Senior Tutor Dr Paul Hartle's 30-Year Project

In September 2017, Dr Paul Hartle's edition of Charles Cotton's poetry was published. What makes this publication so unique, is that it has been more than 30 years in the making. As he celebrated his publication this month, we spoke to Dr Hartle about how his work went from concept to publication.

"On the fourth of December 2017, it will be exactly thirty-one years since I signed the contract with Oxford University Press for my edition of The Poetry of Charles Cotton, which appeared a few weeks ago, occupying two volumes and 1632 pages, a steal at £200 – for both volumes.  I well remember the last but one of my many editors at Oxford, when she was reminding me of a contract clause (perhaps the one that said the book would be “approximately 600 demy octavo pages” – whoops!), wryly remarking “I see this was signed just a little before I was born”.

I first encountered Charles Cotton (born 1630, died 1687) in an anthology of Restoration poetry recommended to me in my final undergraduate year by Richard Luckett, my predecessor as English Fellow at Cath’s.  Had I known that it would take me almost as long to edit Cotton’s poetry as it took Cotton to write it, I might (to quote Chaucer) have been wiser to “turne over the leef and chese another tale”.

Cotton wrote political poetry, piscatory poetry (he was co-author of The Compleat Angler), comic travelogue, nature poetry, and dirty poetry (especially his burlesques of Virgil and Lucian).  He was admired by Pepys, by Defoe, by Swift, by Wordsworh and Coleridge, and set by Benjamin Britten.  And now his “infinite variety” is contained for the first time in a single edition.  For all those three decades of work, through visits to libraries around the world to consult manuscripts and early printed versions, the College has supported my “wandering steps and slow”, and I am delighted to lay the work at the feet of St Catharine, this collaborative effort of an editor and his poet, who has been “an humane and hospitable, sociable and pleasant companion”.