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date: 27 January 2020

John Aubrey’s Brief Lives and Life-Writing

Abstract and Keywords

John Aubrey constructed an intimate and nonthreatening biographical persona, which allowed him to collect sensitive material about people in a politically turbulent period. He preserved documents and facts, but also anecdotes and “sayings,” as records of the human voice and the reputations of biographical subjects. He developed an expectation that comprehensive and factual biographical reference works were necessary, and that biography could be an aspect of social or historical knowledge. He wrote the lives of women and of those who were not privileged, rejecting the exemplary tradition and writing sympathetically about ordinary people. When writing the life of Hobbes, he disagreed with his collaborator, Dryden, about the nature of biography, which Dryden saw as a neoclassical rhetorical art, requiring the suppression of ignominious or inelegant facts and creation of a pantheon of eminence. Aubrey created a new form, fame for disillusioned times, with modern values and a respect for fact.

Keywords: John Aubrey, Brief Lives, biography, fame, Thomas Hobbes, John Dryden, Anthony Wood, Isaac Walton, Ben Jonson

John Aubrey’s biographical persona is deeply involved with his childhood, and in particular with the rustic obscurity in which much of that childhood was passed. He was born in 1626 in the remote Wiltshire manor house of Easton Pierce, “a kind of Park” with “no children” nearby and, at that stage, no brother or sister.1 Writing in middle age, by which time he had acquired a bewilderingly large and distinguished circle of friends and acquaintances but lost his birthplace to debt, he remembered his childhood with ambivalence. It was passed in that “most lovely seate” in a “delicate” landscape with “stupendous” ancient monuments. Aubrey wrote more about his native Wiltshire than any other subject and was inspired by its historical riches. Yet in his autobiographical writings he reveals that it was also a melancholy time for a sensitive and naturally sociable child, “pent-up” in an “Eremiticall Solitude,” longing for the stimulation of a city, with scant opportunities for developing his lively and curious mind.2 In his own Life he classifies himself as a “lieve-haber” who was “bred ignorant at Eston.” “Lief-hebber” is a Dutch word for a virtuoso and a lover of the fine arts; Aubrey is framing this miniature portrait of a rustic education in a vocabulary of connoisseurship.3 He tells us that he studied geometry in the privy and on horseback in spare moments from a book carried in his pocket. He had to be his “owne Instructor,” in secret, so that his father, a plain Wiltshire squire educated only “to Hawking,” would not intervene to prevent him. Even his account of his Dorset grammar school education when he was “transplanted to the great school at Blandford,” where he boarded with other boys and felt “like a Bird that was gott-out of his cage amongst the free Citizens of the aire,” is also a tale of isolated autodidacticism. He taught himself to paint from a book in his free time and learned Latin from a dictionary because he did not understand the lessons. He was frightened of his “ill natured” teacher and his beatings, and among the other boys, “there was as much Roguery as at Newgate.”4

Aubrey’s Biographical Persona: The Value of Tact

Aubrey’s biographical strategy, therefore, is to share vulnerability rather than to make a claim to fame. His confidences court intimacy with the reader, deflecting any suspicion that he himself might be such a coxcomb as to believe in his own eminence or in his title to confer it on others. He confesses in the preface to Brief Lives (1680–1681) that the work was collected “tumultuarily” and “occasionally,” a claim to amateurism partly designed to maintain his gentlemanly credentials. Such disarming strategies made his investigations possible: this self-deprecation is not a naïve confession.5 Instead it is central to the careful positioning of the writer in relation to his work, an essential preamble in a task so sensitive as writing the history of his own times. Aubrey wrote no biographies of classical writers. Although he did collect some details about medieval figures such as St. Dunstan and Chaucer, the majority of his biographical subjects were either alive themselves or had living descendants. They might well have resented what he wrote or appeared to be proposing to write. Aubrey spent thirty years collecting information for the Oxford antiquary Anthony Wood. Wood’s last great biographical collection, Athenae Oxonienses, is characterized by unprecedented attention to archival and bibliographical detail in combination with splenetic accusations of treachery and sharp practice. When published in 1691, it led to Wood’s social ostracism; soon people were threatening that when “dark nights” came they would have him beaten up. He was eventually prosecuted by the Earl of Clarendon for scandalum magnatum. Aubrey, who had not seen the book before publication, was appalled at the bitter tone of the work.6

He himself had shown more discretion. As he well knew, almost none of his contemporaries shared his personal belief that discovering and preserving the factual detail of people’s lives, which gave a context to their eminence, was a public benefit. There were none of the kinds of basic biographical reference tools we now take for granted, and which Aubrey and Wood were trying to establish. Aubrey had no title to seek his information, and without tact and charisma would generally have been shown the door. A modest man of irresistible charm, with humor and a light touch, Aubrey maneuvered gracefully among several prickly and self-regarding personalities, “greedy of Glorie.”7 He deployed a natural, gentlemanly courtesy to great effect, discovering a great deal about some very controversial people. He wrote his own Lives, and he also furnished a great deal of information for other collaborative works, much of which is preserved in his unpublished correspondence with Wood. For instance, he persuaded Milton’s friend Cyriack Skinner to write for Wood the anonymous account that is our chief source for Milton’s life. His most important protection for himself and his work was to leave his own works in the privacy of manuscript. The tone of confidence, of discreet handling of indiscretion, is everywhere in his work: “this only inter nos,” as he says in his life of Hobbes.8

In her study of the seventeenth-century biographer Isaac Walton, Jessica Martin argues that Walton’s practice in his Lives was crucial in shaping the modern sense of what a biography should contain, in its creation of a “settled expectation of an intimate relationship between author, reader, and subject.” Martin suggests that Walton, whose concerns were homiletic and exemplary, addressed a moment in “the flowering of biographical narrative” as a textual form, rather than as a transcribed or reduced “verbal performance in adapting the words of a sermon.” This is an insight with rich and underexplored implications for the place of anecdote in Aubrey’s work and the development of life writing in the later seventeenth century. Both Walton and Aubrey wrote about modern subjects; Aubrey was following Bacon’s call in The Advancement of Learning to esteem “the vertues of the times” by writing Lives. Martin makes the point that as a layman, Walton could not preach sermons, and as a man of middle rank he had thus no title to “exhort to virtue.” This authority had to be established on a new footing. Walton did not influence Aubrey; although they corresponded, and Aubrey read Walton, their work is very different, and their Lives of George Herbert make a particularly comical contrast in emphasis. Brief Lives is not only unconcerned with the spiritual realm, but skeptical of ambitions to excessive virtue. “Lord, how I should looke in a Cassoque,” was Aubrey’s response when his friends suggested that a clerical career, in the form of a snug little sinecure with a helpful curate, might solve his financial difficulties.9

