Introduced by Peter Conrad
Illustrated by Joe Ciardiello
Witty, tantalising and illuminating, John Aubrey’s great classic of biography allows a glimpse into a fascinating era, while humanising great figures of history such as Shakespeare, Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes.
With vignettes of figures such as John Milton, Christopher Wren, John Dryden, Shakespeare, Andrew Marvell, Francis Bacon and more, Brief Lives is a uniquely entertaining glimpse at a fascinating time. These men and women, flawed, vulnerable, vain and ambitious, are more alive here than in any formal history; through Aubrey’s eyes, these giants of an age are revealed on a more human scale.
This Folio edition uses the definitive edition edited by Oliver Lawson Dick, which includes Lawson Dick’s own superb biographical portrait of Aubrey. In his introduction Peter Conrad writes with affection about a true English eccentric who had a deep and abiding interest in other people. Joe Ciardiello’s exuberant illustrations include many witty portraits, scribbled with incidental detail and revealing context.
John Aubrey lived through tumultuous times. Born in 1626, he was in his early twenties when Charles I was beheaded; he saw Oliver Cromwell come to power and witnessed the restoration of Charles II. The son of a Wiltshire squire, Aubrey inherited the family estate only to become bankrupt, and from then on travelled constantly (‘It seems to me that between the years 1649 and 1670, I was never off horseback’), living in coffee houses and relying on the hospitality of friends. He was a pioneering archaeologist and antiquary, loved astrology but also the latest scientific advances and was a member of the Royal Society alongside Newton, Hooke and Boyle.
‘Aubrey’s feeling for the significant scrap is so unerring that he can tell us more about a person in a sentence than most writers in a page’
But his greatest achievement was Brief Lives, a collection of witty, gossipy and utterly delightful portraits of the great figures of 16th- and 17th-century Britain – the eminent thinkers, poets, scientists, noblemen and statesmen. Before Aubrey, biography was usually moralistic, seeking to place blame or praise, but his swift portraits are good-natured and deliciously revealing. According to Aubrey, Thomas Hobbes’s greatest trouble was ‘to keep off the flies from pitching on his baldness’, and the unfortunate Earle of Oxford was so mortified by a digestive indiscretion in front of Elizabeth I that he ‘went to Travell, 7 yeares’. The anecdote concerning Sir Walter Raleigh and an excitable young woman will amuse in any century, while it is also revealed that Sir Jonas Moore suffered from sciatica, which he cured by ‘boyling his Buttock’. With vignettes of figures such as John Milton, Christopher Wren, John Dryden, Shakespeare, Andrew Marvell, Francis Bacon and more, Brief Lives is a uniquely entertaining glimpse at a fascinating time. These men and women, flawed, vulnerable, vain and ambitious, are more alive here than in any formal history; through Aubrey’s eyes, these giants of an age are revealed on a more human scale.
'Funny, full of gaps, anecdotes and profundities all mixed up, as lives are’
Peter Conrad was born in Tasmania in 1948, studied there and as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. After three years as a Fellow of All Souls, Oxford, he taught English Literature at Christ Church, Oxford, from 1973 to 2010. His numerous and varied works of criticism and cultural history include Imagining America (1980), The Everyman History of English Literature (1985), A Song of Love and Death: The Meaning of Opera (1987), Modern Times, Modern Places: Life and Art in the Twentieth Century (1999) and The Hitchcock Murders (2001). His most recent books are Verdi and/or Wagner (2010) and How the World Was Won: The Americanization of Everywhere (2013).
Joe Ciardiello was born and raised on Staten Island, NY, and has been a freelance illustrator since 1974. He has worked for most major magazines and newspapers as well as for corporate and advertising clients, book publishers and record companies. Clients have included American Express, Barnes & Noble, Capitol Records, the New Yorker and Rolling Stone. In addition, Joe has created many portraits for the New York Times Book Review and in 2007 he worked with Elmore Leonard on an illustrated edition of Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing. Among his awards are five medals from the Society of Illustrators in New York, where he had a one-man exhibition and is included in their permanent collection. He currently lives in western New Jersey.
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