John Evelyn: Living for Ingenuity by Gillian Darley - review by Gillian Tindall

Gillian Tindall

Master Of All Trades

John Evelyn: Living for Ingenuity


Yale University Press 361pp £25

Who really knows John Evelyn? To anyone interested in the seventeenth century – a saga of Civil War, regicide, Commonwealth, religious persecution, Restoration, dissolute behaviour at Court, the Plague and the Fire of London, trade wars, and at last (sigh of modern relief) the 'Glorious Revolution' and the foundation of a constitutional monarchy – Evelyn is a significant if not entirely distinct figure. Sometimes a paid public servant, fervently attempting to build a naval hospital or to do his duty as Commissioner for Sewers, at other times a visionary thinker urging the planting of more trees or the desirability of rebuilding fire-devastated London on a new plan, he was a familiar name at Court and in the City for the best part of five decades.

Evelyn was also colleague and friend to many of the most distinguished men in an era that had no lack of them, and he founded the Royal Society with some of them: Robert Boyle, John Wilkins, Robert Hooke, Christopher Wren, Samuel Hartlib, Thomas Hobbes, William Oughtred, William Petty, Samuel Pepys

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