Despite such differences, Walton’s response to his situation paralleled Aubrey’s in important respects. Walton chose to present himself as a “humble medium for the words and acts of an authoritative subject,” to quote Martin, and to pose as an editor, using his subjects’ own writings extensively.10 Aubrey, too, posed as a medium, rather than a maker, of fame. He sought out and schemed to preserve his subjects’ writings, especially unpublished ones, but he did not quote them in the text of his biographies. His practice was more antiquarian than reverential. He transcribed documents entirely, described their archival location, or attached the originals to the text itself, as in the case of a letter written to him by Walton about Ben Jonson.11 His Lives lead their readers into the writer’s study, showing them the material relics of the life of the mind. “I found this Fragment amongst the Papers of Mr Laurence Rooke, in Bishop Seth Wards study, after his death,” he wrote on a rare printed fragment of a speech.12 What fascinated him most was the fragmentary and transient human trace. He mourned, and was drawn to depicting, the waste of thought, the impossibility of preserving the vivacity of his subjects’ ideas at the instant when a “notion darted.”13 It is not his own verbal performance he represents, nor even merely that of his biographical subjects, although he does record their “sayings.”14 Rather, he is acutely attuned to the living voices through which people commemorate and criticize each other informally: the language of social memory, of anecdote, and of thinking aloud. Fame, in its Latin original, “fama,” meant rumor, an aspect of biographical tradition that fascinated Aubrey, who defended his practice of putting “into writing Hearsayes” as a record of social identity despite criticism from the distinguished antiquary Sir William Dugdale, who valued the documentary record alone. Aubrey writes the life of the reputation itself: “I tell you my Tale, and my Tales-teller: and methinkes it is remarkeable,” he proclaims in a biographical letter.15

So Aubrey waves aside the role of author, claiming rather to be a collector of narrative. He also attempts to deny that he is his own biographical subject, even beginning the life of “J A” with the instruction that the paper on which it is written should not be a part of Brief Lives proper. Rather, he jokes—or perhaps it is not a joke—it should be “interponed” as a “sheet of wast-paper only in the binding of a Booke.”16 Aubrey explicitly says that his life is not included in Brief Lives as one who has contributed to the Baconian advancement of learning and science, the real subject of his collection. He has made no very great contribution, he says, and so does not seek fame in his own right. Rather his presence in his own collection is, he claims, in the spirit of an onlooker, a witness, or an auditor of his times. He quotes some lines from a dedicatory poem by Thomas Carew to represent himself as a “devout” pre-Reformation “penitent” who is content to “stand and heare” just outside the door of the biographical church. Carew’s persona does not seek to “Presse” forward to the choir to “assist the solemne exercise” by participating in the service itself.17

Writing the Lives of the Modern and the Overlooked

If the author of Brief Lives claims to remain at the “porch,” his subjects, on the other hand, “presse” into the church. Neither social nor literary decorum is accorded special privileges in the work. Other values prevail in Aubrey’s Baconian celebration of the “vertues” of the times. In his writings, in one way or another, Aubrey actively champions those who had not enjoyed the benefits of birth, education, masculine sex, or urban society. He himself energetically supported and encouraged intellectuals and scientists who were obliged to work in remote places, such as Somersetshire parsonages. He would put them in contact with bodies like the Royal Society and send them the news and the latest publications.18 Moreover as a biographer he gives special attention not only to successful, established adults, but also to their vulnerable childhood selves, sketching their desires, frustrations, and self-making impulses. In Brief Lives we learn that the poet Katherine Philips had read the whole Bible before her fourth year, that the Quaker William Penn was “suddenly surprised” at age eleven by his first “sense” of God alone in his bedroom, and that the teenaged Edmond Halley was able to spot errors on the celestial globes during his hours hanging around in a London map seller’s shop.19 Even among the comic anecdotes are many that follow the fortunes of the adventurous young with pathos and sympathy. So the Herefordshire gentlewoman Bess Broughton, memorialized in a Jonson poem and a Restoration song, is said to have responded to rural isolation by losing her virginity to a good-looking weaver. Or perhaps it was a clerk; the details vary across manuscript sources. Aubrey told this story, which had been his grandmother’s story, several times. When Bess’s father discovered her “inclinations” and locked her up in a “Turret,” she climbed down a rope into the arms of the Earl of Dorset (or set herself up as an expensive London whore, or both). In the end, the story goes, she died on the streets and from the pox. Aubrey went looking for the weaver in 1660 and found only a “pittifull poor” parish clerk, his “curled” hair now gray, a kind of human ruin.20

Bess has an ancient model, of sorts: she was a “second Thais,” so high was her price. This might perhaps have been expected to lead to a parallel with the Theban courtesan, who according to the biographer Plutarch persuaded Alexander the Great to set fire to Persepolis. But Aubrey is merely using Thais as a way of saying “expensive mistress”; he is not tempted to try a Plutarchan parallel. This is so despite the fact that Jonson’s poem, “An Execration upon Vulcan,” in the final line of which she and her pox are mentioned, concerns the burning of Jonson’s writings, a catastrophe that Jonson compares to seven famous fires in the ancient and contemporary world.21 Aubrey’s interest is not in imitating Plutarch or thinking allusively about Jonson, but in adhering to Bacon’s call for the writing of a history of innovations. The true hero of Bess Broughton’s tale is her father, said to be, aged eighty and in the eyes of a twenty-year-old Aubrey, “the handsomest shaped man that ever my eyes beheld.” Broughton’s achievement, and here all versions of the story say the same thing, was an innovation in fertilizer, deploying a byproduct of the soap industry that had hitherto been thrown away. He was a “wise” man of an “admirable Elocution,” and his wife had “as great parts as he.”22 Despite the whiff of Plutarch, then, Aubrey’s is a modern work, in which contemporary people, industrial and agricultural developments, “nouvelles,” or new inventions, and bright, entrepreneurial ideas are celebrated. There are accounts of pilchard-fishers and glassmakers, knitting-machine inventors, canal projectors, and the founders of banks.23 Aubrey tried to obtain a now-lost manuscript source, recording that the poet John Hoskyns “wrote his owne life (which his Grandsonne Sir John Hoskyns Knight and Baronet haz) which was to shew, that wheras Plutarch … etc: had wrote the Lives of many Generalles etc: Grandees; that he from a private fortune attained to the Dignity of a Serjeant at Lawe.” The “Plutarch … etc:” says everything about Aubrey’s relationship to biographical models. Aubrey, to his regret, could “not borrowe” this tale of a rise from a private fortune and so was obliged to collect material about Hoskyns from nonwritten sources; “there were many pretty stories of him when a schooleboy,” Aubrey says after telling one of them, “which I have forgott.”24 Aubrey is always sympathetic to the young, but he is also attracted to the elderly and the middle aged. There are some late developers: Sir Henry Spelman is claimed (improbably) to have been forty when his “wits” opened, his intelligence having been nearly destroyed by a “curs’t” schoolmaster in youth and a busy workload in middle age.25 Aubrey, who used such anecdotal evidence extensively in his treatise on educational theory, is fascinated by the moments when the “wit opens,” stimulated by the right moment or the right book.26 Memorializing such intellectual discoveries and achievements, moments of “ingeniose” lateral thinking, particularly those made by the obscure, is the most boldly defended and pursued purpose of Brief Lives.

