John Evelyn's Diary Editor's Introduction is in John Evelyn's Diary.
Evelyn lived in the busy and important times of King Charles I, Oliver Cromwell, King Charles II, King James II, and King William, and early accustomed himself to note such things as occurred, which he thought worthy of remembrance. He was known to, and had much personal intercourse with, the Kings Charles II and James II; and he was in habits of great intimacy with many of the ministers of these two monarchs, and with many of the eminent men of those days, as well among the clergy as the laity. Foreigners distinguished for learning, or arts, who came to England, did not leave it without visiting him.
The following pages contribute extensive and important particulars of this eminent man. They show that he did not travel merely to count steeples, as he expresses himself in one of his Letters: they develop his private character as one of the most amiable kind. With a strong predilection for monarchy, with a personal attachment to Kings Charles II and James II, formed when they resided at Paris, he was yet utterly averse to the arbitrary measures of these monarchs.
Strongly and steadily attached to the doctrine and practice of the Church of England, he yet felt the most liberal sentiments for those who differed from him in opinion. He lived in intimacy with men of all persuasions; nor did he think it necessary to break connection with anyone who had ever been induced to desert the Church of England, and embrace the doctrines of that of Rome. In writing to the brother of a gentleman thus circumstanced, in 1659, he expresses himself in this admirable manner: "For the rest, we must commit to Providence the success of times and mitigation of proselytical fervors; having for my own particular a very great charity for all who sincerely adore the Blessed Jesus, our common and dear Saviour, as being full of hope that God (however the present zeal of some, and the scandals taken by others at the instant [present] affliction of the Church of England may transport them) will at last compassionate our infirmities, clarify our judgments, and make abatement for our ignorances, superstructures, passions, and errors of corrupt times and interests, of which the Romish persuasion can no way acquit herself, whatever the present prosperity and secular polity may pretend. But God will make all things manifest in his own time, only let us possess ourselves in patience and charity. This will cover a multitude of imperfections"..
He speaks with great moderation of the Roman Catholics in general, admitting that some of the laws enacted against them might be mitigated; but of the Jesuits he had the very worst opinion, considering them as a most dangerous Society, and the principal authors of the misfortunes which befell King James II, and of the horrible persecutions of the Protestants in France and Savoy.
He must have conducted himself with uncommon prudence and address, for he had personal friends in the Court of Cromwell, at the same time that he was corresponding with his father-in-law, Sir Richard Browne, the Ambassador of King Charles II at Paris; and at the same period that he paid his court to the King, he maintained his intimacy with a disgraced minister.
In his travels, he made acquaintance not only with men eminent for learning, but with men ingenious in every art and profession.
His manners we may presume to have been most agreeable; for his company was sought by the greatest men, not merely by inviting him to their own tables, but by their repeated visits to him at his own house; and this was equally the case with regard to ladies, of many of whom he speaks in the highest style of admiration, affection, and respect. He was master of the French, Italian, and Spanish languages. That he had read a great deal is manifest; but at what time he found opportunities for study, it is not easy to say. He acknowledges himself to have been idle, while at Oxford; and, when on his travels, he had little time for reading, except when he stayed about nineteen weeks in France, and at Padua, where he was likewise stationary for several months. At Rome, he remained a considerable time, but, while there, he was so continually engaged in viewing the great variety of interesting objects to be seen in that city, that he could have found little leisure for reading. When resident in England, he was so much occupied in the business of his numerous offices, in paying visits, in receiving company at home, and in examining whatever was deemed worthy of curiosity, or of scientific observation, that it is astonishing how he found the opportunity to compose the numerous books which he published, and the much greater number of Papers, on almost every subject, which still remain in manuscript; to say nothing of the very extensive and voluminous correspondence which he appears to have carried on during his long life, with men of the greatest eminence in Church and State, and the most distinguished for learning, both Englishmen and foreigners. In this correspondence he does not seem to have made use of an amanuensis; and he has left transcripts in his own hand of great numbers of letters both received and sent. He observes, indeed, in one of these, that he seldom went to bed before twelve, or closed his eyes before one o'clock.
He was happy in a wife of congenial dispositions with his own, of an enlightened mind, who had read much, and was skilled in etching and painting, yet attentive to the domestic concerns of her household, and a most affectionate mother.
His grandfather, George, was not the first of the family who settled in Surrey. John, father of this George, was of Kingston, in 1520, and married a daughter of David Vincent, Esq, Lord of the Manor of Long Ditton, near Kingston, which afterward came in the hands of George, who there carried on the manufacture of gunpowder. He purchased very considerable estates in Surrey, and three of his sons became heads of three families, viz, Thomas, his eldest son, at Long Ditton; John, at Godstone, and Richard at Wotton. Each of these three families had the title of Baronet conferred on them at different times, viz, at Godstone, in 1660; Long Ditton, in 1683; and Wotton, in 1713.
