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Books were the only available means of recording and retaining the results, and the twin themes that emerge movingly from My Own Life both revolve around books. Aubrey had responded unreservedly to the intellectual world he first glimpsed as a year-old at Oxford, a place that came to embody for him a largely unattainable dream of peace and security. Books remained ever after a prized possession to be acquired slowly and deliberately, perused with attention, preserved with care and passed on to a person, or preferably an institution, that could keep them safe. This last was crucial because books were as precarious as they were precious.

Through it all books gave him deep and constant anxiety. Worse than deliberate banning and burning was their incidental destruction, often by rapacious cooks and barmen who commonly lined pie dishes and bunged up beer barrels with ancient manuscripts. The figure who emerges from this book is far from the nostalgic and bumbling but lovable eccentric of popular myth. Ross Clark. Douglas Murray. Bruce Anderson. Mary Killen. James Kirkup.

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Alexandra Coghlan. Ian Thomson. Harry Mount. Frances Wilson. Most Popular Read Recent Read. Convert currency. Add to Basket. Book Description Vintage Publishing. Condition: New. The author has turned the tables and written a biography of Aubrey, the man who redefined the art of English biography. She has fully constructed Aubrey? The diary is based on historical evidence that shows him living day by day, month by month and year by year. When there are gaps in the diary, Scurr has not invented or speculated, but she has modernised his words in order to present Aubrey as a living being.

Seller Inventory Jul May More information about this seller Contact this seller. Seller Inventory May May Language: English. Brand New Book. Shortlisted for the Costa Biography No. Light, ingenious, inspiring, a book to reread and cherish. Hilary Mantel. A delight. David Aaronovitch. I was born about sun rising in my maternal grandfather s bedchamber on 12th March Gregory 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 - 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 pioneer.

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.

Nov 29, Richard Anderson rated it it was amazing. Expert scrapbook of quotes from Aubrey. Oct 30, Rachael rated it really liked it Shelves: read Aubrey passion for learning fills the pages of this diary format biography with his love for antiquity and the preservation of knowledge.

Jan 21, Kevan Manwaring rated it really liked it. Each entry is referenced to the source archive, showing how Scurr has built up this portrait based purely upon the available evidence. In a fascinating introduction she details her methodology - an essential read for anyone engaged in the field, or interested in life-writing. Scurr evokes the idiom of a 17th Century erudite without resorting to impenetrable archaisms, spelling and syntax.

Ruth Scurr

Her touch is light. The prose here is not intended to astonish, but to provide a clear window into the past, and that it does. The past is brought vibrantly alive.


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Zelig-like, Aubrey is there, rubbing shoulders with the great and good of the Royal Society and its fringes, witnessing the vicissitudes of history Civil War; the Great Fire of London; Restoration, etc , but always foregrounding the lives of others, at the risk of subsuming his own. Aubrey spent his whole life trying to prevent the loss of precious things: monuments, archives, manuscripts, knowledge. In an age of barbarity where IS blow up ancient monuments and burn libraries in Iraq and Syria, this endeavor has resonance. Aubrey existed during a period caught between the new empirical science and superstition, between the cynical atheism of the coffee shop wits and the credulity of autodidact eccentrics.

Reality still seemed up for grabs - everything was negotiable.

Newton had just worked out his theory of gravity, but many core ideas were still spinning in mid-air. We look at Aubrey, his century and his contemporaries with new eyes. To read it is to delight in forgotten things. Feb 17, Romily rated it it was amazing Shelves: biography.

John Aubrey: A Lover of Earthy Detail - WSJ

John Aubrey is brought to life in this unusual and fascinating biography, in which Ruth Scurr has cleverly used Aubrey's own words and fashioned them into a diary format. His life spans a period of extreme turmoil with the execution of Charles I, the Civil War, Restoration and Popish plot being just some of the events in the background. Although much affected by these events, as all were, Aubrey has an overriding mission - perhaps even obsession - to record what is being lost, whether it be anci John Aubrey is brought to life in this unusual and fascinating biography, in which Ruth Scurr has cleverly used Aubrey's own words and fashioned them into a diary format.

Although much affected by these events, as all were, Aubrey has an overriding mission - perhaps even obsession - to record what is being lost, whether it be ancients buildings, prehistoric remains or old libraries. He is desperate to stop old books and manuscripts being lost or used as linings for pie trays! Although he had many weaknesses, such as his inability to manage his estates and his constant debts, Aubrey's virtues outweigh these. Predominant among these are his kindness and loyalty to friends, his modesty, and his endless delight in observation and experimentation.

He sees himself as a mere"whetstone"to other greater minds and is pathetically delighted to appear as a footnote in another's work. He has a huge acquaintance amongst the greatest minds of the age and, despite his slight awkwardness and stammer, is highly regarded, though often taken for granted. He was brought up to be a gentleman, but with no money he sadly reflects that he has been unable to go on the Grand Tour, marry or improve his estate as he would have liked to do. However one feels that in concentrating on what was near at hand, he achieved more than if he had been living a more conventional and affluent life.

It has not really been until the 20th century that Aubrey has received the recognition he deserves. His pioneering archaeological studies alone would have preserved his name, but it is above all, the Brief Lives of his contemporaries that are so original with their freshness and immediacy - "I fear the truths set out in my book [of lives] will breed trouble I have written too much truth, some of it of those who are still alive.

