David Galbraith

Editing Evelyn Editing Evelyn

2012 Seminar Series / Thursday 14 June, 2012


Professor David Galbraith (University of Toronto) describes the challenges of editing John Evelyn’s letterbook while also situating it within the context of his other, better-known works. Evelyn is an example of an early modern auto-archivist who, after an illness in the 1680s, began the task of reconstructing his papers for posterity in his diary and across four letterbooks. Galbraith discusses how, although researchers have tended to focus solely on the diary, the latter and the letterbooks were in fact parallel projects used by Evelyn as instruments of self fashioning in which he cast himself sometimes as a mediator or cultural broker between different social worlds, and other times as an agent in the transmission of knowledge or as an instructor in morality. Galbraith suggests that the letters, more so than the diary, reveal a more personal side to Evelyn; he comes across as a funny, witty individual who was adept at self parody and who enjoyed the intimacy afforded by the epistolary genre. Furthermore, the letters, characterized by much stylistic variation, offer details of Evelyn’s life that are simply not found elsewhere in his oeuvre. For instance, John Beale is never mentioned in the diary, yet was Evelyn’s most prolific correspondent on gardens, a topic of enormous importance to the creator of Elysium Britannicum, an encyclopaedic assemblage of horticultural knowledge, practice, and wisdom of the seventeenth century.

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