Guy de la Bédoyère's edition of The Writings of John Evelyn is
published by Boydell and Brewer (ISBN 0 85115 631 2)
Although John Evelyn's Diary is famous, the works he published during his
lifetime have since received scant attention. An anthology was published in
1825, and occasional revisions of individual pieces appeared in the eighteenth
century. All are distinguished by the awe with which the respective editors
regarded Evelyn and their unwillingness to query the material. Only isolated
reprints have been available since.
Evelyn had a remarkable ability to identify topical subjects. His diligence led to
an astonishing output. Numerous unpublished manuscripts also survive in the
Evelyn archive recently acquired by the British Library. Considering the quantity
and range, it is not surprising that Evelyn made the most of any material already
available. For example, his 1664 gardening calendar, which went to nine further
editions in his lifetime, resembles a 1658 French gardening calendar, of which
Evelyn had a copy.
This is hardly unusual _ all authors borrow to some extent from others _ but
few enjoyed Evelyn's elevated status. This is nowhere clearer than in his curious
1661 piece about the adoption of French fashions in England. “Tyrannus” is an
involved essay packed with references to works little known nowadays. Evelyn's
copy survives in the Bodleian, and despite being appended to early editions of the
Diary, and the appearance of a facsimile in 1951, no one seems to have observed
that the piece had been modelled on, and partly copied from (sometimes
incorrectly), three of Montaigne's Essaies. Evelyn refers to Montaigne at one
point, but otherwise gives no indication that some ideas, anecdotes and quotations
had been take from the Essaies. Other Latin quotations had undoubtedly come
from Erasmus's Adages, the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations of its day.
Evelyn was adept at making it appear he was better read than he actually was.
In 1659, he published the first English translation of The Golden Book of St John
Chrysostom, a treatise on the education of children. It was Evelyn's memorial to
his son Richard, who had died the year before, at the age of five. He added his
own Epistle, and packed it with quotations. Many of these come from a small
section of Augustine's Confessions, but, dispersed throughout the text, and
unattributed, they help form a more comprehensive impression of learning. He
also quoted freely from Jerome's letters; the mistakes in transfer, and in one case
misunderstanding, make it likely that he found these latter quotations out of
In 1662, the Royal Navy asked the Royal Society to look into how England's
depleted woodlands might be restored. Evelyn is always credited with the end-
product, Sylva, first published in 1664. He actually shared gathering the material
with three other members of the Royal Society: Jonathan Goddard, Christopher
Merret and John Winthrop. Evelyn's job was also to collate the information and
write it up.
This was Evelyn's first opportunity to write at length, and he made the most of
it, cramming the text with every anecdote or quotation related to cultivating
woodlands. He depended largely on Pliny the Elder's Natural History for tales
and facts, and Virgil's Georgics for verbal cosmetics. Other sources makes
occasional appearances, such as Cicero, Columella and Ovid. One quotation,
attributed to Juvenal, is actually from Ovid _ the error remained unaltered in
every subsequent edition of the book and suggests he found the quotation in a
secondary source, which he certainly did on other occasions. In later editions, he
added a note explaining that the book had been written for the “Benefit and
Diversion of Gentlemen”, not “ordinary Rusticks”, and that he would have
preferred to include more “Historical passages”.
Evelyn awarded Pliny's stories the same validity and relevance as his own
experiences or those recounted to him by correspondents. Pliny is usually
credited, though often with a wrong reference. But some sections which purport
to be Evelyn's prose turn out to be unattributed near-verbatim translations from
Pliny. While helping to support Evelyn's image as a learned scholar, these tales
tend to obscure a great deal of useful information about trees and forestry
techniques which had traditionally been handed down by word of mouth. For the
benefit of the “meaner Capacities”, and evidently to Evelyn's distaste, later
editions had to have English translations substituted for Latin passages, and a
glossary included, to make the book comprehensible to the people who might
actually have a practical use for it.
Much of Evelyn's writing was translation and he reaped the benefit borne by
association, though he once claimed he thought the task drudgery. As well as
anti-Catholic tracts, he also translated a French book called A Parallel of the
Antient Architecture. In England Evelyn got the credit for this handsome book,
which included many fine engravings, although he did append his own rambling
account of architects and architectural terms. On 26 October 1664 Charles II
gave him “thanks for my book of Architecture”. Evelyn became an “expert” on
architecture as a result and participated in surveying old St Paul's alongside Wren
in August, 1666. In 1693, The Compleat Gard'ner appeared, also translated
from the French. Evelyn acknowledged in a letter to his brother that most of the
work had been done by someone else, with Evelyn's name appearing on the front
for commercial reasons.
