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


To those acquainted with the history of the next quarter of a century, the enthusiasm of such a man as John Evelyn for such a monarch as Charles the Second must seem strange. But, apart from the benefits which the Restoration brought and promised to those who had groaned under the regime of the Commonwealth, it must be remembered that the Charles of May, 1660, was not precisely the Charles who died at St. James’s — “victim of his own vices” — in February, 1685. He had borne himself in exile and adversity not without a certain dignity ; if he was as profligate as those about him, his profligacy had not been openly scandalous ; and he had conspicuously, at all times, the facile bonhomie of the Stuarts. His love of pleasure had not yet absorbed the faculties which disappeared with the paralysis of his will-power. To Evelyn, who had known him at St. Germain, many of his tastes were congenial. Like Evelyn himself, he possessed much of what Taine calls ” la flottant et inventive curiosite du siècle.”i He affected the easier and more mechanical mathematics ; he dabbled in chemistry, anatomy, astronomy ; he was deeply learned in shipping and sea affairs ; he collected paintings, miniatures, ivories, and Japan-ware ; and he delighted in planting and building. All these things were attractive to Evelyn, who was only too willing to be consulted concerning a fresh plan for reconstructing Whitehall (when funds were forthcoming) ; or to develop his own proposals for dispersing the ever-increasing smoke of London. With most good men, he lamented the gradual deterioration of Charles’s character ; and he detested alike the parasites who fostered his baser humours, and the shameless women who ministered to his lust. Yet — “reverencing king’s blood in a bad man” — he never entirely relinquished his first impressions. “He was ever kind to me,” he writes in 1685, “and very gracious upon all occasions, and therefore I cannot, without ingratitude, but deplore his loss, which for many respects, as well as duty, I do with all my soul.”ii

For the moment, however, — the hopeful moment of May, 1660,— all was promise and rosy expectation. His Majesty was very affable to his “old acquaintance,” Mr. Evelyn; and he was particularly attentive to Mrs. Evelyn, whom, as the daughter of the English Resident, he must also have known at Paris. He was good enough to accept politely a picture she painted for him, and he carried her into his private closet to show her his curiosities. He even talked vaguely of making her Lady of the Jewels to the new Queen who was coming from Portugal. Evelyn himself might have had the Bath; but he refused it. He did, however, obtain, though not altogether in the form he had been led to expect it (this was a not unfrequent characteristic of His Majesty’s benefactions), a lease of Sayes Court, which now reverted to the Crown.[Ref]See ante. p. xxi, and p.282 [/ref] It is clear that the King, who piqued himself on his knowledge of character, saw at once that John Evelyn, Esquire, though “a studious decliner of honours and titles,” was a man likely to be useful in many extra-Court capacities. He speedily employed him in drawing up an “impartial narrative” of an affray between the French and Spanish Ambassadors on a question of precedence ; he placed him on different Commissions, — Charitable Uses, Street Improvement, and the like ; and finally, he nominated him a Member of the Council of that Royal Society, the founding of which, in 1662,iii must always be regarded — in spite of Rochester’s epigram — as an eminently “wise” proceeding on His Majesty’s part. With this illustrious body Evelyn had been identified from its infancy as a Philosophic Club under the Commonwealth ; and he continued to take an interest in its proceedings to the end of his life.

More than one of the works which he produced in the next few years were connected directly or indirectly with the new institution. After the regulation Poem on His Majesty’s Coronationiv (concerning which “Panegyric”v we are told that the King inquired nervously, first, whether it was in Latin, and, secondly, whether it was long), Evelyn inscribed to Charles his already-mentioned treatise called Fumifugium ; or, the Inconvenience of the Air and Smoke of London dissipated, in which various ingenious expedients were suggested for the remedy of a nuisance upon which the County Council of our day are still assiduously This was a subject entirely within the purview of the Royal Society ; but it unfortunately appeared before that body had been constituted by Charter. In the “Epistle Dedicatory” to his next production, a version of Gabriel Naudé’s Avis pour dresser une Bibliotheque,vii a work which candid Mr. Pepys considered to be “above my reach,” Evelyn paid a glowing tribute to his new associates, receiving their public thanks in return. The “Naudaeus” was succeeded by “a little trifle of sumptuary laws,” entitled Tyrannus or the Mode. This he seems to have regarded as the initial cause of that Persian costume, in which, a few years later, the English court amused themselves by masquerading, until the “Roi-Soleil,” by a sublime stroke of impertinence, put his lacqueys into a similar livery, and thus gave “Mr. Spectator,” in the next age, the pretext for his excellent fable of “Brunetta andPhillis.”viii

