John Aubrey (1626-1691)

John Aubrey on Gout, Epigraphs, the Monumenta Britannica, Apoplectic Fits, and More

Edited by Ruth Scurr

Anno 1693

20 March

I was attacked and wounded by thieves. They set upon me around 11 p.m., robbed me and left me with fifteen wounds to my head. I have been ill since and had to stay a whole week in my chamber trying to recover. I am weary from taking medicine.


A severe bout of gout has nearly carried me away. It struck just after I recovered from the wounds inflicted by the thieves. I had intended to visit my cousin Elizabeth Freeman (the daughter of Sir John Aubrey who married Ralph Freeman of Aspeden Hall) and my friend Dr William Holder in Hertfordshire, but ill health prevents me.

Mr Dryden will try to help me get my Monumenta Britannica published by his bookseller, who normally only prints plays and romances. I am exceedingly obliged to him, but I think I will have to print it by collecting subscriptions instead. I have begun gathering them already and been lucky so far. And I have sent a copy of my prospectus for publishing my book to Mr Wood. I hope he can find me some more subscribers.

I intend to be in Cambridge towards the end of next week, where I shall be glad to serve Mr Wood. People are shy of speaking to me about his book; the Peers (I can tell) are offended by his liberties. Mr Evelyn is very cross because he asked Mr Wood to send him what he intended to write about him in his book before it was published, but Mr Wood did not do so. Now Mr Evelyn complains that Mr Wood has called him a virtuoso: he hates the title so much he says he would rather have been called a coxcomb.

Frances Sheldon and her niece were at dinner and they were angry with Mr Wood for disparaging their gentility. I told them that it was only drollery, not disrespect.


I have now been indoors for three weeks with this bad attack of the gout.


I have designed my own epitaph:


de EASTON PIERS in Agro Wilton

Arm: Regalis Societatis Socius

Infra situs est


Anno …

I desire this inscription to be a stone of white marble about the bigness of a royal sheet of paper, i.e. two foot square. Mr Reynolds of Lambeth (Foxhall), a stone-cutter who married Mr Elias Ashmole’s widow, will sell me a marble as square as an imperial sheet of paper for eight shillings.

Mr Thomas Tanner urges me, before I pass away, to lose no time in communicating the best part of my laborious collections to the world, and offers me every help. He will be delighted to receive my Natural History of Wiltshire and see to its printing with Mr Lhwyd’s assistance. He is much interested in my Remaines of Gentilisme, and asks me to send him too my Wiltshire Antiquities, which will be of great use to the collections which he intends to set about himself.


At the Saracen’s Head I delivered to Mr More, the carrier, a locked box of manuscripts addressed to Mr Tanner, and an envelope for him containing the key. This must be a secret from Mr Wood whom it might exasperate: he could do me great mischief if he decided to betray me. There are secrets in my book of Lives that I would not have exposed to common view before I am dead.


Mr John Ray says he has read at once and with great satisfaction my Perambulation of Surrey in manuscript, and judges it well worth printing, as he does all my other manuscripts, which he has read. He thinks that the only reason for the booksellers’ shyness is that I am not yet known to the learned world by any published work. He says let them only have a taste of my writings. Dr Gale has told Mr Ray that he thinks well of my Monumenta Britannica.

Dr William Holder has asked to be inserted as a subscriber to my book. He invites me to go and stay with him, suggesting I take the Buntingford coach which leaves from the Dolphin, Bishopsgate, three days a week (every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday). If I give him notice of my arrival, he will send his chariot to meet me and take me on four miles to his home.

I will go to Lavington, then Cambridge. So far I have only 112 subscriptions for my Monumenta Britannica, which is not enough, so I must ask if the University will subsidise the printing of it; I hope my friend Mr Thomas Tanner at Oxford will help me by talking about this with Dr Charlett and Dr Bathurst. Perhaps between them they can persuade the University to help.

My brother went to Kington St Michael yesterday, which has a great collection of heraldry.

20 July

I set out, at last, for Hertfordshire this morning. I will visit my cousin Elizabeth Freeman first, then go on to Therfield to stay with Mr William Holder. We will set off for Cambridge together.


Dr Ralph Bathurst tells me he is pleased I have resumed thoughts of publishing my Monumenta Britannica, improved by Dr Gale’s annotations, with many cuts or illustrations. He claims that Mr Charlett will be very ready to advise and assist in the work of printing it. He has asked to be put down as a subscriber to my book. But I need to find more subscribers or my manuscript will never be printed.

