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John Aubrey.

John Aubrey (12 March 1626–7 June 1697) was an English antiquary and writer, best known as the author of the collection of short biographical pieces usually referred to as Brief Lives and as the discoverer of the Aubrey holes in Stonehenge.

Contents

Biography

He was born at Easton Piers or Percy, near Malmesbury, Wiltshire, of a well-off gentry family of the Welsh Marches. His grandfather, Isaac Lyte, lived at Lytes Cary Manor, Somerset, now owned by the National Trust. Richard Aubrey, his father, owned lands in Wiltshire and Herefordshire. For many years an only child, he was educated at home, with a private tutor, "melancholy" in his solitude. His father was not intellectual, preferring field sports to learning. Aubrey read such books as came his way, including Bacon's Essays, and studied geometry in secret. He was educated at the Malmesbury grammar school under Robert Latimer, who had numbered Thomas Hobbes among his earlier pupils, and at Latimer's house Aubrey first met the philosopher, whose biography he was later to write. He then studied at the grammar school at Blandford Forum, Dorset. He entered Trinity College, Oxford, in 1642, but his studies were interrupted by the English Civil War. His earliest antiquarian work dates from this period in Oxford. In 1646 he became a student of the Middle Temple. He spent a pleasant time at Trinity in 1647, making friends among his Oxford contemporaries, and collecting books. He spent much of his time in the country, and in 1649 he first 'discovered' the megalithic remains at Avebury, which he later mapped and discussed in his important antiquarian work Monumenta Britannica. He was to show Avebury to Charles II at the King's request in 1663. His father died in 1652, leaving Aubrey large estates, but with them some complicated debts.

Career

Part of the southern inner ring at Avebury

Blessed with charm, generosity of spirit and enthusiasm, Aubrey went on to become acquainted with many of the most celebrated writers, scientists, politicians and aristocrats of his day, as well as an extraordinary breadth of less well-placed individuals: booksellers, merchants, the royal seamstress, mathematicians and instrument makers. He claimed that his memory was 'not tenacious' by seventeenth-century standards, but from the early 1640s he kept thorough (if haphazard) notes of observations in natural philosophy, his friends' ideas, and antiquities. He also began to write Lives of scientists in the 1650s. In 1660 he proposed to several of his fellow-Wiltshiremen that they should collaborate on a survey of Wiltshire. The others did nothing about it, but Aubrey produced a huge 2-volume (if unfinished) collection, the Wiltshire Antiquities, including some biographical material. Indeed, Aubrey's erstwhile friend and fellow-antiquarian Anthony Wood predicted that he would one day break his neck while running downstairs in haste to interview some retreating guest or other. Aubrey was an apolitical Royalist, who enjoyed the innovations characteristic of the Interregnum period while deploring the rupture in traditions and the destruction of ancient buildings brought about by civil war and religious change. He drank the King's health in Interregnum Herefordshire, but with equal enthusiasm attended meetings in London of the republican Rota Club, founded by James Harrington (the author of Oceana).

In 1663 Aubrey became a member of the Royal Society. He lost estate after estate due to lawsuits, till in 1670 he parted with his last piece of property and ancestral home, Easton Piers. From this time he was dependent on the hospitality of his numerous friends; in particular, Sir James Long, 2nd Baronet and his wife Lady Dorothy of Draycot House, Wiltshire. In 1667 he had made the acquaintance of Anthony Wood at Oxford, and when Wood began to gather materials for his Athenae Oxonienses, Aubrey offered to collect information for him. From time to time he forwarded memoranda in a uniquely casual, epistolary style, and in 1680 he began to promise the work "Minutes for Lives," which Wood was to use at his discretion.

