John Aubrey

John Aubrey

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John Aubrey FRS, was an English
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 antiquary
Antiquarian
An antiquarian or antiquary is an aficionado or student of antiquities or things of the past. More specifically, the term is used for those who study history with particular attention to ancient objects of art or science, archaeological and historic sites, or historic archives and manuscripts...

, natural philosopher
Natural philosophy
Natural philosophy or the philosophy of nature , is a term applied to the study of nature and the physical universe that was dominant before the development of modern science...

 and writer. He is perhaps best known as the author of the collection of short biographical pieces usually referred to as Brief Lives
Brief Lives
Brief Lives is a collection of short biographies written by John Aubrey in the last decades of the seventeenth century. Aubrey initially began collecting biographical material to assist the Oxford scholar Anthony Wood, who was working on his own collection of biographies...

. He was a pioneer archaeologist
Archaeology
Archaeology, or archeology , is the study of human society, primarily through the recovery and analysis of the material culture and environmental data that they have left behind, which includes artifacts, architecture, biofacts and cultural landscapes...

, who recorded (often for the first time) numerous megalithic
Megalith
A megalith is a large stone that has been used to construct a structure or monument, either alone or together with other stones. Megalithic describes structures made of such large stones, utilizing an interlocking system without the use of mortar or cement.The word 'megalith' comes from the Ancient...

 and other field monuments
Ancient monument
An ancient monument is an early historical structure or monument worthy of preservation and study due to archaeological or heritage interest. In the United Kingdom it is a legal term, differing from the American term National Monument in being far more numerous and always man-made...

 in southern England, and who is particularly noted as the discoverer of the Avebury
Avebury
Avebury is a Neolithic henge monument containing three stone circles which is located around the village of Avebury in Wiltshire, south west England. Unique amongst megalithic monuments, Avebury contains the largest stone circle in Europe, and is one of the best known prehistoric sites in Britain...

 henge monument. The Aubrey holes
Aubrey holes
The Aubrey holes are a ring of fifty-six Late Cretaceous Seaford Chalk pits at Stonehenge named after the seventeenth-century antiquarian John Aubrey. They date to the earliest phases of Stonehenge in the late fourth and early third millennium BC...

 at Stonehenge
Stonehenge
Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument located in the English county of Wiltshire, about west of Amesbury and north of Salisbury. One of the most famous sites in the world, Stonehenge is composed of a circular setting of large standing stones set within earthworks...

 are named after him, although there is considerable doubt as to whether the holes that he observed are those that currently bear the name. He was also a pioneer folklorist
Folkloristics
Folkloristics is the formal academic study of folklore. The term derives from a nineteenth century German designation of folkloristik to distinguish between folklore as the content and folkloristics as its study, much as language is distinguished from linguistics...

, collecting together a miscellany of material on customs, traditions and beliefs under the title "Remaines of Gentilisme and Judaisme". He set out to compile county histories
English county histories
English county histories, in other words historical and topographical works concerned with individual ancient counties of England before their reorganisation, were produced by antiquarians from the late 16th century onwards...

 of both Wiltshire
Wiltshire
Wiltshire is a ceremonial county in South West England. It is landlocked and borders the counties of Dorset, Somerset, Hampshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire. It contains the unitary authority of Swindon and covers...

 and Surrey
Surrey
Surrey is a county in the South East of England and is one of the Home Counties. The county borders Greater London, Kent, East Sussex, West Sussex, Hampshire and Berkshire. The historic county town is Guildford. Surrey County Council sits at Kingston upon Thames, although this has been part of...

, although both projects remained unfinished. His "Interpretation of Villare Anglicanum" (also unfinished) was the first attempt to compile a full-length study of English place-names
Toponymy
Toponymy is the scientific study of place names , their origins, meanings, use and typology. The word "toponymy" is derived from the Greek words tópos and ónoma . Toponymy is itself a branch of onomastics, the study of names of all kinds...

. He had wider interests in applied mathematics and astronomy, and was friendly with many of the greatest scientists of the day.

For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, thanks largely to the popularity of Brief Lives, Aubrey was regarded as little more than an entertaining but quirky, eccentric and credulous gossip. Only in the 1970s did the full breadth and innovation of his scholarship begin to be more widely appreciated. He published little in his lifetime, and many of his most important manuscripts (for the most part preserved in the Bodleian Library
Bodleian Library
The Bodleian Library , the main research library of the University of Oxford, is one of the oldest libraries in Europe, and in Britain is second in size only to the British Library...

