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

Note:  The 5 parts of the introduction are published on separate pages; I have added asterisms ⁂ where I feel they are appropriate. —GS


ON John Evelyn’s tomb in Wotton Church it is recorded that he lived in “an age of extraordinary Events and Revolutions.” To be the captain of one’s soul in such conditions is no easy matter; and it is greatly to Evelyn’s credit that he was able to steer a steady course. Though a staunch Church-of-England man, he succeeded, as an equally staunch royalist, in deserving the goodwill of two monarchs, of whom one was a secret, the other an open Roman Catholic; and he retained the respect of both without any surrender of principle. He is an excellent example of the English Country Gentleman of the better sort, proud of his position, but recognising its responsibilities; liberally educated; conveniently learned ; a virtuoso with a turn ugor useful knowledge, and a genuine enthusiast for anything tending to the improvement of his race or country. In an epoch of plotting and place-hunting, he neither place-hunted nor plotted. For advancement or reward he cared but little, being content to do his duty—often at his own charges—as a good citizen and a philanthropist.iPious, tolerant, open-minded, prudent, honourable—he belongs to the roll of those of whom our land, even in its darkest days, has always had reason to be proud.

Evelyn’s Memoirs,ii unlike the more expansive, though, in another sense, more restricted, Diary of his contemporary Pepys, extend over so many years that they practically cover his lifetime, and while chronicling current events, recount his own history. In the present “Introduction” it is therefore only necessary to dwell minutely upon those phases of his biography which, for one reason or another, he has neglected or passed by in his records. He was born, he tells us, on the 31st October, 1620, at the family seat of Wotton House, near Dorking in Surrey, being the fourth child and second son of Richard Evelyn and his wife Eleanor, only daughter of John Standsfield of Lewes in Sussex. His father was the fourth son of George Evelyn of Long Ditton, Godstone, and Wotton, all of which estates he—by what Andrew Marvell calls “good husbandry in petre”.iii—had acquired from time to time, and settled upon his sons. Thomas, the eldest, went to Long Ditton; the second, John, took up his residence at Godstone; while to another, Richard, fell Wotton.iv At Wotton, a spot having “rising grounds, meadows, woods, and water in abundance,” John Evelyn passed his childhood, receiving, when four years of age, the rudiments of his education from one Frier, in a room which formerly existed over the now modernized porch of the little Early English Church of St. John the Evangelist. v At five he was sent to his grandfather Standsfield at Lewes; and eventually attended the free school at Southover, a suburb of that town. At one time there seems to have been some intention of sending him to Eton; but his imagination had been excited by reports of the severe discipline commemorated of old by Tusser vi, and he remained at Southover. It is characteristic of a visit which he paid about this time to the ancient seat of the Carews at Beddington, that he “was much delighted with the gardens and curiosities.”vii These were things in which—as we shall see—his interest never abated.

When he was fifteen, he lost his mother, with whom, owing to his long absences from home, his intercourse can have been but broken. Her death, on the 29th September, 1635, was hastened by that of his eldest sister, Elizabeth, who had married unhappily and died in childbirth. Evelyn describes his mother quaintly as “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.”viii In February, 1637, while still at Lewes, he was “especially admitted” (with his younger brother Richard) into the Middle Temple. He quitted school in the following April; and in May entered Balliol College, Oxford, as a Fellow-Commoner, matriculating on the 29th. His tutor was George Bradshaw (nomen invisum! —writes the diarist with a shudder)ix,” who afterwards became Master; but at this period seems to have been too much taken up with harassing the constituted authorities in the interests of the Parliamentary Visitors, to pay sufficient attention to his pupil. xBeyond the facts that Evelyn made acquaintance with a Greek graduate, Nathaniel Conopios, notable as one of the earliest drinkers of coffee in England, and that he presented some books to the college library, we hear little of his academic doings. He appears, however, to have assiduously attended the popular riding Academy of William Stokesxi; made some progress in the elements of music and “the mathematics”xii and secured a congenial “guide, philosopher, and friend” in James Thicknesse, or Thickens, afterwards his travelling companion in the Grand Tour. He was joined at Oxford in January, 1640, by his younger brother, Richard. Not very long after, they both went into residence at the Middle Temple, occupying “a very handsome apartment ” (in place of an earlier lodging in Essex Court) “just over against the Hall-court.xiii” “But for the “impolished study” of the law, —
That codeless myriad of precedent,
That wilderness of single instances, xiv— Evelyn had no aptitude, and he engaged upon it mainly by his father’s desire.

