Sunday, 19 December 2010


Frontispiece to Evelyn's Diaries

While Samuel Pepys is well known to you for his diaries, John Evelyn may be less familiar.  Evelyn was born in 1620 and died in 1707. Like Pepys his career took off following the Restoration and he was a founder member of the Royal Society. He had a great interest in horticulture and was a prolific writer on gardens and matters arboreal. His interest in urban design led him to submit plans for the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire and interestingly he wrote the first known treatise on urban pollution:  Fumifugium (or The Inconveniencie of the Aer and Smoak of London Dissipated).

During the Second Anglo-Dutch War, beginning 28 October 1664, Evelyn served as one of four Commissioners for taking Care of Sick and Wounded Seamen and for the Care and Treatment of Prisoners of War.

Like Pepys his diaries cover the great events of the period, such as the death of Cromwell, the Restoration, the Great Fire, the Monmouth Rebellion. He and Pepys were friends and references to Pepys frequently occur in his diaries.

Evelyn as a young man
However as a young man, John Evelyn found himself embroiled in the English Civil War. He served for a short time in the Royalist Army but finding warfare not to his taste, he went abroad to avoid any further involvement. In Italy he studied anatomy and in 1644 visited the English College in Rome where priests were trained for service in England.  On Christmas Eve 1644 he writes:
            “...I went not to bed, by reason I was desirous to see the many extraordinary ceremonyes performed then in their Churches, as midnight  Masses and Sermons; so I did nothing all this night except go for church to church with admiration at the multitude of sceanes; and pageantry which the Friers had with all the industry and craft set out to catch the devout women and superstitious sort of people with, who never part with them without droping some money in a vessell set on purpose: But especially observable was the pupetry in the Church of the Minerva, representing the nativity etc.: Thence I went and heard a sermon at the Appolinaire by which time it was morning.
            On Christmas Day, his holyness saying Masse, the Artillery at St. Angelo went off; and all this day was exposed the Cradle of our Lord...”

His diaries contain many references to Christmas over the years, but of them all this is an unusual insight into a celebration of Christmas unknown in England at the time.
The Hoydens and Firebrands have just celebrated their second anniversary. Thank you to all our followers and readers for your continued support and have a safe and happy holiday period.

A seventeenth century Christmas treat for our readers - Sugarplums!

Take your apricocks or pearplums, & let them boile one walme in as much clarified sugar as will cover them, so let them lie infused in an earthen pan three days, then take out your fruits, & boile your syrupe againe, when you have thus used them three times then put half a pound of drie sugar into your syrupe, & so let it boile till it comes to a very thick syrup, wherein let your fruits boile leysurelie 3 or 4 walmes, then take them foorth of the syrup, then plant them on a lettice of rods or wyer, & so put them into yor stewe, & every second day turne them & when they be through dry you may box them & keep them all the year; before you set them to drying you must wash them in a litlle warme water, when they are half drie you must dust a little sugar upon them throw a fine Lawne.
-- Elinor Fettiplace's Receipt Book, 1604

For earlier Hoydens blogs on Christmas see:
Anita Davison on a Puritan Christmas

For a great collection of Seventeenth century recipes see the Gode Cookery website 


Kim Murphy said...

Did John Evelyn or a son (also very big into botanicals) visit Virginia? His name sounds very familiar.

Alison Stuart said...

He had 3 surviving sons and 3 daughters. His daughter Mary is believed to have pseudononymously (is that word) penned a couple of satirical works but I can't find anything in my quick research that he indicates that he ever visited Virginia.

An interesting "trivia" fact...the cosmetic firm of "Crabtree and Evelyn" took its name from John Evelyn in honour of his writings on botany and conservation!

Kim Murphy said...

It was John Tradescant, not John Evelyn. I guess I'm just mixing my Johns up!