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CHARACTER OF MRS. EVELYN.
BY DR. BOHUN.'
I Had lately occasion to review several letters to me from Mrs. Evelyn of Deptford. After reading them, I found they were much to be valued, because they contained not only a complete description of the private events in the family, but public transactions of the times, where are many curious and memorable things described in an easy and eloquent style.
Many forgotten circumstances by this means are recalled afresh to my memory; by so full and perfect a narration of them, they are again present to my thoughts, and I see them re-acted as it were before my eyes. This made strong impressions on my mind, so that I could not rest till I had recollected the substance of them, and from thence some general reflections thereon, and from thence drew a character of their author, so far only as by plain and natural inferences may be gathered from their contents. This was not performed in a manner worthy of the design, hut hastily and incorrectly, which cost nc more time than could be employed at one sitting in an afternoon; but in
1 The Rev. Dr. Ralph Bohun, D.C.L., was a scholar at Winchestrr College, and was elected probationary fellow of New College, Oxford, at the early age of 19. In 1671 he wrote a Discourse on the History and Nature of Wind; and in 1685, he completed his Doctor's degree. Ilia connection with Evelyn's family arose from his having superintended the education of his son.
this short model, Mrs. Evelyn will appear to be the best daughter and wife, the most tender mother, and desirable neighbour and friend, in all parts of her life. The historical account of matters of fact sufficiently set forth her praises, wherein there could be no error or self-conceit; and declare her to be an exact pattern of many excellent virtues; but they are concealed in such modest expressions, that the most envious censurers can't fix upon her the least suspicion of vanity or pride. Though she had many advan-" tages of birth and beauty, and wit, yet you may perceive in her writings an humble indifference to all worldly enjoyments, great charity, and compassion to those that had disobliged her, and no memory of past occurrences, unless it were a grateful acknowledgment of some friendly office; a vein of good-nature and resignation, and self-denial, runs through them all. There's nothing so despised in many of these letters as the fruitless and empty vanities of the town; and they seem to pity the misfortunes of those who are condemned by their greater quality or stations to squander away their precious time in unprofitable diversions, or bestow it in courtly visits and conversations. "Where there happens to be any mention of children or friends, there is such an air of sincerity and benevolence for the one, and religious concern for the happiness of the other, as if she had no other design to live in the world than to perform her own duty, and promote the welfare of her relations and acquaintance.
There's another observation to be collected, not less remarkable than the rest, which is her indefatigable industry in employing herself, and more for the sake of others than her own: This she wrote, not out of vain glory, or to procure commendation, but to entertain them with whom she had a familiar correspondence by letters, with the relation of such accidents or business wherein she was engaged for the month or the week past.
This was a peculiar felicity in her way of writing, that though she often treated of vulgar and domestic subjects, she never suffered her style to languish or flag, but by some new remark or pleasant digression kept it up to its usual pitch.
The reproofs in any of these numerous letters were so
softly insinuated, that the greatest punishment to be inflicted upon any disobligation was only to have the contrary virtue to the fault they had been guilty of, highly applauded in the next correspondence, which was ever so managed as to please and improve.
Scarce an harsh expression, much less any evil surmise or suspicion, could be admitted where every line was devoted to charity and goodness. This is no effect of partiality, but appears in the particular instances, so that the same judgment must be made by all unprejudiced persons who shall have a sight of them.
Any misfortune or disappointment was not mournfuliy lamented, but related in such a manner as became a mind that had laid in a sufficient provision of courage and patience beforehand to support it uuder afflictions. All unfortunate accidents are allayed by some consolatory argument taken from solid principles. No kind of trouble, but one, seems to interrupt the constant intention to entertain and oblige; but that is dolorously represented in many of the letters; which is the loss of children or friends. That being an irreparable separation in this world, is deplored with the most affectionate tenderness which words can express. You may conclude that they who write in such a manner as this, must be supposed to have a just sense of religion, because there can scarce be assigned one act of a beneficent and charitable temper but has many texts of the Gospel to enforce it. So that all good Christians must be very useful and excellent neighbours and friends; which made this lady ever esteemed so. She was the delight of all the conversations where she appeared, she was loved and admired, yet never envied by any, not so much as by the women, who seldom allow the perfections of their own sex, lest they eclipse their own; but as this very manifestly and upon all occasions was her temper, the world was very grateful to her upon that account. This happiness was gained and preserved by one wise qualification; for though no person living had a closer insight into the humours or characters of persons, or could distinguish their merits more nicely, yet she never made any despising or censorious reflections: her great discernment and wit were never abused to sully the reputation of others, nor affected any applause that might be gained by satirical jests. Though she was extremely valued, aud her friendship prized and sought for by them of the highest condition, yet she ever treated those of the lowest with great condescension and humanity. The memory of her virtues and benefits made such deep impression on her neighbours of Deptford and Greenwich, that if any one should bring in another report from this, or what was generally received among them, they would condemn it as false, and the effect of a slanderous calumny: either they would never yield that any change should happen to this excellent lady, or they'd impute it to sickness, or time, or chance, or the unavoidable frailties of human nature. But I have somewhat digressed from my subject, which was to describe her person or perfections no otherwise than may be gathered from the letters I received ;l they contain historical passages and accounts of any more or less considerable action or accident that came to her knowledge, with diverting or serious reflections as the subject required, but generally in an equal and chaste style, supported by a constant gravity, never descending to affected sallies of ludicrous wit.
It's to be further observed, that though she recites and speaks French exactly, and understands Italian, yet she confines herself with such strictness to the purity of the English tongue, that she never introduces foreign or adopted words. That there's a great steadiness and equality in her thoughts, and that her sense and expressions have a mutual dependence on each other, may be inferred from hence— you shall never perceive one perplexed sentence, or blot, or recalling a word in more than twenty letters.
Many persons with whom she conversed or were related to her, or had any public part in the world, were honoured by very lively characters conferred on them, always just and full of discernment, rather inclining to the charitable side, vet no otherwise than as skilful masters who paint like, yet know how to give some graces and advantages to them whose pictures they draw. The expressions are clear and unaffected, the sentences frequent and grave, the remarks judicious, the periods flowing and long, after the Ciceronian
1 Copies of many letters to Br. Bohun were found at Wot ton, but not those here referred to. Several of them will follow, with some addressed to other correspondents, as specimens of her manner and great good sense.