Aubrey, John

Aubrey, John
   Best known now for his Brief Lives, published long after his death, Aubrey was an inveterate collector of gossip, trifles, natural history and 'antiquities', and, as such, one of our earliest folklor-ists. He was, however, much more of a collector than a writer. Only one book (Miscellanies) was published in his own lifetime, but he left copious manuscripts which others have put into shape since his death. Aubrey was unique amongst the early antiquaries in that he was interested in the beliefs, customs, and stories of the people. Amongst his contemporaries he was regarded as gullible, and many since have made the same judgement, but it is not necessary to care whether he believed in wonders, only to be grateful that he recorded them. He lived in extremely interesting times, and his lifespan covered not only the Civil Wars (1642-8), rule of Cromwell, and the Restoration of the monarchy (1660) but also the Great Plague (1665-6), Great Fire of London (1666), and much more. He appears to have steered clear of the raging political and religious controversies of his time, but as an antiquarian he was particularly aggrieved not only by the Puritan destruction of churches and their contents but also by the changes which were sweeping English society, including wars and literacy: 'Printing and Gunpowder have frighted away Robin-good-fellow and the Fayries' (Remaines, 67-8). The two works of particular interest to folklorists are Miscellanies (1696) and Remaines of Gentilisme and Judaisms, which existed as a manuscript in the British Museum (Landsdowne MSS 231) until published by The Folklore Society in 1880, edited and annotated by James Britten. Both Miscellanies and Remaines were again published along with a further manuscript entitled Observations, as Three Prose Works, edited by John Buchanan-Brown (1972).
   ■ DNB; Dorson, 1968.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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