John Aubrey

John Aubrey, 1626-1697: English antiquary, author of a collection of biographical pieces known as Brief Lives. These Lives, most of them no longer than a few hundred words, are masterpieces of character painting that give an incomparable picture of the characters and customs of the seventeenth century: Sir Walter Raleigh pleasuring a servant girl against a tree; Shakespeare’s acting (“he did acte exceedingly well…”); Ben Jonson’s acting (“…he was never a Good Actor, but an excellent Instructor…”; the indiscriminately libidinous Countess of Pembroke (“One of her great Gallants was Crooke-back’t Cecill, Earl of Salisbury…”); the friendship and literary collaboration of Beaumont and Fletcher  (“There was a wonderful consimility of phansey between him and Mr. John Fletcher…”; the mysterious astrologer and occultist John Dee (“He was tall and slender. He wore a gown like an artist’s gown, with hanging sleeves, and a slit…. A very fair, clear sanguine complexion… a long beard as white as milk…”; the double standards of the traveller Sir Henry Blount (“Drunkenness he much exclaimed against, but wenching he allowed…”). Aubrey is also notable for being one the first to suggest that Avebury and Stonehenge were ancient devotional sites. He would be amused to learn of his appearance in an episode of Dr Who (‘The Stones of Blood’) in which he confesses to the Doctor that his writings on Druidism and megaliths were a mere practical joke. Of his own voluminous and haphazard jottings he remarked “How these curiosities would be quite forgot, did not such idle fellows as I am put them down.”

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