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- Character Name: John Evelyn
- Title: none
- Estate Name: none
- Nationality: English
- Age: 55 (31 October 1620)
- Gender: Male
- Eye Colour: Hazel
- Hair Colour: Light brown
Not a handsome man, he is rendered attractive by his strong personality and his fashionable dress.
Initial Impression of Personality
'In fine', Pepys wrote of this many-faceted man, 'a most excellent person he is, and must be allowed a little for conceitedness; but he may well be so, being a man so much above others'.
Born in 1620, into a wealthy Surrey landowning family (whose fortunes were founded in gunpowder manufacture), John Evelyn came of age just as the Civil War began 'in a conjunction of the greatest and most prodigious hazards that ever the youth of England saw'. To escape the disturbances, he embarked on a prolonged and formative period of travel in Italy and France, finally coming to rest in Paris, in 1647, where he married the daughter of the English Parisian resident, Sir Richard Browne, whose house was a centre for the exiled Royalist community.
This period abroad stimulated Evelyn's wide-ranging intellectual interests. He embarked on an intensive program of study, of which the evidence remains in his elaborate series of commonplace books, and began to build up his impressive private library: as he afterwards wrote, he always looked on a library 'with the reverence of a temple'. By the time he returned to England, in 1652, to take up residence at a house belonging to his wife's family, Sayes Court at Deptford, he had made himself prodigiously learned, not only in classical literature but also in scientific and technical matters. He soon established himself as one of the foremost virtuosi of his day. His famous garden at Sayes Court, begun at this time, gave scope for his talent for design, his enthusiasm for French and Italian ideas, his practical skills and his strong moral and religious impulses: his conviction that `the air and genius of gardens operate upon human spirits towards virtue and sanctity'.
The Restoration of Charles II, in 1660, brought Evelyn a long wished-for opportunity to engage in public affairs. He became a founder member of the Royal Society. The King sought his company and commissioned him to write. But Evelyn never found 'the fruitless, vicious and empty conversations' of the Restoration Court congenial. With his sense of duty, practical knowledge, and sheer capacity for hard work, he was at his best on public commissions. Evelyn won himself great credit by his indefatigable labours among the prisoners of war and sick and wounded seamen during the Second Dutch War, while the country was stricken with the plague. In 1671, he was appointed to the Council for Trade and Foreign Plantations.
Evelyn was also a notable lay representative of the restored Church of England, a role closely associated with the most controversial episode of his life: his pact of religious fellowship with Margaret Blagge, a pious Maid of Honour at the Restoration Court, who, in 1675, married Sidney Godolphin. It has been suggested that Evelyn tried to discourage her from the marriage in order to keep her under his influence. Certainly, there is evidence that his feelings for her went beyond the platonic friendship he professed. The suggestion is that, like his friend Samuel Pepys, Evelyn has his secrets.
(Sidney Godolphin would become Prime Minister. Margaret Blagge Godolphin would die in childbrith three years after their marriage.)
John and Mary Evelyn had eight children:
- Richard (b. 1652, d. 1658)
- John Standsfield (b. 1653, d. 1654)
- John (b. 1655)
- George (b. 1657, d. 1658)
- Richard ii (b. 1664)
- Mary (b. 1665)
- Elizabeth (b. 1667)
- Susanna (b. 1669)