Monday, August 22, 2011

Fishes Are of the Elder House

I was hasty in my dismissal of this 1949 edition of John Aubrey's BRIEF LIVES. Its introduction, which I haven't finished reading, seems to be the best of all three editions I have. Man am I boring myself right now. So I can imagine how you feel! But I can't stop. The editor who suppressed those four lines about Sir Henry Lee put me off of the 1898 edition. The 1949 introduction, by Oliver Lawson Dick, has lots of good stuff about Aubrey's problems with money, love, and finishing a book (which he never did as far as I can tell). But it also makes a good case for Aubrey as "the first archeologist that England had produced" and a forerunner of Darwin by a couple hundred years: "That the World is much older, then is commonly supposed, any man may be induced to believe from the finding of Fossils so many Foot deep in the Earth" and "Fishes are of the elder House." He also made experiments "to cure diseases, etc. by Transfusion of Bloud out of one man into another." Lots of wild stories about the medicine of the time. A woman put a toad in her husband's soup to try to poison him, but instead it cured his disease. Oh well! Aubrey is curious about everything. He interviews an old man who recalls the first carrots in England, and an old woman who remembers the first cabbages. He laments the introduction of the tabby cat: "'I doe well remember,' he says crossly, 'that the common English Catt, was white with some blewish piednesse.'" Dick writes, "The most educated and sensitive men were onlookers at... dreadful spectacles: even the kindly Aubrey reports, 'I did see Mr. Chr. Love beheaded on Tower-hill in a delicate cleare day.'"