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had learned all his Catechism ; at two years and a half old he could perfectly read any of the English, Latin, French, or Gothic letters, pronouncing the three first languages exactly. In grammar, both English and Latin, he had, by his fifth year, made great progress, could write legibly, and had a strong passion for Greek. The number of verses he could recite was prodigious, and he was accustomed to act the parts of such plays as he remembered. On one occasion, observing a copy of Plautus in a friend's hand, he asked what book it was, and when told it was too difficult for him, burst into tears. Strange was his apt and ingenious application of fables and their morals, for he had read Æsop to good purpose. His mathematical capacity was wonderful; he had by heart several of Euclid's propositions which had simply been read to him in play, and would ‘make lines’ and demonstrate them. But the most pleasing feature of his character was his earnest and unaffected piety; he had a lively sense of the power and goodness and mercy of God, and of the redeeming work of Christ. Astonishing were his applications of Scripture upon occasion; he had learned all his Catechism early, and acquired an intelligent knowledge of the Bible. Nor did he fail to understand his own responsibility ; that, knowing what he did, he must take upon himself the promises which his godfathers had made on his behalf at his baptism.”
During his illness he behaved with a composure and a sweetness of temper and a patience which would have done honour to an aged Christian. He would of himself select the most pathetic psalms and chapters out of Job to read to the maid who waited on him; and when she used any expressions of pity, he would reply, that all God's children must suffer affliction. “He declaimed against the vanities of the world before he had seen any,” says his father, so that the declamation must have been somewhat unreal and superfluous. He would ask those who came to see him to pray by him. The day before his death he called his father to his side, and, with much seriousness, told him that he must give house and land and all his possessions to his younger son, John, for that he, Richard, would have none of them. Next morning, being very ill, he was persuaded to keep his hands under the bedclothes, whereupon he asked, with a natural touch of childish simplicity, whether he might pray to God with his hands unfolded. Shortly afterwards, as his sufferings became severer, he inquired whether he should not offend God by using His holy name so often in calling for ease. His parents, watching by his bedside, were moved to tears by his frequent pathetic ejaculations. And so he passed away from a world in which he could not have tarried longer without receiving some stain or blot on the whiteness of his childish soul.
Deep and strong as was Evelyn's sorrow, he did not permit it to interrupt his literary pursuits or to deaden his interest in the welfare of his country. He published translations from Lucretius and St. Chrysostom, and his horticultural tastes found expression in “The French Gardener.” In 1659 he issued what he himself calls his “ bold ” “ Apology for the Royal Party,” and a vigorous reply to an attack upon Charles II., which he entitled, “The Late News, or Message from Brussels Unmasked.” It is a signal tribute to his high character, and a proof of the respect it commanded, that, though well-known to be a Royalist, he was left unmolested during the Commonwealth period. His long life covered the stirring and chequered times of the Civil War, the Restoration, and the Revolution; yet, though he never abandoned a conscientious opinion, nor stooped to adulation of the ruling powers, he sustained no injury in person or property. This fact may also be accepted as evidence of the comparatively slight social dislocation occasioned by the changes in the government of the country. Evelyn's friendships, we may add, included men of all parties in Church and State, who were prompt to admire the honourable consistency with which he adhered to his own principles, while extending an enlightened and a liberal tolerance to those of others. On the whole, it may fairly be said that a young Englishman cannot do better than bear in his mind the example of Evelyn, as containing nothing but what is imitable, and nothing but what is good. All persons, indeed, may find in his character something worthy of imitation ; but for an English gentleman he is, as Southey says, the perfect model.
In one of his letters to the poet Cowley, who had made for himself, at Chertsey, a retreat from the busy world, whence he professed to regard, in the Lucretian spirit, the magnum mare of its passions and ambitions, Evelyn writes : “I pronounce it to you from my heart as oft as I consider it, that I look on your fruitions with inexpressible emulation, and should think myself more happy than crowned heads were I, as you, the arbiter of mine own life, and could break from those gilded toys to taste your well-described joys with such a wife and such a friend, whose conversation exceeds all that the mistaken world calls happiness.” Sach may, at times, have been Evelyn's private aspiration, but he fully recognized it to be the duty of every citizen to undertake such service as the commonwealth may impose upon him; and, indeed, in his “Public Employment, and an Active Life, Preferred to Solitude and All Its Appendages,” a reply to Sir George Mackenzie's well-known panegyric on Solitude, he very forcibly presses the argument in favour of active intercourse with the world as a means of doing good. As he taught, so he practised. He held a succession of responsible and laborious posts which did not carry with them any great distinction or considerable emoluments; those posts in which an honest man may serve his country unobtrusively, but effectively. In 1662, we find him appointed a Commissioner for reforming the ways, streets, and buildings of London. In 1664, he was on a Commission for reorganizing and regulating the Mint; and in the same year was chosen one of the Commissioners for the care of the sick and wounded in the Dutch Wars. He was also on the Commission for the repair of St. Paul's Cathedral, whose labours were rendered unnecessary by the destruction of the Cathedral in the Great Fire of 1666. In the same year we find him engaged on a Commission for regulating the manufacture of saltpetre; and in 1671, he appears as a Commissioner of Plantations on the establishment of that Board, to which, in 1672, was added the Council of Trade. In 1685, the last year of Charles II.'s reign, he acted as one of the Commissioners of the Privy Seal during the absence of the Earl of Clarendon in Ireland. On the foundation of Greenwich Hospital, in 1695, he was appointed a Commissioner; and on the 30th of June, 1696, laid the first stone of the stately pile which commemorates Queen Mary's patriotic interest in the mariners of England. He was also appointed to the Treasurership, worth £200 a year, but he tells us that a long time elapsed before he received any portion of his salary.
There can be no doubt that in these various public capacities he did the State good service, not only by the industrious exercise of his administrative talents, but by the splendid example he set of disinterestedness and integrity, and the true patriotic spirit.
Still more valuable, however, was the result of his literary labours; especially that “ Diary” of his, which has not only an historical importance, but is deeply interesting as a vivid picture of certain phases of the social life of England in the latter half of the nineteenth century. It is in connection with this “Diary” that his name is chiefly celebrated. It differs greatly from that of garrulous Pepys—it is graver, more earnest, is less crowded with personal details ; has in it more of the judicious historian, and less of the scandalous gossiper. Naturally, the two Diaries differ exactly in those points in which the characters of the two writers differed. Much that Evelyn revered Pepys despised or ignored; and what interested Pepys had no attraction for the serious Evelyn. The latter had no curiosity; the former was the Paul Pry of diarists, going everywhere, seeing everything, and inquiring about everybody. He was as graphic as a modern reporter, as inquisitive as an American interviewer. But Evelyn is always the sedate and scholarly gentleman, who regards men and manners from an elevated standpoint. He wrote his “Diary,” as it were, in full dress, in the leisure and lettered seclusion of his library ; Pepys jotted down his ciphers in the privacy of his chamber, with his wig thrown off, and his hose down at heel. The two resemble each other only in their zeal for the public service.