None of Evelyn’s efforts had, however, so close a connection with the Royal Society as the two which now followed ; and they are, in some respects, his most important performances. One, Sculptura; or, the History and Art of Chalcography, 1662ix (which included an account of the so-called “new Manner” of engraving in mezzotint, learned by Prince Rupert from Ludwig von Siegen), was suggested by Boyle, to whom it was inscribed. In this Evelyn combined what he had acquired from Nanteüil and Abraham Bosse with much that was the result of his own minute and learned study of the graphic arts. The other book, Sylva, is so generally regarded as his masterpiece that it is frequently used by his descendants as an adjective to qualify his surname. It originated in a number of queries put to the Royal Society by the Commissioners of the Navy respecting the future supply of timber for ship-building. To these Evelyn replied elaborately in October, 1662, by reading before the Society a paper on forest trees, of which they forthwith ordered the printing as their first official issue. In 1664, it duly appeared in expanded form ; and its author continued to retouch it lovingly in different fresh editions. He had, moreover, the satisfaction of seeing that the “sensible and notorious decay” of his beloved country’s “wooden walls” was in a measure arrested by his recommendations, for his book was thoroughly successful in its object ; and there was no exaggeration on the part of the elder Disraeli, when, in an oft-quoted passage, he declared that Nelson’s fleets were built from the oaks that Evelyn planted. To Sylva, in its printed form, its author added Pomona, an Appendix on Cider, together with a Kalendarium Hortense ; or. Gardeners Almanack.x His only remaining effort of any moment at this date was a translation of Roland Freart’s Parallel of the Ancient Architecture with the Modern, 1664, a work in which, as may perhaps be guessed, the claims of the Ancients were not underrated either by author or translator.’xi The Parallel was dedicated first to the King, and secondly (although Evelyn privately held him to be ” a better poet than architect “)xii to Sir John Denham of Coopers Hill, then Superintendent and Surveyor of the Crown Buildings and Works. To this book Evelyn probably owed his subsequent appointment as Commissioner for the repair of Old St. Paul’s.xiii But his next important function of this kind was in connection with the care of the Sick and Wounded during the Dutch War.xiv

Of Evelyn’s activity in his responsible task ; of its onerous character (for most of the work fell on his district) ;xv and of the difficulty of obtaining the needful supplies from an Exchequer depleted by Royal extravagance, the Diary affords abundant proof. But to the biographer, seeking the individual behind the record, perhaps the most interesting thing about this office is, that it brought Evelyn into relations with his fellow-diarist, Pepys. Of Pepys, during the ten years over which his Diary extends, Evelyn says never a word. But Pepys, on the contrary, mentions Evelyn several times, with the result that we get a view of Evelyn which his own chronicle does not supply. Pepys’ first reference is on the 5th May, 1665 — a memorable day, for Pepys had left off wearing his own hair, and taken permanently to periwigs. He visited Sayes Court, the owner being absent, and walked in the garden. “And a very noble, lovely ground he hath indeed!” writes Pepys, admiring in particular the “transparent apiary” or bee-hive which had come from that ingenious F.R.S., Dr. Wilkins of Wadham College.xvi Then he meets Mr. Evelyn at Captain Cocke’s (Captain Cocke was the Treasurer to the Commissioners for the Sick and Wounded), and we see Evelyn en belle humeur. Lord Sandwich has taken some East India prizes.  “The receipt of this news did put us all into such an ecstasy of joy, that it inspired into Sir J. Minnes and Mr. Evelyn such a spirit of mirth, that in all my life I never met with so merry a two hours as our company this night was.” Sir J. Minnes, it seems, was a chartered farceur ; but he was surpassed by Evelyn. “Among other humours, Mr. Evelyn’s repeating of some verses made up of nothing but the various acceptations of may and can, and doing it so aptly upon occasion of something of that nature, and so fast, did make us all die almost with laughing, and did so stop the mouth of Sir J. Minnes in the middle of all his mirth (and in a thing agreeing with his own manner of genius) that I never saw any man so out -done in all my life ; and Sir J. Minnes’s mirth too to see himself out-done, was the crown of all our mirth.”xvii

