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Nov. 19: an unexpected gem


John Aubrey (1626-97) is noted for his lively and succinct notations on the life around him. He was fascinated with people, but also advanced the understanding of Stonehenge and suchlike prehistoric monuments in England.

He also drew lots of pictures. Many of these are included in the recent book John Aubrey, My Own Life by Ruth Scurr, generally in tiny, cramped images scattered through the text. They are pretty bad. He was not a competent artist. But then we have the delightful piece below. 

[New York Review Books]
[New York Review Books]
“Sir James Long of Draycot and J. Aubrey, Hawking” decorates the dust jacket. The drawing is generally inept–that horse and rider!–but the thoughtful and unaffected observation of the humans and beasts, the happy shapes of the landscape, the calm, generous sky setting off the busier foreground shapes, the delicate color–all this convinces entirely. Despite the shakiness of the parts, the ensemble is fine. Aubrey had the eye and the sensibility; what a pity he didn’t get the craft.

Which reminds us that art happens one work at a time. Even great artists knock off a dud occasionally, and even the rankest amateur can score the odd hit, if only by accident. As here.