Authors: John Evelyn

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English diarist and nonfiction writer

Author Works

Nonfiction:

The State of France, 1652 (politics)

A Character of England, 1659 (politics)

An Apology for the Royal Party, 1659 (politics)

Sylva: Or, A Discourse on Forest Trees and the Propagation of Timber, 1664 (science)

Diary, 1818, 1955 (6 volumes)

Particular Friends: The Correspondence of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn, 1997

Translations:

Of Liberty and Servitude, 1649 (of La Mothe Le Vayer)

The Compleat Gard’ner, 1693 (of Jean de la Quintinie; 2 volumes)

Biography

John Evelyn (EEV-luhn), who recorded faithfully in his famous Diary the times of Charles I, Oliver Cromwell, and Charles II, was born into a wealthy family at Wotton, the family estate in Surrey. Reared by his maternal grandmother, he preferred to go to free schools rather than to Eton. Although he attended Balliol College at Oxford University, he took no degree. After a brief period as a soldier he returned to Wotton.{$I[AN]9810000602}{$I[A]Evelyn, John}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Evelyn, John}{$I[tim]1620;Evelyn, John}

Unable to remain neutral in the civil strife of the 1640’s, he received permission to go abroad, where he was befriended by Sir Richard Browne. Evelyn married Browne’s daughter, Mary, when she was about twelve, although she did not live with him for some years after. Their union resulted in six sons and three daughters; one of his great sorrows was that only one son and two daughters lived to adulthood.

During the period of the Commonwealth John Evelyn lived mostly in France. In 1652 he settled at Sir Richard Browne’s estate near Deptford. During this time he occupied himself with gardening and conservation, meanwhile carrying on a clandestine correspondence with Charles Stuart. He was always in royal favor during the Restoration, but he was never able to procure lucrative posts. He acted faithfully, though in minor and strenuous roles, as commissioner for improving streets, inspector of charitable institutions, and commissioner of the mint; in all he held about twenty petty offices. His greatest honor was that of being one of the promoters and early director of the Royal Society; he was secretary of the organization in 1672 and was twice offered the presidency.

Although he is chiefly remembered for his diary, which covers his life and times from 1620 to 1706, his writings included political and economic tracts and translations of French scientific writings. It is inevitable, however, that his diary should be compared with that of his good friend Samuel Pepys. Evelyn had not the wit, sense of malice, or inquisitiveness of Pepys, but he was a better reporter of events and possessed a more sane and conservative mind. Pepys covered only a few years of Charles II’s reign, but Evelyn provides a document of more than fifty years. Evelyn indicated at every turn his deep devotion to his family, a love of tradition, of established religion, and of the natural world. Nor was he lacking in appreciation of art, music, or architecture, although he disapproved of the scandalous doings in the court of Charles II and in the theaters.

All in all John Evelyn is the exemplar of both seventeenth century sensibilities and the eighteenth century Age of Reason, which his generation ushered in. On the death of his older brother he inherited Wotton in 1699. He died there on February 27, 1706. His diaries became public in 1818 but were not printed in full until 1955.

BibliographyBedoyere, G. de la. “John Evelyn’s Library Catalogue.” The Book Collector 43, no. 4 (Winter, 1994). Illuminates Evelyn’s literary tastes and intellectual context.Darley, Gillian. John Evelyn: Living for Ingenuity. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2006. Darley draws on the vast unpublished archive of diaries and letters that the British Library attained in 1995 to write this biography of Evelyn. In it, Darley chronicles Evelyn’s private life, including his relationships with his wife and father, his life in England and Paris, as well as his personal interests concerning the environment, architecture, politics, and art. This biography gives readers a vivid picture of the way Evelyn lived his life and the person he was.Harris, Frances. Transformations of Love: The Friendship of John Evelyn and Margaret Godolphin. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. An absorbing study of the most controversial episode of Evelyn’s life: his passionate “seraphic” friendship with Margaret Godolphin, a maid of honor at the Restoration court of Charles II.Levine, Joseph M. Between the Ancients and the Moderns: Baroque Culture in Restoration England. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1999. Evelyn’s position in the major philosophical debate of his day is profiled.Michael, Leslie, and Timothy Raylor, eds. Culture and Cultivation in Early Modern England. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992. Contains two essays on Evelyn, Graham Parry’s “John Evelyn as Hortulan Saint” and Douglas Chambers’s “Wild Pastoral Encounter.”
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