Abraham Cowley


Collected Works

The Collected Works of Abraham Cowley, Volumes 1 and 2 Part 1. ed. Thomas O. Calhoun, Laurence Heyworth, Allan Pritchard and J. Robert King (Newark, London & Toronto, 1989-93). [The edition discontinued after the death of Thomas Calhoun].


The Complete Works in Verse and Prose of Abraham Cowley, ed. Alexander B. Grosart, 2 vols, Chertsey Worthies Library ([Edinburgh], 1881).

Miscellanea Aulica

Thomas Brown of Shifnal, Miscellanea Aulica: or, A Collection of State-Treatises, never before publish'd (London, 1702).


Arthur H. Nethercot, Abraham Cowley: The Muse's Hannibal (London, 1931; reprinted with addenda and errata, New York, 1967).


M.R. Perkin, Abraham Cowley: A Bibliography (Folkestone, 1977).

Pritchard, Editing

Allan Pritchard, ‘Editing from Manuscript: Cowley and the Cowper Papers’ in Editing Poetry from Spenser to Dryden, ed. A.H. De Quehen (New York and London, 1981), pp. 46-76.


The Mistress and other Select Poems of Abraham Cowley, ed. John Sparrow (London, 1926).


The English Writings of Abraham Cowley, ed. A.R. Waller: Volume I: Poems (Cambridge, 1905); Volume II: Essays, Plays and sundry Verses (Cambridge, 1906).


Autograph Literary Manuscripts

A number of autograph literary manuscripts of Cowley have survived, several of them having come to light only in relatively recent years. The most important is the manuscript of Books I to III of The Civil War (*CoA 40). Probably written in 1643, this unfinished poem was mentioned by Cowley in the Preface to his Poems (London, 1656) as one of those he had ‘cast away’ and burnt during the ‘late troubles’, being ‘three Books of the Civil War it self, reaching as far as the first Battel of Newbury, where the succeeding misfortunes of the party stopt the work; for it is so uncustomary, as to become almost ridiculous, to make Lawrels for the Conquered’. Evidently a few copies of the First Book alone were made (see CoA 43-4), one of which fell after Cowley's death into the hands of a printer, who published it in 1679. Nothing was known of the full surviving text until 1966, when the transcript of Cowley's own manuscript made for Dame Sarah Cowper (CoA 41) was discovered among the Panshanger manuscripts at Hertford and prepared for an edition by Allan Pritchard. It was only many months later that Cowley's original manuscript (*CoA 40) also came to light in the same collection and was consequently used as the basis for Pritchard's edition eventually published in 1973 (see Pritchard, Editing). Although it has been suggested that three or even four hands are to be found in the authorial manuscropt, it is in fact in two hands: one, that of an amanuensis, responsible for copying Book I; the other, that of Cowley himself (his script varying occasionally in its rhythm and degree of formality), responsible for corrections in Book I and for the copying of all of Books II and III. The manuscript probably came into Dame Sarah Cowper's possession through a mutual friend of hers and Cowley's, Martin Clifford (d.1677), Master of the Charterhouse, to whom Cowley may have given it. The survival of both original manuscript and direct contemporary transcript of it also provides, as Pritchard has pointed out, a rare opportunity to take full cognizance of the kind of scribal errors and alterations that can contaminate the transmission of seventeenth-century texts even when derived directly from an autograph original.

Elsewhere an autograph manuscript was identified in 1976 for Cowley's notable elegy, written after 1649, On the Death of Mr. Crashaw (*CoA 127). An autograph presentation poem is inscribed in a volume of his Poems which he gave in 1656 to the Bodleian Library (*CoA 119). Another autograph presentation poem, in Latin, was found in 1929 inscribed in an exemplum of his Plantarum libri duo which he gave in 1662 to Sir Alexander Fraizer (*CoA 203). The original autograph manuscript of his epistolary essay The Garden, sent to John Evelyn in 1666, is likewise preserved (*CoA 206). Furthermore, it is now possible to identify an autograph notebook by Cowley on the medicinal properties of herbs (*CoA 209) — a compilation which is clearly related to his Plantarum (1662-8). This manuscript, among the Sloane manuscripts in the British Library, contains the name ‘Abraham Cowley’ in an unknown hand, but the notes — probably entered in the late 1650s-60s, during the period of Cowley's retirement when he took up the study of medicine and botany — are in his own hand throughout. This notebook on plants is, moreover, a reminder that Cowley apparently transcribed the whole of the original manuscript of John Evelyn's Kalendarium hortense for his own use before its publication (see Evelyn's dedication to Cowley in the second edition of 1666), but no trace of that transcript is known today.

