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THE DIA RISTS.
Not a little valuable and interesting information respecting the inner life of England during the Restoration period, and many important particulars in illustration of current events and historical personages, we owe to the diary of Mr. John Evelyn. It has its significance also as a revelation of character. It shows its author to have been a man of sound judgment and considerable powers of observation and analysis; a man honest and truthful to the core, and with many generous sympathies, though not exempt from narrow partialities and prejudices; a man with some pretensions to culture, with a love of scholarship and scientific inquiry, and, at the same time, a man of sincere devotional temper and unaffected piety. In painting a picture of the England of Charles II., we are apt to crowd the canvas with the glittering figures of courtiers and beauties, wits, gallants, and frail nymphs, to the exclusion of those soberer persons who constituted the real bulk of the English people. But it is important to remember that the age and country which produced and toler
ated a Rochester and a Buckingham, also produced'a John Evelyn, and that he may fairly be taken as a type of the English gentry of that quiet, orderly, but influential class, who, in the next reign, so successfully won the victory of religious and civil liberty against the subtle and insidious efforts of the Crown.
John Evelyn was born at his father's seat, Wotton, in Surrey, on the 31st of October, 1620. He received his earlier education at Lewes Grammar School, and completed it at Balliol College, Oxford. Thence he removed to London to learn a little law as a student in the Middle Temple, and soon afterwards served as a volunteer in an English regiment during a brief campaign in Flanders. Like many other young men of good birth and estate, he inclined towards the Royal party at the outbreak of the Civil War, but failing to overtake the King's army on its march to Gloucester, after the battle of Brentford, he retired to Wotton, where, safe from the tumult and disorder of public affairs, he devoted himself to his favourite pursuits. He had two strong tastes, which influenced his whole life, for books and flowers. To enjoy the former, he built himself a study; to gratify the latter, he embellished his grounds with blooming parterres and leafy groves. Meanwhile, the great struggle between the King and the Parliament increased in intensity and widened its area. Evelyn, happy in his rural retirement, was fain to let the stress and storm pass unheeded, for he was unable to side exclusively with either party, and he felt unfitted to make any conspicuous figure in the noisy theatre of public life. But the Parliament put a strong pressure upon him to declare himself, and to escape from it he withdrew to the Continent.
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During his travels in France and Italy, he found numerous opportunities of prosecuting his researches in natural philosophy, a branch of scientific inquiry which greatly interested him. At Paris he was hospitably received by Sir Richard Browne, Charles II.'s ambassador to the French Court; and to his daughter, a maiden of considerable personal gifts and rare accomplishments, he was married on the 24th of June, 1647, when she was scarcely fifteen years of age. In the following September he was compelled to return to England to settle his affairs, which, during his five years' absence, had become somewhat involved, and he left his young wife under the care of an excellent lady and prudent mother. It was not until the early days of August, 1949, that he was able to rejoin her in Paris.
In the spring of 1652 he returned to England, which had settled down quietly under the Commonwealth Government, and prepared to take up his residence at Sayes Court, near Deptford, which had come to him by right of his wife. “I went to Deptford,” he writes, “ where I made preparation for my settlement, no more intending to go out of England, but endeavour a settled life, either in this or some other place, there being now so little appearance of any change for the better, all being entirely in the rebels' hands, and this particular habitation and the estate contiguous to it (belonging to my father-inlaw, actually in His Majesty's service) very much suffering for want of some friend to rescue it out of the power of the usurpers, so as to preserve an interest, and take some care of my other concerns." He was joined by his wife in the following June, and on the 24th of August was born their first child, a son.
When the Parliament confiscated the estates of Sir Richard Browne as those of a Royalist and “ malignant," Evelyn obtained permission to purchase Sayes Court. His cultivated mind so recoiled from the turmoil and contention which then vexed the public life of England that he suggested to his friend, Robert Boyle, the establishment of a “college,” or retreat, within twenty-five miles of London, where the friends of science and the votaries of philosophy might find an asylum in the fallentis semita vitoe from the evil influences of the time and the rude pressure of hostile circumstances. These, however, did but little affect himself, for his moderation of character and equability of temper had secured him friends in the Court of Cromwell. The worst that befell him he notes in his diary, under the date of December 25th, 1657:-
“I went to London with my wife,” he writes, “to celebrate Christmas Day, Mr. Gunning preaching in Exeter Chapel on Micah vii., 2. Sermon ended, as he was giving us the Holy Sacrament, the chapel was surrounded with soldiers, and all the communicants and assembly surprised and kept prisoners by them—some in the house, others carried away. It fell to my share to be confined to a room in the house, where yet I was permitted to dine with the master of it, the Countess of Dorset, Lady Hatton, and some others of quality who invited me. In the afternoon came Colonel Whalley, Goffe, and others from Whitehall, to examine us one by one; some they committed to the Marshal, some to prison. When I came before them, they took my name and abode, examined me why, contrary to the ordinance made, that none should any longer observe the superstitious time of the Nativity (so esteemed by them), I durst offend, and particularly be at Common
Prayers, which they told me was but the Mass in English, and particularly pray for Charles Stuart, for which we had no Scripture. I told them we did not pray for Charles Stuart, but for all Christian kings, princes, and governors. They replied, in so doing we prayed for the King of Spain too, who was their enemy and a Papist, with other frivolous and ensnaring questions, and much threatening; and, finding no colour to detain me, they dismissed me with much pity of my ignorance. These were men of high flight, and above ordinances, and spake spiteful things of our Lord's Nativity. As we went up to receive the Sacrament, the miscreants held their muskets against us, as if they would have shot us at the altar, but yet suffering us to finish the office of communion, as, perhaps, not having instructions what to do in case they found us in that action. So I got home late the next day. Blessed be God!”
A month later, and Evelyn experienced his first great domestic sorrow in the loss of his eldest son, Richard, a boy of five years old, of whose remarkable parts and many childish graces he has drawn a beautiful portrait. It is difficult, perhaps, to believe that at so tender an age the child could have been such a prodigy for wit and understanding, such a very angel for beauty of body, and such a wonder for mental endowments as his father represents him. Allowance must be made, no doubt, for the warmth of colouring natural to parental affection ; but even then it is clear enough that he was signally worthy of the love which was poured out upon him so lavishly.
“To give but a taste of his quality,” says Evelyn, “ and thereby glory to God, who out of the mouths of babes and infants does sometimes perfect His praises,' he