"Yet Still We Hug The Dear Deceit"
Context: Although his works enjoyed considerable popularity in his own day, Dr. Nathaniel Cotton was a man who sedulously avoided publicity. All his writings were published anonymously, and his tombstone bears only the names of those who lie beneath it. His collected works were edited by his son after Cotton's death, but no biographical sketch of the poet was included; this lack was probably in accordance with his own wishes. Unusually humble, he seems also to have been a cultivated and kindly man. Dr. Cotton was a physician; he settled at St. Albans in 1740 and remained in practice there until his death. In conjunction with his medical practice, he operated a private asylum for the insane. The poet William Cowper (1731–1800) was confined there during his first severe mental breakdown, from December 1763 to June 1765; during this period he and Dr. Cotton became close friends. The poet and playwright Edward Young (1683–1765) was another of Cotton's friends, and the doctor attended him during his last illness. Cotton is remembered today for his descriptions of these events and for his kindly influence on the participants, rather than for his poetry. The latter is quite typical of its period: it is didactic, pious, and the work of a cultivated mind. His best-known volume, Visions, for the Entertainment and Instruction of Young Minds, is based on the Fables of John Gay (1688–1732). Gay was an irrepressible spirit best known today for his libretto to The Beggar's Opera. His Fables was more popular in his own time; it ranges from cheerful burlesque through penetrating satire to bitter cynicism. In Visions, Cotton has attempted to transform his commentaries into verses that will provide a moral lesson for young readers. He deals first with slander, then with pleasure and health. Part IV is a little allegory wherein the poet finds himself in a magnificent palace. All is harmonious and beautiful. At length the host, splendid personage, appears and reveals that his name is Content. A sermon ensues in which the bases of true contentment are explored. The opening lines of Part IV are given below:
Man is deceiv'd by outward show–'Tis a plain, homespun truth, I know;The fraud prevails at ev'ry age,So says the school boy, and the sage;Yet still we hug the dear deceit,And still exclaim against the cheat.But whence this inconsistent part?Say, moralists, who know the heart;If you'll this labyrinth pursue,I'll go before and find the clue.I dream'd ('twas on a birth-day night)A sumptuous palace rose to sight;The builder had thro' ev'ry partObserv'd the chastest rules of art;Raphael and Titian had display'dAll the full force of light and shade.Around the liv'ried servants wait;An aged porter kept the gate.As I was traversing the hall,Where Brussels looms adorn'd the wall,. . .A graceful person came in view. . . .