Brief Lives was originally intended to open with the life of Sir William Petty, whose immense success and wealth derived from his having “hewed-out his Fortune himselfe” from modest beginnings.27 However, in Aubrey’s account of matters even the well-provided for and conventionally educated choose to be autodidacts; “Why cannot I doe this by my selfe and keepe my hundred pounds?,” he has Robert Hooke say about his abortive apprenticeship to Sir Peter Lely.28 Brief Lives celebrates many who had made intellectual discoveries as amateurs, as a sideline from careers in the church or despite their restricted opportunities as women. Susan Holder, Sir Christopher Wren’s sister, was a “rare shee-surgeon” who effected cures by her “owne excogitancy, considering causes, and effects, and circumstances” rather than consulting precedents and receipt-books.29 Some are said to have changed their careers largely as a result of accident. The mathematician Ludolf van Ceulen was “by Profession a Fencing-Master, but becomeing deafe, he betooke himselfe to the studie of the Mathematiques” instead.30 Aubrey offers a sympathetic account of Thomas Willisel, the first field naturalist, whom he knew personally. Born a very poor Northampton foot soldier, educated only to make “pegges for shoes,” Willisel acquired his outstanding botanical skills after falling in with a group of “simplers.” After a spell in the royal parks, Willisel was employed by the Royal Society to travel all over England, to Scotland and Ireland, and abroad to collect new plant, mineral, and animal specimens, with not much more than his gun and his dog. He died as the Earl of Carbery’s gardener in Jamaica, a post he owed to Aubrey’s recommendation. Aubrey says he was a “lusty” strong fellow—“[a]ll the clothes on his back not worth ten groates”—and that his name would be forever remembered in herbals. Aubrey took no risks with Willisel’s posthumous fame; he wrote two copies of the life, one in his Wiltshire collection and another for Brief Lives.31

In the preface, written in London, Aubrey says Brief Lives owes its character to the modern invention of the “Coffee-howses,” before which “men knew not how to be acquainted, but with their owne Relations, or Societies.” In a private letter he says they used to be “afrayd, and star’d” at strangers. Brief Lives is itself a kind of coffeehouse, to which Aubrey plays host. It promotes intellectual exchange and invites comparison of the experiences of people of very different backgrounds. It aims to “Doe Right,” as he called it, to relatively marginal people.32 Aubrey was aware that many of those who had made such discoveries or such an intellectual contribution would be denied fame, partly because their contribution was relatively fragmentary, partly because it was not protected by social or professional status, or partly because they were busy earning a living. As a preacher at an aristocratic memorial service put it, “Great men are the main wheels in this Machine of the World, and if they fall off they make a great alteration; whereas meaner men are as the Dust upon these Wheels, and if that falls off who does mind it? … [W]hen a Poor man Falls we consider it no more then when one Atome in a Sun-beam strikes down another.”33 Aubrey minded the dust of meaner men; his correspondence is full of pleas for their recognition. True, he frequently exaggerates and sentimentalizes the degree to which voices were crying in the wilderness and preferment cruelly denied to geniuses. However, he saw life writing in a new light as an opportunity to describe not only the eminence of a few “main wheels,” but a complex system of stimulation, advice, and mutual intellectual support. Brief Lives is both a kind of educational process, from which we can derive tips or encouragement, and a historical model of the advancement of learning. But it also functions as a kind of biographical house party, within which introductions may be effected, recommendations made, and social circles described.

Aubrey’s blending of fame as a form of representation, with fame as the desirable product of social networking, is made most explicit in his correspondence. For example, in a letter to Wood, Aubrey asks if Sir Edward Harley and Lord Baltimore were dead and had written any books. This would mean they met the criteria for inclusion in Wood’s Athenae Oxonienses. Aubrey says that if so, he would “take care” to “commend them to posterity” by writing their Lives.34 The tone is identical to another letter in which Aubrey says he “would have” Wood to “be acquainted with Mr Halley,” the astronomer, “whose worth I recommended to Mr Pigot.”35 Wood, Halley, and Pigot were made personally acquainted by Aubrey, but he also included two of them in Brief Lives, bringing them together in the convivial space of his text. As part of his research for Brief Lives, Aubrey combed through Sir John Suckling’s 1637 poem, “A Sessions of the Poets,” seeing it as a key to Caroline social, literary, and intellectual relationships. In the poem, which was widely admired and imitated as an early piece of literary criticism, Suckling imagines a series of “the wits of the town” successively brought into a room to stand trial and compete for the poetic laurel. Jokes are then made at their expense.36 Aubrey is deeply attracted to this conceit, twice saying that Suckling “brings in” figures to the poem, a phrase used both for John Selden and another intellectual, John Hales. Aubrey sees Suckling as offering a kind of poetic hospitality within the form of the poem, bringing everyone in, one by one.37

The Brief Lives Manuscript and the Decorum of the Page

Aubrey had a strong sense of decorum in relation to the physical layout of his biographies in manuscript. In fair copy, they have a distinctive appearance, which Aubrey employed both for Brief Lives and for the chapter containing the lives of “Worthies” in The Natural Historie of Wiltshire.38 Alongside the main title there is sometimes a coat of arms in the margin. The margins are heavily used, mainly for their normal purpose: to accommodate brief comments and annotations. But as Aubrey worked on Brief Lives, the margins filled up. Biographical subjects are drawn aside and involved with other subjects; tentative introductions are made. A single left-hand margin was often not enough; the head and footline were also employed, and then a right-hand margin was added. Entire biographies of minor figures were squeezed into some of these spaces. In the Brief Lives manuscript, the Life of Francis Potter, an inventor, mathematician, and divine, has in the margin a Life of Lancelot Morehouse. Morehouse was a mathematician and collector of manuscripts, who had known not only Potter but also Edward Davenant. (Davenant, whose life is in Brief Lives, was yet another Somersetshire mathematician and divine, who taught Aubrey algebra.) Morehouse tried to construct a proof of the squaring of the circle. Edward Davenant managed tactfully to convince Morehouse that he was mistaken, and that he had in fact proved nothing. Aubrey, however, at a later date, came across Morehouse’s proof in a quarto manuscript and liked it. He judged that it was “learnedly donne,” and that it should be printed, faults and all, as a kind of experimental record of the process of mathematical thinking, “to shewe wherein great Witts may erre, and be decieved.” Half-baked thinking, mistaken thinking, and the scientific interests of obscure figures were to Aubrey an important aspect of a culture of scientific thought and part of its story.39