At the close of 1640, his father died. His brother George, who had recently married a Leicestershire heiress, xvduly succeeded to the Wotton patrimony ; and, for his juniors, the world was all before them. It was not a particularly inviting world. Especially was it uninviting to a youth bereft of his natural counsellors ; and — as Evelyn modestly describes himself — ” of a raw, vain, uncertain, and very unwary inclination,”xvi Signs of growing popular discontent were everywhere observable ; and among Evelyn’s earliest experiences were the trial of Strafford, and the consequent severance from its shoulders of “the wisest head in England.”xvii Even to this unlessoned spectator (he was but twenty), it was sufficiently plain that “the medal was reversing”and the national “calamities but yet in their infancy,” xviii He accordingly resolved that, for the present, his best course would be to withdraw himself for a season “from this ill face of things at home.” xix His decision was discreet rather than heroic ; but it was one which is more easy to discuss than condemn.xx

In the ensuing July, having renewed his oath of allegiance at the Custom -House, he started for Holland, in company with a gentleman of Surrey called Caryll. They reached Flushing on the 22nd, and made their way towards Gennep, a stronghold then held by the Spaniards against the French and Dutch. As ill luck would have it, by the time they reached their destination, the place had already been reduced. But while it was being re-fortified by its captors, there was still opportunity for doing volunteer duty in a company of Goring’s regiment ; and for a few days the travellers religiously “trailed the puissant pike,” and took their turn as sentries upon a horn-work. A brief experience of camp life, however, coupled with the exacting demands made upon him as  “a young drinker,” seems to have satisfied Evelyn’s military aspirations ; and bidding farewell to the “leaguer and camarades,”’ he embarked on the Waal in August for Rotterdam. He visited Delft (where he duly surveyed the tomb of William the Silent), the Hague (where the widowed Queen of Bohemia was then keeping Court), Haarlem, Leyden, Antwerp, and so forth, delighting in the “ Dutch drolleries” of kermesse and fair, inspecting churches, convents, museums, palaces, and gardens, and buying books, prints, and pictures. From Antwerp he passed to Brussels, whence he journeyed to Ghent to meet a great Surrey magnate and neighbour, Thomas Howard, Lord Arundel, who, as Earl Marshal of England, had recently escorted the ill-starred Marie de Medicis to the Continent on her way to Cologne.xxi In Arundel’s train Evelyn eventually returned home, reaching his lodgings in the Temple on the 14th October, 1641.

By this time he was one-and-twenty, and the civil war had begun in earnest. For the next few months he alternated between Wotton and London, “studying a little, but dancing and fooling more.”xxii Then he was all but engulfed in the national struggle. In November he set out to join the royal forces. But the same fate overtook him which he had suffered at Gennep. He arrived when the battle of Brentford was over ; and the King, in spite of his success, was about to retire upon Oxford. The not-wholly-explicit sequel must be given in his own words. “I came in with my horse and arms just at the retreat, but was not permittedxxiii to stay longer than the 15th [the battle had taken place on the 12th] by reason of the army marching to Gloucester [Oxford ?] ; which would have left both me and my brothers exposed to ruin, without any advantage to his Majesty.”xxiv He accordingly rode back to Wotton, where, “resolving to possess himself in some quiet, if it might be,”xxv he devoted his energies, with his elder brother’s pernaission, to building a study, digging a fish-pond, contriving an island, “and some other solitudes and retirements” — “which gave the first occasion of improving them to those water- works and gardens which afterwards succeeded them, and became at that time the most famous of England.”xxvi

