Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Evelyn, John (1620-1706)
EVELYN, JOHN (1620–1706), virtuoso, fourth child and second son of Richard Evelyn of Wotton, Surrey, by Eleanor, daughter of John Standsfield, was born at Wotton, 31 Oct. 1620. The Evelyn family, said to have come originally from Evelyn in Normandy, had settled in Shropshire and afterwards in Middlesex. George Evelyn (1530–1603) was the first to introduce the manufacture of gunpowder into England. He had mills at Long Ditton and near Wotton (Evelyn, Misc. Works, 1825, p. 689; Camden, Britannia, ed. Gibson, i. 184); made a fortune, and had sixteen sons and eight daughters by his two wives. The sons by the first wife founded families at Long Ditton, Surrey, and Godstone, Kent. Richard, his only son by his second wife, inherited Wotton. Richard's estate was worth 4,000l. a year, and in 1633 he was sheriff for Sussex and Surrey. John Evelyn was put out to nurse in his infancy, and in 1625 sent to live at Lewes with his grandfather Standsfield, who died in 1627. He remained with his grandmother, who, in 1630, married a Mr. Newton of Southover, Lewes. Evelyn refused—to his subsequent regret—to leave his ‘too indulgent’ grandmother for Eton, and continued at the Southover free school. His mother died in 1635. On 13 Feb. 1637 he was admitted a student at the Middle Temple, and on 10 May following a fellow commoner of Balliol, where he was pupil of George Bradshaw, probably related to the regicide. His tutor was neglectful, and his studies were interrupted by serious attacks of ague, but he made some friendships and studied dancing and music. He left without a degree, but received the honorary degree of D.C.L. in 1669. In 1640 he took chambers in the Temple. His father died in December of that year. In July 1641 he went to Holland with a Mr. Caryll, and joined Goring, then in the Dutch service, for a short time just after the fall of Genep, a fort on the Waal. In October he returned to England. He stayed chiefly in London, ‘studying a little, but dancing and fooling more,’ till the outbreak of the civil war. He joined the king's army just after the fight at Brentford (12 Nov. 1642). He was ‘not permitted’ to stay beyond the 15th, and judiciously reflected that he and his brothers ‘would be exposed to ruin without any advantage to his majesty.’ He therefore amused himself at Wotton, making various improvements in the gardens which afterwards became famous; and though in July 1643 he sent his ‘black menage horse’ to Oxford, he obtained the king's license to travel. He crossed to Calais on 11 Nov., spent some time in Paris and in the French provinces, went to Italy in October 1644, and reached Rome 4 Nov. 1644. At the end of January 1645 he visited Naples, and afterwards stayed at Rome until 18 May. He then travelled to Venice. He studied for some time at Padua, where he bought some ‘rare tables of veins and nerves,’ afterwards presented to the Royal Society. They were described by William Cowper (1666-1709) [q. v.] in 1702, and a description, written by Evelyn for Cowper's information, now belongs to Mr. Alfred Huth. He etched five plates from his own drawings, made on the way from Rome to Naples. At the end of April 1646 he set out with Waller, the poet, and others for Verona and Milan, crossed the Simplon, and at Geneva had a dangerous attack of small-pox. He reached Paris in October 1646. Here he became intimate with Sir Richard Browne (1605–1683) [q. v.], then the king's ambassador at Paris; and on 27 June 1647 was married to Mary, Browne's only daughter. In September he returned to England, leaving his wife, who was at most twelve years old, with her mother. Evelyn's diaries show a keen interest in art and antiquities, and a strong appreciation of beautiful scenery, although the Alps were naturally too terrible to be agreeable.
