Introduction – Part IV
Pepys’ Diary finishes on the 31st May, 1669 ; and his last reference to Evelyn comes at the end of the preceding March.i Between May, 1665, when he first mentions him, and May, 1669, History had been busily making itself. It was the period of the second Dutch War, — of the Plague and Fire, — of the fall of Clarendon, — of the negotiations for that discreditable Treaty of Dover which made Charles the pensioner of France. Most of these things leave their mark in Evelyn’s chronicle, and the Dutch war, in particular, kept him continu- ously occupied in duties which even the Plague could not interrupt, — a fact fully acknowledged both by the King and the Duke of York.ii After the Fire he promptly presented His Majesty with a plan for rebuilding the city ; and he seems also to have been the first to suggest that the “monstrous folio” of Aitzema on the war,iiithen in progress at the Hague, should be confuted by some competent English historian, — a suggestion which, perhaps not unnaturally, recoiled upon himself.iv In 1670 he was actively at work upon this task, by the King’s command. In August of the next year the “Preface” was despatched to the Lord Treasurer, and Evelyn says further that what he has written of the book itself will make, at the least, eight hundred or a thousand folio pages.v Nothing but the “Preface,” however, saw the light. This was issued rather tardily in 1674, with the title Navigation and Commerce, their Original and Progress. Unluckily, the Treaty of Breda, which it should have preceded, had just been concluded, and the book was suppressed at the instance of the Dutch Ambassador,vi who protested against what had been said concerning the Flags and Fishery. According to Evelyn, the offending passages were really but a milder version of what the King had himself supplied. The rest of the book, which was afterwards lent in MS. to Pepys, probably in connection with his projected Navalia,vii was never reclaimed by Evelyn ; and Bray sought for it fruitlessly among the Pepysian Collection at Cambridgeviii It is now held to be lost. There is always a temptation to overestimate the importance of the unborn in literature ; but Evelyn’s absolute honesty, his patriotism, his intimate knowledge of the facts, no less than his literary ability, certainly justify some regret that his History of the Dutch War never came to be included among his published works.
From 1670 to 1674, the History of the Dutch War must have engrossed Evelyn’s best energies. But between 1670 and the earlier publication of Sylva had appeared a few minor efforts which re- quire brief notice. One was the translation entitled the Mystery of Jesuitism, referred to at pp. 221-22 of vol. ii., a copy of which, presented to the Master of the Revels, Sir Henry Herbert, is to be found in the British Museum, and is possibly the identical copy which the King carried for two days in his pocket.ix Another was a Preface to the English Vineyard Vindicated of the King’s Gardener, John Rose, 1666. More memorable than either of these is the tract entitled Publick Employment and an Active Life . . preferred to Solitude, 1667, an answer to “a moral Essay” taking the opposite view by a Scotch Advocate, Sir George Mackenzie of Rosehaugh.xIt is at first sight strange to find Evelyn, with his love for “solitudes” and “retirements,” on what is apparently the wrong side in the argument. But the discussion is frankly academic, and the “war” — as he says in his “Preface” — “innocent.” “I conjure you” — he writes to Cowley — “to believe that I am still of the same mind, and there is no person alive who does more honour and breathe after the life and repose you so happily cultivate and adorn by your example.”xi Sir Roger de Coverley’s decision that much may be said on both sides would probably have sufficed ; but Horace Walpole, always sympathetic to Evelyn, puts the matter in a nutshell : — “He [Evelyn] knew that retirement in his own hands was industry and benefit to mankind ; but in those of others, laziness and inutility.”xii – After the Essay on Solitude the only works which preceded the Dutch War were a preface to a fresh translation of Freart on the Perfection of Painting, 1668,xiii and an honest attempt to expose fraud — the History of the Three late Famous Impostors, Padre Ottomano, Mahomed Bei, and Sabatai Sevi — the last being a pretended Messiah.xiv
The History of the Impostors belongs to 1669 ; and for literary purposes the next four years, as already stated, were absorbed by the chronicle of the Dutch War. In the ten years which intervened between the issue of Navigation and Commerce and the death of Charles in 1685, Evelyn published nothing but Terra, a “philosophical discourse” treating of the earth in relation to vegetation and planting, which he had read before the Royal Society in April, 1675.xv The story of his life, as revealed by his records, may therefore be resumed without interruption. In 1667 he was consulted, mainly on account of his Fumifugium, as to some substitute for the lack of fuel then being sadly felt ;xvi and in the same year he was allied with a certain projecting Sir John Kiviet, a Dutchman, in a scheme for facing the Thames, from the Temple to the Tower, with clinker bricks, a colla- boration by which (according to Pepys) he lost £500.xvii In 1667 also he managed to induce Mr. Henry Howard (afterwards Duke of Norfolk) to transfer the famous Marmora Arundeliana collected by his grandfather, the old Earl of Arundel, to the University of Oxford,xviii having previously persuaded the same nobleman, who had “little inclination to books,” to present the bulk of the Arundel Library to the Royal Society.xix In February 1671 the King made him a member of the Council of Foreign Plantations,xx with a salary — “to encourage him” — of £500 a year. This Council, afterwards amalgamated with that of Trade,xxiand having John Locke for its Secretary, became the nucleus of the existing and heterogeneous Board of Trade.xxii It held its first meetings in the Earl of Bristol’s house in Queen’s Street, Lincoln’s Inn Fields.xxiii Buckingham, Arlington, Lauderdale, Carteret, with many other notable names, figured among its early members, and its first President was Sandwich. Evelyn seems to have highly valued this appointment, which he thoroughly deserved, and for the duties of which he was probably far better equipped than most of his colleagues. In the following year he was made Secretary to the Royal Society ; but that post he only held for a twelvemonth.xxivAnother of his functions at this date was that of Younger Brother of the Trinity House.xxv
