AUBREY, JOHN (1626-1697, antiquary and virtuoso, author of 'Brief Lives', F.R.S.)
AUBREY SENDS BIOGRAPHICAL RESEARCH TO ANTHONY WOOD. Autograph material by Aubrey is extremely rare outside the Bodleian Library, particularly relating in any way to his work as a compiler of lives. Only two manuscripts by Aubrey have appeared at auction in the last thirty-five years at least.
While the present notes evidently date from the period when Aubrey was providing research for Anthony Wood, primarily for his biographical work Athenae Oxonienses (with which these notes are clearly connected), the information provided here about the place of death of Sir Richard Napier ('Bessells-leigh in Barkesheire') could also have informed the biography of Sir Richard Napier which appears in Brief Lives, published 1696 (edited Andrew Clark, 1898): 'Sir Richard Napier is buryed at Lindford, but died at Besels-leigh.' Aubrey later acknowledged that it was Wood who had suggested the project which resulted in Brief Lives [though he did not use that title] ('a Taske that I never thought to have undertaken till you imposed it upon me') and that he made use of information gathered while assisting Wood with his projects.
The question of Sir Richard Napier's status as a non-author answered in this manuscript is clearly linked with the letter from Aubrey to Wood quoted by Oliver Dick in the Introduction to his edition of Brief Lives (p. lvi): 'On Sunday last I dined with Mr. Ashmole, who bids me answer you POSITIVELY that Sir Richard Napier never did write anything and sayes that he haz [sic] acquainted you thus much before by letter.' In his edition of Brief Lives, Clark mentions two other letters, dated 1689, in which Aubrey and Ashmole were supplying information about Sir Richard Napier. In his edition of Wood's Life and Times, under a general heading 'memoranda in connection with the Athenae', Clark quotes a note by Wood that in March 1688/9 he wrote to Aubrey '(for) Georg Wild of Edmund Wild' and on 4 April 1688[?/9] that he sent by Aubrey to Ashmole about 'writings...of Sir Richard Napier' and '(to) Edmund Wild concerning judge George Wild' which are obviously associated with the present notes (Clark, The Life and Times of Anthony Wood, Oxford Historical Society, iii. p. 252). For the life of Dr Napier in Brief Lives, Aubrey was relying, as he told Wood (Dick, p. lvi), on Ashmole and it may have been among one of the later groups to have been written. The papers of Dr Richard Napier, then in the possession of Elias Ashmole, were of especial interest to Aubrey: both Napier and Aubrey were, as was the norm at the time, deeply interested in astrology, Aubrey collecting over 60 charts in his manuscript 'Collectio Genituarum' or 'collection of genitures' (See William Poole, John Aubrey and the Advancement of Learning, 2010).
Edmund Wyld was Aubrey's patron and friend. Mr Kent may be the man to whom Aubrey sold Chalke Farm, his family home.
Aubrey and Wood enjoyed a ragged friendship (like Hazlitt and Leigh Hunt). Wood once meanly described Aubrey as 'a shiftless person, roving and magotie-headed, and sometimes little better than crased. And being exceedingly credulous, would stuff his many letters sent to A.W. with fooleries, and misinformations, which sometimes would guid him into the paths of errour.' Wood used 'Aubrey as his main biographical consultant and fact-finder' (Poole).