Wednesday, October 31, 2012

John Evelyn, diarist, bibliophile, and more

John Evelyn
It is the birthday of English writer John Evelyn (1620), an important 17-century diarist, one of the England's first conservationists, a prolific author, a bibliophile extraordinaire, and the inspiration for a modern-day retail skin care chain.

Evelyn's 1861 pamphlet, Fumiguium, or, The Inconvenience of the Aer and Smoak of London, was one of the earliest works on air pollution. In it, Evelyn suggested some solutions to improve the air in London, among them, burning aromatic woods and moving polluting industries like brewing and lime burning outside of the city. His 1664 paper, Sylva, or A Discourse of Forest Trees, urged English landowners to plant trees to support the king's ship building operations.The nation's glass factories and iron furnaces were rapidly depleting wood and no effort was being made to replace it. No doubt, the trees helped clear the air as well.

Evelyn also kept diaries, which provide scholars with a detailed look at 17th-century life in England. Along with the diaries of Samuel Pepys, they are considered vast treasures of insight into the politics, arts, and culture of the era. Evelyn saw such events as the deaths of Charles I in 1649 and Oliver Cromwell in 1658 as well as the last epidemic of bubonic plague in London in 1665 and Great Fire of London in 1666.

The Diary of John Evelyn was first published in 1818, more than a century after his death. It was titled Memoirs Illustrative of the Life and Writings of John Evelyn. Revised editions appeared in 1827, 1879, and 1906. A modern scholarly edition in six volumes appeared in 1955, a project that took more than two decades to complete.

Evelyn also wrote books on architecture, horticulture, numismatics, politics, theology, and vegetarianism. Among them was a book on salads in which he introduced to Europe the first salad dressing made with olive oil. He was also an avid book collector who amassed some 3,859 books and 822 pamphlets in his lifetime. Christie's, the international auction house, sold much of his library in 1977 and 1978, many pieces to private collectors. The British Library has the manuscript to his Diary as well as other personal papers. The Victoria and Albert Museum has Evelyn's cabinet where he kept his diaries.

Evelyn traveled extensively in Europe and built magnificent gardens at his London estate, Sayes Court. In its time, it was one of the most famous and revolutionary gardens in Europe. His interest in gardening and the natural environment inspired the name for the skin care products retailer Crabtree & Evelyn. The crabtree part of the name comes from the native British tree, the ancestor of cultivated apple trees.  Massachusetts entrepreneur Cyrus Harvey founded the enterprise in 1972 as a small, family-run business specializing in fine soaps from around the world. It has grown into an international company known for its original fragrances, luxurious toiletries, and gourmet foods.

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