John Aubrey: My Own Life

BOOK: John Aubrey: My Own Life
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John Aubrey: My Own Life
Ruth Scurr
Random House (2015)
Rating: ★★★★★

Shortlisted for the COSTA BIOGRAPHY AWARD

No.1: Telegraph Best Books for Christmas
 

'Light, ingenious, inspiring, a book to reread and cherish' Hilary Mante

'A delight...the book I would take with me to a desert island' David Aaronovitch

I was born about sun rising in my maternal grandfatherâe(tm)s bedchamber on 12th March 1626. St. Gregoryâe(tm)s Day, very sickly, likely to die. John Aubrey loved England. From an early age, he saw his England slipping away and, against extraordinary odds, committed himself to preserving for posterity what remained of it âe" in books, monuments and life stories. His Brief Lives would redefine the art of biography yet he published only one rushed, botched book in his lifetime and died fearing his name and achievements would be forgotten. Ruth Scurrâe(tm)s biography is an act of scholarly imagination: a diary drawn from John Aubreyâe(tm)s own words, displaying his unique voice, dry wit, the irreverence and drama of a literary pioneer. Aubrey saw himself modestly as a collector of a vanishing past, a âe~scurvy antiquaryâe(tm). But he was also one of the pioneers of modern writing, a journalist before the age of journalism, who witnessed the Civil War and the Great Fire of London in the company of some of the influential men and women, high and low, whose lives he would make his legacy. John Aubreyâe(tm)s own life was a poignant personal and financial struggle to record the doings of great men and the relics of antiquity, the habits of Christopher Wren, Isaac Newton and Thomas Hobbes, the stones of Stonehenge and the stained glass of forgotten churches. In this genre-defying account, rich with the London taverns and elegiac landscapes of an England he helped to preserve, Ruth Scurr has resurrected John Aubrey as a potent spirit for our own time.

Contents

Cover

About the Book

About the Author

Also by Ruth Scurr

List of Illustrations

Dramatis Personae

Dedication

Title Page

England’s Collector

Part I

Wiltshire

Part II

Oxford

Part III

War

Part IV

Learning

Part V

Restoration

Part VI

Stone, Water, Fire

Part VII

Work

Part VIII

Surrey

Part IX

Penury

Part X

The Popish Plot

Part XI

Brief Lives

Part XII

More Lives and Deaths

Part XIII

Manuscripts

Part XIV

Transcriptions

Part XV

Crepusculum

Aubrey’s Afterlife

Endnotes

Acknowledgements

Bibliography

Index

Copyright

About the Book

John Aubrey loved England. From an early age, he saw his England slipping away and, against extraordinary odds, committed himself to preserving for posterity what remained of it – in books, monuments and life stories. His
Brief Lives
would redefine the art of biography yet he published only one rushed, botched book in his lifetime and died fearing his name and achievements would be forgotten.

Ruth Scurr’s biography is an act of scholarly imagination: a diary drawn from John Aubrey’s own words, displaying his unique voice, dry wit, the irreverence and drama of a literary innovator. Aubrey saw himself modestly as a collector of a vanishing past, a ‘scurvy antiquary’. But he was also one of the pioneers of modern writing, a journalist before the age of journalism, who witnessed the Civil War and the Great Fire of London in the company of some of the influential men and women, high and low, whose lives he would make his legacy.

John Aubrey’s own life was a poignant personal and financial struggle to record the doings of great men and the relics of antiquity, the habits of Christopher Wren, Isaac Newton and Thomas Hobbes, the stones of Stonehenge and the stained glass of forgotten churches. In this genre-defying account, rich with the London taverns and elegiac landscapes of an England he helped to preserve, Ruth Scurr has resurrected John Aubrey as a potent spirit for our own time.

About the Author

Ruth Scurr is a historian, biographer and literary critic. She teaches history and politics at Cambridge University, where she is a Lecturer and Fellow of Gonville & Caius College. Her first book,
Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution
won the Franco-British Society Literary Prize, was longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize, shortlisted for the Duff Cooper Prize and was listed among the 100 Best Books of the Decade in
The Times
. She reviews regularly for the
Times Literary Supplement
, the
Daily Telegraph
and the
Wall Street Journal
.