These anticipatory references to the yet unrealised attractions of Wotton, afford another illustration of that “Memoir” character of Evelyn’s Kalendarium to which, in the “Preface” to this volume, attention has already been drawn.xxvii But the moment was unfavourable to “Hortulan pursuits”xxviii” ; and after sending his “black manege horse and furniture”xxix as an offering to Charles at Oxford, and shifting for a time uneasily between London and Surrey to escape signing the Solemn League and Covenant, Evelyn reluctantly came once more to the conclusion that without “doing very unhandsome things,” it was impracticable for him to remain in his disturbed native land. For the law he felt he had no kind of aptitude ; and therefore, not to delay until — in the mixed metaphor of one of his contemporaries — “the drums and trumpets blew his gown over his ears,”xxx” he applied for, and obtained, in October, 1643, His Majesty’s licence to travel again.xxxi This permission did not apparently, as in James Howell’s case, involve a prohibition to visit that contagious centre of Romanism, Rome, since Evelyn later spent several months there. His travelling companion, on this second occasion, was his Balliol friend Thicknesse, not as yet ejected from his fellowship for loyalty. He subsequently speaks of other and later “fellow- travellers in Italy” — Lord Bruce, Mr. J. Crafford, Mr. Thomas Henshaw, Mr. Francis Bramston, etc. But of his compagnons de voyage we hear little in his chronicle, and it is more convenient in general to speak of him as if he were alone.

Setting out from the Tower Wharf on the 9th November, he made perilous passage “in a pair of oars” and “a hideous storm” to Sittingbourne. Thence he went by post to Dover, and so to Calais. From Calais, after inspecting — like most of his countrymen — the “relics of our former dominion,” he proceeded to Boulogne, narrowly escaping drowning in crossing a swollen river. Pushing forward, not without apprehension of the predatory Spanish “volunteers,” he came by Montreuil and Abbeville to Beauvais, and that “cemetery of monarchs,” St. Denis. Here, in the Abbey Church, he surveyed, with respectful incredulity, the portrait of the Queen of Sheba, the lantern of Judas Iscariot, the drinking-cup of Solomon, and the other “equally authentic toys”  of that time-honoured collection. About five on a December afternoon he arrived at Paris.

After a preliminary visit to the English Resident, Sir Richard Browne, Evelyn began his round of the Gallic capital, rejoicing in the superiority of the French freestone to the English cobbles, and visiting the different churches, palaces, public buildings, and private collections. In this way he saw Notre Dame, the Tuileries, the Palais Cardinal, the Luxembourg, St. Germain and Fontainebleau, noting the pictures and curiosities, and not forgetting the puppet-players at the Pont Neuf, or Monsieur du Plessis’ celebrated Academy for riding the “great horse ”xxxii (i.e. charger or war- horse), where, in addition, young gentlemen were taught “to fence, dance, play on music, and something in fortification and the mathematics,”xxxiii — all of which accomplishments (according to Howell) might be acquired for 150 pistoles, or about £110 per annum, lodging and diet included. He also assisted at a review of 20,000 men in the Bois de Boulogne. Acting upon Howell’s injunctions,xxxiv he duly scaled the Tower of St. Jacques la Boucherie in order to get a bird’s-eye view of the old, populous, picturesque, malodorous Paris of the seventeenth century, lying securely within the zigzag of its outworks, and traversed by the shining Seine. Hard by, at the churchyard of the Innocents, he watched the busy scriveners, with tombstones for tables, incessantly scratching letters for “poor maids and other ignorant people who came to them for advice.”xxxv

But Evelyn’s “Grand Tour” absorbs our first volume, and it is needless here to do more than briefly retrace what he would have called his itinerariumxxxviIn April, 1644, after a short excursion into Normandy, he set out for Orleans. From Orleans he went on to Blois ; from Blois to Tours, where he stayed five months, learning French and playing pell-mell in the “noblest Mall” in Europe. Then he fared southward by Lyons and the Rhone to Avignon, and so to Aix and Marseilles. From Marseilles and its galleys he turned his face eastward, passing from Genoa through Pisa, Leghorn, and Florence to Rome. One of the things he noted on the Italian coast was the scent of orange, citron, and jasmine, floating seaward for miles, — a fragrant memory afterwards recalled in the dedication of his Fumifugiumxxxvii? At Rome he stayed seven months, studying antiquities “very pragmatically” (by which he apparently means no more than “assiduously” or “systematically”),xxxviii making acquaintance with the more reputable English residents, visiting (as was his wont) churches and palaces, and accumulating books, bustos, pictures, and medals. Nor did his restless curiosity neglect the tournaments, or the seances of the Humoristi, — the concerts at the Chiesa Nuova, or those now discontinued sermons to the Jews at Ponte Sisto which Browning has perpetuated in “Holy Cross Day.” Indeed, in the last case, he actually stood sponsor to two of the supposed converts. From Rome he travelled by Vesuvius and Baiae to Naples, the ne plus ultraxxxix of his wanderings, “since from the report of divers experienced and curious persons, he had been assured there was little more to be seen in the rest of the civil world, after Italy, France, Flanders, and the Low Countries, but plain and prodigious barbarism.”xl This singular conclusion, however, did not prevent his planning later to start for the Holy Land, to which end he took his passage, thoughtfully laying in a store of drugs and needments in case of sickness. But the vessel in which he proposed to embark was pressed for the war with the already unspeakable Turk, and the project came to an end.xli

