John Evelyn's Diary 1620 1636 Birth and Childhood is in John Evelyn's Diary.
I was born at Wotton, in the County of Surrey, about twenty minutes past two in the morning, being on Tuesday the 31st and last of October, 1620, after my father (33) had been married about seven years, and that my mother (21) had borne him three children; viz, two daughters and one son, about the 33d year of his age, and the 23d of my mother's.
My father, named Richard, was of a sanguine complexion, mixed with a dash of choler: his hair inclining to light, which, though exceedingly thick, became hoary by the time he had attained to thirty years of age; it was somewhat curled toward the extremities; his beard, which he wore a little peaked, as the mode was, of a brownish color, and so continued to the last, save that it was somewhat mingled with gray hairs about his cheeks, which, with his countenance, were clear and fresh-colored; his eyes extraordinary quick and piercing; an ample forehead,—in sum, a very well-composed visage and manly aspect: for the rest, he was but low of stature, yet very strong. He was, for his life, so exact and temperate, that I have heard he had never been surprised by excess, being ascetic and sparing. His wisdom was great, and his judgment most acute; of solid discourse, affable, humble, and in nothing affected; of a thriving, neat, silent, and methodical genius, discreetly severe, yet liberal upon all just occasions, both to his children, to strangers, and servants; a lover of hospitality; and, in brief, of a singular and Christian moderation in all his actions; not illiterate, nor obscure, as, having continued Justice of the Peace and of the Quorum, he served his country as High Sheriff, being, as I take it, the last dignified with that office for Sussex and Surrey together, the same year, before their separation. He was yet a studious decliner of honors and titles; being already in that esteem with his country, that they could have added little to him besides their burden. He was a person of that rare conversation that, upon frequent recollection, and calling to mind passages of his life and discourse, I could never charge him with the least passion, or inadvertency. His estate was esteemed about £4000 per annum, well wooded, and full of timber.
My mother's name was Eleanor, sole daughter and heiress of John Standsfield, Esq, of an ancient and honorable family (though now extinct) in Shropshire, by his wife Eleanor Comber -1651, of a good and well-known house in Sussex. She was of proper personage; of a brown complexion; her eyes and hair of a lovely black; of constitution more inclined to a religious melancholy, or pious sadness; of a rare memory, and most exemplary life; for economy and prudence, esteemed one of the most conspicuous in her country: which rendered her loss much deplored, both by those who knew, and such as only heard of her.
Thus much, in brief, touching my parents; nor was it reasonable I should speak less of them to whom I owe so much.
The place of my birth was Wotton, in the parish of Wotton, or Blackheath, in the county of Surrey, the then mansion-house of my father, left him by my grandfather, afterward and now my eldest brother's. It is situated in the most southern part of the shire; and, though in a valley, yet really upon part of Leith Hill, one of the most eminent in England for the prodigious prospect to be seen from its summit, though by few observed. From it may be discerned twelve or thirteen counties, with part of the sea on the coast of Sussex, in a serene day. The house is large and ancient, suitable to those hospitable times, and so sweetly environed with those delicious streams and venerable woods, as in the judgment of strangers as well as Englishmen it may be compared to one of the most pleasant seats in the nation, and most tempting for a great person and a wanton purse to render it conspicuous. It has rising grounds, meadows, woods, and water, in abundance.
The distance from London little more than twenty miles, and yet so securely placed, as if it were one hundred; three miles from Dorking, which serves it abundantly with provision as well of land as sea; six from Guildford, twelve from Kingston. I will say nothing of the air, because the pre-eminence is universally given to Surrey, the soil being dry and sandy; but I should speak much of the gardens, fountains, and groves that adorn it, were they not as generally known to be among the most natural, and (till this later and universal luxury of the whole nation, since abounding in such expenses) the most magnificent that England afforded; and which indeed gave one of the first examples to that elegancy, since so much in vogue, and followed in the managing of their waters, and other elegancies of that nature. Let me add, the contiguity of five or six manors, the patronage of the livings about it, and what Themistocles pronounced for none of the least advantages—the good neighborhood. All which conspire here to render it an honorable and handsome royalty, fit for the present possessor, my worthy brother, and his noble lady, whose constant liberality gives them title both to the place and the affections of all that know them. Thus, with the poet:
Nescio quâ natale solum dulcedine cunctos.
Ducit, et immemores non sinit esse sui.