These various extant autograph manuscripts are written with differing degrees of formality, but they are alike in demonstrating Cowley's accomplished penmanship — being, incidentally, a reminder that he was, at least by some reports, the son of a London stationer. Most important, they show for the most part an almost pedantic concern with details of punctuation, orthography and layout, reflecting among other things his attempt to ensure the correct speaking of his lines, a concern which is similarly shown in his careful preparation of his works for the press.


Examples of Cowley's hand survive also in a relatively substantial number of original letters by him. Although not all recorded letters by Cowley can now be traced or, indeed, are known still to exist, there are probably more letters by him than his early biographers and commentators have generally been aware of. Apart from printed sources cited below, the most extensive listings hitherto have appeared in A. H. Nethercot, ‘The Letters of Abraham Cowley’, Modern Language Notes, 43 (1928), 369-75 (these letters also generally referred to in Nethercot's biography of 1931), and in Perkin, pp. 87-90. Although their whereabouts is not always known at present, a number of letters by Cowley recorded in modern times, written on his own behalf and, so far as is known, in his own hand, are given entries below (CoA 213-251).

Besides his formal epistolary essays — such as The Garden (*CoA 206) — the texts of a further fifteen letters are known from eighteenth-century publications. All addressed to Henry Bennet, dating from 30 April 1650 to 13 September 1653, they are printed in Miscellanea Aulica (London, 1702), pp. 130-9, 141-50, 152-60. The letters are all reprinted from that source in Grosart, II, 345-52.

The numberof letters that can be recorded is smaller for the elimination of certain blatant fabrications (including supposed remains of Sprat's collection) published in Thomas Brown's Works (1730) and Fraser's Magazine (1836). These are discussed in Nethercot's article cited, p. 370. By the same token, three ‘cant’ letters of 1656, which are ascribed to Cowley (‘This is Mr. Cow letter to mee’) in Bodleian, MS Clarendon 51, ff. 211r, 248r and 277r (see Nethercot (1931), pp. 312-13), are equally spurious.

Letters Written by Cowley as a Secretary

It would be possible, on the other hand, to extend the list of Cowley's letters by the inclusion of extant letters and documents which he wrote as secretary to Henry, Lord Jermyn, and to their mistress, Queen Henrietta Maria, during their exile in France between c.1644 and 1651. (Indeed some of the letters given entries below might be construed as, in effect, written on Jermyn's behalf). While no doubt many more such letters will come to light, or be identified, in due course, currently known examples of letters written by Cowley in his secretarial office may be briefly listed or summarised as follows.

A number of them in the National Archives, Kew, include SP 106/10, items 2, 3, 5-12, 15 (1645-6), which are edited in Secret Writing in the Public Records, Henry VIII-George II, ed. Sheila R. Richards (London, 1974), Nos. 65, 66-74, 80, 85 and Plate IV, after p. 78. Further letters identified by Cowley's editor Thomas O. Calhoun are SP 16/510, items 16, 22, 33, 36-7, 51, 63, and 72 (1645). A letter by Jermyn in Cowley's hand, dated 7 August 1654, is also among the Evelyn papers in the British Library (Add. MS 78193).

Letters by Lord Jermyn recorded as wholly or partly written in Cowley's hand were sold at Sotheby's, 13 April 1905, lots 7 and 45 (22 February and 11 December 1649), to Sabin); lot 8 (23 February 1649), to Maggs); lot 42 (30 November 1649), to Clarke); and in Sotheby's sale on 26 July 1938, lot 425 (1649) to Maggs. Cowley's autograph copy of a letter from Lord Aitkin to Jermyn, from Stockholm, 1649, was offered in Maggs's sale catalogue No. 303 (1913), item 168. A warrant signed by Henrietta Maria for payment of 1,200 pistoles to Sir William Davenant, 20 June 1647, the text and a subjoined ‘minute’ in Cowley's hand, was sold at Sotheby's, 22 June 1976, lot 105, and is now in the Pierpont Morgan Library (MA 3863). A photocopy is in the British Library (RP 780). What appears to be an autograph endorsement and signature cut from an indenture dated 29 December 1660 between Jermyn and Sir Kenelm Digby is also in the Pierpont Morgan Library (Misc. Eng.).