) remain unpublished, or published only in partial and unsatisfactory form.

Biography


Aubrey was born at Easton Piers or Percy, near Kington St Michael
Kington St Michael
Kington St Michael is a village and civil parish about north of Chippenham in Wiltshire.-Location:Kington St Michael is about south of junction 17 of the M4 motorway and Chippenham and about west of the A350....

, Wiltshire, of a well-off gentry family of the Welsh Marches
Welsh Marches
The Welsh Marches is a term which, in modern usage, denotes an imprecisely defined area along and around the border between England and Wales in the United Kingdom. The precise meaning of the term has varied at different periods...

. His grandfather, Isaac Lyte, lived at Lytes Cary Manor
Lytes Cary Manor
Lytes Cary is a manor house with associated chapel and gardens near Charlton Mackrell and Somerton in Somerset, England. The property, owned by the National Trust, has parts dating to the 14th century, with other sections dating to the 15th, 16th, 18th, and 20th centuries...

, 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 (hunting) 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
Grammar school
A grammar school is one of several different types of school in the history of education in the United Kingdom and some other English-speaking countries, originally a school teaching classical languages but more recently an academically-oriented secondary school.The original purpose of mediaeval...

 under Robert Latimer. (Latimer had numbered the philosopher Thomas Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury , in some older texts Thomas Hobbs of Malmsbury, was an English philosopher, best known today for his work on political philosophy...

 among his earlier pupils, and Aubrey first met Hobbes, whose biography he would later write, at Latimer's house.) He then studied at the grammar school at Blandford Forum, Dorset. He entered Trinity College, Oxford
Trinity College, Oxford
The College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity in the University of Oxford, of the foundation of Sir Thomas Pope , or Trinity College for short, is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England. It stands on Broad Street, next door to Balliol College and Blackwells bookshop,...

, in 1642, but his studies were interrupted by the English Civil War
English Civil War
The English Civil War was a series of armed conflicts and political machinations between Parliamentarians and Royalists...

. His earliest antiquarian work dates from this period in Oxford. In 1646 he became a student of the Middle Temple
Middle Temple
The Honourable Society of the Middle Temple, commonly known as Middle Temple, is one of the four Inns of Court exclusively entitled to call their members to the English Bar as barristers; the others being the Inner Temple, Gray's Inn and Lincoln's Inn...

. 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
Megalith
A megalith is a large stone that has been used to construct a structure or monument, either alone or together with other stones. Megalithic describes structures made of such large stones, utilizing an interlocking system without the use of mortar or cement.The word 'megalith' comes from the Ancient...

 remains at Avebury, which he later mapped and discussed in his important antiquarian work Monumenta Britannica. He was to show Avebury to Charles II
Charles II of England
Charles II was monarch of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland.Charles II's father, King Charles I, was executed at Whitehall on 30 January 1649, at the climax of the English Civil War...

 at the King's request in 1663. His father died in 1652, leaving Aubrey large estates, but with them some complicated debts.

Career



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
Wiltshire
Wiltshire is a ceremonial county in South West England. It is landlocked and borders the counties of Dorset, Somerset, Hampshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire. It contains the unitary authority of Swindon and covers...

. 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
Anthony Wood
Anthony Wood or Anthony à Wood was an English antiquary.-Early life:Anthony Wood was the fourth son of Thomas Wood , BCL of Oxford, where Anthony was born...

 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
Cavalier
Cavalier was the name used by Parliamentarians for a Royalist supporter of King Charles I and son Charles II during the English Civil War, the Interregnum, and the Restoration...

, 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
English Interregnum
The English Interregnum was the period of parliamentary and military rule by the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell under the Commonwealth of England after the English Civil War...

 Herefordshire, but with equal enthusiasm attended meetings in London of the republican Rota Club
Rota Club
The Rota Club refers to a debate society, composed of learned gentlemen, who debated republican ideology in London between November 1659 and February 1660. The Club was founded and dominated by James Harrington...

, founded by James Harrington
James Harrington
James Harrington was an English political theorist of classical republicanism, best known for his controversial work, The Commonwealth of Oceana .-Early life:...

 (the author of Oceana).

