At the outset, it must be stressed that the origins of the print as detailed above should warn against seeking too precise a correlation between it and the actual content of Sprat’s History . Nevertheless it has to be admitted that, whether it was intended for Sprat’s book or for Beale’s, Evelyn’s design would have served much the same purpose – namely of celebrating the infant Royal Society, its aims and achievements, its royal patronage, and its established status. Either way, Evelyn was the obvious person to take responsibility for such a composition. He had been closely associated with the society from an early date: though he was not one of the twelve men who met after a lecture by Christopher Wren on 28 November 1660 to inaugurate the society, his name appears in the ‘catalogue’ drawn up on that occasion of those ‘fi t to be joined with them in their design’, and he was proposed for election on 26 December that year. 1 His signifi cance in relation to the society is apparent from the fact that he may have given the society its name, or at least that he was the fi rst person to use in print the name by which it was subsequently to be known, ‘The Royal Society’ (previously it seems to have been expected to have some title more aligned with its function, such as ‘Society of Philosophers’ 2 ). This occurred in the dedication to a book that Evelyn published in 1661, his translation of Gabriel Naudé’s Instructions concerning Erecting of a Library , and he specifi cally notes in his famous Diary that the society offered him its ‘Publique Thanks’ for this. 3 In the dedication to the Earl of Clarendon, Evelyn spoke highly of the society, seeing it as the agent of ‘that glorious Work of Restoring the Sciences , Interpreting Nature [and] Inventing, and Augmenting of new and useful Things’, as advocated by Bacon. 4 Indeed, John Beale considered these prefatory remarks one of the key texts in defence of the Royal Society, which he thought should receive wide circulation, ‘For more may be sayd, but nothing can be better sayd’. 5

It is also relevant that Evelyn seems to have been closely involved with the choice of a coat of arms and motto for the society, to judge from a sheet of paper in his hand now among the Evelyn Papers at the British Library endorsed ‘Armes & Mottos proposd for the R[oyal] Society’ ( Fig. 3.2 ). 6 This shows not only the rather plain coat of arms that the society was to adopt – a blank shield quartered by the royal arms – but a variety of more

emblematic alternatives, including a ship under sail, a pair of crossed telescopes, a celestial globe under an all-seeing eye, a plumb-line (possibly a Masonic symbol) or a sun in splendour. These notes also juxtapose the motto that the society adopted – ‘Nullius in verba’, ‘Nothing in words’ or ‘Nothing on authority’ (a paraphrase of Horace), with such alternatives as the more mystical ‘Ad Majorem Lumen’, ‘To the greater light’, or ‘Et Augebitur Scientia’, ‘And knowledge may be increased’ (a quotation from Daniel 12:4 which had been the subject of millenarian speculation earlier in the century). Another possibility was ‘Omnia probate’, ‘Try all things’, which in fact echoes one of the mottos that Evelyn used on the bindings of his own books, ‘Omnia explorate, meliora retinete’, ‘Explore everything, retain the best’. The alternatives that were evidently considered suggest a different, slightly more mystical, intellectual lineage for the Royal Society than that to which we are normally accustomed, though it is unclear whether Evelyn suggested all these ideas himself or (as is more likely) was merely recording deliberations in which he took

part. Either way, this document illustrates his formative role in relation to the issues of symbolism and display that arose with the Sprat frontispiece. 7

As for Evelyn’s contribution to the society in its early years, perhaps most important was his Sylva, or a Discourse of Forest-Trees (1664), which has already been referred to because of John Beale’s major contribution to it concerning cider-making. This was arguably the most successful publication produced under the society’s auspices, which was issued in extended editions in 1670, 1679 and 1706. It represented a signifi cant collaborative initiative on the part of the society’s Fellows, in this case research carried out in response to a request from the Commissioners of the Navy for assistance in improving the country’s timber supply, and Evelyn’s task was to give an appropriate literary form to the disparate data on all aspects of the planting and nurture of trees that his colleagues collected, using what a contemporary described as his ‘exquisite pen’. 8 The book drew to a signifi cant extent on Evelyn’s own horticultural and silvicultural experience in the 1650s, while at the end appeared an even more direct progeny of that, his Kalendarium Hortense: or, the Gard’ners Almanac , in fact an extract from his magnum opus on gardening, Elysium Britannicum , which he largely wrote at the end of the 1650s but which never got into print in his lifetime because of the distractions of his public responsibilities in the Restoration period. 9 It is also interesting that the society’s minutes suggest that it was on topics of this kind that his colleagues saw him as especially expert, though there was obviously a miscellaneous streak in his contribution to the proceedings (also evidenced by his Diary entries on the meetings in question). If one looks at the specifi c tasks that he was asked to carry out, these disproportionately refl ected his horticultural and related interests, while the principal paper that he was instrumental in presenting to the society from overseas also had an agricultural slant, namely the account of a Spanish machine for planting seed evenly which he transmitted to the society from the Earl of Sandwich in 1670 and which was published in Philosophical Transactions . 10

In terms of Evelyn’s own view of the society, an interesting document is provided by the defence of the society against its fashionable detractors that he inserted in the preface to the third edition of Sylva in 1679. His aim, since the society had been the ‘chief Promoter ’ of that work, was ‘to vindicate that Assembly , and consequently, the Honour of His Majesty and the Nation ’ by outlining the society’s achievement in its fi rst decade and a half of existence. Contrasting the society’s output with the fruitless intellectual activity of its predecessors, he explained how, in ‘as it were, eviscerating nature [and] disclosing the resorts , and springs of Motion ’, its Fellows had

collected innumerable Experiments, Histories and Discourses ; and brought in Specimens for the Improvement of Astronomy, Geography, Navigation, Optics ; All the parts of Agriculture , the Garden and the Forest ; Anatomy of Plants , Mines and Ores ; Measures and Æquations of Time by accurate Pendules , and other motions, Hydro-and Hygrostaticks , divers Engines , Powers and Automata , with innumerable more Luciferous particulars, subservient to humane life. 11

Evelyn’s evaluation of the society and its achievement is revealing not least because of the extent to which he combines references to the fresh understanding of the natural world reached by such luminaries as Robert Hooke, Robert Boyle and Nehemiah Grew with an emphasis on the society’s achievement in relation to agriculture, horticulture and other more practical pursuits. Also notable is Evelyn’s emphasis on mensuration, and on machines and automata as a key part of the society’s output, which is obviously relevant to the extent to which these appear in the frontispiece, as we shall see in due course.