Colton, Charles Caleb (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 11
Colton, Charles Caleb

no contributor recorded

COLTON, CHARLES CALEB (1780?–1832), author of ' Lacon,' born about 1780, was probably a son of Barfoot Colton, elected to King's College, Cambridge, in 1755, and afterwards canon of Salisbury. Colton was educated at Eton, elected to King's College in 1796, B.A. 1801, and M.A. 1804. In 1801 he was presented by his college to the rectory of Prior's Portion, Tiverton, tenable with a fellowship. Here he published a sermon (1809), a 'Plain and Authentic Narrative of the Sampford Ghost' (1810), and 'Hypocrisy; a Satire in three Books ' (only one book published); in 1812. He was more famous as a sportsman, and especially as a skilful fisherman, than as a divine. In 1818 he was presented to the college living of Kew and Petersham. Here his eccentricities became marked. A writer in the 'Literary Magnet,' who first met him in company with 'Walking Stewart,' describes him as wearing a military dress. He said that it was cheaper to live in London than at his living, and the stranger found him in squalid lodgings over a marine-store shop, with a few books, such as Defoe's 'History of the Devil,' fishing-rods, and scattered manuscripts. He produced, however, two bottles of excellent wine, and talked brilliantly. Another visitor, Cyrus Redding, softens the description, and declares that Colton was always temperate, and his surroundings cleanly. For a time he carried on business as a wine merchant. In 1816 he published a poem, which had first been called 'Napoleon,' as 'Lines on the Conflagration of Moscow' (4th edition 1822), and in 1819 'Remarks Critical and Moral on the Talents of Lord Byron.' In 1820 appeared the first volume of his 'Lacon, or many Things in few "Words addressed to those who think.' A sixth edition appeared in 1821. A second volume was added in 1822, and it has been frequently reprinted. It is a collection of aphorisms of an edifying kind, and often very forcibly expressed. He is charged with borrowing from Bacon's 'Essays' and the ' Materials for Thinking ' of William Burdon [q. v.], but absolute originality could scarcely be expected. Colton was addicted to gambling, and became deeply embarrassed. He had associated with Thurtell, who murdered Weare in 1823. When Colton disappeared about the same time, Thurtell was at first thought to be concerned. Colton had in fact retired to America, and, according to Redding, his debts were caused by speculations in Spanish bonds. He went to Paris, and in 1827 returned to claim his living. In 1828, however, a successor was appointed. Colton again visited America, and finally settled in Paris, where Redding saw him in 1829. He became known at the gaming tables in the Palais Royal, and is said at one time to have gained 25,000l., to have collected a picture gallery, and afterwards to have been ruined. His friend, Major Markham Sherwell, says that he was supported by his 'aged mother,' and was above distress. He suffered from a painful disease. He falsified one of the remarks in 'Lacon,' viz. that no one ever committed suicide from bodily anguish, though thousands have done so from mental anguish, by killing himself while visiting Major Sherwell at Fontainebleau 28 April 1832, rather than submit to a surgical operation. A volume called ' Modern Antiquity and other Poems ' was edited by M. Sherwell in 1835. Colton seems to have been a man of great talent, though unfitted by character, and, it would seem, by his real opinions, for a clerical career.

[Gent. Mag. for 1832, i. 564-6; Cyrus Bedding's Fifty Years' Recollections (1858), ii. 303-311; The Literary Magnet, new series, 1827, iii. 218-23; The Georgian Era, iii. 582; Introduction to ' Modern Antiquity.']