30 August

I am in Cambridge, where the news has reached me that my dear friend Mr Wood was fined 40 li. and expelled from the University of Oxford last month on 29 July. I read of it in the Gazette as I sat in the coffee house. The Heads of Houses in Oxford were offended by Mr Wood’s book. So at about ten o’clock, on the morning of 31 July, the Parator made a fire of two faggots in the Sheldonian Theatre yard and burnt Mr Wood’s offending pages.

Dr Holder has introduced me to some of the Heads of Houses in Cambridge, very few of whom have read Mr Wood’s book; I told them I thought it would be good if someone wrote a similar book about Cambridge, but they slighted the proposal as useless learning. There are excellent philologists in Cambridge, but the worst antiquaries I ever conversed with.

I hope my brother William, despite our quarrels and differences, and Mr Thomas Tanner will live to finish my Wiltshire Antiquities for me. I have been dragged into the legal proceedings between William and my old landlord Mr Kent. Even though my brother has not been kind to me, I must do right by him in court, even to my own detriment.

I will visit Rycot and thence to Sir John Aubrey’s house at Borstall, near Brill in Buckinghamshire, then to Oxford. Dr Bathurst has kindly offered me assistance in printing my book but says that Dr Charlett and the Principal of Jesus can be of more help.

I called on Mr Coley, who is still very cross with Mr Wood for calling astrologers conjurors.

I have sent a boxful of antiquities to Mr Lhwyd for the Ashmolean Museum (they are deposits, for now, not donations, because there are some things among them reflecting on Dr Wallis that are not fit to be seen by everybody yet). I hope Mr Wylde will give Mr Lhwyd the Armenian dictionary for the museum too.


Mr Thomas Tanner has spent the last three months in Wiltshire, on the business of promoting our common design of illustrating a new translation and edition of Mr Camden’s Britannia. He admits that one who had spent all his life in Wiltshire – as I have – might have done more than he could, but he has left room for insertions. He has made several finds: the track of the Fosse Way; nearly a hundred villages not mentioned in the former map; several places mentioned in the Saxon histories; and around twenty stations and encampments of the Romans, Danes and Saxons.


Mr Lhwyd – who has been in Wales collecting information to add to the new translation and edition of Mr Camden’s Britannia – has asked me to send him my memoirs of Caerphilly Castle, which I visited in 1656.

He promises he will do me right and not rob me of honour and thanks due to me from the curious and ingenious. He asks too if he may open my box of papers in Oxford for his own private use.

I am fearful that all the credit for my unprinted work will be stolen from me.

I have asked Mr Thomas Tanner to peruse my manuscript, but not to let Mr Lhwyd excerpt from it, lest he put an extract into the new Britannia

and spoil the sale of my book. I will send all my manuscripts to Oxford; I hope my brother and Mr Tanner will finish my Antiquities of Wiltshire. And if I die, I hope Mr Gibson will print my other antiquities manuscripts, and that Mr Lhwyd will print my Natural History of Wiltshire.

Mr Thomas Tanner has read my Templa Druidum (the first part of my Monumenta Britannica) with great satisfaction, together with Dr Garden’s letter about it, which he believes will be an ornament to the book.

I am back from a short visit to Oxford, during which I scarcely spoke to Mr Wood, and now I am staying with James, Earl of Abingdon, at Lavington, where I have leisure enough. The fine garden here is a monument to the ingenuity of Sir John Danvers. It came into the Earl of Abingdon’s possession through his first wife, who was Sir John’s granddaughter. Through the length of the garden there runs a fine clear trout stream, walled with brick on each side. The garden is full of irregularities both natural and artificial. It is almost impossible to describe this garden, it is so full of variety and unevenness; it would even be difficult for a good artist to make a draft of it.

I am reading over Dr Locke’s book On Education printed this year. But my leisure to read and think will soon disappear when I return to London, where I shall sink under trouble. Mr Kent and my brother are up to their ears in Chancery and I shall be dragged further into it.


Mr Lhwyd is trying to reassure me that he only meant to ask for my thoughts on Caerphilly Castle and anything else I might communicate about Wales. He says he had no intention of stealing from my Monumenta Britannica manuscript. He thought just one or two pages of my three volumes might be made use of (under my own name). He was asking to see only a transcript of those few pages, not the whole manuscript. He says he would welcome Mr Wylde’s Armenian dictionary for the museum. It was Mr Wylde who first encouraged Mr Lhwyd to the study of British antiquities, which he now relishes and will never forsake.

