Introduction & Preface from Diary of John Evelyn with an Introduction and Notes by Austin Dobson 1906

I have chosen the Preface of the 1906 edition as it contains an extra paragraph at the end where Dobson describes his rationale for working on the Diary. For the rest of the Diary I have taken the text from the 1908 edition. Dobson’s footnotes have been retained. -GS


The record known as Evelyn’s Diary was first printed in 1818 by Colburn as part of two quarto volumes with the following title, Memoirs, illustrative of the Life and Writings of John Evelyn, Esq., F.R.S., Author of the “Sylva,” etc. etc. Comprising his Diary, from the Year 1641 to 1705-6, and a Selection of his familiar Letters. To which is added the private Correspondence between King Charles I. and his Secretary of State, Sir Edward Nicholas, etc. It was edited by the antiquary, William Bray (co-author with Owen Manning of the History of Surrey), from the original MS. at Wotton, then in the possession of Lady Evelyn, widow of the Diarist’s great great grandson, Sir Frederick Evelyn, Bart. Lady Evelyn died on the 12th November, 1817, when the last sheets were in the hands of the printer, and the dedication, which Bray had intended for her, was then transferred to her devisee, John Evelyn, a descendant of Sylva Evelyn’s grandfather. According to William Upcott, Assistant Librarian of the London Institution, who catalogued the Wotton books, Lady Evelyn, although she freely lent the Diary from time to time to her particular friends, did not regard it as of sufficient importance for publication; and, except for an accident, it might have been cut up for dress patterns, or served to light fires. i This fortunate “accident” was its exhibition in 1814 to Upcott ; and Lady Evelyn subsequently, “after much solicitation from many persons”, consented to its being printed under the auspices of Bray, who, in his “Preface,” renders special thanks to Upcott “for the great and material assistance received from him”.  . “besides his attention to the superintendence of the Press.”   Why Upcott, to whom the MS. was communicated without reserve by Lady Evelyn, and who edited Evelyn’s Miscellaneous Writings in 1825, did not also edit the Diary, does not appear; but — as we shall see — it continued to engage his attention even after Bray’s death in 1832.

The first edition of Evelyn’s Memoirs was well received, —Southey, in particular, vouchsafing to it a long and sympathetic notice in the Quarterly for April, 1818. In 1819 appeared a second quarto edition. Eight years later, in 1827, this was followed by a five-volume octavo edition, which has often been reprinted, notably in 1879, by Messrs. Bickers and Bush, with a careful Life of Evelyn by Mr. Henry B. Wheatley, F.S.A ii In Messrs. Bickers and Bush’s “”Preface” it is expressly stated that, after several applications to the owner of the MS., Mr. W. J. Evelyn of Wotton, for permission to consult it, that gentleman eventually replied that “Colburn’s third edition of the Diary was very correctly printed from the MS.,” and might “be relied on as giving an accurate text.”

Notwithstanding this statement, there was, in 1879, actually in the market an edition of the Diary, based upon Bray, which professed to be somewhat fuller than that issued in 1827. In 1850—52, John Forster, the biographer of Goldsmith, had put forth a fresh issue of Bray, including various supplementary passages, which, owing to the first sheets of the edition of 1827 having been struck off without Upcott’s revision, had not been included in that text. Forster further explained that Upcott’s interest in his task had continued unabated until his death in 1845, and that the latest literary labour upon which he had been occupied had been the revision and preparation of the version which Forster subsequently edited in 1850. He lived (said Forster) to complete, for this purpose,  “a fresh and careful comparison of the edition printed in octavo in 1827 (which he had himself, with the exception of the earliest sheets of the first volume, superintended for the press) with the original manuscript; by which many material omissions in the earlier quartos were supplied, and other not unimportant corrections made.” Forster’s edition was reissued in 1854, and again in 1857. It was then added to “Bohn’s Libraries,” now published by Messrs. George Bell and Sons. In the “Preface” to the issue of 1857, Forster writes: “The volumes containing the Diary have since [i.e. since the edition of 1850] undergone still more careful revision, and the text, as now presented, is throughout in a more perfect state.”

It would be going too far to claim the additions of Upcott as of signal importance, — many of them, indeed, by Forster’s own admission, consist of “trifling personal details,” iii and they are practically confined to the earlier portion of the first volume. iv But Forster’s text has long enjoyed a deserved reputation; it was declared by the Quarterly Review, as late as 1896, to “leave little to be desired”; and being demonstrably the fullest, it has been adopted in the present case.  “In compliance with a wish very generally expressed,” its spelling was modernized; and as it is impracticable, without access to Upcott’s original sources, to archaize his additions, and as, moreover, Evelyn’s very uncertain method — which can scarcely be termed orthography — has no philological value, Forster’s text has been followed in this respect also. Forster, however, can scarcely be said to have carried out his modernizing as thoroughly as might have been expected. He made little or no attempt to rectify Evelyn’s capricious use of foreign words; and he allowed such expressions as “Jardine Royale” and “Bonnes Hommes” to remain unaltered. Nor did he observe any consistent practice with respect to names of places. He turns “Braineford” into “Brentford“, “Bruxelles” into “Brussels,” “Midelbrogh” into “Middleburg” — as he could scarcely fail to do; but he left many other names as Evelyn had left them, or as Bray or Upcott had mistranscribed them. Thus “Stola Tybertina” is allowed to stand for “Isola Tiberina”,  “Scargalasino” for “Scarica l’Asino,” “St. Saforin” for “St. Symphorien de-Lay,” “Palestina” for “Pelestrina,” “Mount Sampion” for “Mount Simplon” ; while “St. Geminiano” continues to masquerade as “St. Jacomo” without any note of explanation. Nor is he always fortunate in the names of persons, although this, of course, admits of greater latitude both of taste and fancy. He leaves the martyr “Hewit” disguised as “Hewer” ; and “Pearson” (of the Creed) as “Pierson”. These are only some out of several similar cases; and it is not by any means contended that all have been discovered. v  A few, it must be frankly confessed, have baffled inquiry. But — to echo Forster’s words with a modification — it may, I trust, be fairly contended that the text is now in a more accurate state.