The manufacture of gunpowder was carried on at Godstone as well as at Long Ditton; but it does not appear that there ever was any mill at Wotton, or that the purchase of that place was made with such a view.
It may be not altogether incurious to observe, that though Mr. Evelyn's father was a man of very considerable fortune, the first rudiments of this son's learning were acquired from the village schoolmaster over the porch of Wotton Church. Of his progress at another school, and at college, he himself speaks with great humility; nor did he add much to his stock of knowledge, while he resided in the Middle Temple, to which his father sent him, with the intention that he should apply to what he calls "an impolished study", which he says he never liked.
The "Biographia" does not notice his tour in France, Flanders, and Holland, in 1641, when he made a short campaign as a volunteer in an English regiment then in service in Flanders. Nor does it notice his having set out, with intent to join King Charles I. at Brentford; and subsequently desisting when the result of that battle became known, on the ground that his brother's as well as his own estates were so near London as to be fully in power of the Parliament, and that their continued adherence would have been certain ruin to themselves without any advantage to his Majesty. In this dangerous conjuncture he asked and obtained the King's leave to travel. Of these travels, and the observations he made therein, an ample account is given in this Diary.
The national troubles coming on before he had engaged in any settled plan for his future life, it appears that he had thoughts of living in the most private manner, and that, with his brother's permission, he had even begun to prepare a place for retirement at Wotton. Nor did he afterward wholly abandon his intention, if the plan of a college, which he sent to Mr. Boyle in 1659, was really formed on a serious idea. This scheme is given at length in the "Biographia", and in Dr. Hunter's edition of the "Sylva" in 1776; but it may be observed that he proposes it should not be more than twenty-five miles from London.
As to his answer to Sir George Mackenzie's panegyric on Solitude, in which Mr. Evelyn takes the opposite part and urges the preference to which public employment and an active life is entitled,—it may be considered as the playful essay of one who, for the sake of argument, would controvert another's position, though in reality agreeing with his own opinion; if we think him serious in two letters to Mr. Abraham Cowley, dated 12th March and 24th August 1666, in the former of which he writes: You had reason to be astonished at the presumption, not to name it affront, that I, who have so highly celebrated recess, and envied it in others, should become an advocate for the enemy, which of all others it abhors and flies from. I conjure you to believe that I am still of the same mind, and that there is no person alive who does more honor and breathe after the life and repose you so happily cultivate and advance by your example; but, as those who praised dirt, a flea, and the gout, so have I public employment in that trifling Essay, and that in so weak a style compared with my antagonist's, as by that alone it will appear I neither was nor could be serious, and I hope you believe I speak my very soul to you.
sunt enim Musis sua ludicra mista Camœnis.
In the other, he says, "I pronounce it to you from my heart as oft as I consider it, that I look on your fruitions with inexpressible emulation, and should think myself more happy than crowned heads, were I, as you, the arbiter of mine own life, and could break from those gilded toys to taste your well-described joys with such a wife and such a friend, whose conversation exceeds all that the mistaken world calls happiness". But, in truth, Mr. Evelyn's mind was too active to admit of solitude at all times, however desirable it might appear to him in theory.
After he had settled at Deptford, which was in the time of Cromwell, he kept up a constant correspondence with Sir Richard Browne (his father-in-law), the King's Ambassador at Paris; and though his connection must have been known, it does not appear that he met with any interruption from the government here. Indeed, though he remained a decided Royalist, he managed so well as to have intimate friends even among those nearly connected with Cromwell; and to this we may attribute his being able to avoid taking the Covenant, which he says he never did take. In 1659, he published "An Apology for the Royal Party"; and soon after printed a paper which was of great service to the King, entitled "The Late News, or Message from Brussels Unmasked", which was an answer to a pamphlet designed to represent the King in the worst light.
On the Restoration, we find him very frequently at Court; and he became engaged in many public employments, still attending to his studies and literary pursuits. Among these, is particularly to be mentioned the Royal Society, in the establishment and conduct of which he took a very active part. He procured Mr. Howard's library to be given to them; and by his influence, in 1667, the Arundelian Marbles were obtained for the University of Oxford.
His first appointment to a public office was in 1662, as a Commissioner for reforming the buildings, ways, streets, and incumbrances, and regulating hackney coaches in London. In the same year he sat as a Commissioner on an inquiry into the conduct of the Lord Mayor, etc., concerning Sir Thomas Gresham's charities. In 1664 he was in a commission for regulating the Mint; in the same year was appointed one of the Commissioners for the care of the Sick and Wounded in the Dutch war; and he was continued in the same employment in the second war with that country.
