John Aubrey

John Aubrey: My Own Life, by Ruth Scurr

John Aubrey (1626-1697) is best known as the first person to notice what are now called the Aubrey Holes – a ring of filled-in pits at Stonehenge which let us know the monument was originally a circle of much smaller stones. But he’s also the most famous seventeenth century antiquarian, archaeologist and writer that you’ve never heard of, mostly because even though he was a prolific writer, all that prolificacy was on behalf of other people. Always the research assistant, never the researcher: he contributed to all manner of much more famous works by other people but never quite got round to publishing his own stuff. A man after my own heart. As a result of that, and of some unlucky lawsuits that he essentially inherited, he died penniless and obscure. Anyway, Ruth Scurr has imagined how it would have been if he had kept a diary from childhood until his death, incorporating what we do know about him from different sources. She’s created a voice for him that is slightly plaintive, always interested in learning new stuff, always happy to oblige other people; the kind of person you just can’t help liking. If you look at his dates, you’ll see he lived in a time of revolutions, literally in the real world and metaphorically in science and religion, so this is a well-researched diary of an interesting guy in interesting times.