« ZurückWeiter »
Upon his literary work, as a whole, we may adopt the criticism of the elder Disraeli: “His manner of arranging his materials, and his mode of composition, appear excellent. Having chosen a subject, he analysed it into his various parts, under certain heads, or titles, to be filled up at leisure. Under these heads he set down his own thoughts as they occurred, occasionally inserting whatever was useful from his reading. When his collections were thus formed, he digested his own thoughts regularly, and strengthened them by authorities from ancient and modern authors, or alleged his reasons for dissenting from them. His collections in time became voluminous, but he then exercised that judgment which the framers of such collections are usually deficit in. With Hesiod he knew that half is better than the whole,' and it was his aim to express the quintessence of his reading, but not to give it in a crude state to the world, and when his treatises were sent to the press, they were not half the size of his collections."
Next to his “Diary,” his most valuable composition is the famous “Sylva; or, a Discourse of Forest Trees, and the Propagation of Timber in His Majesty's Dominions," in which an enormous number of useful details and valuable facts have been felicitously arranged and admirably condensed. It was written in consequence of an application to the Royal Society, of which Evelyn was one of the founders, by the Commissioners of the Navy, who dreaded a scarcity of timber in the country. Its effect was immediate, and a national benefit. In the dedication to Charles II., prefixed to one of the later editions, its author says : “I need not acquaint your Majesty how many millions of timber-trees, besides infinite others, have been propagated and planted throughout your vast dominions, at the instigation and by the sole direction of this work, because your Majesty has been pleased to own it publicly for my encouragement." This was a service to his country of which Evelyn might justly have been proud.
His other writings include: “Fumifugium ; or, The Air and Smoke of London Dissipated” (1661), treating of an evil which still exists, and in an aggravated form; “Sculptura; or, The History and Art of Chalcography and Engraving on Copper” (1662); “ Kalendarium Hortense ; or, The Gardener's Almanac" (1664) ; “ Terra,” printed for the Royal Society in 1675; “ Navigation and Commerce : their History and Progress”-an introduction to a History of the Dutch War, written at the request of Charles II., but not completed, probably because the author insisted on a straightforward statement of facts disagreeable to the King; “Numismata : a Learned Discourse on Medals” (1697); and “Aretaria: a Discourse of Sallets” (1699). Of a lighter character was his gentle satire on ladies' frippery (in the composition of which he was assisted by his daughter Mary), the “Mundus Muliebris ; or, The Ladies' Dressing-Room Unlocked, and her Toilette Spread. In Burlesque. Together with the Fop Dictionary, Compiled for the Use of the Fair Sex.”
At Sayes Court, which had long been famous for its graceful and gracious hospitality to men of science and of letters from all parts of Europe, Evelyn, in 1698, accommodated Peter the Great, with results which were far from satisfactory. It was natural enough that he should be disgusted by the filthy habits of the Czar and his courtiers, who filled the house with people “ right
nasty," and indulged in loud noises and bowls of brandy. The beautiful and “ most bocaresque gardens ” they injured grievously; and it was a favourite amusement with the Czar to drive his wheelbarrow right through the holly-hedge which was Evelyn's joy and pride, and over the lawns and flower-beds in which he took so innocent and great a pleasure. Of this hedge he speaks in his “ Sylva”: “Is, there under the heaven a more glorious and refreshing object of the kind than an impregnable hedge of about four hundred feet in length, nine feet high, and five in diameter, which I can show in my now ruined garden at Sayes Court (thanks to the Czar of Muscovy), at any time of the year glittering with its armed and varnished leaves; the taller standards at orderly distances blushing with their natural coral? It mocks the rudest assaults of the weather, beasts, or hedge-breakers-Et illum nemo impune lacessit.”*
At Sayes Court Peter, with his barbarous Muscovites, stayed about three months, taking his departure on the 21st of April. For the damage done by him the Treasury allowed Evelyn a compensation of £162.