A particularly interesting set of ‘Instructions for Mr. Denham’, entirely in Cowley's hand and signed by Queen Henrietta Maria, 10 May 1649, has been identified in the British Library (Add. MS 19399, ff. 72r-3v) and is edited in Hilton Kelliher, ‘John Denham: New Letters and Documents’, British Library Journal, 12 (1986), 1-20 (pp. 18-19). A receipt by Cowley for 150 agates for the use of Jermyn is also recorded as being among the muniments of the Cottrell-Dormer family at Rousham, Oxfordshire (HMC, 2nd Report (1871), Appendix, p. 83).

These various examples must be a tiny portion of the number of letters and documents that Cowley actually wrote on official Royalist business. According to Sprat (in his ‘Account of the Life…of…Cowley’ in Works (1668)), Cowley ‘cypher'd and decypher'd with his own hand, the greatest part of all the Letters that passed between their Majesties, and managed a vast Intelligence in many other parts: which for some years together took up all his days, and two or three nights every week’. In his dedicatory epistle ‘To the King’ in Poems and Translations (London, 1668), Sir John Denham recalled his own involvement in this clandestine correspondence with the King and his need to escape from London ‘about nine months after being discovered by their knowledge of Mr. Cowleys hand’.

Thomas Sprat

Although rarely personal in nature, Cowley's letters are of more than passing interest if one heeds the opinion of Cowley's Royal Society colleague and biographer Thomas Sprat (1635-1713), Bishop of Rochester, who wrote that ‘one kind of Prose wherein Cowley was excellent…[was] his letters to his private Friends’ (‘An Account of the Life and Writings of Mr Abraham Cowley’ in Cowley's Works (London, 1668)). Since Sprat believed, however, that ‘Letters that pass between particular Friends, if they are written as they ought to be, can scarce ever be fit to see the light’ and so should not ‘go abroad into the Streets’, he declined to publish what appears to have been the major collection of letters by Cowley: i.e. those belonging to himself and to his friend Martin Clifford (‘…I think, Sir, you and I have the greatest Collection of this sort…’). Indeed, only five letters in the entries below (*CoA 239, *CoA 242, *CoA 243, *CoA 248, and *CoA 250) appear to derive from this correspondence. It is possible too that all five were addressed to Clifford rather than to Sprat since all were preserved among the family papers of Dame Sarah Cowper who, as noted above, was a friend of Clifford's. One possible addition to this group is Cowley's epistolary essay The danger of Procrastination (Waller, II, 452-5), which is subtitled ‘A Letter to Mr. S. L.’ Nethercot (Modern Language Notes, 43 (1928), 373) has argued that ‘S.L.’ might conceivably represent ‘Sprat of Lincoln’ since Sprat was the Prebendary of Lincoln Cathedral; but this is a matter of speculation.

Thomas Sprat was, moreover, Cowley's literary executor and the chief custodian of his remaining literary manuscripts and library. In his will of 18 September 1665 (Nethercot, pp. 296-7), Cowley desired Sprat ‘to trouble himselfe wth ye Collection and Revision of all such writings of mine (whether printed before or not) as hee shall think fit to bee publish'd…And in consideration of this vnpleasant task I desire him to accept of my Study of Books’, while Sprat himself mentioned, in his ‘Account of the …Life …of …Cowley’, the poet's desire for him to collect ‘those Papers which he had design'd for the Press’ (Waller, I, v). Sprat dutifully reviewed Cowley's papers and included in the Works of 1668, which he edited, ‘all that [he] could find in his Closet, which he had brought to any manner of perfection’. These included such previously unpublished compositions as Several Discourses by way of Essays in Verse and Prose. He also published separately, in 1668, Cowley's Poemata latina. The author's papers themselves were allegedly used as printer's copy (according to the title-page, at any rate, the Works were ‘Now Published out of the Authors Original Copies’) and so have disappeared. Sprat's papers in general passed after his death to his wife and then to his son, after whom no trace of them is known. Of the ‘Study of Books’ that Cowley left him, an early reference to only one volume can be recorded at present. An exemplum of the Opera of Sextus Empiricus (Paris, 1621) inscribed ‘The Legacy of Mr. A. Cowley’ was offered for sale in the catalogue of the library of Dr John Friend (1675-1728) auctioned at John Cooper's house in Covent Garden on 2 January 1729, 7th day, lot 1218 (exemplum of this catalogue in the British Library, S.C. 432 (1)).

