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John Evelyn's Diary


The English lawyer John Evelyn (1620-1706) kept a diary for nearly 50 years and in it recorded his grief at the death of four of his children. John and Mary Evelyn had eight children altogether: Richard (1652–8), John Standsfield (1653–4), John (1655–99), George (1657–8), Richard (1664), Mary (1665–85), Elizabeth (1667–85) and Susanna (1669–1754). Only Susanna outlived her parents. In January 1658 the eldest son Dick (Richard) fell ill from a quartan ague or fever, had sweats and fits, and finally died. Physicians were sent for from London but the bitterly cold weather prevented them from arriving in time to help little Dick. Evelyn's devastation at the loss of his son shows all too well when he painfully records Dick's age as 5 years, 5 months, and 3 days. He angrily blames the death on the servants keeping Dick too hot with a great fire and blankets. Evelyn was an educated man interested in science or natural philosophy as it was called in the 17th century. This may have led to his somewhat unusual decision to attend the autopsy of Dick. The findings of liver growne and a large spleen, suggest possibly rickets or malaria as the cause of Dick's death. The following month Evelyn recorded the death of yet another son – his youngest, George, aged only seven weeks.

This source is a part of the Children’s Health in Early Modern England teaching module.


27 After six fitts of a Quartan Ague it pleased God to visite my deare child Dick with fitts so extreame, especiale one of his sides, that after the rigor was over & he in his hot fitt, he fell into so greate & intollerable a sweate, that being surpriz'd with the aboundance of vapours ascending to his head, he fell into such fatal Symptoms, as all the help at hand was not able to recover his spirits, so as after a long & painefull Conflict, falling to sleep as we thought, & coverd too warme, (though in the midst of a severe frosty season) and by a greate fire in the roome; he plainely expired, to our unexpressable griefe & affliction.

We sent for Physitians to Lond, whilst there was yet life in him; but the river was frozen up, & the Coach brake by the way ere it got a mile from the house; so as all artificial help failing, & his natural strength exhausted, we lost the prettiest, and dearest Child, that ever parents had, being but 5 years & 3 days old in years but even at that tender age, aprodigie for Witt, & understanding; for beauty of body a very Angel, & for endowments of mind, of incredible & rare hopes.

30 On the Saturday following, I sufferd the Physitians to have him opened: Dr. Needham & Dr. Welles, who were come three days before, & a little time ere he expired, but was past all help, & in my opinion he was suffocated by the woman & maide that tended him, & covered him too hott with blankets as he lay in a Cradle, neere an excessive hot fire in a close roome; for my Wife & I being then below & not long come from him, being come up, & I lifting up the blanket, which had quite coved the Cradle, taking first notice of his wonderfull fresh colour, & hardly hearing him breath or heave, soone perceived that he was neere overcome with heate & sweate, & so doubtlesse it was, & the Child so farr gon, as we could not make him to heare, or once open his eyes, though life was apparently in him: we gave him something to make him sneeze but ineffectivly: Being open'd they they found a membranous substance growing to the cavous part of the liver, somewhat neere the edge of it for the compasse of 3 Inches, which ought not to be; for the Liver is fixed onely by three strong ligaments, all far distant from that part; on which they confidently affirm'd, the Child was (as tis vulgarly cald) liver-growne, & thence that sicknesse & so frequent complaint of his side: & indeede both Liver & Splen were exceedingly large &c:

After this I caused the body to be Cofin'd in Lead & reposited him that night, about 8 a clock in the Church of Deptford, accompanied with divers of my relations & neighbours, among whom I distributed rings with this ___ Dominus abstulit: intending (God willing) to have him transported with my owne body, to be interrd at our Dormitorie in Wotton churh in my deare native County Surry, & to lay my bones & mingle my dust with my Fathers 1 If God be so gracious to me; & make me as fit for him, as this blessed child was: Here ends the joy of my life, & for which I go even mourning to the grave: The L. Jesus sanctifie this & all others my Afflictions: Amen:

15 The afflicting hand of God being still upon us, it pleased him also to take away from us this morning my other youngest sonn George now 7 weeks languishing at Nurse, breeding Teeth, & ending in a Dropsie: Gods holy will be don: he was buried in Deptford church the 17th following:____

. . . This had ben the severest Winter, that man alive had knowne in England: The Crowes feet were frozen to their prey: Ilands of Ice inclosed both fish & foule frozen, & some persons in their boates:

1 Richard's body was never moved. His epitaph is still at St. Nicholas, Deptford. E gave a similar account of his son's life in the preface to his translation of the Golden Book of John Chrysostom, see p. 119 and 459.

2 Foeffees were 'trustees holding land for charitable uses' (de Beer).

3'with great pomp', Acts of the Apostles, xxv.23. E's translation, see p. 459.


John Evelyn, "1658," Geocities, (accessed March 28, 2008). Annotated by Lynda Payne.

How to Cite This Source

"John Evelyn's Diary," in World History Commons, [accessed January 27, 2023]