* Pepys, in his “Diary,” has some references to Evelyn's gardens at Sayes Court :-“ May 5, 1665.-After dinner to Mr. Evelyn's; he being abroad, we walked in his garden, and a lovely noble ground he hath indeed. And, among other rarities, a hive of bees, so as, being bived in glass, you may see the bees making their honey and combs mighty pleasantly." ... “ November 5. By water to Deptford, I then made a visit to Mr. Evelyn, who, among other things, showed me most excellent painting in tints; in distemper, in Indian ink, water-colours, graving; and, above all, the whole secret of mezzo-tints, and the manners of it, which is very pretty, and good things done with it. He read to me very much also of his discourse, he hath been many years and now is about, about Gardenage; which will be a most noble and pleasant piece. He read me part of a play or two of his making, very good, but not as he conceits them, I think, to be. He showed me his “Hortus Hyemalis,” leaves laid up in a book of several, or plants kept dry, which preserve colour, however, and look very finely, better than an Herbal. A fine, a most excellent person he is, and must be allowed a little for a little conceitedness; but he may well be so, being a man so much above others.”
On the death of his elder brother, Evelyn succeeded to the family estate of Wotton, in Surrey, where he indulged to the full his passion for gardening and planting. He speaks of it in his “Diary” with the pride of a fond affection: “The mansion-house,” he says, “is situated in the most southern part of the shire, and though in a valley, yet really upon part of Leith Hill, one of the most eminent in England for the prodigious prospect to be seen from it summit. The house, large and ancient, suitable to those hospitable times, and so sweetly environed with delicious streams and venerable woods, as, in the judgment of strangers as well as Englishmen, it may be compared to one of the most pleasant seats in the nation, and most tempting for a great person and a wanton person to render it conspicuous. It has rising grounds, meadows, woods, and water in abundance. I should speak much of the gardens, fountains, and groves that adorn it, were they not as generally known to be amongst the most natural and (until this later and universal luxury of the whole nation, since abounding in such expanses) the most magnificent that England afforded, and which indeed gave one of the first examples of that elegancy since so much in vogue, and followed in the management of their waters, and other ornaments of that nature.”
His latter years Evelyn spent very happily amidst the Arcadian pleasures of sylvan Wotton, with the exception of occasional residences in London, where he retained a house. In the Great Storm of 1703 (which both Defoe and Addison have commemorated), he notes that upwards of 200 trees were thrown down in his demesnes, “several of which,” he says, “ torn up by their fall, raised mounds of earth near 20 feet high, with great stones entangled
among the roots and rubbish, and this almost within sight of my dwelling, now no more Wotton (i.e., Wood-town), but stripped and naked, and almost ashamed to own its name.”
Evelyn died at his London residence on the 27th of February, 1705-6, and, in accordance with his own request, was interred at Wotton, though not in the spot he himself had indicated. In his will he says: “I would rather be deposited and laid in a plain vault of brick, with my dear wife, if she thought fit, under the oval circle of the laurel grove planted by me at Wotton, with a plain marble stone, and on it a pedestal of black marble, bearing an urn of white marble, which would be no great expense; otherwise, let my grave be in the corner of the dormitory of my ancestors, near to that of my father and pious mother.” He does not sleep in “ the laurel grove,” but in “the dormitory,” where a coffin-shaped tomb bears the following inscription :
“ Here lies the body of JOHN EVELYN, Esq,, of this place, second son of Richard Evelyn, Esq., who, having served the Public in several Employments (of which that of Commissioner of the Privy Seal in the reign of King James the Second was most honourable), and perpetuated his fame by far more lasting Monuments than those of Stone or Brass, his learned and useful Works, fell asleep the 27th day of February, 1705-6, being the 86th year of his age—in full hope of a glorious Resurrection through faith in Jesus Christ.
“Living in an age of extraordinary Events and Revolutions, he learnt (as himself asserted) this Truth, which, pursuant to his intention, is here declared :—That all is Vanity which is not Honest, and that there is no solid Wisdom but in real Piety.”