John Evelyn (October 311620 - February 27 1706) was an English writer, gardener and diarist.
Evelyn's diaries are largely contemporaneous with those of the other noted diarist of the time, Samuel Pepys, and cast considerable light on the art, culture and politics of the time (he witnessed the deaths of Charles I and Oliver Cromwell, the last Great Plague in London, and the Great Fire of London in 1666.). Evelyn and Pepys corresponded frequently and much of this correspondence has been preserved.
Born into a family whose wealth was largely founded on gunpowder production, John Evelyn was born in Wotton, Surrey, and grew up in the Sussex town of Lewes. He was educated at Balliol College, Oxford and at the Middle Temple. While in London, he witnessed important events such as the execution of Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford. Having briefly joined the Royalist army, he went abroad to avoid further involvement in the English Civil War and in 1647 married Mary Browne, daughter of the British ambassador in Paris.
In 1652, Evelyn and his wife settled in Deptford, in south-east London. Their house, Sayes Court (adjacent to the naval dockyard), was purchased by Evelyn from his father-in-law Sir Richard Browne in 1653 and Evelyn soon began to transform the gardens. In 1671, he encountered master wood-worker Grinling Gibbons (who was renting a cottage on the Sayes Court estate) and introduced him to Sir Christopher Wren.
It was after the Restoration that Evelyn's career really took off. He was known for his knowledge of trees, and his treatise Sylva, or Discourse on Foreign Trees (1664) was written as an encouragement to landowners to plant trees to provide timber for England's burgeoning navy. He was a member of the Royal Society and, as a leading churchman, was closely involved in the reconstruction of St Paul's Cathedral by Wren (with Gibbons' artistry a notable addition). He even designed pleasure gardens, such as those at Euston Hall.
Evelyn was a prolific author and produced books on subjects as diverse as theology, politics, horticulture, architecture and cookery, and he cultivated links with contemporaries across the spectrum of Stuart political and cultural life. Like Pepys, Evelyn was a lifelong bibliophile, and by his death his library is known to have comprised 3,859 books and 822 pamphlets. Many were uniformly bound in a French taste and bear his motto Omnia explorate; meliora retinete (‘explore everything; keep the best’) from I Thessalonians v.21
In 1660, Evelyn was a member of the group that founded the Royal Society.
His daughter Mary Evelyn (1665-1685) is sometimes acknowledged as the pseudonymous author of the book Mundus Muliebris of 1690. Mundus Muliebris: or, The Ladies Dressing Room Unlock'd and Her Toilette Spread. In Burlesque. Together with the Fop-Dictionary, Compiled for the Use of the Fair Sex is a satirical guide in verse to francophile fashion and terminology, and its authorship is often jointly credited to John Evelyn, who seems to have edited the work for press after his daughter's death.
In 1694 Evelyn moved to Wotton, Surrey and Sayes Court was made available for rent. Its most notable tenant was Russian tsar Peter the Great who lived there for three months in 1698 (and did great damage to both house and grounds). The house no longer exists, but a public park of the same name can be found in Evelyn Street.
Evelyn died in 1706 at his house in Dover Street, London. His wife Mary died three years later. Both are buried in the Evelyn Chapel in St John's Church at Wotton.
In 1977 and 1978 in eight auctions at Christie's, a major surviving portion of Evelyn's library was sold and dispersed.
The British Library holds a large archive of Evelyn's personal papers including the manuscript of his Diary.
Last updated: 05-15-2005 21:47:54