John Evelyn

Another notable friend and correspondent of Cowley's later years, who is also thinly represented in the letters recorded below, is John Evelyn. Four informative letters from Cowley to Evelyn are recorded (*CoA 245, *CoA 246, CoA 249, *CoA 251), one of them originally accompanying the surviving autograph manuscript of his epistolary essay The Garden (*CoA 206). An unspecified letter from Cowley to Evelyn, which may or may not be one of those already recorded, was in a now untraced collection of about 335 ‘holograph letters, etc., of the Poets of Great Britain and a few of America’ (2 vols, folio, bound in red morocco) which was offered for sale by J. Pearson of London in his catalogue of ‘A most important collection of holograph MSS’ [n.d.], item 201 (exemplum of this catalogue in the British Library). No letters of Cowley are preserved among the Evelyn papers now removed from Christ Church, Oxford, to the British Library. However, what is described as an autograph literary manuscript by Cowley in prose, on two quarto leaves, is now preserved in another privately owned section of Evelyn family papers which is not at present accessible to scholars. An apparently unknown set of verses by Cowley is also preserved in Evelyn's hand (CoA 190).

Two poems on Cowley which Evelyn himself wrote are also now in the British Library and were first recorded in Pritchard, Editing. One was written to Cowley in direct response to receiving his essay The Garden in 1666: viz. ‘To Abraham Cowley sending me his poeme— The Garden’ (see *EvJ 6). The other (British Library Add. MS 78357, pp. 59-60) is a lengthy Elegie (beginning ‘Greate Cowley dead!’) written sometime after Cowley's death on 28 July 1667 and is edited in full in Pritchard's Editing, pp. 70-4. Copies of four letters from Evelyn to Cowley, written between 20 March 1662/3 and 12 March 1666/7, chiefly on the subject of Evelyn's cousin Sir Samuel Tuke (d.1674) and Tuke's play The Adventures of Five Hours, are in one of Evelyn's letterbooks owned by Lord Camoys of Stonor Park, Oxfordshire (a microfilm is in the Bodleian, MS Film 743, letters clxxxxix, ccl, ccv, and cclxxxv). Evelyn's own exempla of Cowley's Poemata latina (2nd edition, 1678); Works (1668); and A Vision concerning his late pretended Highnesse Cromwell, the Wicked (1661) appeared in the Evelyn sale at Christie's on, respectively, 23 June 1977, lot 424 (to Francis Edwards) and lot 425 (to Quaritch), and on 13 July 1978, lot 1628 (also to Quaritch). The first of these volumes appeared again in Quaritch's sale catalogue for summer 2010, item 14. The second of these items is now in the British Library (Eve. b. 28).

Books from Cowley's Library

Other notable examples of Cowley's handwriting take the form of inscriptions in a few of his surviving printed books. Besides the inscribed presentation exempla of Plantarum (*CoA 203) and Poems (*CoA 119), a currently untraced volume of his Poems (1656) was inscribed by him to Lady Hanmer. This was offered in Pickering & Chatto's sale catalogue of 1899, item 1873; was then in the Newberry Library, Chicago; and was sold at Sotheby's, 8 November 1965, lot 77, to Seven Gables Bookshop, New York. A facsimile of the inscribed flyleaf appears in the Sotheby's sale catalogue. A presentation exemplum of Plantarum libri duo (1662) probably accompanied Cowley's letter to Dr Busby (*CoA 244) but is no longer known. What are apparently two other presentation exempla of this edition are preserved: one in the Huntington (RB 102357), bearing on a pasted-down slip of paper Cowley's autograph inscription ‘For Mr. Keck from His most humble servant the Author’; the other in the Bodleian (8° A. 13 Med BS), bearing no trace of Cowley's own hand but the inscription by a contemporary librarian ‘ex dono Authoris’. An exemplum of Verses written upon Several Occasions (London, 1663) with, allegedly, the ‘Author's signature on the title’ (a volume owned later in 1772 by E. T. Bridges) was offered for sale in A.S.W. Rosenbach's catalogue [No. 45], English Poetry to 1700 (1941), item 212. Item 243 in the same catalogue was an exemplum of the first quarto edition of Davenant's Gondibert (1651) described as ‘formerly owned by Cowley’. although no evidence of association is given other than the appearance of Cowley's ‘initials on the title-page’.

Apart from the volume of Sextus Empiricus sold in 1729 and noted above, only one other printed book appears to have been associated with Cowley in recent times, but it is almost certainly spurious. A late-sixteenth-century edition of the works of Ovid printed in Frankfurt for Johann Wechel, bearing, among other manuscript additions and verses, the inscription ‘Abraham Cowley His Book’, was sold at Sotheby's, 22 July 1985, lot 15, to Laurence Heyworth. As is noted in the sale catalogue, however, the inscription appears to be ‘in an immature hand of the seventeenth or early-eighteenth century which bears no resemblance to the known signature of the poet’.