In 1663 Aubrey became a member of the Royal Society
Royal Society
The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, known simply as the Royal Society, is a learned society for science, and is possibly the oldest such society in existence. Founded in November 1660, it was granted a Royal Charter by King Charles II as the "Royal Society of London"...

. 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
Sir James Long, 2nd Baronet
Sir James Long, 2nd Baronet was an English politician and Royalist soldier.Born at South Wraxall, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, the son of Sir Walter Long and Anne Ley , he was educated at Magdalen College, Oxford, and admitted to Lincoln's Inn in 1634...

 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.

Aubrey died of an apoplexy
Apoplexy
Apoplexy is a medical term, which can be used to describe 'bleeding' in a stroke . Without further specification, it is rather outdated in use. Today it is used only for specific conditions, such as pituitary apoplexy and ovarian apoplexy. In common speech, it is used non-medically to mean a state...

 while travelling, in June 1697, and was buried in the churchyard of St Mary Magdalen, Oxford.

Methods



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
Quaere
Quaere is legal Latin, literally meaning "inquire" or "query". In legal drafting it is usually used to indicate that the person expressing the view that precedes the phrase may not adhere to the hypothesis following it. For example:...

'. 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
Southwark
Southwark is a district of south London, England, and the administrative headquarters of the London Borough of Southwark. Situated east of Charing Cross, it forms one of the oldest parts of London and fronts the River Thames to the north...

, 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
Hearsay
Hearsay is information gathered by one person from another person concerning some event, condition, or thing of which the first person had no direct experience. When submitted as evidence, such statements are called hearsay evidence. As a legal term, "hearsay" can also have the narrower meaning of...

, he displays an astonishingly meticulous approach to the ascription of sources. Take the fascinating 'Life' of Thomas Chaloner
Thomas Chaloner
Thomas Chaloner is the name of:* Sir Thomas Chaloner , English statesman and poet* Sir Thomas Chaloner , English naturalist who introduced alum manufacturing to England...

 (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
Chinese whispers
Chinese whispers is one name for a game played around the world, in which one person whispers a message to another, which is passed through a line of people until the last player announces the message to the entire group...

). 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.

Brief Lives


In 1669, Aubrey began work on his collection of biographical sketches, which became known as his "minutes of lives" (Brief Lives was a 19th-century editorial title). He continued to work on them until 1693, when he deposited his manuscripts (in four folio volumes) in the Ashmolean Museum
Ashmolean Museum
The Ashmolean Museum on Beaumont Street, Oxford, England, is the world's first university museum...

: they are now in the Bodleian Library, as MSS Aubrey 6-9.

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.

Aubrey's relationship with Wood was to become increasingly fraught. Aubrey 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".

A large part of the "minutes of lives" was published in 1813 as Letters Written by Eminent Persons in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. A near-complete transcript, Brief Lives
Brief Lives
Brief Lives is a collection of short biographies written by John Aubrey in the last decades of the seventeenth century. Aubrey initially began collecting biographical material to assist the Oxford scholar Anthony Wood, who was working on his own collection of biographies...

 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. This is still the best edition available, despite a number of excisions to spare late-Victorian blushes. More readily available (but much more selective) are the versions edited by Anthony Powell
Anthony Powell
Anthony Dymoke Powell CH, CBE was an English novelist best known for his twelve-volume work A Dance to the Music of Time, published between 1951 and 1975....

 (1949), Oliver Lawson Dick (1949), and, most recently, John Buchanan-Brown (2000), which incorporates an excellent short introduction by Michael Hunter.

Literary critic Edmund Wilson
Edmund Wilson
Edmund Wilson was an American writer and literary and social critic and noted man of letters.-Early life:Wilson was born in Red Bank, New Jersey. His father, Edmund Wilson, Sr., was a lawyer and served as New Jersey Attorney General. Wilson attended The Hill School, a college preparatory...

 wrote concerning Aubrey in his Foreword to the 1962 edition of Aubrey'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.


No entirely satisfactory edition of the Lives has in fact yet appeared: there are a number of difficult editorial problems as to what should be included or excluded, and how best to present the material. Kate Bennett's doctoral thesis (deposited in the Bodleian) begins the task; and she continues to work on the project.

At somewhat greater length, Aubrey also wrote a life of the philosopher Thomas Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury , in some older texts Thomas Hobbs of Malmsbury, was an English philosopher, best known today for his work on political philosophy...