He was one of the Commissioners for the repair of St. Paul's Cathedral, shortly before it was burned in 1666. In that year he was also in a commission for regulating the farming and making saltpetre; and in 1671 we find him a Commissioner of Plantations on the establishment of the board, to which the Council of Trade was added in 1672.
In 1685 he was one of the Commissioners of the Privy Seal, during the absence of the Earl of Clarendon (who held that office), on his going Lord Lieutenant to Ireland. On the foundation of Greenwich Hospital, in 1695, he was one of the Commissioners; and, on the 30th of June 1696, laid the first stone of that building. He was also appointed Treasurer, with a salary of £200 a year; but he says that it was a long time before he received any part of it.
When the Czar of Muscovy came to England, in 1698, proposing to instruct himself in the art of shipbuilding, he was desirous of having the use of Sayes Court, in consequence of its vicinity to the King's dockyard at Deptford. This was conceded; but during his stay he did so much damage that Mr. Evelyn had an allowance of £150 for it. He especially regrets the mischief done to his famous holly hedge, which might have been thought beyond the reach of damage. But one of Czar Peter's favorite recreations had been to demolish the hedges by riding through them in a wheelbarrow.
October, 1699, his elder brother, George Evelyn, dying without male issue, aged eighty-three, he succeeded to the paternal estate; and in May following, he quitted Sayes Court and went to Wotton, where he passed the remainder of his life, with the exception of occasional visits to London, where he retained a house. In the great storm of 1703, he mentions in his last edition of the "Sylva", above one thousand trees were blown down in sight of his residence.
He died at his house in London, 27th February 1705-6, in the eighty-sixth year of his age, and was buried at Wotton. His lady survived him nearly three years, dying 9th February 1709, in her seventy-fourth year, and was buried near him at Wotton.
Of Evelyn's children, a son, who died at the age of five, and a daughter, who died at the age of nineteen, were almost prodigies. The particulars of their extraordinary endowments, and the profound manner in which he was affected at their deaths, may be seen in these volumes.
One daughter was well and happily settled; another less so; but she did not survive her marriage more than a few months. The only son who lived to the age of manhood, inherited his father's love of learning, and distinguished himself by several publications.
Mr. Evelyn's employment as a Commissioner for the care of the Sick and Wounded was very laborious; and, from the nature of it, must have been extremely unpleasant. Almost the whole labor was in his department, which included all the ports between the river Thames and Portsmouth; and he had to travel in all seasons and weathers, by land and by water, in the execution of his office, to which he gave the strictest attention. It was rendered still more disagreeable by the great difficulty which he found in procuring money for support of the prisoners. In the library at Wotton, are copies of numerous letters to the Lord Treasurer and Officers of State, representing, in the strongest terms, the great distress of the poor men, and of those who had furnished lodging and necessaries for them. At one time, there were such arrears of payment to the victuallers, that, on landing additional sick and wounded, they lay some time in the streets, the publicans refusing to receive them, and shutting up their houses. After all this trouble and fatigue, he found as great difficulty in getting his accounts settled.2 In January 1665-6, he formed a plan for an Infirmary at Chatham, which he sent to Mr. Pepys, to be laid before the Admiralty, with his reasons for recommending it; but it does not appear that it was carried into execution.
His employments, in connection with the repair of St. Paul's (which, however, occupied him but a brief time), as in the Commission of Trade and Plantations, and in the building of Greenwich Hospital, were much better adapted to his inclinations and pursuits.
As a Commissioner of the Privy Seal in the reign of King James II, he had a difficult task to perform. He was most steadily attached to the Church of England, and the King required the Seal to be affixed to many things incompatible with the welfare of that Church. This, on some occasions, he refused to do, particularly to a license to Dr. Obadiah Walker to print Popish books;3 and on other occasions he absented himself, leaving it to his brother Commissioners to act as they thought fit. Such, however, was the King's estimation of him, that no displeasure was evinced on this account.
Of Evelyn's attempt to bring Colonel Morley (Cromwell's Lieutenant of the Tower, immediately preceding the Restoration) over to the King's interest, an imperfect account is given in the "Biographia". The fact is, that there was great friendship between these gentlemen, and Evelyn did endeavor to engage the Colonel in the King's interest. He saw him several times, and put his life into his hands by writing to him on 12th January 1659-60; he did not succeed, and Colonel Morley was too much his friend to betray him; but so far from the Colonel having settled matters privately with Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper, or General Monk, as there described, he was obliged, when the Restoration took place, actually to apply to Evelyn to procure his pardon; who obtained it accordingly, though, as he states, the Colonel was obliged to pay a large sum of money for it. This could not have happened, if there had been any previous negotiation with General Monk.