Mr Lhwyd says the University’s instrument maker is willing to make a quadrant for me – I desire a copy of the one my old friend Mr Potter gave me many years ago. The instrument maker says he will do it for 10s. even though he cannot see what use the quadrant will be. Mr Lhwyd asks if he can copy one of the Roman inscriptions that Mr Tanner showed him in my Antiquities of Wiltshire.

I hope to see Mr Wood in Oxford early in April. I hope he has delivered Mr Hobbes’s Leviathan to Dr Bayley (which I promised to their library). I must take care that Mr Wood deposits the draft of Osney Abbey and the verses on Mr Bushell’s works in the Ashmolean Museum.


I have told Mr Thomas Tanner that while I welcome his encouragement to print my book about Druid temples, further consideration is needed. Soon the wagonner will be delivering my Natural History of Wiltshire to Oxford and I would be content for some excerpts to be printed in the Britannia, but not the cream, leaving only the skimmed milk to be published as my own.

Among other papers I have put in the box some for Mr Tanner’s private use. I have several letters to add to my volume, but they are not fit for the young critics of Oxford to peruse and scoff at.

I am busy compiling my collection of Hermetick Philosophy from manuscript notes I have been keeping for years in a box named ‘Dreams’. There are millions of dreams that too little notice is taken of, but those who have the truest dreams have the IXth House well dignified in their star charts, which I do not.

For the past fifty years, Natural Philosophy has been exceedingly advanced, but Hermetick Philosophy has lain long untouched. I think this strange. Hermetick Philosophy holds that the three parts of wisdom are alchemy, astrology and theurgy (or supernatural intervention in human affairs). It is a subject worthy of consideration.

I do not think I will ever have the leisure to put my papers in order. They will all need to be copied anew. I hope Mr Lhwyd will oblige me in this.


Mr Thomas Tanner now advises me to abridge the first part of my Monumenta Britannica for printing to about forty sheets, partly to make a cheaper book. He points out that the cheaper a book is, the more buyers it will have. He suspects that the reason why I have not sent him the other parts of my Monumenta or my Natural History of Wiltshire is that I have changed my mind about doing so on hearing that he is now engaged in preparing a new edition of Mr Camden’s Britannia. He insists emphatically that I need not fear he will play theplagiarist with my manuscripts or treat me ungently as Mr Wood has done: he bids me trust his good will. He assures me that his reason for asking to see my Wiltshire Antiquities was chiefly that he might make many pertinent additions to my book. He asks me to trust my papers in his hands as soon as possible.

St John’s Day

I came back to London with Lord Abingdon ten days ago. I intend to go to Oxford this coming March for a month, and I hope Mr Wood will have returned to me before then the ten pages he cut from my collection of Lives. If, and only if, he has done so, I shall let him peruse the rest of the Lives when I go to Oxford. I am deeply hurt by Mr Wood’s rough dealing with me. I have returned his letters, as he asked me to, but he will not give back my pages, even though I have asked him often.

Anno 1694


At a party yesterday, I ate a couple of good fowl, as good as any I have ever eaten, and drank some very good wine. My friends and I were ingeniously merry!

5 January

I had an apoplectic fit today around 4 p.m.

On behalf of my friend the Earl of Pembroke, I hope to buy a picture from one Mrs Hall: she is asking 14 li. for it. I will not give more than 12 li. and have asked Mr Lhwyd to offer her this sum. The painting is

The Executioner with John the Baptist’s Head, by William Dobson. TheEarl of Pembroke asks that his identity not be disclosed (for fear Mrs Hall will raise the price). If I can arrange this purchase for him, the painting will be safe at Wilton House.

The Earl of Pembroke has read over my Idea of Education and approves of it, but he is not active in helping me print it. I am concerned that if I die before my manuscript is printed, it will be coffined up together with the books I have collected that relate to it. Nobody will have the generosity to set my design afoot after my death.

I doubt I will live to see my school established at Cranborne, or anywhere else. If the nobles have a mind to have their children in the clergy’s pockets, much good may it do them.


The Earl of Pembroke has agreed to pay the sum Mrs Hall is asking for the picture. He desires it be sent to him without delay (but is not interested in the frame it is currently in). If Mrs Hall will appoint someone to receive the money, I will meet them in Dirty Lane in Bloomsbury and conduct them to his lordship, so this business can be settled. I hope this can be done soon because I intend to leave London for Hertford, where Dr Holder invites me. But I must finish the Earl of Pembroke’s business first.

I never go out of my lodgings until noon these days.

This is an excerpt from the recent New York Review of Books’ release of Ruth Scurr’s monumental biography of John Aubrey, My Own Life.

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