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"The birds that dance from bough to bough,
"By such publications," says Mr. Evelyn, "I endeavoured to do my countrymen some little service in as natural an order as I could, for the improving and adorning their estates and dwellings, and if possible make them in love with these useful and innocent pleasures, in exchange of a wasteful and ignoble sloth, which, I had observed, so universally corrupted an ingenuous education."
The Sylva was originally a paper read to the Royal Society, and was published by their desire. His treatise on engraving was also.printed at the request of the same learned body, when they met privately, before their charter was granted to them in 1662 by Charles the second. He was one of the first promoters, and an original member of that important institution, and was more than once invited to take the office of president; an honour, however, which he declined. He defended the society from many foolish prejudices with which it was assailed in its infancy, was assiduous in his attendance at its meetings, diligent in procuring authentic intelligence from various quarters, and in many of his works warmly recommended it to the public support and regard.
In the year 1664 Mr. Evelyn was appointed one of the Commissioners for the Sick and Wounded in the Dutch
war, in which office he was continued in the second war with Holland. This was a very laborious and distressing employment, and there were some circumstances which rendered it peculiarly painful at that time. Almost the whole labour was in his department, which included all the ports between the river Thames and Portsmouth; he had to travel in all seasons and weathers, both by land and water, in the performance of his duty; and worst of all, the Government withheld from him the means of adequately relieving the necessities of the miserable objects of his care, and administering to their comfort. Some of his letters to officers of state are still extant, in which he laments in the strongest terms the wretchedness which might have been alleviated, and at a comparatively small expense. At one time the arrears of payment to the victuallers were so great that when a party of sick and wounded were landed, they lay some time in the streets, because the publicans refused to receive them, and shut up their houses.
The plague added to these miseries; and his letters at this dreadful period bespeak the strongest feelings of commiseration for the suffering defenders of his country. "One fortnight," he says, " has made me feel the utmost of miseries that can befal a person in my station, and with my affections. To have twenty-five thousand prisoners, and fifteen hundred sick and wounded men to take care of, without one penny of money, and above 2000/. indebted."' He also begs, that whilst he and his brother commissioners "adventure their persons, and all that is dear to them, in this uncomfortable service, they may not be exposed to ruin, and to a necessity of abandoning their care. They have lost their officers and servants by the pestilence, and are hourly environed with the saddest objects of perishing people." And in another letter, he thus complains;—" It were to betray his Majesty's gracious intentions, and even his honour, to extenuate here. Sir William D'Oily and myself have near ten thousand upon our care, while there seems to be no care of us, who, having lost all our servants, officers, and most necessary assistants, have nothing more left us to expose but our persons, which, by our daily conversation, are every moment at the mercy of a raging pestilence, and an unreasonable multitude, if such they may be called, who, having adventured their lives for the public, perish for their reward, and die like dogs in the street unregarded." "Our prisoners beg at us, as a mercy, to knock them on the head, for we have no bread to relieve the dying creatures. I beseech your honour let us not be reputed barbarians, or, if at last we must be so, let me not be the executor of so much inhumanity, when the price of one good subject's life is rightly considered of more value than the wealth of the Indies."
In the execution of this painful office, having seen the great inconvenience of distributing the sick and wounded in private houses, he used all his influence to procure an infirmary to be founded for seamen, and eventually, though after much delay, succeeded.
In 1665 the plague made its appearance in London. It is noted in Mr. Evelyn's Diary on the 16th of July: —" There died of the plague in London this week, 1100, and in the week following, above 2000. Two houses were shut up in our parish." In the beginning of the next month he sent his son to Wotton, "for fear of the pestilence;" and soon after he says: "The contagion still increasing, and growing now all about us, I sent my wife and whole family (two or three necessary servants excepted) to my brother's at Wotton, being resolved to stay at my house myself, and to look after my charge (of the sick and wounded), trusting in the providence and goodness of God." In September the mortality increased in London to ten thousand weekly, and Evelyn passing through the city, observes, that it was " a dismal passage and dangerous, to see so many coffins exposed in the streets, now thin of people; the shops shut up, and all in mournful silence, as not knowing whose turn might be next." Again in October:— "To London, and went through the whole city, having occasion to alight out of the coach in several places about business of money, when I was environed with multitudes of poor pestiferous creatures begging alms; the shops universally shut up; a dreadful prospectI"
Meanwhile the pestilence was doing its fearful work at Deptford. In September he writes: "Near thirty houses are visited in this miserable village, whereof one has been the very nearest to my dwelling. After a servant of mine, now sick of a swelling, which will terminate we know not where, behold me a living monument of God Almighty's protection and mercy. It was Saturday last ere my courageous wife would be persuaded to take the alarm; but she is now fled with most of my family; whilst my conscience, or something which I would have taken for my duty, obliges me to this sad station, till his Majesty take pity on me, and send me a considerable refreshment for the comfort of these poor creatures, the sick and wounded seamen under mine inspection, through all the ports of my district. For mine own particular, I am resolved to do my duty as far as I am capable, and trust God with the event; but the second causes should cooperate."
On the last day of the year, he pours out the gratitude of his heart for past protection in the following terms :— "Now, blessed be God for his extraordinary mercies and preservation of me this year, when thousands and ten thousands perished, and were swept away on each side of me, there dying in our parish this year, four hundred and six of the pestilence I" On the 6th of the following February the plague appeared to be stayed, and his wife and family returned to Sayes Court. "Blessed be God," he says, " for his infinite mercy in preserving us I I have gone through so much danger, and lost so many of my poor officers, escaping still myself, that I might live to recount and magnify his goodness to me.'' Deptford, however, was afterwards "more infected with the plague than ever," and it continued its ravages till the autumn.
London was spared from a return of that destructive malady ; but the chastening hand of God still rested upon that city. The fire of London added to the warnings and chastisements already inflicted, and called upon the nation to repent. Of that fearful visitation Evelyn was an eyewitness, and perhaps no finer description of it can be produced than that which he gives in his journal.
"1666, 2 Sept.—This fatal night about ten, began that deplorable fire near Fish-street, in London.
"3.—I had public prayers at home. The fire continuing after dinner, I took coach with my wife and son and went to the Bankside in Southwark, where we beheld that dismal spectacle, the whole city in dreadful flames near the water side; all the houses from the bridge, all Thames-street, and upwards towards Cheapside, down to the Three Cranes, were now consumed: and so returned exceeding astonished what would become of the rest.
".The fire having continued all this night, (if I may