John Aubrey, My Own Life - Ruth Scurr

Staff Pick

John Aubrey (1626-1697) lived through the English Civil War and the Great Fire of London. He knew Thomas Hobbes, Christopher Wren, Edmund Halley, and Isaac Newton. He was a founding member of the Royal Society. But after his death, he was considered a gossipy eccentric. It took years for his manuscripts to be organized and edited; eventually, Brief Lives, was recognized as a landmark literary work. How do you write the life of a man who transformed biography by including unvarnished details? Ruth Scurr, a Cambridge historian and biographer of Robespierre, does it in John Aubrey, My Own Life (NYRB, $35) by letting Aubrey narrate those details. She searched his papers for autobiographical passages, annotated and arranged them chronologically. Through his own words, we learn about Aubrey’s childhood in an affluent Wiltshire family and his plunge from privilege to hardship in his twenties when his father died. Scurr lets Aubrey reveal his fascinations with science, educational theory, ancient British history, and architecture. He loved village traditions and the innovation of coffee houses. He berated himself for not capturing all he saw. Then there were the money woes, an engagement gone spectacularly wrong, reliance on friends for support, sketching ancient churches, describing (and theorizing about) standing stones, and talking, always talking, to anyone, regardless of social status. He had deep feelings for friends, and never let political and religious differences interfere. He wanted to be remembered through his words. His works could have shared the fate of the old manuscripts he saw used to line pie pans—but eventually his books appeared and his biographical approach was appreciated.

John Aubrey, My Own Life By Ruth Scurr Cover Image
ISBN: 9781681370422
Availability: Special Order—Subject to Availability
Published: New York Review Books - September 6th, 2016