John Aubrey

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How these curiosities would be quite forgot, did not such idle fellows as I am put them down.

John Aubrey (March 12 1626June 7 1697) was an English biographer, natural philosopher, antiquary and folklorist. He is best known for his gossipy and uncritical Brief Lives, a collection of thumbnail biographical sketches.


  • Arise Evans had a fungous nose, and said, it was revealed to him, that the King's hand would cure him, and at the first coming of King Charles II into St. James's Park, he kissed the King's hand, and rubbed his nose with it; which disturbed the King, but cured him.
    • Miscellanies Upon Various Subjects (London: J. R. Smith, 1857) p. 128. (1696)

Quotations are taken from the edition of Oliver Lawson Dick (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972) ISBN 0140430792

  • There is to some men a great Lechery in Lying, and imposing on the understandings of beleeving people.
  • He left an estate of eleaven thousand pounds per annum. Sir John Danvers, who knew him, told me that he had heard one say to him, reflecting on his great scraping of wealth, that his sonnes would spend his Estate faster than he gott it; he replyed, They cannot take more delight in the spending of it than I did in the getting of it.
  • How these curiosities would be quite forgott, did not such idle fellowes as I am putt them downe.
    • "Venetia Digby"
  • He had read much, if one considers his long life; but his contemplation was much more then his reading. He was wont to say that if he had read as much as other men, he should have knowne no more than other men.
  • The parliament intended to have hanged him, and he expected no less, but resolved to be hanged with the Bible under one arm and Magna Carta under the other.
    • "David Jenkins"
  • Dr. Kettle was wont to say that Seneca writes as a Boare does pisse, scilicet by jirkes.
    • "Ralph Kettell"
  • His complexion exceeding faire – he was so faire that they called him the Lady of Christ's College.
  • He pronounced the letter R (littera canina) very hard – a certaine signe of a Satyricall Witt.
    • "John Milton"
  • Sciatica: he cured it, by boyling his buttock.
    • "Sir Jonas Moore"
  • I remember about 1660 there was a great difference between him and Sir Hierome Sanchy, one of Oliver's knights…The Knight had been a Soldier, and challenged Sir William to fight with him. Sir William is extremely short sighted, and being the challengee it belonged to him to nominate place and weapon. He nominates, for the place, a darke Cellar, and the weapon to be a great Carpenter's Axe. This turned the knight's challenge into Ridicule, and so it came to nought.
    • "Sir William Petty"
  • He was a learned man, of immense reading, but is much blamed for his unfaithfull quotations.
  • His manner of Studie was thus…About every three houres his man was to bring him a roll and a pott of Ale to refocillate his wasted spirits: so he studied and dranke, and munched some bread; and this maintained him till night, and then, he made a good Supper: now he did well not to dine, which breakes off one's fancy, which will not presently be regained: and 'tis with Invention as a flux, when once it is flowing, it runnes amaine: if it is checked, flowes but guttim [drop by drop]: and the like for perspiration, check it, and 'tis spoyled.
    • "William Prynne"
  • Sir Walter, being strangely supprized and putt out of his countenance at so great a Table, gives his son a damned blow over the face; his son, as rude as he was, would not strike his father, but strikes over the face of the Gentleman that sate next to him, and sayed, Box about, 'twill come to my Father anon. 'Tis now a common used Proverb.
  • His father was a Butcher, and I have been told heretofore by some of the neighbours, that when he was a boy he exercised his father's Trade, but when he kill'd a Calfe he would doe it in high style, and make a Speech.
  • His Comoedies will remaine witt as long as the English tongue is understood, for that he handles mores hominum [the ways of mankind]. Now our present writers reflect so much on particular persons and coxcombeities that twenty yeares hence they will not be understood.
    • "William Shakespeare"
  • Anno 1670, not far from Cyrencester, was an Apparition: Being demanded, whether a good Spirit, or a bad?  returned no answer, but disappeared with a curious Perfume and most melodious Twang. Mr. W. Lilly believes it was a Farie.
    • "Nicholas Towes"
  • This Earle of Oxford, making of his low obeisance to Queen Elizabeth, happened to let a Fart, at which he was so abashed and ashamed that he went to Travell, 7 yeares. On his returne the Queen welcomed him home, and sayd, My Lord, I had forgott the Fart.


  • He was a shiftless person, roving and magotie-headed, and sometimes little better than crased.
    • Anthony Wood (1667), Life (from 1632 to 1672, written by himself; continued till 1695 a 1695, 1772, 1848, O.H.S. 1891–1900[1]); as quoted in the Oxford English Dictionary, Draft Revision June 2009, maggoty, adj.
  • His insatiable passion for singular odds and ends had a meaning in it; he was groping towards a scientific ordering of phenomena; but the twilight of his age was too confusing, and he could rarely distinguish between a fact and a fantasy.
    • Lytton Strachey Portraits in Miniature and Other Essays (London: Chatto & Windus, 1931) p. 24.
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