So Aubrey recorded with sympathetic respect not only the brilliance of the great wits, but error, failure, and the half-formed idea. Brief Lives memorializes the vagaries of wit, the active or contemplative experience of thinking new thoughts. Sir Walter Raleigh, man of action, had “a wonderfull working spirit.”40 The theologian John Tombes had a “curious searching, piercing witt,” seeking out truth though disputation.41 John Pell thought so hard that he “straines every veine about him” and, he confided in Aubrey, in “his old age it brings him to a Loosenesse” of the bowel.42 William Oughtred, the mathematician and divine, exercised Christian humility in the account of his own thought that he gave to Aubrey’s friends. He said he would struggle with a mathematical problem on and off for two or three years and then suddenly, “on this spott of ground, or leaning against this Oake, or that ashe, the Solution of such, or such a Probleme came into my head, as if infused by a Divine Genius.”43 In a similar spirit, the Brief Lives also inscribe their own processes of construction, trial, research, and error. They are notoriously messy, yet Aubrey cherished them as a record of the early, creative stage of writing, which interested him more than the polished outcome. First sketches, he said, should be as “rude as those of paynters,” or the thought would not flow happily.44 Yet the painter’s first draught affords the onlooker a pleasurable prospect in anticipating the future masterpiece. By contrast, through their mess, the spaces, and gaps for new information that take up so much of the space in the manuscripts, the Brief Lives offer a map of doubt. In The Advancement of Learning Bacon, Aubrey’s most significant influence, deplored an “impatience of doubt” as a source of the pernicious intellectual errors that impede the advancement of learning, saying also that “the opinion of plentie is amongst the causes of want.” Bacon characterizes knowledge as a path, “rough and troublesome” at the entrance, but by the end, “fair and even.”45 Aubrey chose to remain at the entrance and to memorialize roughness and trouble.

Brief Lives and the Idea of Fame

The limp parchment cover of Aubrey’s manuscript no longer shows a title at all, but when Aubrey’s Victorian editor Andrew Clark made his meticulous transcription, he recorded that the work was called “Σχεδιασματα Brief Lives.”46 The Greek word means a thing made on the spur of the moment, an extempore work. Editors have frequently altered or even suppressed the title; the first printed edition was published by Philip Bliss in 1813 as Lives of Eminent Men.47 A respectable, anachronistic, and faintly pompous title, it was doubtless selected by the publishers, and it does not suit. Publishing a Life was, in the early modern period, assumed to be a practice by which the fame, or eminence, of its subject was memorialized, celebrated, or perhaps challenged. Yet as we have seen, Aubrey had no interest in eulogy, in the task of praise alone. His most ambitious single life was the Life of Mr Thomas Hobbes, written collaboratively in 1679 with the advice of John Dryden. Writing in exasperation to Wood, he said that Dryden did not appreciate what he was trying to do. Dryden was insisting that biographical detail was just clutter in the way of literary memorial. Such particulars as were included must be shaped and, if necessary, altered for the sake of a graceful form, rather than respected in their own right as facts.48 Aubrey could not have disagreed more. “Now I say,” he declared defiantly, “that the Offices of a Panegyrist, and Historian, are much different. A Life, is a short Historie: and there minutenes of a famous person is gratefull. I never yet knew a Witt (unles he were a piece of an Antiquary) write a proper Epitaph, but leave the reader ignorant, what countryman etc only tickles his eares with Elogies,” that is, eulogies.49

Dryden’s interest was in classical biography, and he was objecting both to Aubrey’s view of life writing as a branch of “Historie” and to Aubrey’s understanding of what “Historie” should encompass. Aubrey takes Hobbes’s fame for granted. Hobbes is a “worthy Person, so famous” for his learning and “great Parts” both “at home and abroad,” a “Sapiens” possessed of “Renowne.” Rather than addressing fame directly or employing any of the established forms of epideictic rhetoric to construct it, Aubrey immediately starts to negotiate with the term and with the traditions of ancient biography that so engaged Dryden. He begins by saying, “The Writers of the Lives of the ancient Philosophers” used in the first place to “speake of their Stock.” He thought better of the farmyard word, “stock,” and replaced it with “Lineage.” Since Hobbes was famous, he argues, although of “Plebeian descent,” it is important to know more about “what countryman etc”: his birthplace, the small Wiltshire town of Malmesbury, and the members of his family. These were a group of ordinary working people, with some drunks and minor criminals among them. Aubrey draws a pedigree for the family, defending himself against anticipated criticism that it was ridiculous to use a heraldic convention for an ordinary family. Aubrey maintains staunchly that they were rough diamonds who would have done as well as Hobbes if they had been properly educated. “As to his father’s ignorance and clownery, ’twas as good metall in the oare which wants excoriating and refineing. A witt requires much cultivation, much paines, and art and good conversation to perfect a man.” Hobbes’s praise is offered, not as an example to be emulated, but rather as a public good that might potentially spread out into his wider society, to improve education and knowledge. Understanding Hobbes’s origins would be a contribution to social science. Aubrey refuses to recognize how controversial a figure Hobbes was, vilified as an atheist and libertine who had in his Leviathan glorified despotism, attacked the Church, and exalted the will of the sovereign over that of God. Instead of addressing Hobbes’s reputation, he works out genealogical details for his family and explains their importance in the local Wiltshire economy. They were glove makers, “which is a great trade here, and was heretofore greater.” Hobbes’s Wiltshire dialect words are also recorded. Aubrey particularly objected to Dryden’s suppressing these facts about Hobbes’s early life: “They will not mention his being Page,” he complained. In the margins of his manuscript he wondered aloud whether to “expresse or conceale” the fact that Hobbes’s uncle was a glover. “The Philosopher would acknowledge it,” he concluded.50

