Exile and Inspiration: the Idea Behind the Library
A monarchist, John Cosin lived in exile in France between 1644 and 1660, returning only after the restoration of King Charles II. The year before Cosin arrived in France, a fellow clergyman, Cardinal Mazarin, founded the first public library – an impressive establishment with which Cosin became well acquainted. It was probably the inspiration behind his own public library, constructed by his Quaker architect, John Longstaff.
Cosin: A Lover of Books
Even though the idea and appearance of the Mazarin Library in Paris must have inspired Cosin, he was already an enthusiastic collector of books before he departed to Paris. Records tell us that he left 1000 books in Peterhouse, Cambridge, when he left England for France. One of these was his infamous copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio.
Cosin’s letters to his secretary, Miles Staplyton, tell us a lot about his passion for books,
“Mr. Flower hath found me out a Tractatus Tractatuum, in 28 great volumes, fairely bound; but the book-seller demandeth 60li. and may perhaps be brought downe to 50li. for the lowest price thereof, which I am not able to give, having expended soe much on my Library already. If you can devise how to get soe many contributers (such as have received kindnesses from me) that will agree togeather to buy it and pay the money within 6 monthes, or sooner, before I come from London, you will doe a good service to the publique, and furnish my Library with so many volumes of excellent tractates and bookes that are very rarely to be had. Peradventure you may find the Parson on Sedgefield to be in a generous humour, and to be a benefactor for the giveing of these bookes to the Library, his own selfe alone; but if you move him thereunto (you or Mr Davenport, or any other) I pray you doe it in your owne names and not in mine.
John Cosin, to his secretary Miles Stapylton, Esq. , dated December 2nd. 1669
(Cosin Letter Book 4A, Letter 1 Palace Green)