After this, as might be anticipated, Pepys received a complimentary copy of that Naudaeus which he found above his reach. He goes to Sayes Court again, and is shown the famous holly-hedge, later so wantonly maltreated by Peter the Great.xviii But his account of a subsequent visit is fuller and more personal in its portraiture : — “By water to Deptford, and there made a visit to Mr. Evelyn, who, among other things, showed me most excellent painting in little ; in distemper, in Indian ink, water-colours ; graving ; and, above all, the whole secret of mezzotinto, and the manner of it, which is very pretty, xix and good things done with it. He read to me very much also of his discourse, he hath been many years and now is about, about Gardenage;xx which will be a most noble and pleasant piece. He read me part of a play or two of his making, very good, but not as he conceits them, I think, to be.xxi He showed me his Hortus Hyemalis ; xxiileaves laid up in a book of several plants kept dry, which preserve colour, however, and look very finely, better than any herbal. In fine, a most excellent person he is, and must be allowed a little for a little conceitedness ; but he may well be so, being a man so much above others. He read me, though with too much gusto, some little poems of his own, that were not transcendent, yet one or two very pretty epigrams ; among others, of a lady looking in a grate [cage], and being pecked by an eagle that was there.”xxiii

Evelyn was ten years older than the Clerk of the Actsxxiv , and it is easy to see that the ice as yet was only partially broken. Upon his next visit,xxvafter some “most excellent discourse,” Evelyn presents his new acquaintance with the ledger kept by a previous Treasurer of the Navy, a relic which is still to be seen in the British Museum.xxvi Upon another occasion, in Lord Brouncker’s coach, Evelyn develops to Pepys his project of an Infirmary,xxvii and deplores the vanity and vices of the Court, therein proving himself “a most worthy person.”xxviii Once more he goes to Sayes Court, and wanders about the garden. By this time they are friends. “The more I know him, the more I love him,” he says of its owner.xxix But his longest and most important record comes on the 26th April, 1667, when he walks for two hours with Evelyn at Whitehall, “talking of the badness of the Government, where nothing but wickedness, and wicked men and women command the King : that it is not in his nature to gainsay anything that relates to his pleasures ; that much of it arises from the sickliness of our Ministers of State, who cannot be about him as the idle companions are, and therefore he gives way to the young rogues ; and then, from the negligence of the Clergy, that a Bishop shall never be seen about him, as the King ot France hath always” — a potentate for whom Evelyn seems at this date to have entertained a qualified respect, although he comes afterwards to stigmatise him as the “inhuman French tyrant.” The main topic of conversation, however — at all events the topic upon which Pepys lingers with the greatest particularity — is the then recent marriage of the belle Stewart — that most radiant of all the Hampton Court Gallery — to the Duke of Richmond. Evelyn manifestly had a better opinion of her than most of her contemporaries ; and his testimony (as Lord Braybrooke says) is not to be There are later interviews, in which the talk is mainly of “the times,” “our ruin approaching,” and “the folly of the King.” But upon all this intercourse — as already observed — Evelyn keeps silence. Yet, without the record of Pepys, we should miss a valuable sidelight upon Evelyn himself. It is plain that if he had condescended to “enliven his Character,” — as Steele once said, — he might have done so without difficulty.