Home  »  Volume VIII: English THE AGE OF DRYDEN  »  § 4. Evelyn’s Father, Younger Days, Travels and Marriage

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.

X. Memoir and Letter Writers

§ 4. Evelyn’s Father, Younger Days, Travels and Marriage

John Evelyn’s father, Richard Evelyn, kept a diary, and the son began to follow the father’s example in the year 1631; but the diary we possess cannot have been undertaken until a much later period of his life, although his birth at Wotton on 31 October, 1620, begins the record. After some unconnected teaching, which began when he was four years old, he was placed in the free school of Southover in January, 1630, where he remained until he was entered, in 1637, as a fellow-commoner of Balliol college, Oxford. In 1640, his father died, and, at the age of twenty, he was left his own master. Richard Evelyn was a man of ample means, his estate being estimated as worth about £40,000 a year; and, when high sheriff of Surrey and Sussex, he distinguished himself by his princely hospitality. John was the second son; but George, the eldest, was attached to his brother and always encouraged him to feel that Wotton was his home. The growing political troubles caused Evelyn to leave England for a time; so he embarked for Holland on 21 July, 1641, and made good use of his time in visiting some of the chief continental towns. He returned to England on 12 October and, at Christmas, was appointed one of the comptrollers of the Middle Temple revels; but, wishing to spend the holidays at Wotton, he obtained leave to resign his staff of office.

Evelyn was a cavalier and a hearty royalist; but, as Sir Leslie Stephen says, “his zeal was tempered with caution.” This may be seen in the instance of the battle of Brentford (12 November, 1642) between the royal and parliamentary troops. Evelyn came in with his horse and arms just at the retreat, and he only stayed with the royal army until the 15th, because it was about to march to Gloucester. Had he marched with it, he and his brothers would have been exposed to ruin, without any advantage to the king. So he returned to Wotton, and no one knew that he had been with the royal army.

In spite of his attempts to live in retirement at Wotton, he was forced to leave the country, in order to escape the constant pressure upon him to sign the covenant. Therefore, in November, 1643, he obtained from Charles I a licence to travel, and he made an extensive tour on the continent, the particulars of which are recorded in the diary in an interesting narrative. The diarist tells just the things we want to know, and many bits of information given by him help us to form a vivid picture of the places which he visited, both in France and Italy. The galleys at Marseilles and the beauty of malls at Blois and Tours (where “pall mall” was played) are specially noted. He passed across the Alps from Italy to Geneva, and, after travelling along many miles of level country, came suddenly to the mountains. He remarks that nature seemed to have swept up the rubbish of the earth in the Alps, to form and clear the plains of Lombardy. Bears and wolves abounded in the rocky fastnesses; and, the accommodation for travellers being of the most meagre description, they had some excuse for speaking of “the horrid mountains” in what is now “the playground of Europe.”

On Thursday, 27 June, 1647, Evelyn was married by John Earle (afterwards bishop of Salisbury) to Mary, daughter of Sir Richard Browne, Charles I’s resident at the French court, with whom, on his first visit to Paris, Evelyn became very intimate. His newly married wife was a mere child of fifteen, and when, after an absence of four years, he returned to England, he left her “under the care of an excellent lady and prudent mother.” On 10 October, 1647, he kissed the captive king’s hand at Hampton court, and gave him an account of certain things he had in charge to tell. He also went to see Sayes court at Deptford, then inhabited by a brother-in-law of its owner, Sir Richard Browne. A little over a year after this, Evelyn himself took up his residence at Sayes court, which was associated with him for many years of his life.

About the same time (January, 1648/9) appeared his first publication, a translation from the French of an essay by François de la Mothe Le Vayer, entitled Liberty and Servitude. In the preface, Evelyn was overbold in his reference to the captive king; and, in his own copy of this little volume, he wrote the following pencil note: “I was like to be call’d in question by the Rebells for this booke, being published a few days before His Majesty’s decollation.” At midsummer of the same year (1649), he left England for a time, as it was not then a place where a pronounced royalist could live with comfort. In September, 1651, he visited Hobbes of Malmesbury in Paris, from whose window he saw the procession of the young king Louis XIV (then in his fourteenth year) to parliament, where he took upon himself the government. Afterwards, Evelyn accompanied Sir Richard Browne to an audience with the king and his mother. The news of the decisive battle of Worcester, fought on 3 September, did not reach Paris until the twenty-second of the month. This event dashed all the hopes of the royalists, and Evelyn decided to settle with his wife in England. He went first, at the beginning of 1652, Mrs. Evelyn following in June. It was an adventurous journey; for, at the time when the party escaped from Paris, that city was being besieged by Condé.