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John Evelyn and Samuel Pepys 2

Alec Samuels

Pepys and Evelyn are the two greatest diarists of our history and literature. Evelyn was some thirteen years older than Pepys, and survived him by three years. Pepys’ Diary is a contemporaneous record of the years 1660 to 1669. Evelyn’s Diary is essentially a series of memoires, written later in recollection, although the later part, from 1684, is more of a contemporary record.
A strong mutual respect existed between the two. Both were upright and men of integrity, inflexible in the maintenance of high standards in public life. They were close friends.
They frequently corresponded, met, dined together, and talked, at the Admiralty, at Trinity house, and at Pepys’ house. In the 1660s they were both involved in the Commission for the care of the sick and wounded and prisoners of war. Evelyn suggested the fitting out of a hospital ship. In the 1690s Evelyn encouraged Pepys in his work on the building of the new Greenwich Hospital.
They talked of the Dutch wars in the 1660s, the state of the Navy, the Charles II deathbed conversion to Catholicism, the trial of the seven bishops and the disastrous policies of James II, which led to his downfall. Both Pepys and Evelyn were staunch protestants.
When his brother was afflicted with the stone, Evelyn asked Pepys to visit him, to urge him to have the operation and to show him his (Pepys’) stone which had been successfully removed some years before.
Evelyn attended at Pepys’ musical evenings, Pepys being a great lover of music. The music of Pursal (sic) was played; leading Italian singers came to sing Italian music.
They travelled together, returning from the mock or imitation battle of Maastricht staged at Windsor, and to Portsmouth, on the way attending on the King at Winchester; Evelyn noted the “tact” displayed by Pepys in discussions with the King.
Both men were curious and lively intellectuals. Evelyn was extremely learned, and a connoisseur of everything artistic. He helped Pepys with engravings, books, historical research, and Pepys projected “History of the Navy”, (which alas was never written). They were both leading members of the Royal Society; Evelyn speaks of the election to the Presidency of Pepys “who had been a bountifull benefactor to us”. The 1685 Kneller portrait of Evelyn was executed at the long and earnest request of Pepys, another was done in 1689.
When Pepys was committed to the Tower in1679, accused of maladministration, Evelyn did not believe the charge and visited him in the Tower. He did so again in 1690, when Pepys was suspected of being “affected to” the departed JamesII.
Evelyn frequently visited Pepys in his later years at Clapham, a house described by Evelyn as an excellent, useful and capacious house, noble and wonderfully well furnished. Evelyn called to say goodbye just before the end. Evelyn’s epitaph upon his friend Pepys is one of the finest in the language.

“This [day] dyed Mr. Sam. Pepys, a very worthy, Industrious & curious person, none in England exceeding him in the knowledge of the Navy, in which he had passed thro all the most considerable Offices…..all which he performed with greate integrity: when K: James the 2d went out of England he layed down his Office & would serve no more….
[He] was universaly beloved, Hospitable, Generous, Learned in many things, skill’d in Musick, a very greate Cherisher of Learned men, of whom he had the conversation….
Mr.Pepys had ben for neere 40 years, so my particular Friend, that he now sent me Compleat Mourning: desiring me to be one to hold up the Pall at his magnificent Obsequies; but my present Indisposition hindered me from doing him this last Office.”