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


With the termination of his Grand Tour, Evelyn ceased to be what he calls an individuum vagumi He frequented the chemistry course of M. Nicasius Lefevre, afterwards apothecary to Charles II., and (“though to small perfection”) took lessons on the lute from Mercure.ii Finally — and perhaps consequently — he fell in love, — the lady being Mary, sole daughter and heiress of the English Resident, Sir Richard Browne. She was certainly rather young (for these days), if her tombstone at Wotton Church correctly describes her as in her seventy-fourth year in 1709, which would make her between twelve and thirteen. Be this as it may, they were married at the chapel of the Embassy on Thursday, the 27th June, 1647, when the Paris streets were gay with the images and flowers and tapestry of the feast of Corpus Christi.iii The officiating clergyman was Dr. John Earle of the Micro-cosmographieiv, then an exile for his adherence to the Stuarts. The union, which was an entirely happy one, lasted for more than fifty-eight years. There will be something to say of Mary Evelyn hereafter. It is only needful now to recall her own words in her will, when she desired to be laid beside the husband she survived.  “His care of my education”— she says — “ was such as might become a father, a lover, a friend, and husband ; for instruction, tenderness, affection & fidelity to the last moment of his life; which obligation I mention with a gratitude to his memory, ever dear to me ; and I must not omit to own the sense I have of my Parents’ care & goodness in placing me in such worthy hands.”v

Not long after his marriage, Evelyn’s affairs carried him to England ; and in October, 1647, he left his young wife in charge of her “prudent mother.” One of his earhest visits was to King Charles, then the prisoner of Cromwell at Hampton Court, but, as Lucy Hutchinson reports, “rather in the condition of a guarded and attended prince, than as a conquered and purchased captive.”vi Evelyn gave the King an account of “several things he had in charge” — doubtless commissions from Henrietta Maria and Prince Charles, then domiciled at St. Germain. He afterwards went to Sayes Court, a house on the Thames at Deptford leased by the Crown to his father-in-law, and at this date occupied, in Sir Richard’s absence, by his kinsman, William Pretymanvii. At Sayes Court Evelyn appears to have stayed frequently,viii and in January, 1649, took up his residence there.ix Most of the intervening months of 1648 must have been occupied by a rather hazardous correspondence in cypher with Browne at Paris, carried on over the signature of ”Aplanos.“x In January, 1649, too, he published his first book, a translation of the Liberty and Servitude of Moliere’s friend, Francois de La Mothe Le Vayer, for the Preface of which (he says) “I was severely threatened.”xi The peccant passages in the eyes of the authorities were doubtless those which declared that “never was there either heard or read of a more equal and excellent form of government than that under wch we ourselves have lived, during the reign of our most gratious Soveraigne’s Halcion daies,” and with this was contrasted “that impious impostoria pilaxii, so frequently of late exhibited and held forth to the people, whilst (in the meane time) indeed, it is thrown into the hands of a few private persons.” The book was issued only a day or two before “his Majesty’s decollation” (30th January, 1649),xiii of which “execrable wickedness” Evelyn could not bring himself to become an eye-witness.xiv

Among the collateral results of the King’s death was the seizure as Crown property of Sayes Court, to be forthwith surveyed and sold for state requirements. These things must have been in progress when, in July 1649, after an absence in England of a year and a half, Evelyn returned to Paris. He was well received by the members of the exiled royal family, and appears to have been on terms of intimacy with Clarendon (then Sir Edward Hyde), Ormonde, Newcastle, St. Albans, Waller, Hobbes, Denham, and most of the illustrious fugitives assembled at St. Germain. Perhaps the most interesting event of this not very eventful period in Evelyn’s biography was his connection with the artist, Robert Nanteüil, who drew and engraved the portrait which forms the frontispiece to this volume ; and from whom he took lessons in etching and engraving. Nanteüil’s picture re- presents him in his younger days, with loose Cavalier locks hanging about a grave, pensive face, and with his cloak worn “bawdrike-wise” — as Montaigne says.xv
In the summer of 1650 he paid a brief visit to England, again for affairs, returning speedily to Paris. After Cromwell’s “crowning mercy” of Worcesterxvi any change for the better seeming out of the question, he decided to settle in England ; and if practicable, endeavour to arrive at some arrangement with the existing possessors of Sayes Court. In this course he had both the concurrence of his father-in-law and the countenance of his accessible Majesty Charles II., who promised, whenever the ways were open, to secure to him in fee-farm any part of the property which might come back to the Crown, — a promise which, it is perhaps needless to add, was not performed. But as the outcome of Evelyn’s negotiations, he eventually acquired possession of Sayes Court and some adjoining lands for £3500, the “sealing, livery and seisin” being effected on the 22nd February, 1653.xvii Already he had begun to plant and lay out the grounds ; and for some years his records contain dispersed references to the gradual transformation of what had been a rude orchard and field of a hundred acres into that eminently “boscaresque” combination of garden, walks, groves, enclosures, and plantations, which so soon became the admiration of the neighbourhood.xviii

