Born in London to a wealthy widow, Cowley’s introduction to literature was a spare copy of Faerie Queene he found in his mother’s parlor. He was writing and publishing substantial works by his early teens, and after his education at Westminster he entered Trinity College, Cambridge. He wrote plays, poetry, and one book of essays, and was an unmatched scholar. In the turbulent political stage of 17th century England, he sided with the royalists, a leaning which proved a source of literary inspiration (several of his works were written about nobles and nobility). His support of the crown forced him into exile in 1644 and he lived in Paris for 12 years. He eventually returned to London, continued writing, and maintained a presence in the political world. However, toward the end of his life he grew weary of politics and retired to the country, where he spent his remaining years in communion with his books and his pen. He died in 1667.
Even when I was a very young boy at school, instead of running about on holidays and playing with my fellows, I was wont to steal from them and walk into the fields, either alone with a book, or with some one companion, if I could find any of the same temper.
It is very fantastical and contradictory in human nature, that men should love themselves above all the rest of the world, and yet never endure to be with themselves.
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Quotidiana is an online anthology of "classical" essays, from antiquity to the early twentieth century. All essays and images are in the public domain. Commentaries are copyrighted, but may be used with proper attribution. Special thanks to the BYU College of Humanities and English Department for funding, and to Joey Franklin and Lara Burton, for tireless research assisting.