 (author of Leviathan
Leviathan (book)
Leviathan or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Common Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil — commonly called simply Leviathan — is a book written by Thomas Hobbes and published in 1651. Its name derives from the biblical Leviathan...

): this is now Bodleian MS Aubrey 9. It is often grouped with the Brief Lives, but is really a separate and self-contained work. It served as the basis for Richard Blackburne's Latin biography, Vitae Hobbianae auctarium, published in 1681.

Monumenta Britannica


The Monumenta Britannica was Aubrey's principal collection of archaeological material, written over some thirty years between about 1663 and 1693. It falls into four parts: (1) "Templa Druidum", a discussion of supposed "druidic"
Druid
A druid was a member of the priestly class in Britain, Ireland, and Gaul, and possibly other parts of Celtic western Europe, during the Iron Age....

 temples, notably Avebury
Avebury
Avebury is a Neolithic henge monument containing three stone circles which is located around the village of Avebury in Wiltshire, south west England. Unique amongst megalithic monuments, Avebury contains the largest stone circle in Europe, and is one of the best known prehistoric sites in Britain...

 and Stonehenge
Stonehenge
Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument located in the English county of Wiltshire, about west of Amesbury and north of Salisbury. One of the most famous sites in the world, Stonehenge is composed of a circular setting of large standing stones set within earthworks...

; (2) "Chorographia Antiquaria", a survey of other early urban and military sites, including Roman towns, hillforts
Hillforts in Britain
Hillforts in Britain refers to the various hillforts within the island of Great Britain. Although the earliest such constructs fitting this description come from the Neolithic period, with a few also dating to the later Bronze Age, British hill forts were primarily constructed during the Iron Age...

 ("camps"), and castles; (3) a review of other archaeological remains, including sepulchral monuments, roads, coins and urns; and (4) a series of more analytical pieces, including four exercises attempting to chart the chronological stylistic evolution of handwriting, medieval architecture, costume, and shield-shapes. Of these last, the essay on architecture, "Chronologia Architectonica", written in 1671, was the most detailed, and (although in its unpublished state it remained little known) is now regarded as a highly perceptive milestone in the development of architectural history.

The manuscript of Monumenta Britannica is now Bodleian MSS Top.Gen.c.24-5. An edition of the first three parts (reproduced, following unorthodox editing principles, partly in facsimile
Facsimile
A facsimile is a copy or reproduction of an old book, manuscript, map, art print, or other item of historical value that is as true to the original source as possible. It differs from other forms of reproduction by attempting to replicate the source as accurately as possible in terms of scale,...

, and partly in printed transcript) was published by John Fowles
John Fowles
John Robert Fowles was an English novelist and essayist. In 2008, The Times newspaper named Fowles among their list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945".-Birth and family:...

 and Rodney Legg in two volumes in 1980-82. This edition has, however, been criticised for doing Aubrey "less than justice" on various grounds: for a failure to consolidate what were essentially drafts and working notes into a coherent whole, for silent omissions and rearrangements, for inadequate and occasionally inaccurate annotation, and for the omission of the important fourth part of the work.

Wiltshire


Aubrey began work on compiling material for a natural historical and antiquarian study of Wiltshire
Wiltshire
Wiltshire is a ceremonial county in South West England. It is landlocked and borders the counties of Dorset, Somerset, Hampshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire. It contains the unitary authority of Swindon and covers...

 in 1656. In 1659, a self-appointed committee of Wiltshire gentry determined that a county history
English county histories
English county histories, in other words historical and topographical works concerned with individual ancient counties of England before their reorganisation, were produced by antiquarians from the late 16th century onwards...

 should be produced on the model of William Dugdale
William Dugdale
Sir William Dugdale was an English antiquary and herald. As a scholar he was influential in the development of medieval history as an academic subject.-Life:...

's Antiquities of Warwickshire, and it was agreed that Aubrey would deal with the northern division of the county.

He chose to divide the work into two separate projects, on the Antiquities and the Natural History of the county respectively. The work on the Antiquities (which he entitled Hypomnemata Antiquaria) was closely modelled on Dugdale, and was largely finished by 1671: Aubrey deposited in the Ashmolean Museum
Ashmolean Museum
The Ashmolean Museum on Beaumont Street, Oxford, England, is the world's first university museum...

 in two manuscript volumes, of which one was withdrawn by his brother in 1703 and subsequently lost. Some of his interim observations on the county's natural history were read to the Royal Society
Royal Society
The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, known simply as the Royal Society, is a learned society for science, and is possibly the oldest such society in existence. Founded in November 1660, it was granted a Royal Charter by King Charles II as the "Royal Society of London"...

 in 1668 and 1675-6. He recast the work (now modelling it on Robert Plot
Robert Plot
Robert Plot was an English naturalist, first Professor of Chemistry at the University of Oxford, and the first keeper of the Ashmolean Museum....