Manuscript Copies of Cowley's Poems

Among the surviving manuscript copies of works by Cowley which are not in his own hand, relatively few may be said to have clearly definable authority. Certainly Dame Sarah Cowper's transcript of The Civil War (CoA 41) would be invaluable had the author's own manuscript not come to light. Valuable too is her copy of Cowley's posthumously published poem To the Duke of Buckingham (CoA 191), which, marked ‘M C’, could well have been transcribed from a copy of the original autograph presentation manuscript made by Martin Clifford, who was for a time Buckingham's secretary. Three of Cowley's occasional juvenile compositions are preserved only in copies because they were entered by the appointed scribe in an extant volume of verse presented by Westminster School to Charles I in 1633 (CoA 36, CoA 123, CoA 173).

With these and a few other exceptions indicated elsewhere, most of Cowley's works were printed under his personal supervision and modern editors would generally be justified in using those editions as their copy-texts. At the same time, Cowley's works evidently had some circulation in manuscript — in academic circles, among Royalist exiles in Paris in the 1640s and 50s, among Cowley's personal friends, and elsewhere. Circulation was sufficient for manuscripts of a number of his poems to fall into the hands of publishers and be printed by them without his consent. In the Preface ‘To the Reader’ in the first edition of The Mistresse (1647), for instance, Humphrey Moseley alleged: ‘A Correct Copy of these verses (as I am told) written by the Authour himselfe, falling into my hands, I thought fit to send them to the Presse; cheifely because I heare that the same is like to be don from a more imperfect one’ (Waller, I, 456). In the Preface to Poems (1656), Cowley himself complained of various other unauthorized and spurious publications in which his works were ‘mangled and imperfect’, including The Guardian, ‘the Copy’ of which he claimed to have lost (Waller, I, 4-5). Verses, Lately Written upon Several Occasions (1663) was also first ‘printed at Dublin without [Cowley's] consent or knowledge’, as the publisher Henry Herringman observes in the first London edition of the same year. Indeed, no exemplum of this pirated Dublin edition —Poems, by Several Persons (Dublin, printed by John Crooke…for Samuel Dancer, 1663) — was known to editors until what may be the only extant example came to light at the Folger (C6681.5).

Yet other poems were allegedly printed by stationers from manuscript copies that happened to come to hand: for instance, The Garden in Poems upon divers occasions in 1667 (‘This following Poem coming by chance to my hands, I took the double boldness to Print it…’: Perkin, p. 83) and A Poem on the late Civil War [i.e. The First Book] in 1679 (‘Meeting accidentally with this Poem in Manuscript…I thought it unjust to hide such a Treasure from the World…’: Waller, II, 466, and see CoA 40-4). It is clear, in any event that Cowley chose not to acknowledge or to print himself. various of his poems. In the Preface to Poems (1656) he claimed ‘I have supprest and cast away more then I publish’ and (of his Miscellanies) ‘I know not by what chance I have kept Copies of them; for they are but a very few in comparison of those which I have lost’ (Waller, I, 6 and 9). Poems in whose fate Cowley apparently took little concern but which were nevertheless preserved and circulated in manuscript copies would presumably include his Sors Virgiliana (CoA 174-80); his elegy on the death of his friend William Harvey (CoA 130-1) and the occasional Prologue and Epilogue to The Guardian written for Charles I's visit to Cambridge in March 1641/2 (CoA 137-52, CoA 68-81). One of the copies of Sors Virgiliana (CoA 176) was made by John Aubrey who comments in the same context ‘Mr. Geo: Ent (who lived in his [Cowley's] house at Chertsey in the great plague 1665.) shewed me Mr Cowleys owne hand writing’ (British Library, Lansdowne MS 231, ff. 155r, 158r).

The majority of extant manuscript texts of Cowley's poems are likely, nevertheless, to derive from printed sources. Indeed, in this respect Cowley is unusual among the poets of his time. The number of copies of his poems in extant seventeenth- and eighteenth-century miscellanies is such as to indicate clearly that he was one of the most popular and most frequently transcribed poets of his century, but this evidence of transmission is quite different from that of so widely transcribed a poet as, say, John Donne. Cowley's admirers had a steady stream of published editions of his works from which to copy out selections of their own choice. If there be any further motive behind the widespread transcribing of his works it may perhaps be that at times the demand for printed editions exceeded the supply, a possibility suggested by ‘The Book-sellers’ (i.e. Charles Harper and Jacob Tonson) in The second part of the works of Mr. Abraham Cowley…The fourth edition (London, 1681), where it is observed of the first three editions of Poetical Blossomes (1633-7) that they were ‘much enquired after, and very scarce (the Town hardly affording one Book, though it had been thrice Printed)’ (Waller, II, 487).