Methods

An early photograph of Stonehenge taken July 1877

Aubrey approached the work of the biographer much as his contemporary scientists had begun to approach the work of empirical research by the assembly of vast museums and small collection cabinets. Collating as much information as he could, he left the task of verification largely to Wood, and thereafter to posterity. As a hanger-on in great houses, he had little time and little inclination for systematic work, and he wrote the "Lives" in the early morning while his hosts were sleeping off the effects of the night before. These texts were, as Aubrey entitled them, Schediasmata, 'pieces written extempore, on the spur of the moment'. Time after time, he leaves marks of omission in the form of dashes and ellipses for dates and facts, inserting fresh information whenever it is presented to him. The margins of his notebooks are dotted with notes-to-self, most frequently the Latin 'quaere'. This exhortation, to 'go and find out' is often followed. In the 'Brief Life' of Father Harcourt, Aubrey notes that one Roydon, a brewer living in Southwark, was reputed to be in possession of Harcourt's petrified kidney. 'I have seen it', he writes approvingly, 'he much values it'.

Aubrey himself valued the evidence of his own eyes above all, and he took great pains to ensure that, where possible, he noted not only the final resting places of people, but also of their portraits and papers. Though his work has frequently been accused of inaccuracy, this charge is somewhat misguided. In most cases, Aubrey simply wrote what he had seen, or heard. When transcribing hearsay, he displays an astonishingly meticulous approach to the ascription of sources. Take the fascinating 'Life' of Thomas Chaloner (who, Aubrey notes wryly, was fond of spreading rumours in the concourse of Westminster Hall, and coming back after lunch to find them changed, as in a game of Chinese whispers). When an inaccurate and bawdy anecdote about Chaloner's death is found to be about James Chaloner, rather than Thomas, Aubrey lets the initial story stand in the text, while marking it as such in a marginal note. A number of similar occurrences suggest that Aubrey was interested not only in the oral history he was noting down, but in the very processes of transmission and corruption by which it was formed.

Works

As private, manuscript texts, the 'Lives' were able to contain the richly controversial material which is their chief interest today, and Aubrey's chief contribution to the formation of modern biographical writing. When he allowed Anthony Wood to use the texts, however, he entered the caveat that much of the content of the Lives was 'not fitt to be let flie abroad' while the subjects, and the author, were still living. He asked Wood to be 'my index expurgatorius': a reference to the Church's list of banned books, which Wood seems to have taken not as a warning, but as a licence to simply extract pages of notes to paste into his own proofs. In 1692, Aubrey complained bitterly that Wood had mutilated forty pages of his manuscript, perhaps for fear of a libel case.

Wood was eventually prosecuted for insinuations against the judicial integrity of the school of Clarendon. One of the two statements called in question was founded on information provided by Aubrey and this may explain the estrangement between the two antiquaries and the ungrateful account that Wood gives of the elder man's character. It is now famous: "a shiftless person, roving and magotie-headed, and sometimes little better than crased. And being exceedingly credulous, would stuff his many letters sent to A. W. with folliries and misinformations, which would sometimes guid him into the paths of errour."

Late in life, Aubrey began a History of Northern Wiltshire but, feeling that he was too old to finish it properly, he made over his material, around 1695, to Thomas Tanner, afterwards Bishop of St Asaph. In the next year was published his only completed work, though not his most valuable: the Miscellanies. Aubrey died of an apoplexy while travelling, in June 1697, and was buried in the churchyard of St Mary Magdalene, Oxford.

