John Evelyn


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Living for Ingenuity

Gillian Darley

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This new biography of John Evelyn, diarist, scholar, and intellectual virtuoso (1620-1706), is the first account to make full use of his huge unpublished archive, deposited at the British Library in 1995. This crucial material permits a broader and richer picture of Evelyn, his life, and his friendships than permitted by his own celebrated diaries.
Gillian Darley provides a rounded portrait of Evelyn’s eighty-five years--his family life, his exile in Paris, his interests, and his preoccupations. Evelyn lived through some of England’s most tumultuous history, through five reigns, the Civil War, the Restoration, and the Revolution of 1688. He was author or translator of countless publications, tackling an enormous variety of contemporary issues. Both a religious man and a key figure in the Royal Society, he viewed Christianity and the new science as wholly compatible. Evelyn remained endlessly curious and engaged into very old age, and this absorbing biography demonstrates the liveliness of his hugely busy mind.

Gillian Darley is the author of John Soane: An Accidental Romantic, published by Yale University Press. She was architectural correspondent of the Observer, 1990-94.

"Gillian Darley is the first person to make full use of Evelyn's mass of unpublished papers since these were deposited in the British Museum in the 1990s; she has done an enormous amount of work and her grasp of the number of people who crossed his path, the multiple influences which touched him and the range of enterprises to which he made some contribution is awe inspiring. This will be a source book for anyone writing about Evelyn or his world in the future."---Gillian Tindall, Literary Review

"Until now, Evelyn has emerged from the pages of his own diary as rather uptight, overly pious and preety dull...Darley has given Evelyn a new life - fuller, fleshed-out and multi-faceted...In Darley's account Evelyn secures his place as one of the driving forces in the foundation of the Royal Society."---Andrea Wulf, Financial Times Magazine

"...marvellous...Darley pulls it off with wonderful style and economy, successfully looking beyond the voice of Evelyn the diarist, and in the process finding someone altogether more complicated and interesting."---Jerry Brotton, The Sunday Telegraph

"[Darley] brilliantly evokes the political and intellectual excitment of the time."---Mark Archer, The Spectator

“Evelyn was an English writer whose 20 major works represent a valuable historical record of his time. . . . The author chronicles Evelyn’s family life in England and his exile in Paris, as well as his interest in such subjects as the environment, architecture, gardening, fashion, politics, and the visual arts. This biography vividly recounts the life and time of a remarkable scholar.”—Booklist

"This biography of the long-lived English polymath should prove the lasting interpretive study of the well-born landscape enthusiast, architectural schemer, and founding member of the Royal Society. . . . What makes Evelyn most relevant 300 years after his death are his Cassandrian antipollution tract, Fumifugium, and his general evocation of the pastoral."—Library Journal

"With the extraordinary bredth of her own knowledge, Darley succeeds in making the biography of one man a veritable history of England in the late 17th century, and in doing so she has written a very fine book indeed."---Neil Cameron, Architect's Journal

"This is an unusual and much needed study of a true virtuoso, shedding light both on the man and his times."---Jenny Uglow, The Sunday Times                                 

"The book is detailed, well written, and backed up by endnotes that will make it a vital resource for anyone working on Evelyn in the future. This is a useful narrative account that I hope will help restore Evelyn to the prominent place in the history of seventeenth-century England he deserves."---Guy de la Bedoyere, History Today

"In 1995 the British Library acquired Evelyn's manuscripts and family archive: 525 volumes in total... Gillian Darley is the first to try 'to scale the foothills of such a mountain of material.' Her intention is to see beyond the diarist, and in this she succeeds handsomely."---Ruth Scurr, Times Literary Supplement 

"An outstanding biography. It is meticulously researched, and comprehensive in many of the fields of inquiry and experimentation that Evelyn was competent in. [Darley's] intelligence does not seem to flag, no mater the subject. As an assured whiter of architecture and landscape for decades, her descriptions and evaluations of English gardens and geography are exemplary."—Manuel Schonhorn, The Eighteenth-Century Intelligencer

"Gillian Darley does a remarkable job of describing Evelyn's scientific and intellectual pursuits; her own background as a writer specializing in architecture and landscaping serves her very well. . . . Her life of John Evelyn brings one of the Restoration's most fascinating characters to life, and brings into sharp focus an intellectual and social world whose dimensions, limited though they were, defined the birthplace of modern intellectual inquiry."—Victor Stater, Anglican and Episcopal History
ISBN: 9780300208917
Publication Date: March 11, 2014
416 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
36 b/w illus.