He stayed in England for nearly two years, a good deal occupied, it seems, by the investment of his fortune in land. In October 1647 he saw the king at Hampton Court, and in January 1649 published a translation of La Mothe Le Vayer in ‘Liberty and Servitude,’ with a short but decidedly royalist preface, for which he was ‘threatened.’ In June 1649 he got a pass from ‘the rebel Bradshaw’ with which in July he returned to France, reaching Paris on 1 Aug. In 1650 he paid a short visit to England, and finally returned in February 1652. Thinking the royalist cause hopeless, he now resolved to settle at Sayes Court, Deptford. The Brownes held a lease from the crown of the manor, which had been seized by the parliament. Evelyn obtained the king's leave to compound with the occupiers, the king also promising in the event of a restoration to secure it to him in fee farm. Evelyn succeeded in compounding for 3,500l. (22 Feb. 1653). He obtained leases from the king after the Restoration (Cal. State Papers, Domestic, 5 Dec. 1662, and Diary, 30 May 1663). He was afterwards harassed by lawsuits and had claims upon the crown arising from his advances of money to Sir R. Browne as ambassador. His wife joined him in June 1652, and he finally settled at Sayes Court.
Evelyn lived quietly until the Restoration, occupying himself in gardening and cultivating the acquaintance of men of congenial tastes. He was on friendly terms with John Wilkins, the warden of Wadham, and afterwards bishop of Chester, and with Robert Boyle, to whom in 1659 he addressed a letter proposing a scheme for building a sort of college near London where a few men of science were to devote themselves to ‘the promotion of experimental knowledge.’ The scheme was suggested by the meetings of which Wilkins and Boyle were chief promoters, and which soon afterwards developed into the Royal Society. At the first meeting after the Restoration (January 1660–1) Evelyn was chosen a fellow, and he was nominated one of the council by the king in the charter granted 5 July 1662. Evelyn had corresponded in cipher with Charles and his ministers. On 7 Nov. 1659 he published an ‘Apology for the Royal Party,’ and in 1660 ‘The late News or Message from Brussels unmasked,’ in answer to Marchmont Needham's ‘News from Brussels.’ He also endeavoured to persuade Herbert Morley, then lieutenant of the Tower, to anticipate Monck by pronouncing for the king (letter dated 12 Jan. 1659–60). Morley declined from uncertainty as to Monck's intentions, and had afterwards to obtain his pardon, with Evelyn's help, at the price of 1,000l. Evelyn as a hearty royalist, although it must be confessed that his zeal had been tempered by caution, was in favour after the Restoration, and was frequently at court. He was soon disgusted by the profligacy of the courtiers. He confided many forebodings to Pepys. He took no part in political intrigues, but held some minor offices. He was a member of some commissions appointed in 1662 for improving the streets and regulating the Mint and Gresham College. In October 1664 he was a commissioner for the care of the sick and wounded and prisoners in the Dutch war. He attended to his duties when his fellow-commissioners were frightened from their post by the plague, and stayed at Deptford, sending his family to Wotton. He incurred expenses for the payment of which he was still petitioning in 1702. Part of his claim was then allowed (Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. ix. 257). On 28 Feb. 1671 he was appointed a member of the council of foreign plantations, with a salary of 500l. a year. James II showed him much favour, and from 24 Dec. 1685 till 10 March 1686–7 he was one of the commissioners for the privy seal, during the absence of Clarendon as lord-lieutenant of Ireland. He absented himself occasionally to avoid active participation in illegal concessions to Roman catholics, and was profoundly alarmed by the king's attacks upon the church of England. Evelyn continued to be warmly interested in the Royal Society. He obtained for the Royal Society a gift from Henry Howard, sixth duke of Norfolk, of the ‘Arundelian library’ in 1678, having previously (1667) obtained from the same person a gift of the Arundelian marbles to the university of Oxford. He was secretary to the Royal Society for the year beginning 30 Nov. 1672. In 1682, and again in 1691, he was pressed to be president, but declined both times on account of ill-health. He continued his gardening at Sayes Court, and advised his brother at Wotton, and was a recognised authority upon architecture and landscape gardening. He was an active patron of musicians and artists, befriending Gibbons and Hollar. He was intimate with many distinguished contemporaries. Samuel Pepys and he appear to have had a strong mutual respect. He took occasional tours to his friends' houses in various parts of England, and gives some interesting descriptions of the country.
