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26 June, 2013
The Glory Of English Prose|
9. Evelyn's Diary
by Coleridge, Stephen
|My Dear Antony,
Some day, no doubt, you will read some of the celebrated diaries
that have come down to us. The best known of such books is
Pepys's Diary which was written in a kind of shorthand, and
so lay undeciphered from his death in 1703 for more than a century.
One of its merits is its absolute self-revelation; for Pepys
exposes to us his character without a shadow of reserve in all its
vanity; and the other is the faithful picture it gives us of the
time of the Restoration.
But, though less popular, Evelyn's Diary is, I think, in
many ways superior to that of Pepys.
There is a quiet, unostentatious dignity about Evelyn which is
altogether absent in the garrulous Pepys, and, indeed I find
something very beautiful and touching in the grief Evelyn pours
forth upon the death of his little son of five years
"The day before he died," writes Evelyn, "he call'd to me and in
a more serious manner than usual, told me that for all I loved him
so dearly I should give my house, land, and all my fine things, to
his Brother Jack, he should have none of them; and next morning
when he found himself ill, and that I persuaded him to keepe his
hands in bed, he demanded whether he might pray to God with his
hands un-joyn'd; and a little after, whilst in great agonie,
whether he should not offend God by using His holy name so often
calling for ease. What shall I say of his frequent pathetical
ejaculations utter'd of himselfe: Sweete Jesus save me, deliver me,
pardon my sinns, let Thine angels receive me!
This great love and reverence for little children is peculiarly
in accord with Christianity, for we should remember that it was the
WISE men, who, when they had journeyed far across the world to
salute the King of kings, laid their offerings down at the feet of
a little child.
"So early knowledge, so much piety and perfection! But thus God
having dress'd up a Saint for himselfe, would not longer permit him
with us, unworthy of ye future fruites of this incomparable
hopefull blossome. Such a child I never saw: for such a child I
blesse God in whose bosome he is! May I and mine become as this
little child, who now follows the child Jesus that Lamb of God in a
white robe whithersoever he goes; even so, Lord Jesus, fiat
voluntas tua! Thou gavest him to us, Thou hast taken him from
us, blessed be ye name of ye Lord! That I had anything acceptable
to Thee was from Thy grace alone, since from me he had nothing but
sin, but that Thou hast pardon'd! Blessed be my God for ever, Amen!
I caused his body to be coffin'd in lead, and reposited on the 30th
at 8 o'clock that night in the church at Deptford, accompanied with
divers of my relations and neighbours among whom I distributed
rings with this motto: Dominus abstulit; intending, God
willing, to have him transported with my owne body to be interr'd
in our dormitory in Wotton Church, in my dear native county of
Surrey, and to lay my bones and mingle my dust with my fathers, if
God be gracious to me and make me fit for Him as this blessed child
was. The Lord Jesus sanctify this and all my other afflictions,
Amen! Here ends the joy of my life, and for which I go even
mourning to my grave."
Is there not something to reverence in faith and resignation
such as are here expressed by Evelyn? Were not these men of old
with their unshakable faith and simple piety better and happier
than those who in these days know so much more and believe so much
We, no doubt, have the knowledge, but perhaps they had the
I think, Antony, that in the history of England we shall have
difficulty in finding any of our greatest men whose hearts and
minds were not filled with a reverence for God and a faith in
something beyond the blind forces which are all that Science has to
offer mankind as a guide of life.
All who have acted most nobly from the days of Ralegh and Sir
Thomas More, down to the days of Gordon of Khartoum, and down again
to our own days when the youth of England upheld the invincible
valour, self-sacrifice, and glory of their race in the greatest of
all wars,—all have been filled with the love of God and have
found therein a perfect serenity in the face of death, and that
peace which passeth all understanding.
The character of our race rests indubitably upon that faith, and
he who lifts his voice, or directs his pen, to tear it down, had
better never have been born.
Your loving old
Another diary that you should read by and by is that of Henry