John Evelyn’s Fumifugium, or, The Inconveniencie of the Aer and Smoak of London Dissipated. (London: W. Godbid for Gabriel Bedel and Thomas Collins, 1661) is one of the first works ever written on the problem of air pollution.
John Evelyn (1620-1706) was an English country gentleman who wrote over 30 books on a wide variety of topics. He is best known for his diary, which was published a century after his death. He also wrote Sculptura, on engraving and etching, which introduced the process of mezzotint to England. One of his major works, Sylva, or a Discourse of Forest-trees, and the Propagation of Timber, a work on forestry, timber, fruit trees, and cider making, was written for the Royal Society.
Educated in the Middle Temple, London and at Balliol College, Oxford, Evelyn left England in 1643 to avoid involvement in the English Civil War, and traveled in France and Italy. He returned to England in 1652, and published two Royalist pamphlets in 1659. After the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, he served on several commissions, including London street improvement, the Royal Mint, repair of old St. Paul’s, and a commission for sick and wounded mariners and prisoners of war in England’s Dutch Wars (1665-74). He was a founding member of the Royal Society, and was appointed to its council by its first and second charters in 1662 and 1663.
Fumifugium is a slender pamphlet, dedicated to King Charles II. The first section discusses the nature of air and its effect on health and longevity. Evelyn then describes the smoke in London, especially industrial smoke from burning coal, and how it damaged people’s health, buildings, and even water. In the second section, he proposes solutions, including making fuel wood more available, and requiring the worst-polluting industries to relocate several miles outside the city. In the third section, he proposes improving the air by establishing gardens all over the city, with sweet-smelling blooming trees and shrubs as well as flower beds and even some food crops (but not cabbage, “whose rotten and perishing stalks have a very noisome and unhealthy smell”)
The Health Sciences Library’s copy of Fumifugium is the first edition. It was given to the library by Dr. James J. Waring, with his bookplate inside the front cover. It was once bound with other works in a larger volume, as evidenced by handwritten page numbers above the printed ones. It was rebound in brown calfskin with simple gilt tooling on the inner turndowns. A previous owner made corrections to the text by hand. A description typed from a bookseller’s catalog is affixed inside the back cover, as is an envelope containing a description of the book cut from a supplement to the journal Nature.
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[Emily Epstein, Cataloging Librarian]