I had given me the name of my grandfather, my mother's father, who, together with a sister of Sir Thomas Evelyn, of Long Ditton, and Mr. Comber, a near relation of my mother, were my susceptors. The solemnity (yet upon what accident I know not, unless some indisposition in me) was performed in the dining-room by Parson Higham, the present incumbent of the parish, according to the forms prescribed by the then glorious Church of England.
I was now (in regard to my mother's weakness, or rather custom of persons of quality) put to nurse to one Peter, a neighbor's wife and tenant, of a good, comely, brown, wholesome complexion, and in a most sweet place toward the hills, flanked with wood and refreshed with streams; the affection to which kind of solitude I sucked in with my very milk. It appears, by a note of my father's, that I sucked till 17th of January 1622, or at least I came not home before.
1623. The very first thing that I can call to memory, and from which time forward I began to observe, was this year (1623) my youngest brother, being in his nurse's arms, who, being then two days and nine months younger than myself, was the last child of my dear parents.
1624. I was not initiated into any rudiments until near four years of age, and then one Frier taught us at the church-porch of Wotton; and I do perfectly remember the great talk and stir about Il Conde Gondomar (96), now Ambassador from Spain (for near about this time was the match of our Prince (23) with the Infanta (17) proposed); and the effects of that comet, 1618, still working in the prodigious revolutions now beginning in Europe, especially in Germany, whose sad commotions sprang from the Bohemians' defection from the Emperor Matthias; upon which quarrel the Swedes broke in, giving umbrage to the rest of the princes, and the whole Christian world cause to deplore it, as never since enjoying perfect tranquillity.
1625. I was this year (being the first of the reign of King Charles (24)) sent by my father (38) to Lewes, in Sussex, to be with my grandfather, Standsfield (58), with whom I passed my childhood. This was the year in which the pestilence was so epidemical, that there died in London 5,000 a week, and I well remember the strict watches and examinations upon the ways as we passed; and I was shortly after so dangerously sick of a fever that (as I have heard) the physicians despaired of me.
1626. My picture was drawn in oil by one Chanterell, no ill painter.
1627. My grandfather, Standsfield (60), died this year, on the 5th of February: I remember perfectly the solemnity at his funeral. He was buried in the parish church of All Souls, where my grandmother, his second wife, erected him a pious monument. About this time, was the consecration of the Church of South Malling, near Lewes, by Dr. Field, Bishop of Oxford (one Mr. Coxhall preached, who was afterward minister); the building whereof was chiefly procured by my grandfather (60), who having the impropriation, gave £20 a year out of it to this church. I afterward sold the impropriation. I laid one of the first stones at the building of the church.
1628 to 1630. It was not till the year 1628, that I was put to learn my Latin rudiments, and to write, of one Citolin, a Frenchman, in Lewes. I very well remember that general muster previous to the Isle of Rhè's expedition, and that I was one day awakened in the morning with the news of the Duke of Buckingham being slain by that wretch, Felton, after our disgrace before La Rochelle. And I now took so extraordinary a fancy to drawing and designing, that I could never after wean my inclinations from it, to the expense of much precious time, which might have been more advantageously employed. I was now put to school to one Mr. Potts, in the Cliff at Lewes, from whom, on the 7th of January 1630, being the day after Epiphany, I went to the free-school at Southover, near the town, of which one Agnes Morley had been the foundress, and now Edward Snatt was the master, under whom I remained till I was sent to the University. This year, my grandmother (with whom I sojourned) being married to one Mr. Newton, a learned and most religious gentleman, we went from the Cliff to dwell at his house in Southover. I do most perfectly remember the jubilee which was universally expressed for the happy birth of the Prince of Wales, 29th of May, now Charles II, our most gracious Sovereign.
1631. There happened now an extraordinary dearth in England, corn bearing an excessive price; and, in imitation of what I had seen my father do, I began to observe matters more punctually, which I did use to set down in a blank almanac. The Lord of Castlehaven's (38) arraignment for many shameful exorbitances was now all the talk, and the birth of the Princess Mary, afterward Princess of Orange.
1632. My eldest sister (18) was married to Edward Darcy, Esq, who little deserved so excellent a person, a woman of so rare virtue. I was not present at the nuptials; but I was soon afterward sent for into Surrey, and my father (45) would willingly have weaned me from my fondness of my too indulgent grandmother, intending to have placed me at Eton College; but, not being so provident for my own benefit, and unreasonably terrified with the report of the severe discipline there, I was sent back to Lewes; which perverseness of mine I have since a thousand times deplored. This was the first time that ever my parents had seen all their children together in prosperity. While I was now trifling at home, I saw London, where I lay one night only. The next day, I dined at Beddington, where I was much delighted with the gardens and curiosities. Thence, we returned to the Baroness Darcy's (18), at Sutton; thence to Wotton; and, on the 16th of August following, 1633, back to Lewes.