In June, 1652, Evelyn was at last joined by his wife, who, accompanied by her mother, Lady Browne, arrived from Paris, not without apprehensions of capture by the Dutch fleet, then hovering near our coasts. After being three days at sea, she landed at Rye ; and Evelyn promptly established her at Tunbridge, to careenxix  ;  while he himself hastened forward to prepare Sayes Court for her reception. It was on his way thither that he was robbed at the Procession Oak near Bromley, in the way recounted in the Diary.xx In the following autumn Lady Browne died of scarlet fever, and was buried at St. Nicholas, Deptford. From this time forth, after carrying his wife upon a long round of visits among her relatives, Evelyn remained quietly at home, developing and improving his estate ; occupying himself in study and meditation ; and diligently practising such religious exercises as were possible in days when the parish pulpits, for the most part, were given over to “Independents and fanatics,” and the Prayer Book and Sacraments were proscribed.xxi Four sons were born to him at this period,xxii of whom one only, John, survived childhood. The eldest, Richard, a “dearest, strangest miracle of a boy,” as he is styled by Jeremy Taylor, died in January, 1658, to the inexpressible grief of his parents. Of his extraordinary gifts and precocity at five years old, an ample account is given in the Diary, as well as in the “Epistle Dedicatory” to the Golden Book of St. John Chrysostom, concerning the Education of Children, in translating which the bereaved father sought consolation for his loss.xxiii This was the period of Evelyn’s friendship for Jeremy Taylor, to whose eloquent periods “concerning evangelical perfection” he had listened admiringly at St. Gregory’s, and whom he had subsequently taken to be his “ghostly father.”xxivMany of the letters which passed between them at this date are of the highest interest as throwing light upon Evelyn’s devout and serious nature ; and there is little doubt that his sympathy and pecuniary assistancexxv were freely bestowed upon Taylor in those troublous days, when, in the Preface to The Golden Grove, he praised “Episcopal Government,” and denounced the “impertinent and ignorant preachers” who filled the pulpits of the Parliament.xxvi

The version of St. Chrysostom above referred to was by no means Evelyn’s only literary production before the Restoration. Early in 1652, he had published a letter to a friend on The State of France, prefaced by some excellent remarks and suggestions concerning the uses of foreign travel ; and giving a minute account of that country in the ninth year of the reign of Louis XIV. Professedly, it is a conventional record of the kind which all visitors to the Continent were exhorted by their Governors to compile ; but it is exceptionally concise and careful. In 1656 this was succeeded by a translation, “to charm his anxious thoughts during those sad and calamitous times,” of the first book of Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura, — a task at first not wholly to the taste of his “ghostly father,” who, lest the work should “minister indirectly to error,” enjoined him to supply “a sufficient antidote” either by notes or preface. For the Lucretius, Mrs. Evelyn, who was a pretty artist, designed a frontispiece, which Hollar engraved.xxvii The Chrysostom, which came next, was followed in December, 1658,xxviiiby another translation, undertaken at the instance of Evelyn’s old travelling companion, Henshaw, of the French Gardener of Bonnefons. From references in the “Dedication to future treatment by its writer of the “appendices to gardens” {i.e. parterres, grots, fountains, and so forth), it is plain that the “hortulan” proprietor of Sayes Court was already incubating the Elysium Britannicum.xxix Meanwhile, he bids his friend call to mind the rescript of Diocletianxxx to those who would persuade him to re-assume the empire. “For it is impossible that he who is a true virtuoso, and has attained to the felicity of being a good gardener, should give jealousie to the State where he lives.”xxxi

The French Gardener went through several editions. After this came, in 1659, a tract entitled A Character of England, purporting to be translated from the French of a recent visitor to this country. In this Evelyn briskly “perstringes” some of the national shortcomings, — the discourtesy to strangers, the familiarity of the innkeepers, the “inartificial congestion” of the houses, the irregularities of public worship, the fogs, the drinking, the cards, the tedium of visits and the lack of ceremony, to some of which things we shall find him afterwards return.xxxii A Character of England was promptly replied to, with many “sordid reproaches” of the supposed foreign critic, in a scurrilous pamphlet entitled Gallus Castratusxxxiii. To this impertinent “whiffler” Evelyn rejoined in a brief vindicatory letter prefixed to his third edition. But whatever may be thought as to the justice or injustice of his strictures, it is notable that they were, in some measure, reiterated, not many years afterwards, by a genuine French traveller, M. Samuel de Sorbières,xxxiv who, in his turn, was angrily assailed by Sprat.

Evelyn’s vindication is dated 24th June, 1659 ; and his next notable, though unpublished, utterance was a proposal embodied in a letter to the Hon. Robert Boyle, for erecting “a philosophic and mathematic college.”xxxv This was written in the following September. By this date Cromwell was dead and buried ; his colourless successor had been displaced ; and the Restoration was within measurable distance. Evelyn’s further literary efforts were frankly royalist. The first, issued in November, 1659, was what he himself styles “a bold Apology” for the Royal Party.xxxvi It met with such success that a second and third edition were called for within the year. The second belongs to the Annus Mirabilisxxxvii itself. It was an indignant retort, composed under great disadvantages, for the writer was at the time seriously unwell, to a calumnious pamphlet by Marchamont Needham, called News from Brussels, in which it was suggested that the exiled monarch and his adherents were animated solely by a desire to avenge their wrongs. Evelyn had little difficulty in refuting this slander,xxxviiiwhich was, moreover, contradicted by the Declaration of Breda, and the express assurances of the leading royalists that they were ” satisfied to bury all past injuries in the joy of the happy restoration of the King, Laws, and Constitution.” In a few weeks the consummation so devoutly wished had been attained. Evelyn was still too ill to go himself to Holland to bring the King back, as he had been invited to do. But on the triumphant 29th of May, he stood in the Strand, and blessed God for the return of Charles II. to the throne of his ancestors.xxxix