Aubrey’s search for new facts and overlooked details, for a rich biographical context, precluded the representation of eminence in other ways, too. In Brief Lives, a work partly undertaken as a gesture of defiance toward Dryden and his neoclassical tastes, a comic indecorum arises from the care with which Aubrey records the results of his interviews and conversations. When Aubrey asked a literary-minded fellow of Trinity College, Oxford, what he could remember about the poet Sir John Denham, he was told that as an undergraduate he spent all his time gambling and was “the dreamingste young fellow; he never expected such things from him, as he haz left the world.” When Aubrey asked the same question of a judge, he was told drily that Denham had been an exemplary law student and was “not suspected to be a Witt.” Yet “at last” Denham produced his play The Sophy, and Edmund Waller quipped that it “broke-out like the Irish Rebellion, threscore thousand strong” before anybody “was aware.” But then again, when one Thomas Bigge was asked what he could remember about Waller, who had been in his form at school, he said “he little thought then he would have been so rare a Poet: he was wont to make his Exercise for him.” The convivial heaping up of anecdotal testimony, none of which Aubrey thought would be better if authorially recast into a more general form, undermines the dignity of the subjects. We are told that after an evening at the tavern a “frolick came into” Sir John Denham’s “head, to gett a playsterers brush and a pott of Inke, and blott-out all the Signes between Temple-barre and Charing-crosse.” This, Aubrey records, “I had from Richard Estcott Esq that carried the Inke-pott.”51

Brief Lives owes much of its characteristic vitality to the carriers of inkpots. Some of its anecdotal material sounds like the garrulous reminiscences of Shakespeare’s Justice Shallow, who misremembers the “mad days” of his own past and everyone else’s, too. Such a profusion of minor characters regularly baffled even Anthony Wood, to whom Aubrey lent the manuscript to contribute information for Athenae Oxonienses. Wood wrote under an entry about the burial place of Sir William Platers the irritable question, “Who doe you meane by this person?” He had never heard of him, despite his omnivorous collecting of biographical information. Aubrey’s note in response explains apologetically, “I doe not enter him here as a Worthie. but he does implere locum” fill a gap in our knowledge of the interregnum. “He was a merry man in the raigne of the Saints,” and, Aubrey claims, a regular source of gossip and the butt of newsletter writers’ jokes.52 Platers was no “Worthie” but rather a celebrity, in the modern sense of a trivially famous person. He belongs in the same category as Bess Broughton and her pox or John Gregory, celebrity hairdresser, the “famous peruque-maker” of the Strand, who gave his name to a kind of wig called a Gregorian. Gregory’s black marble memorial stone recorded with pride that his “art hath Larglye spread his fame / who first found Couers, for the head; / from whence Greorians, took their name.”53 Such people are recorded in Brief Lives not because their actions should inspire us to emulation and their glory live forever, but because their fame is entirely ephemeral. In a short time, Aubrey argues, they will have been forgotten; Jonson’s poem with its reference to Bess Broughton and the newspapers (a collection of which Aubrey, most unusually for his age, presented to the Bodleian) would otherwise present obscure passages to their readers. Aubrey cherished such details, dissatisfied with a model of fame that represented the past symbolically as a highly selective group of worthies, most of whom were not contemporaries, and from whose company Bess and Gregory were firmly excluded.

Dryden, of course, disagreed. In his “Life of Plutarch” the poet laureate insisted with characteristic self-promotion that biographers, “Historians, who give Immortality to others,” are mankind’s “greatest Benefactors.” They contribute to the public good by setting before the reader “what we ought to shun or to pursue, by the Examples of the most famous Men whom they Record, and by the Experience of their Faults and Vertues.”54 Exemplarity and profitable moral instruction are conditional on the great fame of the subject; it is this which biographers display by arranging their subject in some form of edifying ideological posture. An example of this kind of writing is found in Brief Lives in the form of an extract from the commemoration sermon of the young Royalist soldier Sir Charles Cavendish, who was surrounded and captured in the civil war battle of Gainsborough. A man of great promise, son of the Duke of Devonshire, Cavendish died aged twenty-three, mired in a bog and stabbed in the back by a “base raskall.” The sermon was preached not after his own death, but for the funeral of his mother, twenty years later, for which Cavendish’s body was exhumed and reburied in a specially commissioned family vault in Derby Cathedral. William Nailour’s sermon tells us almost nothing about him personally, but compares him to the general Epaminondas and the Jewish commander Abner.55 But in Brief Lives, Aubrey describes Cavendish’s education and adventures on the grand tour in a way that allows us to speculate how Cavendish might have shaped his military ambitions along Plutarchan lines. In “Introducing Lives,” Kevin Sharpe and Steven Zwicker propose that we consider how the reading of lives shaped the living of lives.56 Cavendish seems to offer an example. Aubrey describes how he was told by an usher in the family of the Duke of Devonshire that as a very young man Cavendish “went into Greece, all over, and that would not serve his turne but he would goe to Babylon, and there his Governour would not adventure to goe any further with him.” There is evidence that Cavendish, while taking the well-worn Christian tour of the seven Eastern churches mentioned in Revelations, did try to find a way of seeing Babylon, but he was evidently advised that it was a crazy idea and much too dangerous. Cavendish himself had no doubt hoped to rival Alexander the Great, whose most famous conquest, according to Plutarch, was Babylon.57

Very few people in Brief Lives aspired to the kind of edifying virtue that Nailour ascribed to Cavendish, of one too “Noble and Valiant” for this world. There is instead a profusion of characters well adapted to their world and displaying a healthy preference for dodging bullets and enjoying sexual relations. Anne Overall is said to have been the greatest beauty of her time in England, and so sweet-natured that only the hard-hearted would not have adored her. Of her lovers, her husband is claimed to have been glad that she should have any pleasure she fancied.58 Among the males there is little heroism on display. Sir Philip Sidney’s traditionally heroic death is transformed by a bawdy anecdote; Sir Jonas Moore is said to prefer to sleep in a whole skin.59 William Harvey spends the battle of Edgehill sheltering under a hedge, babysitting the princes, and reading a book: “[H]e had not read very long before a Bullet of a great Gun grazed on the ground neare them; which made him remove his station.”60 The great Interregnum general Morgan, hero of the Battle of the Dunes, appears in the Lives as a squeaky-voiced leprechaun: “Sir John Lenthall told me, that at the Taking of Dunkyrke Marshall Turenne, and (I think Cardinall Mezarine too) had a great mind to see this famous Warrior; they gave him a visitt, and wheras they thought to have found an Achillean or gigantique person, they sawe a little man, not many degrees above a dwarfe, sitting in a hutt of Turves, with his fellowe soldiers, smoaking in a pipe about 3 inches, or neer so long. with a green hatt-case on.”61 Aubrey’s life of Sir John Suckling even offers a sympathetic account of a downright coward. Reinforced with a party of armed men and motivated by financial interest, Suckling ambushed a rival suitor to a weathy heiress outside the playhouse. Despite being outnumbered, the rival proved a great “Hero” and fought “like a Tigre.” Suckling ran away, an action that brought the “blemish of Cowardise” to an “ingeniose young Sparke.” He later died “miserably with vomiting” in exile in Paris, having poisoned himself, a Cavalier unable to adapt to changed circumstances and to the “miserable and despicable” situation of poverty.62