Besides the works already mentioned, his papers included: "Architectonica Sacra" "Erin Is God" (notes on ecclesiastical antiquities) and the "Life of Mr Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury," which served as the basis for Dr. Blackburn's Latin life, and also for Wood's account. Some parts of his survey of Surrey were incorporated in R Rawlinson's Natural History and Antiquities of Surrey (1719); some of his antiquarian notes on Wiltshire were printed in Wiltshire: the Topographical Collections, corrected and enlarged by J.E. Jackson (Devizes: Henry Bull, 1862); part of another manuscript on "The Natural History of Wiltshire" was printed by John Britton in 1847 for the Wiltshire Topographical Society. A two-volume facsimile with a transcript of part of his Monumenta Britannica was published by John Fowles and Rodney Legg in 1980. the Miscellanies were edited in 1890 for the Library of Old Authors; the "Minutes for Lives" were partially edited in 1813. A near-complete transcript, Brief Lives chiefly of Contemporaries set down John Aubrey between the Years 1669 and 1696, was edited for the Clarendon Press in 1898 by the Rev. Andrew Clark from manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. This is still the best edition available, despite a number of excisions to spare late-Victorian blushes. More readily available is John Buchanan-Brown's serviceable Penguin paperback (Harmondsworth, 2000). This edition incorporates an excellent short introduction by Michael Hunter, whose John Aubrey and the Realm of Learning (London: Duckworth, 1975) is indispensable. Kate Bennett argues for a connection between "John Aubrey's collections and the early modern museum" in the Bodleian Library Record for 2001, and her doctoral thesis in the Bodleian begins the task of editing the Lives, further discussed in Bray, Handley and Henry, eds, Marking the Text (2000). She discusses his earliest antiquarian work in Oxoniensia LXIV (1999).

Literary critic Edmund Wilson wrote concerning Aubrey in his Foreword to the 1962 edition of Aubreys's Brief Lives published by the University of Oklahoma Press:

This edition is, indeed, the first one that has been faithful to Aubrey's text and that has attempted to make a book from his manuscripts. For what Aubrey left was not a book. He loved to compile gossip about famous men and to note their peculiarities, and in pursuit of this information he often went to considerable trouble. It was said of him by one of his friends that he expected to hear of Aubrey's breaking his neck someday as the result of dashing downstairs to get a story from a departing guest. But he did not keep his records in order. He would try to get things down on paper the morning after a convivial evening - "Sot that I am!" is the apologetic cry that is reiterated in his writings - when the people he was visiting were still in bed and he himself was suffering from hangover. He sometimes mixed anecdotes about different people, sometimes wrote the same story several times, and sometimes noted down under a subject's name only a few words or a mere list of dates and facts.

See also John Britton, Memoir of John Aubrey (1845); David Masson, in the British Quarterly Review, July 1856; Émile Montégut, Heures de lecture d'un critique (1891); and a catalogue of Aubrey's selections in The Life and Times of Anthony Wood ..., by Andrew Clark (Oxford, 1891–1900, vol. iv. pp. 191-193), which contains many other references to Aubrey. For a more recent biography, see John Aubrey and his Friends by Anthony Powell (1948).

External links


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

How these curiosities would be quite forgot, did not such idle fellows as I am put them down.

John Aubrey (1626-03-121697-06-07) was an English biographer, antiquary and folklorist. He is best known for his gossipy and uncritical Brief Lives, a collection of thumbnail biographical sketches.

Contents

Sourced

  • Arise Evans had a fungous nose, and said, it was revealed to him, that the King's hand would cure him, and at the first coming of King Charles II into St. James's Park, he kissed the King's hand, and rubbed his nose with it; which disturbed the King, but cured him.
    • Miscellanies Upon Various Subjects (London: J. R. Smith, 1857) p. 128. (1696)

Brief Lives

Quotations are taken from the edition of Oliver Lawson Dick (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972) ISBN 0140430792

