(London: Printed by J. M. for Henry Herringman, 1668). 290 x 183 mm. (11 1/2 x 7 1/4"). 22 p.l., 41, , 80, , 70 [i.e. 68], 154, 23,  148 pp. FIRST COLLECTED EDITION, FIRST PRINTING (without the errata slip added quite late into the first printing, according to Perkin).
Contemporary sprinkled calf, rebacked with most of original spine laid on, raised bands, spine compartments intricately tooled in gilt, red morocco label (two repaired patches on the front cover and one on rear). Frontispiece portrait of the author, title with printer's device, headpieces to each new section. Three sections with separate title pages as called for in Perkin. A PRESENTATION COPY FROM COWLEY'S BROTHER, with his signed inscription to John Farington dated Feb 7, 1668-9 on the front free endpaper; front pastedown with the bookplate of Sir Thomas Miller, Baronet; front free endpaper with the bookplate of Robert S. Pirie. Perkin B1; Wing C-6649 (conflating first and second printing). Corners slightly rubbed, but the restored binding with little wear. Half-inch ink stain obscuring a dozen words over three leaves, two leaves rather wrinkled and smudged around the edges, probably during printing (text unaffected), other insignificant imperfections, otherwise an excellent copy internally, unusually clean and fresh with ample margins.
This is a significant association copy of the first edition of the collected works of one of the most precocious poets in the annals of English literature. Cowley (1616-67) was producing poetic works of inexplicable sophistication before he had settled into puberty; he published his first volume of verse at 15; and he went on to become one of the most popular poets of his day. Cowley was a staunch royalist who served in the exiled court of Charles I's queen, Henrietta Maria, where he helped to encode and decipher messages sent between the monarchy's supporters, including the royal couple themselves. Despite having been arrested and imprisoned as a royalist agent at one point, Cowley escaped the Cromwell years largely unscathed and retired to the countryside in 1663. Upon his death, Cowley was not only given the extraordinary honor of burial in Westminster Abbey (noted by the DNB as "the most lavish funeral which had ever been given to a mere man of letters in England") but was also afforded a privileged spot next to the graves of Spenser and Chaucer. Cowley's influence on contemporary poetry was demonstrably deep; his funerary monument refers to him as "the English Virgil," and Perkin asserts that "[Cowley's] fame as a poet exceeded even that of Milton" during the waning years of the Restoration. Our first collected edition of Cowley's work was compiled by his friend and literary executor Thomas Sprat and published the year following the author's death. It includes reprints of his most popular works, among them "Poems" (which contained both "Davideis" and "Pindaric Odes"), "Verses," and "The Mistress," several lesser-known prose essays and poems (including one on Cromwell's government), and some hitherto unpublished material including his "Several Discourses by Way of Essays in Verse and Prose." Thomas Cowley, whose presentation inscription distinguishes this copy as being particularly desirable, was the executor and sole heir of his brother Abraham. It is likely that the recipient was John Farington, a gentleman connected to the family of Sir Thomas Miller, 1st baronet of Chichester, by both rank and marriage. John Farington the elder (ca. 1609-80) and Sir Thomas Miller (ca.1635-1705) both served as MPs in the House of Commons for Chichester after the Restoration. Parliamentary records note that a John Farington married Miller's daughter, though whether this refers to John the elder or one of his sons is unclear. (ST13039e)
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PJP Catalog: SE17BF.033