Fame is thus rather an elusive quality in Aubrey’s work. If we search through his biographical writings to find the words fame and famous and their cognates (eminent, worthy, honored, celebrated, etc.), we certainly find them—Aubrey uses the word “eminent” fifteen times in Brief Lives—but nevertheless these terms often seem weak, compromised, or merely socially emollient. Aubrey sometimes uses “famous” in his letters to persuade his correspondents to accept without challenge the importance of people they have never heard of. In a biographical anecdote, “famous” can mean “I need not trouble you with the details and have forgotten them myself”; for example, in Aubrey’s statement that Sir William Davenant said the Countess of Richmond “sent him to a famous Apothecary for some Unicornes-horne,” or in the reference to the “famous artist” who illuminated a royal pedigree.63 In the fragmentary life of Katherine Philips, it is not the poet but her father who is described in passing as “an eminent Merchant in Bucklersbury.”64 It is an adjective for prosperous nonentities, not for those Aubrey chooses to memorialize. “Honor,” too, is often employed not as an abstract ethical quality but as a worldly benefit derived through interest: a form of promotion conferred on a successful person by a superior or simply a nobleman’s formal title. This can of course imply the presence of satire or irony; of the parliamentary general George Moncke the royalist, Aubrey says, “The Honours conferred on G. M. every one knowes. His sence might be good enough, but he was slow, and heavie.”65 He repeats old Cambridge stories of how “the Puritan faction” had hoped to secure the “learned young man” Lancelot Andrewes to their cause, knowing that he would be an “honor” to them. This value for Andrewes’s “honor” is, however, slighted as a mere matter of policy and hypocrisy; the puritans are characterized as bearing themselves outwardly with much strictness, but privately indulging their pleasures.66

Fame as Nostalgia for the Pre–Civil War Period

When searching for the words “fame” and “famous” in Brief Lives, what turns up is often not even Aubrey’s own words, but rather his many extracts from Ben Jonson’s epigrams. Aubrey sees certain aspects of fame as something a gentleman employs a poet, clergyman, painter, or sculptor to provide for him, a specialist product requiring a knowledge of classical form. The use of Jonson’s poems in Brief Lives implicitly aligns Aubrey with the patron and not with the artist: fame is bought in, ready prepared. But there is another implication to the prevalence of Jonson. Fame in Brief Lives is frequently also associated with nostalgia for the pre–Civil War period (1640s). To take one example: Aubrey says of the “jolly” poet Richard Corbet that “his excellent Witt was letters of recommendation to him,” with the implication that introductions in the less convivial Restoration were benefits that came through formal channels and at a cost. Aubrey here actively promotes the sense of fame as rumor and anecdote over that of fame as exemplary conduct. Corbet, in the words of an anecdote of 1635, was known to have “died like a Roman, bravely,” joining in the prayers of those around his deathbed before saying goodbye to each of his friends in turn. In Aubrey’s 1680 version there are no prayers. Corbet dies after uttering the words, “Good night, Lushington,” an informal and private farewell to his chaplain, friend, and partner in an anecdotal tradition that memorialized the good old Laudian days as characterized by cheerfulness, jests, good fellowship, secret drinking sessions in the Christ Church cellars, and not too much religion. This is not even the end of the Life, which instead reaches its climax with a clerical anecdote about the mortification of Corbet’s Calvinist target, the preacher Daniel Price. Price is characterized as a “most Pontificall proud man” who insisted on riding through his Herefordshire parish on a caparisoned mare. One day during a procession, so the story goes, the mare was mounted by a stallion, who held the “Reverend Dean” tight “in his embraces” and unable to escape until the horse “had done his business.” It is claimed that Price never rode in procession again. The rude encroachment of minor characters, some equine, supplants the dignified tradition of Corbet’s Roman death entirely.67

Fame after the Civil War: New Values

Horses or no horses, it is as if Aubrey considered that fame proper had ended around Jonson’s death in 1637, and that after the trauma of civil war a biographer had to look for something else and call it something different. Learning, perhaps, or ingenuity; terms without the implied baggage of constancy or honor. Aubrey is positive about the use of fame as a subject in Jonson’s elegies and epigrams in the 1630s, but frustrated by Dryden’s “tickling” continuation of it in 1679. The commemorative principle that the dead must act as exemplars to the living, exhorting them to orthodox and virtuous behaviour, often sat uneasily with the vigorous personal characteristics of those with the ambition and abilities to win fame from unpromising beginnings. And it is just those abilities that Aubrey chooses to describe in detail. Fame is usually predicated on a consistency of character and of purpose, yet what is very often celebrated in Brief Lives is a positive form of inconsistency, allowing for adaptability and skill in navigating through new waters. This quality is celebrated in Aubrey’s Life of John Ogilby, a gentleman’s son with a grammar education whose father “had spent his Estate, and fell to decay,” but who at age twelve relieved both his parents “by his owne Industry,” selling some small items of haberdashery. Aubrey says:

He had such an excellent inventive and prudentiall Witt, and Master of so good addresse, that when he was undon, he could not only shift handsomely, (which is a great mastery) but he would make such rationall proposalls, that would be embraced by rich and great men, that in a short time he would gaine an good Estate again, and never failed in any thing he ever undertooke, but allwayes went through with profit, and honour’.68

Aubrey considered using the word “glorie” rather than “honour,” and privately, to his friends, he described Ogilby in dishonorable terms, as a “cunning Scott” with whom he must “deale warily” and by whom he expected to be “unworthily” handled. He was right to be suspicious: Ogilby did indeed refuse to pay for or publish Aubrey’s A Perambulation of Surrey, a work he had commissioned. Aubrey did not expect Ogilby to see Brief Lives in manuscript, so this inconsistency (honor and cunning unworthiness) is not two-facedness or even, I suggest, a change of heart. Rather, he chose to memorialize and praise Ogilby’s talent of “cunning” calculation, which he clearly saw the “profit” of.69

