Biography Charles Cotton
- Time Period1630 - 1687
Charles Cotton was a teenager during the Civil War, and was nineteen when the King was executed at Whitehall. He seems to have had a liberal education, and it is thought that he went to Cambridge. He was familiar with French and Italian as well as the Classics.
He was said to be well educated, handsome and a great dinner companion, prized for his wit and conversation, though he could also be quarrelsome and something of a firebrand. He married his cousin Isabella Hutchinson in 1656, when he was 26. Two years later, on the death of his father, Charles inherited the estates of Beresford and Bentley, which are on the Staffordshire and Derbyshire border. The river Dove flowed nearby and it was here that he learnt to fly fish.
He published his first piece the same year, a panegyric celebrating the coronation of Charles II. In 1664 he published a burlesque titled Scarronides, a popular and slightly pornographic work which ran to 14 editions.
His wife died in 1670, leaving him with three sons and five daughters, but he married again five years later, to the widow of the Earl of Ardglass, a match which may have been an attempt to restore his fortunes, which had declined alarmingly under the pressure of his lifestyle.
After the restoration, Cotton divided his time between London and Beresford, receiving a commission in the King's forces. We do not know how he met Walton, although the latter grew up in Staffordshire and there is some evidence that Cotton was known to Walton many years before their collaboration on the Compleat Angler. Cotton certainly fished with Izaac Walton a great deal in later years, and built a fishing house on the banks of the Dove, the work being undertaken in 1674 (the hut still stands, despite rumours to the contrary). Cotton and Walton's initials were carved into a stone set above the door, below the inscription piscatoribus sacrum. At Walton's request, Cotton wrote his celebrated second part of the Compleat Angler two years after the completion of the fishing house. The work was the first detailed treatise on fly fishing, appearing in the fifth edition of the Compleat Angler, and has on the title page the same monogram as the one set above the door of the fishing house itself. Walton was 83 in that year; it isn't clear whether he ever mastered fly fishing, and it is quite likely that his days on the Dove were spent dapping live Mayfly.
Besides being a fly fisherman, Cotton wrote some fairly bawdy poetry (the years haven't treated it kindly, and it would hardly raise an eyebrow if posted on the Internet these days), translated various books from the French, and wrote The Compleat Gamester (1674). His poetry continued to be popular throughout the eighteenth century and some was addressed to Walton. Some of it was pretty dreadful:
Cotton's later years were marred by financial difficulties. He petitioned Parliament twice to sell parts of his estate and although his literary efforts continued, his income from published works was insufficient to allow him to make ends meet and he had to sell Beresford Hall in 1681. He is buried in St. James' church, Picadilly.