It is noted by Forster, and should be repeated, that Evelyn’s Diary “does not, in all respects, strictly fulfil what the term implies.” It was not, like that of Pepys, composed from day to day; but must often have been “written up” long after the incidents recorded, and sometimes when the writer’s memory betrayed him, or when he inserted fresh information under a wrong heading. He frequently refers to persons by titles they only bore at a period subsequent to the date of entry. Once, if Bray is correct, he seems to speak of his elder brother’s second wife before the first was dead. Now and then, the difference between O.S. and N.S. vi throws some light upon the matter. But it does not explain why he professes to have witnessed Oliver Cromwell’s funeral on the 22nd October when it took place on the 23rd November vii.  At other times he groups a number of events in one entry, an arrangement which brings the battle of Edgehill under the 3rd of October, when it really was fought on the 23rd viii. Forster’s solution of these things is probably correct. He supposes the Diary to have “been copied by the writer from memoranda made at the time of the occurrences noted in it,” and that it “received occasional alterations and additions in the course of transcription.” This must be held to account for “discrepancies otherwise not easily reconciled,” and also “for differing descriptions of the same objects and occurrences which have occasionally been found in the MS, thus compiled.” It should also be added that (as Mr. Forster does not seem to have been aware) Evelyn began, but did not complete, an amplified transcription of the whole, ix from which some of Upcott’s additions were no doubt derived. The effect of all this is to deprive the record of its character as a “Kalendarium” or “Diary,” and to bring it rather into the category of “Memoirs,” the title which Bray gave to the general collection of documents he issued in 1818, and which Evelyn, in one place, uses himself x.

To each of their editions Messrs. Bray and Forster appended notes. Those of Bray, who was assisted by the well-known collector, James Bindley of the Stamp Office, are in many respects valuable, in some respects authoritative, especially on local matters. But they are now eighty years old, while not a few of them, doubtless from the writer’s want of access to sources of information now open to every one, were never very pertinent. Forster, in 1850, rather remodelled Bray than revised him, adding at the end of the volumes a number of fresh annotations of his own, which, from his familiarity with the period (was he not the author of the Lives of the Statesmen of the Commonwealth!) are naturally not to be neglected. But half a century again has passed away since they were penned, and a vast amount of literature has grown up around what was once one of their writer’s special subjects.

In his issue of 1857, Forster incorporated his notes with Bray’s without distinction. Of the body of comment thus created, I have freely availed myself, abridging, expanding, amending, or suppressing, as circumstances seemed to require. In addition, I have prepared a large number of supplementary notes, illustrative and explanatory, which are uniformly placed between square brackets thus [   ]xi. Although I have carefully examined, and in some cases recast, the existing notes, I have not felt justified in claiming, even in an altered form, what I have not originated; and I have only in a few instances bracketed such inserted passages as, from their very nature, are either obviously modern or readily detachable from the context xii. As to the notes which appear for the first time in this edition, I leave them to their fate. To some people something will always be superfluous: to others something will always be lacking. But I hope fresh readers  — and fresh editors —of Evelyn may, in the present instance, at least be willing to allow that a definite attempt has been made to throw light upon whatever in his pages an invida ætas xiii has laboured to obscure.

The Illustrations to these volumes, like those to the Diary and Letters of Mme. D’Arblay, have been selected for their informing rather than their pictorial quality; and also because, besides referring to persons or places mentioned in the text, they are, as far as possible, contemporary, or nearly contemporary, with it. They are fully described in the Lists which precede each volume.  xiv As before, I have, in selecting them, enjoyed the advantage of the wide experience and ready sympathy of Mr. Emery Walker.

My thanks are due, and are hereby gratefully tendered, to Sir Archibald Geikie, F.R.S., Secretary to the Royal Society; Mr. Edmund Gosse ; the Rev. William Hunt, President of the Royal Historical Society; Mr. Sidney T. Irwin of Clifton College; Mr. P. Chalmers Mitchell, F.R.S., Secretary to the Zoological Society; and Mr. Henry R. Tedder, the Secretary and Librarian of the Athenseum Club ” for kind information on divers matters of detail.

As a last word, I may perhaps anticipate a not unnatural inquiry. What am I — whose labours have usually been confined to craft of a different build and date — doing in this particular galley of the seventeenth century? I do not propose to take refuge in the quibble that Evelyn, although he lived in the seventeenth century, died in the eighteenth. Nor will I suggest that, by his very cast and complexion of mind, he prefigures and foreshadows many eighteenth -century characteristics in a way which is extremely interesting to the eighteenth -century student. Rather would I submit that the qualities which make for research in one epoch are equally serviceable in another; — nay, that those qualities may even be quickened and intensified by a special enthusiasm for the subject in hand. My respect for, and attraction to, John Evelyn of Sayes Court and Wotton are of many years standing; but it is only in the last two that circumstances have enabled me to do him yeomans service by editing and annotating, — however imperfectly, — his unique and memorable chronicle.


75 Eaton Rise, Ealing, W.,
June, 1906.