Samuel Pepys, wrote John Evelyn, was ‘universally beloved, hospitable, generous, learned in many things’ and ‘skilled in music’. John Evelyn, wrote Pepys, ‘must be allowed … for a little conceitedness; but he may well be so, being a man so much above others’. Pepys’s assessment of Evelyn was made early in their relationship, in 1665, and Evelyn’s assessment of Pepys was made on the day that his fellow diarist died, in 1703. So rest the reputations of our two great recorders of Restoration England: Pepys, the middle-class son of a tailor, was a man of the people; Evelyn, the heir of a country gentleman, was a notch or two above.
The Alan Clark of his day, we think of Pepys as worldly, ambitious and pleasure-seeking (‘O fortunate Mr Pepys!’, wrote Evelyn, ‘who knows, possesses, and Injoyes all that’s worth the seeking after’) and we think of Evelyn — if we think of him at all — as restrained, self-conscious, and, Virginia Woolf suspected, ‘something of a bore’.