Other Manuscript Copies

Granted that near-contemporary manuscript copies even of printed texts have value in indicating the taste and reception of early readers, the entries below do not record every known copy of each of Cowley's poems. Instead, the following policy (the reverse of that normally followed here) has been adopted. Those manuscripts containing ten or more of Cowley's poems are described hereafter as collective units, included under a category of ‘Extracts from Works by Cowley and Collections of Manuscript Copies’, and are not given a separate entry for each individual text they contain. Separate entries are, however, given to manuscript copies of poems, or extracts from poems, when fewer than ten poems appear in the manuscript volume.

For convenient reference, those manuscripts containing ten or more poems by Cowley may be listed as follows:

1. Bodleian, MS Rawl. Poet. 90. Includes (on ff. 56v-9v, 85v-97, 122, 162r-v) 15 poems (and a second copy of one poem) by Cowley.

2. Bodleian, MS Rawl. Poet. 173. Includes (on ff. 26r-7v, 32v-3r, 35r-40r, 53v-6r 58v-9r, 79r-81v, 96v-7r, 98r-v, 140v-1r 159r-60v, 168v, 169v-70v) 27 poems by Cowley.

3. Bodleian, MS Rawl. Poet. 213. Includes (on front paste-down and ff. 2r, 4r-5v, 30r, 47v-50r, 66v) portions of 17 poems by Cowley.

4. British Library, Add. MS 11492. Includes (on ff. 117v-31v, versos only) 12 poems by Cowley.

5. British Library, Add. MS 29921. Includes (on ff. 113r-v, 124r-9v) 10 poems by Cowley.

6. British Library, Egerton MS 2326. Large collection of Cowley's poems.

7. University of Chicago, MS f553, Includes (on pp. 2, 4, 44, 47-9, 196, 206, 222, 225-6, 229, 242, 253, 255, 264, 270, 273-5, 280, 282, 286, 350-4) portions of some 29 poems by Cowley.

8. Harvard, MS Eng 631. Includes (numbered 146-58, on 26 unnumbered pages) 13 poems by Cowley.

9. Rosenbach Museum & Library, MS 239/16. Includes (on pp. 8, 23, 29-35, 43, 160-1) 11 poems by Cowley.

10. Yale, Osborn MS b 118. Includes (on pp. 1-40) 24 poems by Cowley.

11. English College, Rome, Scritture 35: 3. Includes extracts or more from c.57 poems by Cowley.

A few untraced manuscripts that appear to have included copies of, or extracts from, poems by Cowley, not given entries below, may be listed briefly in the hope that some will eventually resurface:

A miscellany compiled by Frances Fitzherbert, sold at Sotheby's, 9 April 1963, Lot 494, to Blackwell.

A duodecimo commonplace book compiled c.1665-90, the later entries by John Adamson, rector of Burton-Coggles, Lincolnshire, in 1693.

A manuscript comprising 67 leaves plus 67 blanks in Maggs's sale catalogues No. 536 (1930), item 1310, and No. 550 (1931), item 948.

An exemplum of Cowley's Poems (1656) at Yale (Z77.037) includes a cutting from an unspecified sale catalogue describing (as item 334) another (untraced) exemplum of that edition which contains on four preliminary pages manuscript texts of the pindaric Ode. Mr. Cowley's Book presenting itself to the University Library of Oxford and of On the Death of Mr. William Hervey.

An unidentified manuscript of a poem by Cowley is described in an old unspecified catalogue as: ‘Cowley (Abraham). Manuscript Poem and cipher. Oblong folio strip. (Cowley was cipher Secretary to Queen Henrietta Maria, circa 1647)’.

Exempla of the second and third editions of Poeticall Blossomes (1636-7) in the Bodleian also contain manuscript notes explaining the subject of An Elegie on the Death of John Littleton Esquire. They are discussed in Margaret Duncan, ‘Cowley's Elegy on John Littleton’, N&Q, 205 (November 1960), 205-6.

