John Aubrey: A Life by David Tylden-Wright

John Aubrey: A Life by David Tylden-Wright lands on the shelves of my shop, where it will be found in my Biography section.

London: HarperCollinsPublishers, 1991, (First Edition) Hardback in dust wrapper.

Contains: Black & white plates; Maps; Maps to the endpapers and blanks; Genealogical tables; Chapter headpieces;

From the cover: Like Pepys and Evelyn, John Aubrey is not only part of the landscape of the English past, but one of the summits from which we view it. His fame rests principally upon his Brief Lives, those incomparable sketches of his contemporaries. It is one of the strengths of this wonderfully intelligent and observant biography that it allows us to see how truly Brief Lives was the product of its authors temperament and his relations with his friends.

Few men can have had such a natural generosity as did Aubrey, or such a capacity to make friends. Among them, to name only the most famous, he counted Hobbes, Wren, Boyle, Penn, Inigo Jones, Newton and Evelyn, many of them Fellows of the Royal Society, of which Aubrey himself was an original member, and which was one of the central elements in the later part of his life. He described himself, with characteristic modesty, as a whetstone on which these great contemporaries sharpened their genius; with them, he conducted a profuse and intimate correspondence which, when distilled as in this biography, brings that age of giants to life.

But Aubrey regarded neither the Brief Lives nor his friends as his main work in life. That he thought of his surveying, first of his home county of Wiltshire (he was the first, for example, to realise the importance of the Avebury stones) then more widely of Surrey and, in his Monumenta Britannica, of the whole of Britain. He was spurred to it by his sense of the perennial decay all around him of the evidence of the past and by his passionate desire, as David Tylden-Wright puts it, to outwit the erosion of time. His extraordinarily fertile and inquisitive mind, and his endless curiosity about his surroundings and about the past, make him the first of the great English antiquarians.

It is appropriate in a biography of Aubrey that the sense of place should be acute. For many years David Tylden-Wright farmed the farm next to the one which had been Aubreys: his appreciation of the Wiltshire landscape, of Oxford and of London, the three places Aubrey most loved, is particularly strong, and is a reminder of the intensely local nature of horizons which in modern Britain have almost vanished. It is appropriate too that it should be written with affection and with the full detailed attention to original sources of which its subject would have approved. As the author describes turning the pages of the Monumenta Britannica in the Bodleian Library and finding pressed between them the plant graphis vulgaris similiswhich Aubrey brought back from an expedition to Yorkshire three centuries ago, the landscape of the English past opens out authentically before him.

Very Good in Very Good Dust Wrapper.

Black boards with Gilt titling to the Spine. [XV] 270 pages. Index. Bibliography. 9½” x 6¼”.


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