Thursday, 28 April 2016
Otherwise, Cotton was best known in his time for his more or less indecent 'burlesques' of Latin classics, and for his authorship of The Compleat Gamester, a manual of games that was the standard work until Hoyle came along. He also produced a successful (if unreliable) translation of Montaigne's essays, and clearly had a more sensitive side to his nature, responding warmly to the scenery of the Peak District (whose praises he sang in The Wonders of the Peake) and finding, in the valley of the Dove, his paradise on Earth.
One of Cotton's poems, The Evening Quatrains - with its startling images of an ant as a 'monstrous elephant' and the shafts of an upturned cart as 'the cuckold's crest' - was set to music by Britten as the Pastoral movement of his Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings. You can enjoy it, arranged for tenor, horn and piano, in this video. I wonder if Cotton's poem, rich in evening imagery (including 'lowing herds'), fed into the creation of Gray's Elegy in a Country Churchyard...