John Aubrey was interested in the biographical rather than the historical elements of great events. He found out all he could about the people of his time; some of it is gossip, some of it actual historical fact. At Oxford he came under the influence of antiquaries, and he began to do research on biography of a more sophisticated and indeed scientific kind than had previously been practiced. He worked from local records, birth and death registers, letters, legal documents, and even from tombstones in order to acquire information for his great series of BRIEF LIVES. He evaluated this material as well as he could and wrote frequently of the need to possess accurate information of the past lest it become simply a myth. For his scientific spirit of inquiry he was honored by the Royal Society, becoming one of the original founding members.
The people described in the BRIEF LIVES, first published as LIVES OF EMINENT MEN in 1813, are the great men and women of the seventeenth century. There is very little in this biographical work that reflects on those who are not notable, who have not, by birth or accomplishment, become the leaders of their time, among them John Florio, George Herbert, John Milton, William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Sir Walter Raleigh. Aubrey’s method of dealing with his subjects is both factual and interpretative. In his life of Milton he begins, for example, with a short account of the verifiable facts of the...
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