By the time he had reached Venice, it was June 1645 ; and between Venice and Padua, notwithstanding his satiety of “rolling up and down,” he spent much of his time until the spring of the next year. At Venice, where he narrowly escaped a serious illness from an imprudent use of the hot bath, he was fortunate enough to witness the marriage of the Doge and the Adriatic ; and he was highly diverted by the humours of the Carnival, the nightingale cages in the Merceria, and the inordinate chopinesxliiand variegated tresses of the Venetian ladies, among whom he must have made some acquaintances, since he relates that, when escorting a gentlewoman to her gondola after a supper at the English Consul’s, he was honoured by a couple of musket -shots from another boat containing a noble Venetian, whose curtained privacy he was unconsciously deranging.xliii At Padua, where he had a sharp attack of angina pectoris, he attended the anatomical lectures of the learned Veslingius, from whom he purchased the series of Tables of Veins and Arteries later known as the Tabuæ Evelinianæxliv, and finally presented by him to the Royal Society.xlv At Padua, too, he was elected a Syndicus Artistarumxlvi, an honour he declined as being “too charge-able,” as well as a hindrance to his movements. Shortly after this he parted from that nominis umbraxlvii

In March, 1646, Evelyn himself set out home- ward, in company with Edmund Waller, the poet, a Mr. Abdy, and a Captain (later Sir Christopher) Wray, “a good drinking gentleman,” who, having, moreover, fought against King Charles, was not a very desirable addition to a sober party. At Milan Evelyn’s enthusiasm for art had like to have had grave consequences, for venturing too far into the apartments of the Governor, he ran some risk of being arrested for a spy.xlviii Another Milan experience was actually tragic. Invited with his friends to visit a wealthy Scotch resident, and very hospitably entertained, the host subsequently took his guests into his stable to exhibit his stud. Mounting an unbroken horse, when somewhat flown with wine, the animal fell upon him, injuring him so severely that he died a few days afterwards, a sequel which, in a land of Inquisition, had the effect of precipitating the departure of the travellers from the Lombard capital.xlix They set out over the Simplon, “through strange, horrid, and fearful crags and tracts, abounding in pine trees, and only inhabited by bears, wolves, and wild goats,” to Geneva.

Here Evelyn visited Giovanni Deodati, the translator of the Bible, and the father of that Charles Deodati whose premature death prompted Milton’s Epitaphium Damonis. Then, having been put at Beveretta (Bouveret) into a bed recently vacated by a sick girl, he contracted or developed small-pox, which kept him a prisoner to his chamber for five weeks. His Genevese nurse was “a vigilant Swiss matron,” with a goitre, which, when he occasionally woke from his uneasy slumbers, had a most portentous effect. Not long afterwards, he set out down the Rhone in a boat to Lyons. At Roanne the party took boat again ; and so by Nevers to Orleans. “Sometimes, we footed it through pleasant fields and meadows ; sometimes, we shot at fowls, and other birds ; nothing came amiss : sometimes, we played at cards, whilst others sung, or were composing verses ; for we had the great poet, Mr. Waller, in our company, and some other ingenious persons.”l By October they reached Paris, the end of their pilgrimage, which had occupied Evelyn three years. His expenses, it may be noted, including tutors, servants, and outlay for curios, etc., averaged £300 per annum. This is rather under the estimate of the judicious Howell;libut it must be remembered that, in 1646, £300 represented a good deal more than it does now.