In my book the truth is set down in its pure and natural state, not falsely coloured Jan 15, Lee Paris rated it really liked it. When this book popped up on a few Best Reads of the Year lists for I knew it was a must have for me. As Ruth Scurr explains, any conventional biography of Aubrey would result in his being lost among the luminaries with whom he shared the England of the Civil Wars and Restoration - men like Newton, Hobbes, Hooke, Boyle, Wren, Harvey etc. She decided to create a diary for Aubrey by arranging in chronological order those autobiographical details and personal reflections which would illuminate his life from his Wiltshire childhood to the year of his death at 71 in from the energy and optimism of youth to the despairs of old age when illness, financial distress and concerns for the preservation of the unpublished manuscripts of his antiquarian pursuits lend a real poignancy to the final months of his life.

My only reservation is Scurr's admission in the introductory essay "England's Collector" that she has added words of her own as she considered appropriate; the extensive endnotes clearly indicate the source for Aubrey's words, but I would like to know where she has made her contribution. This is a lively and fascinating account of a late 17th century life, a life lived through frighteningly uncertain and turbulent times, politically and religiously. It is an 'experimental biography' of a man who has been called the father of modern biography - though he did so much else beside, much of which was not recognised and valued until centuries after his death.

Ruth Scurr writes: "Instead of forcing lives into conventional books, it is possible to find a form - or invent one - to suit th This is a lively and fascinating account of a late 17th century life, a life lived through frighteningly uncertain and turbulent times, politically and religiously. Ruth Scurr writes: "Instead of forcing lives into conventional books, it is possible to find a form - or invent one - to suit the life in question.

John Aubrey. My Own Life, by Ruth Scurr

After much experiment, trial and error, I decided to write Aubrey's life as a diary In constructing Aubrey's diary, I have used as many as possible of his own words. It is a diary based on the historical evidence; a diary that shows him living vividly, day by day, month by month, year by year, but with necessary gaps when nothing is known about where he was or what he was doing.

I have not invented scenes or relationships for him as a novelist would, but neither have I followed the conventions of traditional biography Ultimately, my aim has been to write a book in which he is still alive. Jun 22, Neale rated it really liked it Shelves: biographies. This would not be unusual for a work of historical fiction, but this book aims to be a serious biography. What could have obscured Aubrey, in a conventional biography, is here allowed to add colour his outline: the shreds and patches become the man; the footnotes become the book.

Dec 19, Adrian added it. So she created this diary which covers his 70 year life. It's ingenious. Aubrey's deep interest in science, architecture, natural history, and historical monuments comes alive. He was a proud member of the Royal Society and met all the big names of science of the day. Hooke, Boyle, Newton, Harvey, Wren and many more are all in here. He scrounged for money and continually battled to get his papers the attention he felt they deserved.

As able a job as Scurr has done the book is not as steadily interesting as I expected considering the number of great reviews it got. And there is also the nagging problem of author invention. As careful as she was to portray Aubrey accurately she is still creating moods and attitudes and for that matter a character we can't be sure existed at all.

Aubrey by Bread

May 06, Colin rated it it was amazing Shelves: colin-read , colin-read John Aubrey's Brief Lives is an invaluable source of information about the key personalities of the seventeenth century. Like Pepys and Evelyn, he was a witness to major historical events and friend of many of the movers and shakers of the period, observer of the Civil War, the plague and the great fire, and at the centre of intellectual life in the scientific revolution of the period.

Unlike Pepys and Evelyn, though, he did not keep a diary. That has now been rectified by Ruth Scurr, who in a f John Aubrey's Brief Lives is an invaluable source of information about the key personalities of the seventeenth century. That has now been rectified by Ruth Scurr, who in a feat of biographical innovation to match Aubrey's own in his Brief Lives, has told his life in an invented diary created from his letters and other writings. What emerges is an endlessly fascinating life, full of enquiry and interest, but also intellectual fallings-out, self-doubt, and health worries.

Aubrey is an immensely sympathetic character, and it was an enormous pleasure to spend so long in his company. Nov 01, John Bellamy rated it really liked it. Any biography of John Aubrey would be welcome, and Scurr's "autobiography," shrewdly culled from Aubrey's notoriously miscellaneous writings, is probably, barring the unlikely discovery of some relevant primary source, as good a "life" as can ever be written of this marvelous scribbling magpie. Even at its best, however, it offers but a faint impression of the unique, cranky and irresistible personality that shines through every page of Aubrey's masterpiece, "Brief Lives.

Scurr does full justice here to Aubrey's maniacally inquisitive and poignant life but the worth and attraction of the man remains in his immortal collection of gossipy biographical cameos. Make no mistake: don't exhale until you've read "Brief Lives. Feb 04, Jack Bates rated it it was amazing.

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I loved this. The best biography of Aubrey that I've read. The diary format is unusual as he didn't write a diary but effective, I think, and rather charming.


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Aubrey is a fascinating man, interested in everything, and living though a lot of upheaval the Civil War, the Glorious Revolution and a time when astrology was still as well-respected as astronomy. Of course it's his antiquarianism that most appeals to me; he was the first person who didn't live there to 'notice' Avebury and consider I loved this.

Of course it's his antiquarianism that most appeals to me; he was the first person who didn't live there to 'notice' Avebury and consider what it might be. The whole book is delightful and full of brilliant quotable statements from Aubrey himself. Sep 06, Rita Lamb rated it liked it. Liked this book and greatly admire the author's skill in producing a readable life of Aubrey. After this I felt I had a clearer picture both of Aubrey's social context and the breadth of his curiosity about the world - present and past, human, animal and mineral.