1842 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Evelyn

C. H. Timperley, in Encyclopaedia of Literary and Typographical Anecdote (1842) 2:591.



1705, Feb. 27. Died, JOHN EVELYN, a celebrated and extraordinary individual, who most materially influenced the political events during the latter half of the seventeenth century, of which he was also the chronicler. He was born at Wotton, in Surry, October 31, 1620, and educated at Baliol college, Oxford. By his marriage with the daughter of Sir Richard Brown, in 1647, he became possessed of Sayes Court, a manor in Kent, where he led a retired life till the Restoration, to which he in some measure contributed. At the establishment of the Royal Society, he became one of the first members. In 1662 appeared his Sculptura, or the History and Art of Chalcography and Engraving on Copper. He was appointed a commissioner for the sick and wounded seamen, one of the commissioners for rebuilding St. Paul's, and afterwards had a place at the board of trade. In the reign of James II. he was made one of the commissioners for executing the office of lord privy seal, and after the Revolution was appointed treasurer of Greenwich hospital. In 1697 appeared his Numismata, or Discourse of Medals, folio. Mr. Evelyn has the honour of being one of the first who improved horticulture, and introduced exotics into this country. Of his garden at Sayes Court, a curious account may be seen in the Philosophical Transactions. It was by the publication of the Sylvia that Evelyn was chiefly known till the publication of his Diary, or Kalendarium, which begun in 1641; his other writings had past away, but the Sylvia remained a beautiful and enduring memorial of his amusements, his occupations, and his studies, his private happiness and his public virtues. It was the first book printed by order of the Royal Society, and was composed upon occasion of certain queries sent to that society by the commissioners of the navy. The Sylvia has no beauties of style to recommend it, and none of those felicities of expression by which the writer stamps upon your memory his meaning in all its force. Without such charms A Discourse of Forest Trees and the Propagation of Timber in his Majesty's Dominions might appear to promise dry entertainment; but he who opens the volume is led on insensibly from page to page, and catches something of the delight which made the author enter with his whole heart and all his faculties into the subject. It is a great repository of all that was then known concerning the forest-trees of Great Britain, their growth and culture, and their uses and qualities real or imaginary; and he has enlivened it with all the pertinent facts and anecdotes which occurred to him in his reading. He wrote several books besides the above. The following extract from the epitaph inscribed on his tomb in Wotton church yard, unlike the generality of compositions of its class, speaks only the simple truth:

"Living in an age of extraordinary events and revolutions, he learnt (as himself asserted) this troth, which, pursuant to his intention, is here declared, that all is vanity which is not honest; and that there is no solid wisdom but In real piety."

His son, John Evelyn, wrote a Greek poem, prefixed to his father's Sylvia; and translated Rapin's poem on Gardens into English; and the Life of Alexander, from Plutarch. He was also the author of a few poems in Dryden's Collection, and died in 1698, aged 44.