English diarist and author. He was a friend of the diarist Samuel Pepys, and like him remained in London during the Plague and the Great Fire of London. His fascinating diary, covering the years 1641–1706, and first published in 1818, is an important source of information about 17th-century England. He also wrote some 30 books on a wide variety of subjects, including horticulture and the cultivation of trees, history, religion, and the arts. He was one of the founders of the Royal Society.
Evelyn was born near Dorking, Surrey. He studied law in London but did not practise as a barrister. He was interested in horticulture and improved the grounds of his father's estate at Wotton House. A Royalist, from 1641 and during the Civil War period he travelled in Europe. On returning to England, he settled in 1652 at Sayes Court, Deptford, southeast London, where he devoted much time to perfecting the gardens. He declined all office under the Commonwealth, but after the Restoration he held many minor offices and sat on various commissions. He was secretary of the Royal Society in 1672, and twice declined the presidency. A friend of many notable people, he was involved with most of the events of the day, which were duly recorded in his Diary, compiled from 1641–1706 but covering the whole of his life.
The diary was discovered in 1817. It is a mine of information about 17th-century England and Europe. Less intimate than that of his contemporary Pepys, Evelyn's diary has fascinating character sketches of contemporary events and figures.
He wrote a work on the cultivation of trees, Sylva, or a Discourse of Forest-trees 1664, and did much to improve horticulture and introduce exotic species into England. He also wrote on a wide variety of (mainly practical) subjects, including history, religion, architecture, law, engraving, pollution (a book on atmospheric pollution in London, with practical suggestions, Fumifugium (1661)), Navigation and Commerce (1674), and medals, and published several translations of Greek, Latin, and French authors. His affection for Margaret Blagge (1652–1678), later wife of the Lord Treasurer Sidney Godolphin, prompted him to write the Life of Mrs Godolphin (1847), a moving biography, though not intended for publication.
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