ALSO BY RUTH SCURR

Fatal Purity

List of Illustrations

Unless Stated, all illustrations are drawn by John Aubrey, and reproduced from his papers, held at the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

Jacket Sir James Long of Draycot and J. Aubrey, hawking (MS Aubrey 3, —186v–187v)

Endpapers Map of Wiltshire, from John Speed’s
Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain
, I. Sudbury and G. Humble, 1611–12 (author’s collection)

1.
  Portrait of John Aubrey, engraved by Charles Eden Wagstaff from the drawing by William Faithorne in the Ashmolean Museum (Bridgeman Images)

2.
  The house in Easton Pierse where Aubrey was born in his grandfather’s chamber, marked with a cross (MS Aubrey 17, fol. 3r)

3.
  Lyte and Browne family escutcheons (MS Aubrey 3, fol. 59v)

4.
  Statue of Neptune, at Thomas Bushell’s estate, Enston, in Oxfordshire (MS Aubrey 17, fol. 18r)

5.
  Church tower, Kington St Michael, showing extensive cracks (MS Aubrey 3, fol. 61r)

6.
  Aubrey’s bookplate (MS Aubrey 17, fol. 2v)

7.
  Lord Bacon’s Verulam House, drawn from memory (MS Aubrey 6, fol. 72r)

8.
  Hobbes’s House (MS Aubrey 9, fol. 31v)

9.
  Hobbes’s nativity (MS Aubrey 9, fol. 1(b)v)

10.
  Osney Abbey, engraving by Wenceslaus Hollar for Dugdale’s
Monasticon Anglicanu
m, vol. 2, published 1661 (from Olivia Horsfall-Turner’s private collection, reproduced by Warwick Leadlay Gallery)

11.
  Silbury Hill (MS Top. Gen. C.24, fol. 41v, fol. 42r)

12.
  Stonehenge (MS Top. Gen. C.24, fol. 60v, 61r)

13.
  Stone monuments Pierre Couverte and Pierre Levée, near Doué-la-Fontaine and Loudon, France (MS Top. Gen. C.25, fol. 56r)

14
  Survey of Avebury (MS Top. Gen. C.24 fol. 39v, 40r)

15.
  Map of the remains of Roman Camps in Britain (MS Top. Gen. C.24, fol. 250v, 251r)

16.
  Re-imagined house at Easton Pierse (MS Aubrey 3, fol. 60r)

17.
  Imagined bridge with Aubrey’s initials (MS Aubrey 17, fol. 8r)

18.
  Prospect from Easton Pierse to the southeast (MS Aubrey 17, fol. 18r)

19.
  Aubrey’s nativity (MS Aubrey 7, fol. 3r)

20.
  South and north windows of the south and north aisles of Westminster Abbey (MS Top. Gen. C.25. fol. 172v)

21.
  Geoffrey Chaucer (MS Top. Gen. C.25 fol. 202r)

22.
  Roman urn, found at Kingston-upon-Thames (MS Top. Gen. C.25 fol. 49(a) r)

23.
  Prospect of Waverley Abbey (MS Aubrey 4, fol. 140b(v)-140c(v))

24.
  A Surrey cheese press (MS Aubrey 4, fol. 207c(v))

25.
  Bust of Venetia Stanley (MS Aubrey 6, fol. 101r)

26.
  Coat of Arms for Sir William Petty (MS Aubrey 6, fol. 12v)

27.
  Coat of Arms for Robert Boyle (MS Aubrey 6, fol. 16v)

28.
  The world as a pomegranate (MS Aubrey 1, fol. 89r)

29.
  South and north windows of Westminster Hall (on the left) and the west window of the nave of Westminster Abbey (MS Top. Gen. C.25. fol. 171v-172r)

30.
  Roof of Westminster Hall (MS Top. Gen. C.25. fol. 173r)

31.
  Prospect of the Devil’s Arrows (MS Top. Gen. C.24, fol. 70r)

32.
  Aubrey’s epitaph designed by himself (MS Aubrey 5, fol. 122r)

33.
  Frontispiece for Aubrey’s
Miscellanies
, the only work he published in his lifetime, in 1696 (MS Ashmole E.11)

Dramatis Personae

Kings, Queens and Lord Protectors in Aubrey’s lifetime

Charles I (1600–49), King of England, Scotland and Ireland from 27 March 1625 until his execution on 30 January 1649.