The Canon

The canon of Cowley's verse and prose, in English and Latin, has been largely established in Grosart, Waller and Perkin. A very few areas remain open to clarification. Two notable poems — both anti-Puritan satires by ‘A.C.’, never acknowledged by Cowley — which have tended to hover uncertainly on the perimeters of the canon are The Puritan and the Papist (CoA 161-70) and A Satyre against Separatists (CoA 158-60); the first almost certainly by Cowley (see Perkin, pp. 29-30), the second arguably his (see Perkin, pp. 25-6), and both included in the entries below. The otherwise unknown verses beginning ‘To offer him a Crown, & wonder found’ which are preserved among Evelyn's Papers in the British Library and ascribed by him to ‘Couley’ are included in the entries (CoA 190) since Evelyn's authority in this matter must surely be accepted. It is also likely, on internal evidence, that Cowley was the author of a hitherto unpublished Latin poem ascribed to ‘A. C.’ by his Trinity contemporary William Lynnet and discovered by Hilton Kelliher (see CoA 204-5). Also ascribed to ‘Abr. Cowley’ is a six-line verse headed In Petrum negantem (‘Art thou, ye only Rock, wch Xt did find’) which was apparently found in 1682 in the study of the archivist William Petyt (CoA 99.8). This text and ascription are perhaps a little too far removed from the author himself to be accepted without question, although Cowley's authorship does not seem inherently improbable. Yet another poem, comprising some twenty lines beginning ‘Happy the man whom all his dayes’, copied out in the 17th century on a single folio leaf at present in private ownership is endorsed ‘Cowley, verse’ and annotated in a more recent hand ‘1671 or 2 Cowley’ It too is written in his style.

The authorship of some other poems that have been occasionally attributed to Cowley is much more doubtful. They may be mentioned here briefly. A somewhat corrupted text of a twenty-line poem on the death of William Creswell of Magdalen College, Oxford (beginning ‘A morninge fayre, as the first lookes of May’) appears ascribed to ‘Abraham Cowley’ in Christopher Wase's miscellany in the Bodleian (MS Rawl. poet. 11, f. 169v). The poem is not in Cowley's style, although it may have some indirect connection with him since his chamber fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge, was Robert Creswell, who was perhaps William Creswell's brother. Verses upon a Punch Bowl (‘Capacious goblet, stor'd with all delight’) appears in an early 18th-century miscellany in the Bodleian (MS Rawl. poet. 173, f. 141r), where an ascription to Cowley may, perhaps, have been made from confusion with his Anacreontics on Drinking (‘The thirsty Earth soaks up the Rain’) or on The Epicure (‘Fill the Bowl with rosie Wine’). A poem beginning ‘Set to the sun a dial which doth pass’ is ascribed to ‘Cowley’ in Bodleian, MS Rawl. poet. 84, f. 122v rev., but is not in his style. It appears anonymously elsewhere, including British Library, Egerton MS 2725, f. 104; Leeds Archives, MS 237, f. 24v; London Metropolitan Archives, ACC/1360/528, f. [10v rev.]; and Yale, Osborn MS b 104, p. 90. An undistinguished poem headed The well wish of A: C: to his Soueraigne King Charles (‘Greate King whose pen ye Angells guide, whose minde’) is found in several manuscripts recorded below (CoA 200-208) and could conceivably be by Cowley, though again his authorship seems unlikely. A lengthy and anonymous late-17th-century poem entitled The Comparison (‘While some to Baths renewing springs repair’), preserved in a contemporary twelve-page manuscript at Yale (Osborn MSS File 3782, p. [1]), was attributed to Cowley in a 1951 sale catalogue but plainly has nothing to do with him. Neither has the satirical poem The Eccho (‘Now echo on what's religion grounded? Roundhead’) which happened to be printed with Cowley's Prologue and Epilogue to The Guardian in 1642 and is found in a number of manuscript copies. Other poems have been implausibly attributed to Cowley on the basis of now lost manuscripts — for instance, verses beginning ‘Throw an apple up a hill’ and ‘She that can sit three sermons in a day’, both published by Dr Johnson (see Waller, II, 485), and ‘Beyond the art of any care’, published by Isaac Bickerstaffe in The Tatler of 6-9 January 1710. Moreover, the occasional ascription to Cowley is found in manuscripts of poems demonstrably by other authors: for example, Carew's Rapture (CwT 627-55); Peter Hausted's Ad Populum (‘Ye dull Idolaters have you not bent’) (in Rosenbach, MS 239/18, pp. 64-8); and a poem, also ascribed to Henry Noel, to Dr [Richard] Love (Bodleian, MS Lat. misc. c. 19, p. 422), to ‘Mr Crooke vpon M T’ (British Library, Egerton MS 2725, f. 123v),.and in the William Strode dubia, the widely-copied (in at least 24 manuscripts) ‘Gaze not on swans’. This is ascribed to Cowley only in British Library, Add. MS 28839, f. 80v. Further examples of this kind might well be found.