In the chapter “Ethicks” in his educational treatise, Aubrey says, “I remember a Saying of James Harington Esq severall yeares ago, ‘that if we endeavour to goe an inch above Vertue, we doe fall an ell below it.’ This, as to the Enthusiasts and Phanatiques.”70 In the letter to Wood that prefaces Brief Lives, Aubrey says, “I remember one sayeing of Generall Lamberts, ‘That the best of men are but men at the best;’ of this, you will meet with divers examples in this rude and hastie collection.”71 The collection of “examples” has on its title page four mottoes, each maintaining that gentle birth is no title to honor or fame. They are of strikingly diverse origin: no conventional classical quotation here. One of these, “Poets, and Bravo’s have Punkes to their Mothers,” derives from Aubrey’s friend, the Wiltshire gentlewoman Lady Dorothy Long. She seems to have fashioned a proverb out of a song from Wycherley’s first play, Love in a Wood, sung by the enterprising she-rake Lady Flippant. It asserts that “When Parents are Slaves, / Their Bratts cannot be any other; / Great Wits, and great Braves / Have always a Punk to their Mother.” Wycherley’s libertine air was one of the hit songs of 1671 and was published in popular song collections, one of which was probably Lady Long’s source.72 As a sentiment offered seriously, it is found in William Ramesey’s The Gentleman’s Companion. Ramesey insists that “the best Wits, greatest Scholars, valiantest Captains, and most Heroick Spirits to be found in all our Annals, have been born out of wedlock.” Ramesey argues that although he was himself a gentleman, and no leveling Parliamentarian rebel, nevertheless he felt that it was “He who by his Virtues hath laid the Foundations of his House” who should be admired over those whose pride was a mere matter of “Parchment” and who, while well born, might be “empty of inward endowments.”73

Furthermore, the first motto in the Brief Lives pages is the declaration: “That the most worthy men have been rockked in meane Cradle.” This is ascribed to “Ben: Johnson” and is a misquotation from Discoveries, “no great work or worthy of praise or memory, but came out of poor cradles.” Jonson’s elegant translation of Apuleius’s defense of his poverty as a guarantee of his integrity and his title to be a philosopher has been adapted by Aubrey, probably unconsciously, into a homespun proverb. Jonson is for Aubrey an icon of the advancement of learning: a brilliant man who had risen from poverty, who had improved his lot through patronage and an excellent education, whose interests embraced antiquarianism and mathematics, who was interested in representing his contemporaries, and who enjoyed warm friendships combining profit with delight. He is everywhere in Aubrey’s educational treatise Idea of Education, in which Aubrey suggests that schoolboys would benefit from reading Shakespeare and Jonson’s plays in their free time, as these writers “open” the understanding and offer an education in human nature. They infuse their young readers with “life and vigour” and teach them that human behavior is essentially a matter not of perfections, but of humors, which Aubrey defines as “the Delirations from Morality, and Prudence.” Boys should be reading Shakespeare, not sermons, and they should try not to achieve exceptional virtue, but instead to observe, understand, and represent their fellow men.74

Fame and the Funerary Monument

Those famous men who did not derive from poor cradles might nevertheless find poor graves. As part of his Life of Sir Walter Raleigh, a “Hero” who had died on the scaffold, Aubrey notes that at an “obscure Tavern” in Drury Lane belonging to a bailiff, there was a “good picture” of Sir Walter Raleigh and other worthies “of his time; taken upon some execution, I suppose formerly,” that is, seized in settlement of debt. Aubrey makes no comment, but leaves the incident to speak for itself.75 Similarly, he testifies that during the Great Fire of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral collapsed. The falling masonry broke open the vault containing the tomb of Sir Philip Sidney and the 1st Earl of Pembroke. Aubrey witnessed their lead coffins being sold for scrap and notes that the workmen buried the bodies in an anonymous pit “without any regard.”76 Aubrey, for whom “regard” for the dead in the form of monuments was of particular importance, went to considerable pains to collect epitaphs and inscriptions. These include copies of ones that were never raised but are found in manuscript; memoranda to pursue such copies based on rumors, for example that Marvell wrote an epitaph for Milton; and satirical pseudo-epitaphs, which bore little resemblance to the versions that were carved and erected in church.77 These last could be undercut by gossip in any case. Aubrey says an anecdote about Sir Fulke Greville having instructed his butler to refuse Sidney’s request for beer had brought his memory more dishonor than his “sumptuous monument” in St. Mary’s Warwick had honored him.78

Fame in the form of publicly erected epitaphs and monuments could in fact represent not a survival of the dead, but a statement of the will of the survivors, or of those in power, which obliterated the characteristics of the deceased in total opposition to their wishes. Aubrey has a copy of a notorious, and at the time of writing red-hot-topical, epitaph rumored to have been written by Isaac Barrow, bishop of St. Asaph, which asks those passing by his tomb in St. Asaph cathedral to pray for his soul. This implies a Catholic belief in intercessory prayer for the dead, which was defensively alleged to have been “fathered upon” Barrow by those who “care not for bishops.” It was said that the godly faction spread this story far and wide.79 The jurist and scholar John Selden wrote his own inscription using no religious language whatsoever, a matter of common knowledge because it got into the newspapers. There is some evidence to suggest that his epitaph, as found on his memorial in the Temple Church, London, represents the intervention of those who supervised his funeral. This had to be carefully managed, because Selden was rumored to have refused to receive the last rites from the master of the Temple, Richard Johnson. This story had its counterpart in the anecdote claiming that on the contrary, Selden had in fact made an exemplary and pious end and had refused to see, not Johnson, but the wicked Thomas Hobbes.80 Aubrey’s Lives frequently focus on the contrast between the intended memorial and its later appearance, mutilated or obliterated. In a postscript to his Life of Francis Bacon, Aubrey says that “this October 1681 it rang all over St Albans that Sir Harbottle Grimstone Master of the Rolls had removed the Coffin of this most renowned Lord Chancellor to make room for his own to lie in.”81

But in many other cases, Aubrey is the secondary memorialist of people who had successfully constructed their own images. He describes the memorial to the geometrician van Keulen, on which the value of π is inscribed to thirty-five decimal places, “according to his last Will.”82 We learn of the claim made by the playwright, impresario, and adapter of Shakespeare Sir William Davenant, “when he was pleasant over a glass of wine” to have been the product of a casual affair between Shakespeare and his mother. Davenant liked to be called D’Avenant, despite the scorn of his friends; he went out in flamboyant and operatic style with a funeral in Westminster Abbey for which he commissioned an extravagant walnut coffin. The deceased-to-be chose as his epitaph the motto, “O Rare Sir William Davenant,” an allusion to Ben Jonson’s famous epitaph, also in Westminster Abbey, which was supposed to have been casually paid for by a passerby as the playwright was being cheaply buried.83 Davenant was the son of the highly respectable mayor of Oxford, with even more respectable relations among the clergy. Aubrey’s Life shows how he reinvented himself, choosing instead to be a Frenchman, sired by Shakespeare and buried as Jonson, only with a much fancier coffin. “How these curiosities would be quite forgott,” Aubrey says, of the melting down of a bronze funerary bust of Venetia Digby, “did not such idle fellowes as I am putt them downe!”84