Evelyn’s dislike to the “buffoons and ladies of pleasure”xxvi (the words are his own), who formed so large a part of the Court personnel, has been sufficiently disclosed in his conversations with Pepys. For such men as Clarendon and Clifford, and Sandwich and Ossory, he always retained a respect which, in the case of the first two, did not blind him to the defects of their qualities. But very few of the other sex appear to have obtained or deserved his admiration. The conspicuous excep- tion is the beautiful Margaret Blagge, the youngest daughter of Colonel Thomas Blagge of Horningsherth, and afterwards the wife of Sidney Godolphin. She is first mentioned in the Diary in 1669 as “that excellent creature Mrs. Blagge,”xxvii being then Maid of Honour to Clarendon’s daughter, the Duchess of York ; and thenceforth she reappears at intervals in Evelyn’s pages. Speaking in July, 1672, of an entertainment he gave to the Maids of Honour, he mentions among them especially “one I infinitely esteemed for her many and extraordinary virtues.”xxviii At this date Anne Hyde was dead, and “Mrs.” or Miss Blagge had passed to the service of Catherine of Braganza. Shortly afterwards she quitted the Court altogether, returning to it only on one occasion, at the express command of the King and his brother, to take the appropriate part of Diana in “little starched Johnny Crowne’s” masque of Calisto ; or, the Chaste Nymph.xxix But even six years in that “perilous Climate” had left her native piety unscathed. She was essentially a “schöne Seele,”xxx instinctively pure and good ; and, in spite of her beauty and intellectual gifts, which were considerable, succeeded in preserving both her goodness and her purity. Arethusa-like, says Evelyn, she “passed through all those turbulent waters without so much as the least stain or tincture in her crystal.”
“Minding his books and his garden,” and quitting his “recess” only upon compulsion, Evelyn had not at first sufficiently appreciated the rare character who sometimes came to Sayes Court with Mrs. Howard. But by July, 1672, — as we have seen — he had grown thoroughly alive to the beauty and intellectual charm of his young visitor ; and in October of the same year — partly in jest and partly in earnest — they entered, notwithstanding the disparity in their ages, upon “an inviolable friendship.”xxxi To Evelyn, from this time, Margaret Blagge became an adopted child, to be advised and served “in all her secular and no few spiritual affairs and concerns” to the best of his ability, whilst she, on her part, repaid him with an attachment “so transcendently sincere, noble, and religious,” as to exceed, in all its dimensions, anything he had hitherto conceived. These are mainly his own words, which should be consulted with their context in the posthumous account he wrote of her. In this place her story can only be briefly pursued. On her retirement from Court, which must have taken place not long after the date last mentioned, she found an asylum with her friend Lady Berkeley of Stratton, at Berkeley House in Piccadilly, later the refuge of the Princess Anne. In May, 1675, she was married to Godolphin, then Groom of the Bedchamber to the King,xxxii “the person in the world who knew her best, and most she loved.” For obscure reasons, probably imposed upon her by her husband, the marriage for a time was kept secret, even from Evelyn ; and in the following Novemberxxxiii she accompanied the Berkeleys to Paris, Lord Berkeley being Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary for the Peace of Nimeguen.xxxiv Another of the party was Evelyn’s son John, a youth of twenty, to whom, in virtue of her two years’ seniority, she stood in the light of “Governess,” — his “pretty, pious, pearly Governess” the young man calls her to his father. She returned to England in April, 1676. Dispersed entries in the Diary afterwards show Evelyn amiably active in various ways for the benefit of the newly-married pair ; and then, in 1678,xxxv follows the long, sad record which tells of the young wife’s premature death in childbirth. At Godolphin’s request, Evelyn took charge of her little son ; and among the papers which, at Evelyn’s death, were found marked “Things I would write out fair and reform if I had leisure,” was a lengthy account of her life. That its author would have compressed it in the transcription is unlikely ; and that he did not “write it out fair” is perhaps to its advantage, for it is already somewhat diffuse. But it is a thoroughly earnest and sympathetic account of a good woman in bad times, besides being an instructive homily on the text : “Even in a palace, life may be led well.” Through that tainted Whitehall atmosphere the “sinless faith” of Margaret Blagge shines serenely, —
A maiden moon that sparkles on a sty.
Glorifying clown and satyr ;
and it was not the least of her merits, both in the eyes of her affectionate biographer and her episcopal editor, that she was ” a true daughter of the Church of England.”xxxvi