The Fruits of Retirement
In this chapter Caroline Spearing undertakes a close examination of Plantarum Libri Sex. Discussion of Cowley’s Restoration output – such as it is – remains dominated by Sprat’s Account of the poet’s withdrawal into scholarly obscurity and by Cowley’s own Essays, with their celebration of the life of the retired country squire. While recent work has nuanced these accounts by emphasising the political marginalisation underlying Cowley’s retirement, the fundamental premise of a neo-Horatian retreat to the country remains unchallenged. But as this chapter demonstrates, the Plantarum reveals the extent to which questions of government and politics continued to engage Cowley during his time at Barn Elms and Chertsey, Surrey. Concluding with a narrative of the civil wars and Restoration, the work also contains a lengthy debate on kingship; it addresses the contemporary theme of the conquest of the New World; its descriptions of the healing properties of herbs are couched in language which recalls the imagery of the body politic and which constantly, yet teasingly, invites political reading. Spearing shows that the standard account of Cowley’s last years is problematised by the political engagement evidenced by the Plantarum.