its historical and cultural significance, and for its charming portrayal of 17th-century country life.

Conclusion

Charles Cotton's work as a poet is characteristic of the Restoration period’s return to wit, lyricism, and the celebration of the bucolic. His translations and contributions to Walton's "The Compleat Angler" reflect the values and aesthetics of his time. Though not a leading figure in the pantheon of English literature, Cotton's work has a definitive place in the portrait of the era, and his literary voice adds depth and color to the period’s dialogue on nature, friendship, and the art of living well. His enduring legacy, particularly in the world of angling literature, is a testament to the niche yet lasting influence he carved out within the rich tapestry of English literary history.


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