Even in his boyish days — as we have seen — “gardens and curiosities” had an especial attraction for Evelyn ; and gardens and curiosities, if not the main interest of his foreign travels, continued to engross much of his attention. Statues and pictures and antiquities he studies carefully and intelligently ; but his real enthusiasm is reserved for those things to which, already at Wotton, he had manifested that inborn bias which Emerson regarded as the chiefest gift of Fortune. For scenery and landscape, except when conventionally clipped and combed, he really cares but little. Mountains to him are terrifying objects, only to be qualified by highly Latinised adjectives. He must always be remembered as the traveller who found but “hideous rocks” and “gloomy precipices” in the Forest of Fontainebleau ; — the traveller to whom the Alps seemed no more than the piled-up sweepings of the Plain of Lombardy. Had he lived in Waverley’s day, it is obvious that he would have preferred the grotesque bears and pleached evergreens of Tully-Veolan to the wildest passes in the realm of Vich Ian Vohr. But let him come across a “trim garden” and his style expands like a sunflower. He is “extraordinarily delighted” with its geometric formalities, — its topiary ingenuities, — its artless surprises. He rejoices in the “artificial echo” which, when “some fair nymph sings to its grateful returns,” redoubles her canorous notes ; in the “spinning basilisk” that flings a jetto fifty feet high at the bidding of the fountaineer ; in the “extravagant musketeers” who deluge the passing stranger with streams from their carbines ; in that “agreeable cheat” of the painted Arch of Constantine at Rueil against which birds dash themselves to death in the attempt to fly through. He is “infinitely taken” with the innumerable pet tortoises of Gaston of Orleans ; with the still fish- ponds and their secular carp ; with the “apiaries” and “volaries” and “rupellary nidaries” (for water- fowl) ; with all the endless “labyrinths” and “cryptas” and “perspectives,” — the avenues and parterres and cascades and terraces, which the genius of Andre le Notre had contrived to match the architecture of Mansard. Of these things, and of that horticulture which Bacon calls “the Purest of Humane pleasures,” and “the Greatest Refreshment to the Spirits of Man,” he never grows weary. “I beseech you” — he writes later to one about to travel — “I beseech you forget not to inform yourself as diligently as may be, in things that belong to Gardening, for that will serve both yourself and your friends for an infinite diversion.” lii Here speaks the coming author of the Kalendarium Hortense — the projector of the all-embracing and never-to-be-completed Elysium Britannicum.

This practical and educational aspect of the Grand Tour is another and not less noteworthy feature of Evelyn’s Continental journeyings. For him they were emphatically means to an end, — an end of graver import than that “vanity of the eye only, which to other travellers has usually been the temptation of making tours.” “His experiences correspond almost exactly to those Wanderjahre with which the apprentices of the day rounded off their apprenticeship, only in Evelyn’s case it was an apprenticeship to the business of life. He brought back none of those “foppish fancies, foolish guises and disguises,” against which honest Samuel Purchas inveighs in the “Preface” to his Pilgrimes. On the contrary, he had acted entirely in the spirit of that Omnia eocplorate: meliora retineteliii from I Thessalonians 5, 21. of St. Paul, which he had chosen for his motto. He had largely increased his knowledge of foreign tongues ; he had made no mean progress in natural philosophy ; he had learned something of music and drawing ; and he had taken “much agreeable toil” among ruins and antiquities, and “the cabinets and curiosities of the virtuosi.”liv Better still, he had come “to know men, customs, courts, and disciplines, and whatsoever superior excellencies the places afford, befitting a person of birth and noble impressions.” The quotation may be continued, applying the words, which, though not written of himself, are his, to his own case. “This is the fruit of travel : thus our incomparable Sidney was bred ; lv and this, tanquam Minerva Phidiælvi, sets the crown upon his perfections when a gallant man shall return with religion and courage, knowledge and modesty, without pedantry, without affectation, material and serious, to the contentment of his relations, the glory of his family, the star and ornament of his age. This is truly to give a citizen to his country.”lvii