Authors: John Aubrey

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English social historian

Author Works


The Natural History and Antiquities of the County of Surrey, 1718-1719 (5 volumes)

Lives of Eminent Men, 1813 (also known as Brief Lives, 1898)

The Natural History of Wiltshire, 1847

Remaines of Gentilisme and Judaisme, 1881 (history)


Miscellanies, 1696


John Aubrey (AW-bree) early showed an interest in writing down the details of his own life and those of other people. He tried to discover all he could about the people among whom he ranged, and though some of his information began as something not much better than gossip, a good deal of it ended as history. The son of Richard Aubrey, a wealthy landowner, John Aubrey entered Oxford University in 1642. He left the following year as a result of the civil war and a smallpox epidemic.{$I[AN]9810000697}{$I[A]Aubrey, John}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Aubrey, John}{$I[tim]1626;Aubrey, John}

The war upset his life, yet in forcing him to give up his studies, it also allowed him to view a much wider sphere of life. He experienced the royal court, the cities of England, its rural life, life at the universities, and, all around him, the military life of the armies swarming through the country. Most important of all, he saw the men and women of England dividing into the opposing camps of monarchy and rebellion.

After the civil war Aubrey traveled widely, lived well, and made his obsessive observations of the societies in which he moved. He found a wide circle of friends who appreciated his industry in research on people and places, and by them Aubrey came to be known as an “antiquary.” He associated with some of the most eminent men of his time and was admired by John Dryden, Sir Isaac Newton, John Locke, John Evelyn, and Sir William Dugdale. He was, in fact, very much at the center of intellectual life and became one of the original members of the Royal Society.

Although his professional life proceeded smoothly, his private life did not; he was unfortunate in love, and his disastrous business dealings led to bankruptcy in 1670. He began his great Lives of Eminent Men under the influence of that other biographer of the age, Anthony Wood. Aubrey’s work is doubly important, for it provides a sense of the quality of life in the seventeenth century as well as demonstrating the powers of a perceptive interpreter of human personality. Working from tombstones, local records, personal reminiscences, books, and letters, Aubrey set out to sift all evidence. He was one of the first to apply scientific standards to the writing of biography and history. Yet his work, although prodigious, was continually interrupted, for he enjoyed company and travel and spent a good deal of time on both. Moreover, there were delays and intricate maneuverings involved in his pursuit of manuscripts and the money needed for research. He was also continually sidetracked into other fields of research and into other projects. Aubrey died in 1697, not long after completing Lives of Eminent Men.

BibliographyBalme, M. G. Two Antiquaries: A Selection from the Correspondence of John Aubrey and Anthony Wood. Edinburgh: Durham Academic Press, 2001. Volume of correspondence includes index.Bronfenbrenner, Martha Ornstein. The Role of Scientific Societies in the Seventeenth Century. 1913. Reprint. New York: Arno Press, 1975. History of early modern science and the Royal Society.Hunter, Michael. John Aubrey and the Realm of Learning. New York: Science History Publications, 1975. Includes bibliography and index.Kite, Jon. A Study of the Works and Reputation of John Aubrey(1626-1697): With Emphasis on His Brief Lives. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1993. Includes bibliographical references.Powell, Anthony. John Aubrey and His Friends. 1948. Reprint. Rev. ed. London: Hogarth, 1988. Includes index and bibliography.Sprat, Thomas. History of the Royal Society. 1664. Reprint. Rev. ed. Edited by Jackson I. Cope and Harold Whitmore Jones. St. Louis: Washington University Press, 1966. History of early modern science and the Royal Society.Tylden-White, David. John Aubrey: A Life. London: HarperCollins, 1991. Impressive illustrated biography; includes maps and bibliography.
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