's Natural History of Oxford-shire (1677)) in 1685, and it was effectively finished by 1690-91, when he transcribed a fair copy. Another transcript was shortly afterwards commissioned (at a cost of £7) by the Royal Society
Royal Society
The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, known simply as the Royal Society, is a learned society for science, and is possibly the oldest such society in existence. Founded in November 1660, it was granted a Royal Charter by King Charles II as the "Royal Society of London"...

. In 1693 Aubrey asked his brother William and Thomas Tanner
Thomas Tanner
Thomas Tanner may refer to:*Thomas Tanner , English antiquary and prelate*Thomas Tanner , English clergyman and writer*Thomas Tanner , New Zealand politician...

 (afterwards Bishop of St Asaph
Bishop of St Asaph
The Bishop of St Asaph heads the Church in Wales diocese of St Asaph.The diocese covers the counties of Conwy and Flintshire, Wrexham county borough, the eastern part of Merioneth in Gwynedd and part of northern Powys. The Episcopal seat is located in the Cathedral Church of St Asaph in the town of...

), to bring the project to completion: they were keen to do so, but it was not to be.

The manuscript of the Naturall Historie is now Bodleian MSS Aubrey 1 and 2. The Royal Society's copy, which includes material (mainly on supernatural phenomena) that Aubrey afterwards removed from his own manuscript, is now Royal Society MS 92. The surviving manuscript of the Antiquities is now Bodleian MS Aubrey 3. A highly selective edition of the Naturall Historie was published by John Britton
John Britton (antiquary)
-Early life:Britton was born on 7 July 1771 at Kington St. Michael, near Chippenham. His parents were in humble circumstances, and he was left an orphan at an early age. At sixteen he went to London and was apprenticed to a wine merchant. Prevented by ill-health from serving his full term, he found...

 in 1847 for the Wiltshire Topographical Society. The Antiquities were published (again, with certain omissions) by J.E. Jackson in 1862 as Wiltshire: the Topographical Collections of John Aubrey.

Perambulation of Surrey


In 1673, the royal cosmographer and cartographer John Ogilby
John Ogilby
John Ogilby was a Scottish translator, impresario and cartographer. Best known for publishing the first British road atlas, he was also a successful translator, noted for publishing his work in handsome illustrated editions.-Life:Ogilby was born in or near Killemeare in November 1600...

, planning a national atlas and chorography
Chorography
Chorography is a term deriving from the writings of the ancient geographer Ptolemy, meaning the geographical description of regions...

 of Britain, licensed Aubrey to undertake a survey of Surrey
Surrey
Surrey is a county in the South East of England and is one of the Home Counties. The county borders Greater London, Kent, East Sussex, West Sussex, Hampshire and Berkshire. The historic county town is Guildford. Surrey County Council sits at Kingston upon Thames, although this has been part of...

. Aubrey carried out the work, but in the event Ogilby's project was curtailed, and he did not use the material. Aubrey, however, continued to add to his manuscript until 1692.

The manuscript is now Bodleian MS Aubrey 4. In a much-revised form (with both additions and excisions) it was published by Richard Rawlinson
Richard Rawlinson
Richard Rawlinson FRS was an English clergyman and antiquarian collector of books and manuscripts, which he bequeathed to the Bodleian Library, Oxford.-Life:...

 as the Natural History and Antiquities of Surrey in five volumes in 1718-19.

Remaines of Gentilisme and Judaisme


The Remaines of Gentilisme and Judaisme was Aubrey's collection of material on customs, traditions, ceremonies, beliefs, old wives' tales and rhymes, or what today would be termed folklore
Folklore
Folklore consists of legends, music, oral history, proverbs, jokes, popular beliefs, fairy tales and customs that are the traditions of a culture, subculture, or group. It is also the set of practices through which those expressive genres are shared. The study of folklore is sometimes called...

. It was compiled over many years, but written up between 1687 and 1689.

