Books: Master Gossipmonger

AUBREY'S BRIEF LIVES (341 pp.)—Edited by Oliver Lawson Dick—University of Michigan ($5.95).

John Aubrey, 17th century English gentleman of leisure, had a painter's eye for human traits and a gossip columnist's passion for scandal. Both talents he diligently brought to his famous prose portraits, one of which was 23,000 words long, while another never got beyond one line, i.e., "Dr. Pell is positive that his name was Holybushe." Aubrey's Lives have been the historian's bounty and bane: his research was fascinating, but often based on mere hearsay. Whatever his shortcomings, no other biographer has ever written more vivid, true-to-life descriptions of...

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