1798 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Aubrey

Anonymous, in Monthly Magazine 6 (September 1798) 204-05.



John Aubrey was a native of Easton Piers in Wiltshire, and was educated at the grammar-school, at Malmesbury. In the year 1642, he was entered a gentleman commoner of Trinity college, Oxford, and soon became acquainted with Anthony Wood, to whose compilations respecting that university he afforded considerable assistance. In 1646 he was admitted a student of the Middle Temple; but being involved in some law-suits, in consequence of the death of his father, who had estates in several counties, he left off the study of the law as a professional man, but prosecuted with considerable ardour the study of antiquities. In 1660, he went to Ireland, and three years after he spent a short time in France. He was one of the earliest members of the royal society. The expensive law-suits, in which he was involved, at length reduced him even to a state of indigence. The time of his death is not exactly ascertained; but it appears to have been in the year 1700, on the road, when he was travelling to Oxford. He was a man of considerable reading, and of great knowledge in antiquities; but he was deficient in judgment, and had much faith in apparitions, in lucky and unlucky days, in magic, in omens, and in dreams. This appears from his Miscellanies upon various subjects, first published in 1696, and afterwards reprinted in 1721 and 1784. He left sundry manuscripts behind him; and his Perambulations of the County of Surrey, was published some years after his death, in 1719, in five volumes, 8vo.

Some of Aubrey's manuscripts are at Oxford, in the Ashmolean Museum; and, among others, there is one, which contains "an account of English writers, with many of whom Aubrey was intimately acquainted, and contains several new and curious anecdotes of their lives." Mr. Warton, in his Life of Dean Bathurst, has transcribed the following as a specimen.

"Mr. Edmund Spenser was of Pembroke-hall, in Cambridge. He missed the fellowship there, which Bishop Andrews got. He was an acquaintance and frequenter of Sir Erasmus Dryden: his mistress Rosalinde, was a kinswoman of Sir Erasmus's lady. The chamber there, at Sir Erasmus's, is still called Spenser's chamber. Lately in the college, taking down the wainscot of his chamber, they found abundance of cards, with stanzas of the Fairy Queen written on them. From John Dryden, poet laureate. Mr. Beeston says, he was a little man, wore short hair, and little band, and little cuffs."

Aubrey was intimately acquainted with Thomas Hobbes, and wrote some account of his life.