Mstation Book Reviews
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Wed, 08 Feb 2006

Diary of John Evelyn

John Evelyn, The Diary of John Evelyn, Everyman's Library

You've probably seen Everyman books about and might even have a few already. The original concept, a hundred years ago, was to produce a range of classic books, in hardback format, that most people could afford and that is still true today.

This diary is new to the range, having been added on the tercentenary of his death. Who he? A great many things as it happens -- architect, gardener, scholar, scientist, founder of the Royal Society, and ... diarist. His time spans that of Charles I, Cromwell and his Roundheads, Charles II, James and the Dutch William. He died at the ripe old age of 85 in Dover Street, Mayfair in London.

One of the nice features of this book, aside of the learned introduction by Sir Roy Strong, is the timeline. In three columns there are events in John Evelyn's life, literary events, and events in the wider world. This is really very handy and interesting for those, like me, who's history has been picked up in quite compartmentalised fashion -- by country, agenda, etc.

This book runs a thousand and thirteen pages with intro, timeline, and index and meanders gracefully through the sometimes fraught times and, being a diary, it has a certain randomness to it. As such it is a view into the times in a way that we normally can't see. Historians do educated guesses. He was there. And it is all expressed in the language of the day too. A sample -- 'By reason of an adverse wind, we were this night constrain'd to Lodg in our Vessel, but on the next day we landed at Dort, the onely virgin, our first town of Holland...' so, you can see it is not too scarey and doesn't require a special dictionary.

One of the most interesting things is the primacy of religious issues alongside the emergence of 'post-Baconian experimental science' (Roy Strong's words).

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