  • There is to some men a great Lechery in Lying, and imposing on the understandings of beleeving people.
  • He left an estate of eleaven thousand pounds per annum. Sir John Danvers, who knew him, told me that he had heard one say to him, reflecting on his great scraping of wealth, that his sonnes would spend his Estate faster than he gott it; he replyed, They cannot take more delight in the spending of it than I did in the getting of it.
  • How these curiosities would be quite forgott, did not such idle fellowes as I am putt them downe.
    • "Venetia Digby"
  • He had read much, if one considers his long life; but his contemplation was much more then his reading. He was wont to say that if he had read as much as other men, he should have knowne no more than other men.
  • The parliament intended to have hanged him, and he expected no less, but resolved to be hanged with the Bible under one arm and Magna Carta under the other.
    • "David Jenkins"
  • Dr. Kettle was wont to say that Seneca writes as a Boare does pisse, scilicet by jirkes.
    • "Ralph Kettell"
  • His complexion exceeding faire – he was so faire that they called him the Lady of Christ's College.
  • He pronounced the letter R (littera canina) very hard – a certaine signe of a Satyricall Witt.
    • "John Milton"
  • Sciatica: he cured it, by boyling his buttock.
    • "Sir Jonas Moore"
  • I remember about 1660 there was a great difference between him and Sir Hierome Sanchy, one of Oliver's knights…The Knight had been a Soldier, and challenged Sir William to fight with him. Sir William is extremely short sighted, and being the challengee it belonged to him to nominate place and weapon. He nominates, for the place, a darke Cellar, and the weapon to be a great Carpenter's Axe. This turned the knight's challenge into Ridicule, and so it came to nought.
    • "Sir William Petty"
  • He was a learned man, of immense reading, but is much blamed for his unfaithfull quotations.
  • His manner of Studie was thus…About every three houres his man was to bring him a roll and a pott of Ale to refocillate his wasted spirits: so he studied and dranke, and munched some bread; and this maintained him till night, and then, he made a good Supper: now he did well not to dine, which breakes off one's fancy, which will not presently be regained: and 'tis with Invention as a flux, when once it is flowing, it runnes amaine: if it is checked, flowes but guttim [drop by drop]: and the like for perspiration, check it, and 'tis spoyled.
    • "William Prynne"
  • Sir Walt, being strangely supprized and putt out of his countenance at so great a Table, gives his son a damned blow over the face; his son, as rude as he was, would not strike his father, but strikes over the face of the Gentleman that sate next to him, and sayed, Box about, 'twill come to my Father anon. 'Tis now a common used Proverb.
  • His father was a Butcher, and I have been told heretofore by some of the neighbours, that when he was a boy he exercised his father's Trade, but when he kill'd a Calfe he would doe it in high style, and make a Speech.
  • His Comoedies will remaine witt as long as the English tongue is understood, for that he handles mores hominum [the ways of mankind]. Now our present writers reflect so much on particular persons and coxcombeities that twenty yeares hence they will not be understood.
    • "William Shakespeare"
  • Anno 1670, not far from Cyrencester, was an Apparition: Being demanded, whether a good Spirit, or a bad?  returned no answer, but disappeared with a curious Perfume and most melodious Twang. Mr. W. Lilly believes it was a Farie.
    • "Nicholas Towes"
  • This Earle of Oxford, making of his low obeisance to Queen Elizabeth, happened to let a Fart, at which he was so abashed and ashamed that he went to Travell, 7 yeares. On his returne the Queen welcomed him home, and sayd, My Lord, I had forgott the Fart.

Criticism

  • His insatiable passion for singular odds and ends had a meaning in it; he was groping towards a scientific ordering of phenomena; but the twilight of his age was too confusing, and he could rarely distinguish between a fact and a fantasy.
    • Lytton Strachey Portraits in Miniature and Other Essays (London: Chatto & Windus, 1931) p. 24.

