This is a very funny book, comprising a series of short pen-portraits of notables of the Age and either side that are so singular in observation, discombobulatingly direct and hugely entertaining on what he sees and knows that my 21st Century sensibility was pleasurably startled. The introductory essay by Oliver Lawson Dick may have dated but it is still enlightening, not that anything is needed to enjoy this magnificent window into 16th and early 17th Century England. Aubrey provides a commendably eccentric, perceptive and eloquent angle on all manner of characters . This is the sort of book you can dip into or read though, either way it is both informative and entertaining. Containing about a third of the full tome, this antiquarian enthusiast for Stonehenge expresses himself sometimes elliptically, often directly, always indelibly; he is the equal of if more cussed than Pepys, a modern, raggedy Suetonius.. His are pungent, perceptive opinions, his bluntness adding to expressive force. He is stunningly, sometimes brutally honest, though humane too and never cruel. My own favourite cameo involves the amour of Walter Raleigh, (who is described as having piggy eyes), and Aubrey recounting that, rather than hit his father back when his Dad struck him, Raleigh's son hit the man next to him instead! There's a delight in all these portraits which, combined with E.H. White's 'The Age of Scandal', would make the ideal idiosyncratic package for bringing to shouty life the first Modern Age in a hilarious, revelatory fashion. There's nothing like this book to remind you of the way our forbears lived, breathed and did much else besides. A marvel; unparalleled. It's one of those books you can barely believe got written even as you read it:
Painstakingly assembled from manuscripts in the Bodleian Library this is the view of a seventeenth century antiquarian writer of the life and times of those around him, and those who were famous in this period. The subjects of the mini biographies are gloriously diverse - from those that are now acknowledged giants, such as Shakespeare, Raleigh, Milton, and Thomas More, to those most of us have never even heard of. Amongst the latter we find characters like lawyer Walter Rumsey 1584-1660, whom Aubrey admired for his ability to self induce vomiting by means of a stick. . .
This is now quite an old book, and not a perfect book, but it does remind many people why they were interested in history in the first place. A must for pretty well anybody studying history - or anybody wanting a curious entertainment.
Lawson Dick has more than stood the test of time. While some scholarly criticisms can and have been levelled at it, for most readers this can be described as a plain delight. Especially notable is the introductory Life and Times of John Aubrey, which provides a superb introduction to the man, and rich insight into the 17th century. This volume has been for me a constant source of pleasure and interest.