1826 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Evelyn

Anonymous, in Review of Evelyn, Miscellaneous Works, ed. Upcott; New Monthly Magazine NS 16 (January 1826) 43-44.



Evelyn was an English gentleman of the first order. His character united spirit with sweetness he was conscientious, accomplished, amiable; an observer on the watch for good; superior to the ordinary temptations of high life; romantic on the side of nature; a patriot, who clothed anew his country with oaks; a graceful philosopher, who did not disdain to know the elegancies of a sallad.

It is this combination of interesting qualities, but above all the "precious seeing" with which he looked upon every object about him, and fetched out the beauty and goodness that is in it, (a noble property, as if Heaven had gifted a man with angelic eyes,) which has long rendered Evelyn a personal favourite with the readers of old books, and has at length produced a republication of his works. In some instances, the mention of particular works in this Magazine is to be regarded rather as availing ourselves of a warrantable opportunity of bringing the reader acquainted with the contents, than as passing a critical opinion. But in the present, partaking of the just pride of those who are concerned in bringing such an author forward, we do not hesitate to say, that no English gentleman, who has money as well as mind enough to indulge himself in intellectual luxuries, ought to be without the works of Evelyn. He, Cowley, and Clarendon, may be regarded as the representatives of the gentry and men of letters that were on the aristocratical side in the civil wars; as Sidney, Milton, Harrington, and Marvell, are those on the side of the democracy. No English gentleman should be without them all. Evelyn, like Cowley and Milton, was, unequivocally, an honest man. We are apt to regret, that such men as he, and Milton, and Marvell, and Lord Falkland, and all the other true hearts on either side of the question, were not intimate together; though on some accounts, perhaps, they were better in their respective places. Cowley was his friend, and has addressed to him one of his most characteristic and congenial productions. They fought, after their fashion, the battles of their cause; and refrehed themselves at intervals in the sweet breath of gardens; keeping alive their humanity in the wide and charitable meditations inspired by those tranquil places. Evelyn had not the great talents of his friend. His works are remarkable neither for goodness of style nor masterliness of speculation. His fondness for learned phrases, and scraps of scholarship, borders on the pedantic; and he must have been startled at first sight with the character which Cowley could afford to write of Cromwell. But there is ingenuity, grace, enthusiasm; a great deal of information on subjects within his reach; great novelty of zeal in behalf of our forests and "hearts of oak;" an activity, and relish of life, that transports us to and fro between the enjoyment of the country and the sympathy with busy men; an honesty sometimes amounting to simplicity; and a simplicity often arriving at the results, and invested with the dignity, of wisdom. The merits of his Silva are well known; but have never been seen to such advantage as in the late edition, illustrated with plates, and with the commentary of Dr. Hunter. His Diary has all the interest that might be expected from the memorandum-book of an honest and anxious observer, kept in extraordinary times; and the Miscellanies before us partake of the same interest united with the results of his quietest and most pleasing studies.