After the revolution Evelyn, who was growing old and was too good a tory to approve the change unreservedly, lived in greater retirement. About 1691 his elder brother, George, lost his last male descendant, and resettled the estate upon Evelyn. In May 1694 Evelyn lefts Sayes Court and settled with his brother at Wotton. He afterwards let Sayes Court to Admiral Benbow (in 1696), and Benbow sublet it to Peter the Great in the summer of 1698. They were bad tenants, and the czar is said to have amused himself by being trundled in a wheelbarrow across Evelyn's flowerbeds and favourite holly-hedge. A sum of 162l. 7s. was allowed for damages by Peter's secretary (Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. i. 365). On 24 May 1700 Evelyn, who contested Surrey in 1698, removed his remaining property from Sayes Court. In 1759 the house was let to the vestry of St. Nicholas, Deptford, for a workhouse. In 1820 the old building was in great part demolished, but the workhouse remained on the site till 1848. In 1881 all that survived of Sayes Court was converted by its owner, Mr. W. J. Evelyn, into the Evelyn almshouses, for the accommodation of old residents on the Evelyn estate in receipt of parochial relief. In 1886 Mr. Evelyn gave part of the old grounds to form a public garden, with an endowment for keeping it in order. The Sayes Court Museum, belonging to Mr. Evelyn, adjoins this, and another adjoining space of five acres is at present used as a cricket-ground. Other parts of the old estate are covered by buildings and the Victoria Victualling Yard (Dews, History of Deptford, pp. 36–40).
Evelyn's most interesting correspondent in later years was Bentley. As one of Boyle's trustees he appointed Bentley to the first Boyle lectureship, and afterwards consulted him upon his ‘Numismata’ (1697). Evelyn had been consulted upon the foundation of Chelsea Hospital in 1681. In 1695 he was appointed, by Lord Godolphin, treasurer to Greenwich Hospital, then founded as a memorial to Queen Mary. He held the office till August 1703, when he resigned it to his son-in-law, previously his substitute, William Draper. The salary of 200l. a year had not been paid in January 1696–7. On 4 Oct. 1699 his brother George died at Wotton, making his daughter Elizabeth, wife of Sir Cyril Wyche, his sole executrix. Evelyn had the library and some pictures and inherited Wotton, where he passed the rest of his life. He died 27 Feb. 1706, retaining his faculties to the last, and was buried in the chancel of Wotton church. His wife died 9 Feb. 1708–9, in the seventy-fourth year of her age, and was buried beside him. Evelyn had six sons: John [q. v.], and five who died in infancy; one of them, Richard, born 24 Aug. 1652, died 27 Jan. 1657–8, being a child of extraordinary precocity (see Diary and preface to Golden Book of St. Chrysostom); and three daughters: Mary (born 1 Oct. 1665, died 14 March 1685), a girl of whose accomplishments Evelyn gives an affecting account in his diary, and who wrote the ‘Mundus Muliebris,’ published by him in 1690; Elizabeth (born 13 Sept. 1667), married to a nephew of Sir John Tippet, died 29 Aug. 1685; and Susannah (born 20 May 1669), the only one who survived him, married in 1693 to William Draper of Addiscombe, Surrey. Evelyn is the typical instance of the accomplished and public-spirited country gentleman of the Restoration, a pious and devoted member of the church of England, and a staunch loyalist in spite of his grave disapproval of the manners of the court. His domestic life was pure and his affections strong, and he devoted himself to work of public utility, although prudence or diffidence kept him aloof from the active political life which might have tested his character more severely. His books are for the most part occasional and of little permanent value. The ‘Sylva,’ upon which he bestowed his best work, was long a standard authority, and the ‘Diaries’ have great historical value.
