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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.[1]

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 old:—
"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!

"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."
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.

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 less?

We, no doubt, have the knowledge, but perhaps they had the wisdom.

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
G.P.

[1]
Another diary that you should read by and by is that of Henry Grabb Robinson.

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