The whole ferment of the Elizabethan age and the vigor of the century that followed come alive in these "brief portraits" that have been looted by scholars for centuries. Here are Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Thomas More, Shakespeare, Milton, Marvel, and countless others, who in these pages become not abstract names from a history book, but flesh and blood characters. Brief Lives was written by John Aubrey (1626-1697), the greatest gossip columnist of the seventeenth century: a hanger-on among the rich and famous who left posterity a sprawling collection of notes, anecdotes, and morsels of gossip that the editor has sutured together into a series of unforgettable portraits. These menflawed, vain, ambitious, vulnerableare more alive and kicking in these pages than in any formal history. As Edmund Wilson writes in his introduction, "I have never read anything else that makes me feel in quite the same way what it must have been like to live then."