Dr. Campbell took some pains to vindicate Mr. Evelyn's book, entitled, "Navigation and Commerce, their Origin and Progress", from the charge of being an imperfect work, unequal to the expectation excited by the title. But the Doctor, who had not the information which this Journal so amply affords on this subject, was not aware that what was so printed was nothing more than an Introduction to the History of the Dutch War; a work undertaken by Evelyn at the express command of King Charles II, and the materials for which were furnished by the Officers of State. The completion of this work, after considerable progress had been made in it, was put a stop to by the King himself, for what reason does not appear; but perhaps it was found that Evelyn was inclined to tell too much of the truth concerning a transaction, which it will be seen by his Journal that he utterly reprobated. His copy of the History, as far as he had proceeded, he put into the hands of his friend, Mr. Pepys, of the Admiralty, who did not return it; but the books and manuscripts belonging to Mr. Pepys passed into the possession of Magdalen College, Cambridge.
From the numerous authors who have spoken in high terms of Mr. Evelyn, we will select the two following notices of him.
In the "Biographia Britannica" Dr. Campbell says, "It is certain that very few authors who have written in our language deserve the character of able and agreeable writers so well as Mr. Evelyn, who, though he was acquainted with most sciences, and wrote upon many different subjects, yet was very far, indeed the farthest of most men of his time, from being a superficial writer. He had genius, he had taste, he had learning; and he knew how to give all these a proper place in his works, so as never to pass for a pedant, even with such as were least in love with literature, and to be justly esteemed a polite author by those who knew it best"..
Horace Walpole (afterward Earl of Orford), in his Catalogue of Engravers, gives us the following admirably drawn character: "If Mr. Evelyn had not been an artist himself, as I think I can prove he was, I should yet have found it difficult to deny myself the pleasure of allotting him a place among the arts he loved, promoted, patronized; and it would be but justice to inscribe his name with due panegyric in these records, as I have once or twice taken the liberty to criticise him. But they are trifling blemishes compared with his amiable virtues and beneficence; and it may be remarked that the worst I have said of him is, that he knew more than he always communicated. It is no unwelcome satire to say, that a man's intelligence and philosophy is inexhaustible. I mean not to write his biography, but I must observe, that his life, which was extended to eighty-six years, was a course of inquiry, study, curiosity, instruction, and benevolence. The works of the Creator, and the minute labors of the creature, were all objects of his pursuit. He unfolded the perfection of the one, and assisted the imperfection of the other. He adored from examination; was a courtier that flattered only by informing his Prince, and by pointing out what was worthy of him to countenance; and really was the neighbor of the Gospel, for there was no man that might not have been the better for him. Whoever peruses a list of his works will subscribe to my assertion. He was one of the first promoters of the Royal Society; a patron of the ingenious and the indigent; and peculiarly serviceable to the lettered world; for, besides his writings and discoveries, he obtained the Arundelian Marbles for the University of Oxford, and the Arundelian Library for the Royal Society. Nor is it the least part of his praise, that he who proposed to Mr. Boyle the erection of a Philosophical College for retired and speculative persons, had the honesty to write in defense of active life against Sir George Mackenzie's 'Essay on Solitude.' He knew that retirement, in his own hands, was industry and benefit to mankind; but in those of others, laziness and inutility"..
Evelyn was buried in the Dormitory adjoining Wotton Church.
On a white marble, covering a tomb shaped like a coffin, raised about three feet above the floor, is inscribed:
Here lies the Body.
of John Evelyn, Esq,.
of this place, second son.
of Richard Evelyn, Esq;.
who having serv'd the Publick.
in several employments, of which that.
of Commissioner of the Privy-Seal in the.
Reign of King James the 2d was most.
honourable, and perpetuated his fame.
by far more lasting monuments than.
those of Stone or Brass, his learned.
and usefull Works, fell asleep the 27 day.
of February 1705-6, being the 86 year.
of his age, in full hope of a glorious.
Resurrection, thro' Faith in Jesus Christ.
Living in an age of extraordinary.
Events and Revolutions, he learnt.
(as himself asserted) this Truth,.
which pursuant to his intention.
is here declared—.
That all is vanity which is not honest,.
and that there is no solid wisdom.
but in real Piety.
Of five Sons and three Daughters.
born to him from his most.
vertuous and excellent Wife,.
Mary, sole daughter and heiress.
of Sir Rich. Browne of Sayes.
Court near Deptford in Kent,.
onely one daughter, Susanna,.
married to William Draper.
Esq, of Adscomb in this.
County, survived him; the.
two others dying in the.
flower of their age, and.
all the Sons very young, except.
one named John, who.
deceased 24 March 1698-9,.
in the 45 year of his age,.
leaving one son, John, and.
one daughter, Elizabeth.