Adaptations etc.

Some of Cowley's poems are occasionally represented in manuscript sources in the form of translations, adaptations, imitations or answers. His popular Anacreontic on ‘Drinking’, for instance, inspired several Latin versions in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. One ascribed to ‘Mr Town of Xts Coll’ appears in ‘John Patrickes Book’ (Cambridge University Library, MS Add. 84, f. 28v), dated ‘May 21 1650’ (six years before the first publication of Cowley's poem in 1656). Another, ascribed to ‘Dr: Oldish’, is in a miscellany among the Marquess of Bath's collections at Longleat House (Portland Papers, Vol. XVII, f. 103r). Yet another, by Thomas Hearne, is in the Bodleian (MS Rawl. D. 260, f. 37r), as well as an anonymous version (Bodleian, MS Tanner 306/1, f. 14r2) and an anonymous English ‘Answer’ to the poem (Chetham's Library, Mun. A 4. 14, f. 32r-v).

Other Latin versions of poems from The Mistresse appear in British Library, Add. MS 29241. An anonymous adaptation of the First Book of The Civil War as published in 1679, comprising 500 lines beginning ‘Long had Britannia's sons, in wealth, & ease’, with a prose preface beginning ‘Though I never had the vanity to think my self a Poet’ and a supplementary list of ‘alterations’ made by another writer, is preserved in a nineteen-page folio manuscript at Yale (in Osborn Files/Cowley).

A lengthy imitation of Cowley's four-book epic Davideis by the Quaker Thomas Ellwood (1639-1713), entitled ‘Davideis; or, the history of David…A sacred poem, in 12 books’ is preserved in the Newberry Library, Chicago (MS Y 185. E 49). This version was published in London 1712. An exemplum of this edition with an extensively revised version of it written on interleaves throughout by the Wiltshire Quaker John Fry (1701-75) is in the Library of the Society of Friends, London. Another quite independent revised version of Ellwood's poem is copied in a later hand in three manuscript texts in two volumes lent to the Society of Friends c.1959 by Ewart Steevens, of High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. These last few texts are briefly dicussed in Andrew and Helen Brink, ‘Ellwood's Davideis: a newly discovered version?’, Journal of the Friends' Historical Society, 49 (1959-61), 31-3.

Yet another, independent, imitation, entitled The Troubles of Joseph related in Scripture translated into English verse in imitation of Mr Abraham Cowleys Davideis, and dated 9 February 1680/1, is preserved, in what is apparently the anonymous author's partly autograph manuscript, in the University of Leeds, Brotherton Collection (MS Lt. 51). A facsimile example of the first page is in Sotheby's sale catalogue, 14 December 1976, lot 192. An interesting and previously little-known verse tribute to Cowley's Davideis (beginning ‘When to the World thy Muse thou first did'st show’) — a poem which prompted Cowley's answer ‘Be gon (said I) Ingrateful Muse, and see’ (CoA 122) — was written by Roger Boyle, Earl of Orrery (1621-79), who was himself subsequently influenced by the poem in his own work (see OrR 6-7).


Various other documents of biographical relevance to Cowley, including academic records, may be found in the National Archives, Kew; the Bodleian Library; the British Library; Cambridge University Archives; Trinity College, Cambridge; and elsewhere.

The original draft of John Aubrey's life of Cowley, in his Brief Lives (1679-80), is in the Bodleian (MS Aubrey 6, ff. 113v-40).

Cowley's will, made 18 September 1665, is preserved in the original, drawn up in the poet's own hand (*CoA 255).

Late-seventeenth-century copies of the Latin inscription on the poet's tomb in Westminster Abbey, attributed to the Duke of Buckingham, include those in the British Library (Sloane MS 1030, f. 59v); in King's College, Cambridge (Hayward Collection, H. 11. 13, f. [22v]); in Leeds University, Brotherton Collection (Lt. 87, f. 20v); and on pp. 42-4 in a folio volume of poems by Spencer Cowper sold at Sotheby's, 15 December 1999 (Easton Neston sale), lot 291, to Maggs. The text is given in Plays, Poems, and Miscellaneous Writings associated with George Villiers, Second Duke of Buckingham, ed. Robert D. Hume and Harold Love, 2 vols (Oxford, 2007), II, 7-8, with (p. 9) an illustration of the original tomb.

Peter Beal