Evelyn's portrait was painted by Chanterell in 1626, by Vanderborcht in 1641, by Robert Walker in 1648, and by Sir Godfrey Kneller in 1685 and (for Pepys) in 1689. A copy of Kneller's first portrait was presented to the Royal Society by Mrs. Evelyn. Nanteuil in 1650 made a drawing from which an engraving was taken.
Evelyn's works are: 1. ‘The State of France as it stood in the ninth year of … Lewis XIII,’ 1652. 2. ‘A Character of England,’ 1659, commonly said to have been first published in 1651. An edition in 1659 was answered by ‘Gallus Castratus.’ A letter in reply to this was prefixed to a third edition in 1659 (Harl. Misc. (1813), x. 189; Somers Tracts (1812), vii. 176). 3. ‘Apology for the Royal Party …, by a Lover of Peace and his country,’ 1659. 4. ‘The late Newes from Brussels Unmasked and his Majesty Vindicated,’ 1660. 5. ‘A Poem upon His Majesty's Coronation,’ 1661. 6. ‘Encounter between the French and Spanish Ambassadors,’ 1661 (printed in his works). 7. ‘Fumifugium; or the inconveniencies of the aer and smoak of London dissipated, together with some remedies, …’ 1661 (reprinted 1772; a curious account of the ‘hellish and dismal cloude of sea-coale’ which makes London unhealthy and even injures vineyards in France, with suggestions for expelling noxious trades, for extra-mural burials, and planting sweet flowers in the suburbs). 8. ‘Tyrannus; or the Mode,’ 1661 (in Evelyn's ‘Memoirs’ (1818), ii. 309–21). 9. ‘Sculptura; or the History and Art of Chalcography … to which is annexed a new manner of engraving on mezzotinto, …’ 1662 (repr. 1755 and with unpublished second part 1906). 10. ‘Sylva; or a discourse of Forest Trees and the propagation of timber …’ with ‘Pomona,’ ‘an appendix concerning fruit-trees in relation to cider, …’ 1664, 1669, 1679 (enlarged), 1705, 1729 (with other works on gardening); edited by A. Hunter, M.D., 1786; fifth edition 1825; ‘Dendrologia,’ an abridgement, by J. Mitchell, 1827. 11. ‘Kalendarium Hortense,’ 1664 (with the above and separately; tenth edition 1706). 12. ‘Public Employment, and an Active Life, preferred to Solitude, and all its Appanages …’ in reply to a late ‘essay of a contrary title [by Sir G. Mackenzie],’ 1667. 13. ‘The three late famous Impostors, Padre Ottomano, Mahomet Bei, and Sabbatai Sevi,’ 1669 (from informants whose names he declined to give). 14. ‘Navigation and Commerce,’ 1674 (the first part of an intended ‘History of the Dutch War … undertaken by the king's desire from official materials,’ which apparently did not give satisfaction. The part published suppressed at the demand of the Dutch ambassador; reprinted in Lord Overstone's ‘Select Collection,’ 1859). 15. ‘A Philosophical Discourse of Earth relating to the Culture, …’ 1676 (read to the Royal Society 29 April and 13 May 1675; reprinted with ‘Terra,’ 1778, edited by Hunter). 16. ‘Mundus Muliebris,’ 1690 (‘A Voyage to Maryland,’ in rhyme, and the ‘Fop Dictionary,’ by his daughter Mary—Diary, 10 March 1684–5). 17. ‘Numismata; a Discourse of Medals … with some account of heads and effigies … in sculps and taille-douce, with a digression concerning physiognomy,’ 1697. 18. ‘Acetaria, a Discourse of Sallets,’ 1699 (part of an imperfect ‘Elysium Britannicum,’ never printed, of which the contents are given in his works). The above, together with some of the dedicatory letters to translations, are in Upcott's edition of the ‘Miscellaneous Works,’ 1825, except Nos. 5, 6, 8, 10, 15, 17. 19. ‘Life of Mrs. Godolphin’ [see Godolphin, Margaret], was published from his manuscript by Bishop Wilberforce in 1847. 20. ‘History of Religion; or a Rational Account of the True Religion,’ by the Rev. R. M. Evanson (2 vols. in 1850); a fragmentary book.