Sometimes Evelyn wrote more from the heart. Freer from stylistic conventions,
his anonymous Character of England (1659) is a witty critique of the sloppy
habits of Englishmen during the Interregnum. Latin quotations are practically
absent and the text greatly improved as a result. His Fumifugium (1661), a tirade
against London's atmospheric pollution, suffers from some gratuitous quotations
and elaborate preambles, but the underlying theme is expressed well enough to
make it a valuable piece.
Evelyn wrote at a time when the concept of exclusive specialist disciplines did
not really exist. He was intellectually free to wander where he wished; his
optimistic ignorance gave him the drive, and his social status the opportunity, to
turn his hand to anything. With an unsophisticated audience at the Restoration
Court he was able to bask in the flattering, but hardly credible, praise from such
intellectual luminaries as the Queen Mother, Henrietta Maria. Her exposition of
how the shape of a dog's skull was an indicator of canine intelligence was
respectfully incorporated into Evelyn's late book on coins and medals,
Numismata (1697), in a digression which is a tour de force of irrelevance. All
these writings must be considered with his Diary and his correspondence, as part
of Evelyn's personal campaign to create and sustain what we would call his
image. Some of his readers, such as Pepys, were so overwhelmed by the learned
content that they assumed the books were above them, though later Pepys began
to wonder if Evelyn did not have an inflated sense of his own skill as an author.
His contemporary reputation shows that he was at least a consummate literary
performer, even if analysis of texts reveals he that selected and organised material
to create an unparalleled reputation as a polymath, which has endured for
centuries. However, Evelyn's real talent was in recognising the brilliance of men
such as Boyle, Hooke and Wren. By helping to found the Royal Society and
remaining an active member all his life, he made a major contribution to the
scientific development of his age. Writing, and being seen to write, books
perceived as books of substance helped him earn his seat at their table.
GUY DE LA BEDOYERE
Guy de la Bédoyère's edition of The Writings of John Evelyn has just been
published by Boydell and Brewer (ISBN 0 85115 631 2)
This article was published without notes in the Times Literary Supplement edition
of 8 September 1995
de Beer, ES, 1955, The Diary of John Evelyn, Oxford.
de la Bédoyère, G, 1995, The Writings of John Evelyn, Woodbridge.
Hiscock, WG, 1955, John Evelyn and his family circle, London.
Hofmann, T, Winterkorn, J, Harris, F, and Kelliher, H, 1995, 'John Evelyn's
archive at the British Library' in The Book Collector Vol 44, no 2 (summer 1995).
Hunter, M, 1995, 'The British Library and the Library of John Evelyn' in The
Book Collector Vol 44, no 2 (summer 1995).
Keynes, G, 1937, John Evelyn _ a study in bibliophily, Cambridge.
Upcott, W, 1825, The Miscellaneous Writings of John Evelyn, London.
Edited by William Upcott and called The Miscellaneous Writings of John
For example Dr Alexander Hunter's series of new editions of Silva (sic _
the title spelling was changed for the fourth edition, of 1706) which
commenced in 1776.
The National Society for Clean Air has, for example, maintained a reprint
For example his enormous gardening compendium Elysium Britannicum
(MS 45) and his play Thersander, a Tragi-Comedy (MS 41), see Hofman,
Winterkorn, Harris, and Kelliher, 1995.
Kalendarium Hortense; Or; Gard'ners Almanac; directing what he is to
Monethly throughout the Year, 1664.
Remarques necessaires pour la culture des fleurs, 1658, by Pierre Morin.
E had visited his garden in Paris in April 1644 (de Beer, II, 132).
See Keynes, 1937, 291, item 51, taken from Evelyn's 1687 Library
Tyrannus Or the Mode: in a Discourse of Sumptuary Lawes, 1661.
Edited by JL Nevinson for the Luttrell Society.
I am grateful to Professor Michael Hunter for the observation that MS
173 amongst the Evelyn papers appears to carry notes made by E from
Aubrey's works lent to him by Aubrey himself. E seems to have begun
preparations to write his own version of Aubrey's work, though this was never
carried through to publication. Professor Hunter states that he was 'shocked'
by the discovery.
See Writings, 27.