In conclusion, then, Aubrey was opposed to using the biographical form to argue for ethical behavior. He chose instead to develop a culture of fact and to tell the stories of those who had not been privileged by birth, education, or male sex, and who had no access to urban society. He rejected the exemplary tradition, writing sympathetically about ordinary and unsuccessful people, trivial celebrities, cowards, and whores. Even the famous are represented as making pragmatic and realistic choices and as changing their coats to suit the times. Rather than assembling his biographical subjects into a pantheon of eminence, Aubrey created a new form, fame for disillusioned times, with modern values and a respect for fact. In doing so, he represents the decline of fame as a casualty of civil war.


Aubrey, John. Brief Lives with An Apparatus for the Lives of our English Mathematical Writers. 2 vols. Edited by Kate Bennett. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.Find this resource:

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Ramesey, William. The Gentleman’s Companion. [1669] 1672.Find this resource:

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(1) John Aubrey, Brief Lives with An Apparatus for the Lives of our English Mathematical Writers, ed. Kate Bennett, 2 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), II:1359. All further citations of this edition appear as Brief Lives. Throughout this article, I refer to Aubrey’s biographical writings, whether in the Brief Lives manuscript or not, as his Lives.

(3) Brief Lives, I:430. Edward Norgate, Miniatura or the Art of Limning (Yale UP, New Haven and London), ed. Jeffrey M Muller and Jim Murrell 1997), 83.

(5) For some properly skeptical remarks about autobiographical “spontaneity,” see Adam Smyth, Autobiography in Early Modern England (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 55–56; and Leah Marcus, Autobiographical Discourses: Theory, Criticism, Practice (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1994), 6.

(6) Andrew Clark, ed. The Life and Times of Anthony Wood (Oxford: Oxford Historical Society, 1894), III:398. The honor of peers was protected in this period by the law of scandalum magnatum, which made it an offence to publish defamatory writings, spread scandal, or injure the dignity of “great persons.”

(7) Aubrey’s term for the mathematician John Wallis; Brief Lives, I:301.

(9) Jessica Martin, Walton’s Lives: Conformist Commemorations and the Rise of Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), ix–x; Sir Francis Bacon, The Advancement of Learning, ed. Michael Kiernan (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000), 68; and Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS Wood F 39, fol. 255v.

(15) Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS Wood F 39, fols. 277v, 397. Philip Hardie, Rumour and Renown: Representations of Fama in Western Literature (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

(16) During this period strips of medieval manuscript were placed between the boards and paper sheets of the printed book.

(17) Brief Lives, I:429, 433–434, 1356–1357; Thomas Carew, “To my worthy friend Master Geo. Sands, on his translation of the Psalmes,” in Poems (London: I. D. for Thomas Walkeley, 1640), 159–160.

(18) See Kate Bennett, “John Aubrey, Hint-Keeper: Life-Writing and the Encouragement of Natural Philosophy in the pre-Newtonian Seventeenth Century,” Seventeenth Century 22 (2007): 358–380.

(21) The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), VI:165–179.

(26) Aubrey’s An Idea of Education of Young Gentlemen (quoted on Spelman in Brief Lives II:1127–1128) is Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Aubrey 10. It was selectively edited by J. E. Stevens as Aubrey on Education (London and Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972).

(33) William Nailour, A Commemoration Sermon, Preached at Darby, Feb. 18. 1674 (London: Andrew Clark for Henry Brome, 1675), 3, 4.

(34) Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS Tanner 456a, fol. 12; Aubrey means Cecil Calvert, second baron Baltimore.

(35) Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS Wood F 39, fol. 327v.

(36) Thomas Clayton, ed., The Works of Sir John Suckling: The Non-Dramatic Works (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971), 71–76.

(38) Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS Aubrey 2, fols. 2–29, especially at fols. 8, 13v.

(45) Sir Francis Bacon, The Advancement of Learning, ed. Michael Kiernan (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000), 31, 60, 68.

(46) Andrew Clark, ed., “Brief Lives,” Chiefly of Contemporaries, set down by John Aubrey, between the Years 1669 & 1696, 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1898), I:8; and Brief Lives, I:2, 3; II:757.

(47) Philip Bliss, Letters Written by Eminent Persons in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries: To Which are added … Lives of Eminent Men, by John Aubrey Esq., 2 vols. (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown, Munday and Slatter, 1813).

(48) For Dryden’s biographical writing, see Steven N. Zwicker, “Considering the Ancients: Dryden and the Use of Biography,” in Writing Lives, ed. Kevin Sharpe and Steven N. Zwicker (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 105–124.

(50) Andrew Clark, ed., “Brief Lives,” chiefly of Contemporaries, set down by John Aubrey, between the Years 1669 & 1696, 2 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1898), I:322–324.

(54) John Dryden et al., Plutarch’s Lives. Translated from the Greek by Several Hands (London: For Jacob Tonson, 1683), sig. Br-v.

(56) Kevin Sharpe and Steven N. Zwicker, Writing Lives (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 7.

(62) Brief Lives, I:368–369. For the circumstances of Suckling’s rather sordid rivalry with Sir John Digby, whom he attacked outside the Blackfriars playhouse, and of his death, see Thomas Clayton, ed., The Works of Sir John Suckling: The Non-Dramatic Works (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971), xxxv–xxxviii, lx–xi.

(63) Brief Lives, I:141; Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS Wood F 39, fol. 141v.

(72) Brief Lives, I;3; The Plays of William Wycherley, ed. A. Friedman (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979), 5–6, 31.

(73) William Ramesey, The Gentleman’s Companion ([1669] 1672), sig. A 3 r-v–A3a; pp. 2–3.

(74) Brief Lives, I:3; II:1258; and Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson, VII:548.

(80) Brief Lives, I:400; II:1329; Gerald J. Toomer, John Selden: A Life in Scholarship, 2 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), II:789–791.

(83) Brief Lives, I:140, 145, 363; II:941, 943–944. “O rare” is a manifest pun on the Latin “orare,” pray for. This, as in the Barrow example above, was a way in which a reference to the Catholic belief in intercessory prayer for the dead was smuggled into Westminster Abbey.