The following are translations: 1. ‘Of Liberty and Servitude,’ 1649 (from the French of La Mothe Le Vayer), in ‘Miscellaneous Writings.’ 2. ‘Essay on First Book of Lucretius … made English verse by J. E.,’ 1656 (frontispiece by his wife and complimentary verses by Waller). 3. ‘The French Gardener … translated into English by Philocepos,’ 1658, 1669 (with Evelyn's name), 1672, 1691. 4. ‘The Golden Book of St. Chrysostom concerning the Education of Children,’ 1659 (dedication to his brothers, with account of his son), in ‘Miscellaneous Writings.’ 5. ‘Instructions concerning the Erection of a Library,’ 1661 (from the French of G. Naudé). 6. ‘Tὸ μυστήριον τῆς Ἀνομίας,’ 1664–5; second part of the ‘Mystery of Jesuitism,’ of which the first part (1658), including Pascal's ‘Provincial Letters,’ was apparently not by Evelyn; a third part in 1670 was translated by Dr. Tongue (see Diary for 2 Jan. 1664–5 and 1 Oct. 1678). 7. ‘Parallel of Ancient Architecture with the Modern …’ to which is added an ‘Account of Architects …’ 1664, 1669, 1697, from the French of Fréart de Chambray. 8. ‘Idea of the Perfection of Painting,’ 1668 (from same). 9. ‘The Compleat Gardener’ (with directions concerning melons and orange trees), 1698 (from the French of Quintinie); ‘Of Gardens’ (from the Latin of René Rapin) was published by Evelyn in 1673, but translated by his son. Evelyn also wrote ‘A Letter to Lord Brouncker on a new Machine for Ploughing,’ 1669–70, in the ‘Phil. Trans.’ No. 60; ‘A Letter to Aubrey,’ 1670, printed in his ‘History of Surrey’ and in ‘Miscellaneous Writings;’ verses in Creech's ‘Lucretius,’ 1680, and ‘A Letter on the Winter of 1683–4,’ in ‘Phil. Trans.’ 1684. A list of unfinished works, represented by manuscripts at Wotton, is given at the end of his works. ‘A Letter on Improvement of the English Language,’ in ‘Gent. Mag.’ 1797, i. 218–19, mentions a tragi-comedy which he has written. He showed a play and some poems to Pepys 5 Nov. 1665. For an account of some manuscripts by Evelyn see ‘Diary,’ 1879, pp. cxv-cxviii, vol. iii. 190-4.[The main authority for Evelyn's life is the Diary, first published in 1818 and 1819, edited by William Bray, as part of ‘Memoirs ... of John Evelyn, comprising his Diary, a selection of his familiar letters, private correspondence between Charles I and Sir Edward Nicholas . . . and between Edward Hyde and Sir Richard Browne,’ 2 vols. 4to. The edition in 1827, edited by Upcott, is said to be the most accurate. In the edition in 4 vols. 1879 (reprinted from 1827 edition), is prefixed a Life of Evelyn, by Henry B. Wheatley. Previous lives are in Wood's Athenæ, iv. 464; the ‘General Dictionary;’ Wotton's Baronetage, 1741, iv. 143-9; preface to Sculpture, 1755; and Biogr. Brit. See also Pepys's Diary and Correspondence (passim); Boyle's Works, 1772, ii. 584, vi. 287-96; Bentley Correspondence, 1842, i. 74, 91-6, 110-18, 125-8, 131-7, 152-6, 165-8, 181; Thoresby Diary, 1830, i. 327, 340; Thoresby Letters, 1832, i. 344, 358, 381; Hatton Correspondence (Camd. Soc.), ii. 228,243-4; Rigaud's Correspondence of Scientific Men, i. 96, 119, 123, 164-5, ii. 518; Notes and Queries, 5th ser. xii. 244; Thomson's Royal Society, pp. 5, 64; Birch's Royal Society.]