Henrietta Maria of France (1609–69), Queen Consort of England, Scotland and Ireland as the wife of Charles I, and mother of the future kings Charles II and James II.

Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658), Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland from 16 December 1653 until his death on 3 September 1658.

Richard Cromwell (1626–1712), son of Oliver; Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland from 3 September 1658 until he resigned on 25 May 1659.

Charles II (1630–85), son of Charles I, restored as King of England, Scotland and Ireland on 29 May 1660 until his death on 6 February 1685.

James II (1633–1701), King of England and Ireland, and James VII of Scotland, from 6 February 1685 until his deposition in the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

William III (1650–1702) of Orange and Mary II (1662–94), co-regents over England, Scotland and Ireland after the Glorious Revolution of 1688. William was James II’s nephew and Mary was his Protestant daughter.

Aubrey’s relations

Richard Aubrey (1603–52), father.

Deborah Aubrey (1610–86), née Lyte, mother.

Isaac Lyte (1576–1660), maternal grandfather.

Israel Browne (1578–1662), of Winterbourne Bassett, maternal grandmother.

Thomas Lyte (1531–1627), of Easton Pierse, Kington St Michael, maternal great-grandfather.

Rachel Danvers (d.1656), paternal grandmother; her first husband was Aubrey’s paternal grandfather, John Aubrey of Burleton, Hereford (1578–1616); her second was Aubrey’s godfather, John Whitson, Alderman of Bristol (1557–1629).

William Aubrey (
c
.1529–95), Regius professor, paternal great-grandfather.

William Aubrey (1643–1707), brother.

Thomas Aubrey (1645–81), brother.

Sir John Danvers of Chelsea (1588–1655), ‘The Regicide’, Aubrey’s kinsman (third cousin once removed), MP for Oxford University and Malmesbury, Colonel for Parliament, member of Cromwell’s Council of State and signatory of Charles I’s death warrant. His first wife was a widow, Magdalen Herbert, mother of the poet George Herbert.

Sir John Aubrey (
c
.1606–79), 1st Baronet, uncle.

Sir John Aubrey (
c
.1650–1700), 2nd Baronet, Aubrey’s cousin and patron; invited Aubrey to stay in his homes at Borstall (near Brill in Buckinghamshire) and Llanthrithyd (in the Vale of Glamorgan, Wales).

Elizabeth Freeman (1642–1720), Aubrey’s cousin, married to Ralph Freeman, Esq. of Abspenden, Hertfordshire, daughter of Sir John Aubrey, 1st Baronet, sister of Sir John Aubrey, 2nd Baronet.

Aubrey’s women

Miss Jane Codrington, whom Aubrey hoped to marry. Codrington was a common family name in the vicinity of the Wiltshire and Gloucestershire border. She married another.

Miss Mary Wiseman, whom Aubrey loved at first sight in April 1651.

Miss Katherine Ryves (d.1657), whom Aubrey sought to marry; she died, depriving him of the opportunity. Daughter of George Ryves of Blandford. In her will she left Aubrey £350 and a mourning ring to his mother.

At least one whore from whom Aubrey caught venereal disease in 1657.

Miss Joan Sumner (1636–71), an unusually litigious lady, whom Aubrey sought to marry, before she took him to court.

An unidentified rumoured mistress.

Mrs Jane Smyth (b.1649), the young and ailing mistress and partner of Aubrey’s good friend Edmund Wylde. Aubrey was deeply fond of them both.

Lady Dorothy Long, née Leech, the wife, then widow, of Sir James Long, a loyal friend of Aubrey’s in his old age.

Aubrey’s contemporaries, many of them friends, some also patrons

Mr Elias Ashmole (1617–92), antiquary interested in astrology and alchemy; acquired the Tradescant Collection of rarities and donated them, together with his own, to Oxford University on the condition the Ashmolean Museum was built to house them. His third wife was Mr William Dugdale’s daughter.

BOOK: John Aubrey: My Own Life
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