Magazine article History Today

Death of John Evelyn

Magazine article History Today

Death of John Evelyn

Article excerpt

February 27th, 1706

AT THE AGE OF ELEVEN JOHN EVELYN began keeping notes for what eventually became his diary. Discovered long afterwards among his papers and published in 1818, it has been valued ever since for its eye-witness accounts of the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London, and its picture of life in the seventeenth century.

Evelyn's other familiar contribution to modern England is the motto Decus et tutamen ('an ornament and a defence'), which he suggested for a new 1 [pounds sterling] coin and which can be seen round the edge of the English 1 [pounds sterling] coin today.

John Evelyn came from a comfortably-off landed family based at Wotton in Surrey, which owned the English patent for the manufacture of gunpowder. In his twenties he spent much of the Civil War travelling in France and Italy, and married Mary Browne, daughter of the English Resident in Paris. She was twelve or thirteen at the time and the union was not consummated for three years. Of their eight children, four died in infancy and only one outlived them.

Evelyn was an enthusiastic gardener and compiled a mammoth encyclopedia of the subject. He was a compulsive writer and his huge range of interests stretched from botany and forestry to physics, chemistry, architecture, painting and the history of religion. …

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