The Golden Book of John Chrysostom, Concerning the Education of
In one instance he quotes Jerome's Letter to Heliodorus (LX.10) and
assumes a line refers to Heliodorus when in fact it refers to Heliodorus'
nephew Nepotianus. The mistake would not be made by anyone reading the
passage in context. E's surviving copy of Jerome's letters is an edition
published in 1672 (Hunter, 1995, 233; BL accession number Eve.a.95) so it
seems possible that he did not even own a copy of the texts when he wrote
See his Diary 15 October 1662 'I this day delivered my Discourse
concerning Forest-trees to our Society upon occasion of certain Queries sent
us by the Commissioners of his Majesties Navy: being the first Booke that
was Printed by Order of the Society, & their Printer, since it was a
Sylva, or a Discourse of Forest Trees, and the Propagation of Timber in
his Majesties Dominions, 1664
Sylva domus, cubilia frondes. E gives 'Juvenal', the correct source is
Ovid Ars Amatoria II.475, correctly Sylva domus fuerat, cibus herba, cublia
frondes, see Writings, 219, note 85.
In, for example, the 1706 edition, Advertisement.
See, for example, Writings, 264, note 182. This habit resulted in a crass
error where E included Pliny's reference to a prior point without realising it
that he was effectively directing his readers to an earlier passage in Pliny, see
op cit, 287, note 244, not included in Sylva.
Silva 1706, Advertisement.
In a letter to Henry Hyde, Lord Cornbury (1638-1709) dated 9 February
1665, 'the greatest of drudgeries, the translation of bookes', quoted in Keynes,
1937, 172. The letter is appended to various nineteenth century editions of the
Diary, see for example the 1906 Routledge edition, 607. E also called it 'toil';
see the letter to his brother cited below.
A Parallel of the Antient Architecture with the Modern, In a Collection
of Ten Principal Authors who have written upon the Five Orders ... Written in
French by Roland Fréart, Sieur de Chambray; Made English for the Benefit
of Builders. To which is added an Account of Architects and
Architecture...With Leon Baptista Alberti's Treatise of Statues, 1664.
An Account of Architects and Architecture. Unlike the translated text E's
essay has no illustrations. Not surprisingly the text owes much to Vitruvius. It
was not an enormous success and enough original sheets remained to be
issued with a new title page in 1680. A second edition appeared in 1707 with
further editions in 1723 and 1733 at a time when the engravings of classical
orders were of considerable practical use to the palladian architects of the
Diary, 26 October 1664.
Diary, 27 August 1666.
The Compleat Gard'ner; or, Directions for Cultivating and Right
Ordering of Fruit-Gardens and Kitchen-Gardens; With Divers Reflections On
several Parts of Husbandry, translated from J. de la Quintinye, 1693 (from
Instruction pour les jardin fruitiers and potagers).
'I do not attribute the whole to myself; the toil of mere translating would
have been very ungrateful to me to one who had not so much time to spend in
thrashing: but as a considerable part of it has, and the rest under my care, the
publishers and printers will have it go under my name, altogether against my
intentions'. To George Evelyn on 24 March 1693, quoted by Hiscock in John
Evelyn and his family circle, 1955, 168. Hiscock however expressed the
opinion that the work had been done by the King's gardener George London
and that E's role had just been to oversee the work.
A Character of England, As it was lately presented in a Letter, to a
Noble Man of France, 1659. E never listed it amongst his works but a
reference in a letter to Jeremy Taylor (4 June 1659; see Writings, 69) and
other references which match episodes recorded in the Diary make its
Fumifugium: or the Inconvenience of the Aer and Smoak of London
Numismata, A Discourse of Medals, Antient and Modern. Together with
some Account of Heads and Effigies of Illustrious and Famous Persons, in
Sculps, and Taille-Douce, of Whom we have no Medals extant; and Of the
Use to be derived from them. To which is added A Digression concerning
Physiognomy, 1697. The passage is quoted in Writings, 24. It served to inform
the reader of E's elevated status and his privileged access to the highest
'The book is above my reach', Pepys's Diary, 5 October 1665. He was
referring to E's translation of Naudé on library organisation: Instructions
Concerning Erecting of a Library: Presented to My Lord The President de
Mesme, By Gabriel Naudeus, P. and now Interpreted by Jo. Evelyn, Esquire,
Op cit, 5 November 1665 and 26 May 1667.
John Evelyn and the art of quoting