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I have written as I rode

Adam Smyth: ‘Brief Lives’

7 October 2015
‘Brief Lives’ with ‘An Apparatus for the Lives of Our English Mathematical Writers’ 
by John Aubrey, edited by Kate Bennett.
Oxford, 1968 pp., £250, March 2015, 978 0 19 968953 8
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John AubreyMy Own Life 
by Ruth Scurr.
Chatto, 518 pp., £25, March 2015, 978 0 7011 7907 6
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... A friend​ who teaches in New York told me that the historian Peter Lake told him that J.G.A. Pocock told him that Conrad Russell told him that Bertrand Russell told him that Lord John Russell told him that his father the sixth Duke of Bedford told him that he had heard William Pitt the Younger speak in Parliament during the Napoleonic Wars, and that Pitt had this curious way of ...

Every Rusty Hint

Ian Sansom: Anthony Powell

21 October 2004
Anthony Powell: A Life 
by Michael Barber.
Duckworth, 338 pp., £20, July 2004, 0 7156 3049 0
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... through the 12 novels that make up A Dance to the Music of Time, and the more than half-dozen other novels, and the four volumes of memoirs, and the three volumes of journals, and the biography of JohnAubrey, and the collected reviews and criticism. Anthony Dymoke Powell was born in Westminster on 21 December 1905 – a wintry rather than a Christmas baby. ‘It was because he was Welsh,’ Barber ...
19 May 1988
Dragons Teeth: Literature in the English Revolution 
by Michael Wilding.
Oxford, 288 pp., £25, September 1987, 0 19 812881 9
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Apocalyptic Marvell: The Second Coming in 17th-Century Poetry 
by Margarita Stocker.
Harvester, 381 pp., £32.50, February 1986, 0 7108 0934 4
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The Politics of Mirth: Jonson, Herrick, Milton, Marvell, and the Defence of Old Holiday Pastimes 
by Leah Marcus.
Chicago, 319 pp., £23.25, March 1987, 0 226 50451 4
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Milton: A Study in Ideology and Form 
by Christopher Kendrick.
Methuen, 240 pp., £25, June 1986, 0 416 01251 5
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... When JohnAubrey discovered that Milton had written some panegyrics of Cromwell and Fairfax, he eagerly sought them out for their ‘sublime’ quality: ‘were they made in commendation of the Devil, ’twere all ...

D&O

John​ Lanchester

5 June 1997
Journals 1990-92 
by Anthony Powell.
Heinemann, 238 pp., £20, May 1997, 0 434 00430 8
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... sense of dailiness and ordinariness – which hereinafter I’ll refer to as D&O – remains intact. Powell is 92 this year. He has written 19 novels, four volumes of memoirs, one sort of biography (JohnAubrey and His Friends), three plays, two books of collected literary criticism, and now, with the arrival of Journals 1990-92, three volumes of diaries. The D&O is there from the first words of his ...

In Myrtle Bowers

Blair Worden: Cavaliers

30 June 2011
Reprobates: The Cavaliers of the English Civil War 
by John​ Stubbs.
Viking, 549 pp., £25, February 2011, 978 0 670 91753 2
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... suicidally diffuse. Who could say, after its 500 or so pages, what it is about? Its unexplained title is presumably a market pitch. The subtitle, perhaps another pitch, lays bare a problem which John Stubbs never grips. We are two-thirds of the way through before we reach ‘the English civil war’ of the 1640s. The bulk of the book is set in the generation before it, from the years around the ...

Underlinings

Ruth Scurr: A.S. Byatt

10 August 2000
The Biographer's Tale 
by A.S. Byatt.
Chatto, 224 pp., £14.99, June 2000, 0 7011 6945 1
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... biographies? When the first thirty or so pages of The Biographer’s Tale were first published (in New Writing 8, 1999), the extract was called ‘Brief Lives’. So a good starting point might be JohnAubrey, but perhaps it would be better to begin with Anthony Powell, the standard biographer of the first great English biographer. In his introduction to Aubrey’s Brief lives, Powell points out a ...

