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

X. Memoir and Letter Writers

§ 6. Evelyn and the Royal Society

We now come to the period when the diaries of Evelyn and Pepys cover somewhat the same ground; thus, there is much about the newly-founded Royal Society in both, for the two men were greatly interested in its proceedings. In December, 1660, Boyle, Oldenburg, Denham, Ashmole and Evelyn were elected fellows, and, in the following January, Evelyn was one of those whom the king nominated as members of council. From this time forward, the records of the society prove how constant an attendant he was at the meetings. Pepys did not join the society until 1664. In 1672, Evelyn was elected secretary, in place of his friend Thomas Henshaw; but he only held the office for a single year. Ten years afterwards, he was importuned to stand for election as president; infirmities were, however, growing upon him, and he desired his friends to vote, in his stead, for Sir John Hoskins, who was elected. Eleven years later, he was again importuned to take the presidentship, but he again refused. Pepys was president for two years from 1684; and, after his retirement, he continued to entertain some of the most distinguished fellows.

Immediately after the restoration, Evelyn’s public life became a very busy one. He was employed on many important commissions, without slackening in his literary labour. In 1661, he published, by the king’s special command, Fumifugium, or The inconvenience of the Air and Smoke of London dissipated. Charles was pleased with the book, and commanded the author to prepare a bill for the next session of parliament to make certain provisions for the prevention of evils caused by smoke in London; but the royal interest cooled, and nothing was done.

A curious instance of the value of these diaries in respect to notices of passing events may be found in the narrative of the adoption of a special costume by the king and his court, in opposition to the fashions of the French. The whole story is amusing, as showing how an international quarrel may arise out of a very small matter. In 1661, Evelyn published a booklet entitled Tyrannus, or the Mode, in which he condemns the tyranny of a foreign fashion, and urges Charles II to form a standard for his people, writing, “we have a Prince whose shape is elegant and perfect to admiration.” Henrietta, duchess of Orleans, was of the same opinion as to her brother doing justice to the costume she suggested. She wrote to him on 8 April, 1665:

  • Madame de Fiennes having told me that you would be glad to see a pattern of the vests that are worn here, I take the liberty of sending you one, and am sure that on your fine figure it will look very well.
  • On 10 October, 1666, Evelyn wrote:

  • To Court.
  • It being the first time His Majesty put himself solemnly into the Eastern fashion of vest, changing doublet, stiff coller, bands and cloake into a comely dress, after the Persian mode, with girdle, or straps and shoe strings and garters into boucles, of which some were set with precious stones: resolving never to alter it.
  • The courtiers wagered the king that he would not persist in his resolution, and they soon won their bets. Evelyn, in his book, takes credit for having suggested this change of costume. Pepys gives an account (22 November, 1666) of the sequel of the story, which is that Louis XIV caused all his footmen to be put into vests like those adopted by Charles II. Pepys adds: “It makes me angry to see that the King of England has become so little as to have this affront offered to him.”