External links

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

JOHN AUBREY (1626-1697), English antiquary, was born at Easton Pierse or Percy, near Malmesbury, Wiltshire, on the 12th of March 1626, his father being a country gentleman of considerable fortune. He was educated at the Malmesbury grammar school under Robert Latimer, who had numbered Thomas Hobbes among his earlier pupils, and at his schoolmaster's house Aubrey first met the philosopher about whom he was to leave so many curious and interesting details. He entered Trinity College, Oxford, in 1642, but his studies were interrupted by the Civil War. In 1646 he became a student of the Middle Temple, but was never called to the bar. He spent much of his time in the country, and in 1649 he brought into notice the megalithic remains at Avebury. His father died in 1652, leaving to Aubrey large estates, and with them, unfortunately, complicated lawsuits. Aubrey, however, lived gaily, and used his means to gratify his passion for the company of celebrities and for every sort of knowledge to be gleaned about them. Anthony a Wood prophesied that he would one day break his neck while running downstairs after a retreating guest, in the hope of extracting a story from him. He took no active share in the political troubles of the time, but from his description of a meeting of the Rota Club, founded by James Harrington. the author of Oceana, he appears to have been a theorizing republican. His reminiscences on this subject date from the Restoration, and are probably softened by considerations of expediency. In 1663 he became a member of the Royal Society, and in the next year he met Joan Somner, "in an ill hour," he tells us. This connexion did not end in marriage, and a lawsuit with the lady complicated his already embarrassed affairs. He lost estate after estate, until in 1670 he parted with his last piece of property, Easton Pierse. From this time he was dependent on the hospitality of his numerous friends. In 1667 he had made the acquaintance of Anthony a Wood at Oxford, and when Wood began to gather materials for his invaluable Athenae Oxonienses, Aubrey offered to collect information for him. From time to time he forwarded memoranda to him, and in 1680 he began to promise the "Minutes for Lives," which Wood was to use at his discretion. He left the task of verification largely to Wood. As a hanger-on in great houses he had little time for systematic work, and he wrote the "Lives" in the early morning while his hosts were sleeping off the effects of the dissipation of the night before. He constantly leaves blanks for dates and facts, and many queries. He made no attempt at a fair copy, and, when fresh information occurred to him, inserted it at random. He made some distinction between hearsay and authentic information, but had no pretence to accuracy, his retentive memory being the chief authority. The principal charm of his "Minutes" lies in the amusing details he has to recount about his personages, and in the plainness and truthfulness that he permits himself in face of established reputations. In 1592 he complained bitterly that Wood had destroyed forty pages of his MS., probably because of the dangerous freedom of Aubrey's pen. Wood was prosecuted eventually for insinuations against the judicial integrity of the earl of Clarendon. One of the two statements called in question was certainly founded on information provided by Aubrey. This perhaps explains the estrangement between the two antiquaries and the ungrateful account that Wood gives of the elder man's character. "He was a shiftless person, roving and magotie-headed, and sometimes little better than crased. And being exceedingly credulous, would stuff his many letters sent to A. W. with follies and misinformations, which sometimes would guide him into the paths of errour." 1 In 1673 Aubrey began his "Perambulation" or "Survey" of the county of Surrey, which was the result of many years' labour in collecting inscriptions and traditions in the country. He began a "History of his Native District of Northern Wiltshire," but, feeling that he was too old to finish it as he would wish, he made over his material, about 1695, to Thomas Tanner, afterwards bishop of St Asaph. In the next year he published his only completed, though certainly not his most valuable work, the Miscellanies, a collection of stories on ghosts and dreams. He died at Oxford in June 1697, and was buried in the church of St Mary Magdalene.

Beside the works already mentioned, his papers included: "Architectonica Sacra," notes on ecclesiastical antiquities; and "Life of Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury," which served as the basis of Dr Blackburn's Latin life, and also of Wood's account. His survey of Surrey was incorporated in R. Rawlinson's Natural History and Antiquities of Surrey (1719); his antiquarian notes on Wiltshire were printed in Wiltshire; the Topographical Collections of John Aubrey, corrected and enlarged by J. E. Jackson (Devizes, 1862); part of another MS. on "The Natural History of Wiltshire" was printed by John Britton in 1847 for the Wiltshire Topographical Society; the Miscellanies were edited in 1890 for the Library of Old Authors; the "Minutes for Lives" were partially edited in 1813.

A complete transcript, Brief Lives chiefly of Contemporaries set down by John Aubrey between the Years 1669 and 1696, was edited for the Clarendon Press in 1898 by the Rev. Andrew Clark from the MSS. in the Bodleian, Oxford.

See also John Britton, Memoir of John Aubrey (1845); David Masson, in the British Quarterly Review, July 1856; Emile Montegut, Heures de lecture d'un critique (1891); and a catalogue of Aubrey's collections in The Life and Times of Anthony Wood.. ., by Andrew Clark (Oxford, 1891-1900, vol. iv. pp. 191-193), which contains many other references to Aubrey.


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