Thursday, August 06, 2015

Across a meadow

Charles Cotton's Fishing House

Yesterday we enjoyed a short walk through Biggin Dale, Wolfscote Dale and Beresford Dale where ravens soar and croak and grey wagtails flit around the waterfalls, where Beresford Hall used to be and Charles Cotton’s Fishing House still stands on the banks of the River Dove. 

The picture was taken near to the Hartington path, across a low-lying meadow full of mead wort or meadowsweet as the fishing house is on private land. For over three hundred years Cotton’s little place has watched the river amble past its door.

Charles Cotton (28 April 1630 – 16 February 1687) was an English poet and writer, best known for translating the work of Michel de Montaigne from the French, for his contributions to The Compleat Angler, and for the influential The Compleat Gamester[2] attributed to him.

Fishing hereabouts is still private as it presumably has been since Cotton’s day. So that’s a few centuries isn’t it? Yet the river and its beauties are probably all the better for a spot of privacy. Imagine how peaceful it must have been even in the seventeenth century far from all the strife and turmoil.

Yet for all his obvious love of peace and the attractions of nature, there are colourful aspects to Charles Cotton’s story. He wrote an epitaph for "M.H.", a prostitute he seems to have held in high regard, considering their relative positions so to speak. In a local antiques shop we saw a plain seventeenth century chest with the initials MH carved into the lid. Coincidence presumably, but I didn’t ask.

Epitaph upon M.H

In this cold Monument lies one,
That I know who has lain upon,
The happier He : her Sight would charm,
And Touch have kept King David warm.
Lovely, as is the dawning East ,
Was this Marble's frozen Guest ;
As soft, and Snowy, as that Down
Adorns the Blow-balls frizled Crown;
As straight and slender as the Crest,
Or Antlet of the one beam'd Beast;
Pleasant as th' odorous Month of May :
As glorious, and as light as Day .

Whom I admir'd, as soon as knew,
And now her Memory pursue
With such a superstitious Lust,
That I could fumble with her Dust.

She all Perfections had, and more,
Tempting, as if design'd a Whore ,
For so she was; and since there are
Such, I could wish them all as fair.

Pretty she was, and young, and wise,
And in her Calling so precise,
That Industry had made her prove
The sucking School-Mistress of Love :
And Death , ambitious to become
Her Pupil , left his Ghastly home,
And, seeing how we us'd her here,
The raw-bon'd Rascal ravisht her.

Who, pretty Soul, resign'd her Breath,
To seek new Letchery in Death.


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Sackerson said...

Pretty, young, wise - and dead. A poor, used creature cast aside to starve, killed by smallpox or VD - or just a victim of some passing virus?

A K Haart said...

Sackers - impossible to say, could have been anything. She sounds too knowing for it to have been poverty but they were hard times.