03 Nov 1633. This year my father (46) was appointed Sheriff, the last, as I think, who served in that honorable office for Surrey and Sussex, before they were disjoined. He had 116 servants in liveries, every one liveried in green satin doublets; divers gentlemen and persons of quality waited on him in the same garb and habit, which at that time (when thirty or forty was the usual retinue of the High Sheriff) was esteemed a great matter. Nor was this out of the least vanity that my father (46) exceeded (who was one of the greatest decliners of it); but because he could not refuse the civility of his friends and relations, who voluntarily came themselves, or sent in their servants. But my father (46) was afterward most unjustly and spitefully molested by that jeering judge, Richardson, for reprieving the execution of a woman, to gratify my Lord of Lindsey, then Admiral: but out of this he emerged with as much honor as trouble. The king made this year his progress into Scotland, and Duke James was born.
15th December, 1634: My dear sister, Darcy (20), departed this life, being arrived to her 20th year of age; in virtue advanced beyond her years, or the merit of her husband, the worst of men. She had been brought to bed the 2d of June before, but the infant died soon after her, the 24th of December. I was therefore sent for home the second time, to celebrate the obsequies of my sister (20); who was interred in a very honorable manner in our dormitory joining to the parish church, where now her monument stands.
1635. But my dear mother (36) being now dangerously sick, I was, on the 3d of September following, sent for to Wotton. Whom I found so far spent, that, all human assistance failing, she in a most heavenly manner departed this life upon the 29th of the same month, about eight in the evening of Michaelmas-day. It was a malignant fever which took her away, about the 37th of her age, and 22d of her marriage, to our irreparable loss and the regret of all that knew her. Certain it is, that the visible cause of her indisposition proceeded from grief upon the loss of her daughter, and the infant that followed it; and it is as certain, that when she perceived the peril whereto its excess had engaged her, she strove to compose herself and allay it; but it was too late, and she was forced to succumb. Therefore summoning all her children then living (I shall never forget it), she expressed herself in a manner so heavenly, with instructions so pious and Christian, as made us strangely sensible of the extraordinary loss then imminent; after which, embracing every one of us she gave to each a ring with her blessing and dismissed us. Then, taking my father (48) by the hand, she recommended us to his care; and, because she was extremely zealous for the education of my younger brother (12), she requested my father (48) that he might be sent with me to Lewes; and so having importuned him that what he designed to bestow on her funeral, he would rather dispose among the poor, she labored to compose herself for the blessed change which she now expected. There was not a servant in the house whom she did not expressly send for, advise, and infinitely affect with her counsel. Thus she continued to employ her intervals, either instructing her relations, or preparing of herself.
Though her physicians, Dr. Meverell, Dr. Clement, and Dr. Rand, had given over all hopes of her recovery, and Sir Sanders Duncombe (65) had tried his celebrated and famous powder, yet she was many days impairing, and endured the sharpest conflicts of her sickness with admirable patience and most Christian resignation, retaining both her intellectuals and ardent affections for her dissolution, to the very article of her departure. When near her dissolution, she laid her hand on every one of her children; and taking solemn leave of my father (48), with elevated heart and eyes, she quietly expired, and resigned her soul to God. Thus ended that prudent and pious woman, in the flower of her age, to the inconsolable affliction of her husband, irreparable loss of her children, and universal regret of all that knew her. She was interred, as near as might be, to her daughter Darcy (21), the 3d of October, at night, but with no mean ceremony.
03 Nov 1635. It was the 3d of the ensuing November, after my brother George (18) was gone back to Oxford, ere I returned to Lewes, when I made way, according to instructions received of my father (48), for my brother Richard (13), who was sent the 12th after.
1636. This year being extremely dry, the pestilence much increased in London, and divers parts of England.
13th February 1637: I was especially admitted (and, as I remember, my other brother) into the Middle Temple, London, though absent, and as yet at school. There were now large contributions to the distressed Palatinates.
10 Dec 1636. The 10th of December my father (49) sent a servant to bring us necessaries, and the plague beginning now to cease, on the 3d of April 1637, I left school, where, till about the last year, I have been extremely remiss in my studies; so as I went to the University rather out of shame of abiding longer at school, than for any fitness, as by sad experience I found: which put me to re-learn all that I had neglected, or but perfunctorily gained.