An Excellent Contemporary Copy of the First Edition of the Poet Cowley's Botanical Writings


(London: Printed for Charles Harper, 1689). 297 x 192 mm. (11 5/8 x 7 1/2"). [20], 166 (148-9 misnumbered 140-1), [2] pp. FIRST EDITION.

Very pleasing contemporary red morocco, elaborately panelled in gilt, covers with mitered frames composed of gilt rules, decorative rolls, pointillé tooling and floral sprays, raised bands, spine intricately gilt in compartments with central star-like design and scrolling cornerpieces, marbled endpapers, all edges gilt, possible (very expert) repair to top spine compartment. Frontispiece engraving of Cowley's tomb. Front pastedown with the bookplate of Robert S. Pirie. Wing C-6665; ESTC R21164. ◆Spine and head of rear board sunned, a bit of wear to joints and extremities, boards tending to splay slightly, faint scattered dark flecks to leather, text with isolated spots and browning, but an excellent copy, the binding solid and only minimally worn, and internally very fresh and clean.

From a distinguished collection, in extremely attractive condition, and in a fine contemporaneous binding, this is the first appearance of the botanical writings 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 went on to become one of the most popular poets of his day. A staunch royalist who served in the exiled court of Charles I's queen, Henrietta Maria, he helped 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, pictured in our frontispiece, refers to him as "the English Virgil," and Perkin asserts that his "fame as a poet exceeded even that of Milton" during the waning years of the Restoration. The present copy comes from the collection of Robert S. Pirie (1934-2015), an extremely successful lawyer and investment banker who amassed the finest library of 16th and 17th century English literature in private hands during his lifetime. In 1984, he was elected one of the 40 members of the Roxburghe Club, the world's oldest society of bibliophiles.

Price: $2,250.00