The manuscript was in the hands of White Kennett
White Kennett
White Kennett was an English bishop and antiquarian.-Life:He was born at Dover. He was educated at Westminster School and at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, where, while an undergraduate, he published several translations of Latin works, including Erasmus' In Praise of Folly.Kennett was vicar of...

, and as a result it is not with Aubrey's other collections in the Bodleian: it is in the British Library
British Library
The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom, and is the world's largest library in terms of total number of items. The library is a major research library, holding over 150 million items from every country in the world, in virtually all known languages and in many formats,...

, as Lansdowne MS 231. An edition was published by James Britten for the Folklore Society
Folklore Society
The Folklore Society was founded in England in 1878 to study traditional vernacular culture, including traditional music, song, dance and drama, narrative, arts and crafts, customs and belief...

 in 1881. It was more satisfactorily re-edited in 1972 by John Buchanan-Brown.

Interpretation of Villare Anglicanum


Aubrey's Interpretation of Villare Anglicanum was the first attempt to devote a work entirely to the subject of English place-names
Toponymy
Toponymy is the scientific study of place names , their origins, meanings, use and typology. The word "toponymy" is derived from the Greek words tópos and ónoma . Toponymy is itself a branch of onomastics, the study of names of all kinds...

. It is, however, unfinished (or, as Gillian Fellows-Jensen explains, "hardly begun"). Aubrey compiled a list of some 5,000 place-names, but managed to provide derivations for only a relatively small proportion of them: many are correct, but some are wildly wrong. The manuscript is now Bodleian MS Aubrey 5.

Miscellanies


The only work published by Aubrey in his lifetime was his Miscellanies (1696; reprinted with additions in 1721), a collection of 21 short chapters on the theme of "hermetick philosophy" (i.e. supernatural phenomena and the occult), including "Omens", "Prophesies", "Transportation in the Air", "Converse with Angels and Spirits", "Second-Sighted Persons", etc. Its contents mainly comprised documented reports of supernatural manifestations. The work did much to bolster Aubrey's posthumous reputation as a superstitious and credulous eccentric.

Other works


Aubrey's papers also included "Architectonica Sacra"; and "Erin Is God" (notes on ecclesiastical antiquities).

His "Adversaria Physica" was a scientific commonplace book, which by 1692 amounted to a folio "an inch thick": it is lost, although extracts have survived in the form of copies.

He wrote two plays, both comedies intended for Thomas Shadwell
Thomas Shadwell
Thomas Shadwell was an English poet and playwright who was appointed poet laureate in 1689.-Life:Shadwell was born at Stanton Hall, Norfolk, and educated at Bury St Edmunds School, and at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, which he entered in 1656. He left the university without a degree, and...

: the first has not survived; the second, "Countrey Revell", remained unfinished.

Aubrey in popular culture


In 1967, English director Patrick Garland
Patrick Garland
thumb|right|200pxPatrick Garland is a British actor, writer, and director.Garland started Poetry International in 1963 with Ted Hughes and Charles Osborne. He was a director and producer for the BBC's Music and Arts Department , and worked on its Monitor series...

 created a one-man show, "Brief Lives", based on Dick's edition of Aubrey's work. Starring Roy Dotrice
Roy Dotrice
Roy Dotrice, OBE is a British actor known for his Tony Award-winning Broadway performance in the revival of A Moon for the Misbegotten.-Life and career:...

, it became the most successful one-man production ever seen, with Dotrice giving over 1800 performances across forty years on both sides of the Atlantic. For many, the play became an essential means of understanding a "vanished time" and one version of it. Aubrey scholars, however, have sometimes seen the production as over-emphasising his eccentricities and lack of organisation, to the detriment of a wider appreciation of his contributions to scholarship.

In 2008, Aubrey's Brief Lives http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/3563885/Gillian-Reynolds-the-week-in-radio.html was a five part drama serial on Radio 4. Writer Nick Warburton intertwined some of Aubrey's biographical sketches with the story of the turbulent friendship between Aubrey and Anthony Wood. Abigail le Fleming produced and directed.

External links


  • "Brief lives", chiefly of contemporaries, set down by John Aubrey, between the years 1669 & 1696 ; edited from the author's mss. by Andrew Clark
  • Full scan of 1898 edition at Open Library
    • (scanned full text)

} (snippet view of Clarendon Press edition, 1898)