Amigos

Christopher Ricks

2 August 1984
The Faber Book of Parodies 
edited by Simon Brett.
Faber, 383 pp., £8.95, May 1984, 0 571 13125 5
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Lilibet: An Account in Verse of the Early Years of the Queen until the Time of her Accession 
by Her Majesty.
Blond and Briggs, 95 pp., £6.95, May 1984, 0 85634 157 6
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... Davies, Alan Coren and Clive James, Malcolm Bradbury and George Melly. The parodied A’s have it: Douglas Adams (hitchhiking through a galaxy of fading stars), Woody Allen, Kingsley Amis, Anon, JohnAubrey, Auden and Ayckbourn. An Auden parody is called ‘Self-Congratulatory Ode ...’, but it is the purr of mutual congratulation which is deafening. ‘Parody is frequently welcomed by its ...
20 September 1984
The Force of Poetry 
by Christopher Ricks.
Oxford, 447 pp., £19.50, September 1984, 0 19 811722 1
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... on the ordinary reader’s enjoyment of literature: are an author’s effects ‘the results of art or of accident’? That formulation is C.S. Lewis’s; Ricks goes on to examine a paragraph of JohnAubrey who, he says, ‘thrusts upon us a choice between apprehending his prose as genius or as ingenuousness’. It is not a choice I have felt myself forced to make. Aubrey is a remarkable and ...

Diary

Gillian Darley: John​ Evelyn and his gardens

8 June 2006
... Surrey is the Country of my Birth and my delight,’ John Evelyn told JohnAubrey; and like Surrey, Evelyn has had more than his fair share of bad press over the years. Yet to picture him as simply the pious sermoniser the Victorians eulogised is as misleading as to write off ...

Modernity’s Bodyguard

Phil Withington: Hobbes

3 January 2013
Leviathan 
by Thomas Hobbes, edited by Noel Malcolm.
Oxford, 1832 pp., £195, May 2012, 978 0 19 960262 9
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... Who was he and why is he now seen to be so important? One of the most informative and entertaining hagiographies, and the starting point for all modern treatments, was written by the antiquarian JohnAubrey towards the end of Hobbes’s long and eventful life (1588-1679). This became the fullest of the pen-portraits which make up Brief Lives, and from Aubrey we learn that Hobbes was, in many ...

How to Perfume a Glove

Adam Smyth: Early Modern Cookbooks

5 January 2017
Recipes for Thought: Knowledge and Taste in the Early Modern English Kitchen 
by Wendy Wall.
Pennsylvania, 328 pp., £53, November 2015, 978 0 8122 4758 9
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... John​ Partridge’s The Treasurie of Commodious Conceits, and Hidden Secretes (1573) offers, to modern eyes, a bafflingly eclectic collection of what could loosely be called recipes, in the early modern ...

Madd Men

Mark Kishlansky: Gerrard Winstanley

17 February 2011
The Complete Works of Gerrard Winstanley 
by Thomas Corns, Ann Hughes and David Loewenstein.
Oxford, 1065 pp., £189, December 2009, 978 0 19 957606 7
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... who came to dig without provisions for many months. Who ventured the capital? In any event, the episodes were short-lived and left little lasting impression. When the great antiquary and biographer JohnAubrey travelled through the Surrey parishes a few decades later he recorded that it had been the work of the Levellers and their leader John Lilburne. Presumably, that’s what the locals told him ...

Who wouldn’t buy it?

Colin Burrow: Speculating about Shakespeare

20 January 2005
Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare 
by Stephen Greenblatt.
Cape, 430 pp., £20, October 2004, 9780224062763
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... business deals were never referred to in the earliest writings about his life, which tended instead to provide scraps of gossip that might give insights into his character and conversation. JohnAubrey related that Shakespeare was the son of a butcher who ‘when he killed a calf would do it in high style, and make a speech’. By the early 18th century, Shakespearean biography was turning into ...

Post-Scepticism

Richard Tuck

19 February 1987
Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle and the Experimental Life 
by Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer.
Princeton, 475 pp., £40, February 1986, 0 691 08393 2
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... device, is therefore a philosopher. For if you reckon that way, not only apothecaries and gardeners, but many other sorts of workmen, will put in for, and get the prize.’ (Boyle’s supporter John Wallis retaliated by openly sneering at Hobbes’s plebeian-sounding surname.) Shapin and Schaffer were quickly led to realise that much wider issues were at stake in the controversy than merely the ...
12 January 1995
In the Tennessee Country: A Novel 
by Peter Taylor.
Chatto, 226 pp., £14.99, September 1994, 0 7011 6253 8
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... not uncommon for a man of good character suddenly to disappear.’ Taylor’s first sentence possesses all that old art of settling us down, making us feel at home. The man who disappears is Cousin AubreyAubrey Tucker Bradshaw – the natural son of a maternal great-uncle, whose acquaintance the author first makes on a special funeral train, bearing the body of his grandfather, a celebrated ...

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