This little scrap is part, then, of a paper social network. Aubrey started out hunting for autobiographical information as one of Wood's men in the field. What he sent back to Wood were often second-hand journalistic accounts -- this envelope contains four different chunks of them -- so steeped in gossip and reference to the time that it almost doesn't make sense to explicate them. But we can draw out and examine two.
1. The writing in red ink is a note about Aubrey's friend Edmund Wylde. It is a sentence long. It contains so much information. Wylde:
was a Benefactor to ye great North window of Xtchurch where the Palmetrees are.
Which sounds simple: my friend, Wylde; was a patron of this big window at Christ Church Cathedral. And this relies on a ton of contextual information: that there is a great window in Christ Church Cathedral, that it was the largest of the windows there, that all those windows were added by Abraham van Linge in the 1630s. And it smuggles one last piece of information in: that Wylde was an undergrad at Oxford at the time. All that's missing are hashtags.
2. Comments on a pamphlet of poems by Francis Beaumont. Aubrey calls BS:
I have a strong Conceit, that the most Ingeniose Mr Francis Beaumont, [...] was not the Author of those Poemes' 'but the Bookesellers are cheating knaves' who tamper 'with good Names
Cheating knaves! And Aubrey continues, saying that, Laurence Blaikelocke, the printer of the pamphlet "was a Raskal and a Cuckold." "He dyed a Beggar;" Aubrey writes, "and (I thinke) in the Kings-Bench-prison."
The gossip here, the snark, the hedging: eventually Aubrey got so into the biography game that he started writing them himself. What he wrote is today called Brief Lives, and in 1969 was turned into a one-man show.
Kate Bennett wrote about this scrap of a wrapper in a soon-to-come article in the Bodleian Library Record:
In this fragment, Aubrey has made use of blank space on part of a letter from Wood, of which only the address panel bears Wood's hand, 'For Mr John Aubrey At Mr Kents house at the three black posts in Suffolk Street neare Charing Cross' (Aubrey has later crossed out 'Charing Cross'to avoid confusion, because he has written over it); and then sent the reply back to Wood again by some means.
Check that address! That's like 1770s HTTP, right down to the multiple redirects.
But maybe the best part here isn't even on the letter itself. Throughout their relationship, Wood infringed on Aubrey's courtesy repeatedly and charmingly. The historical record since the time they wrote to each other -- person after person in the long relay -- basically scoffs at Wood's manners. Wood called Aubrey "magotie-headed" and "crased" after their letters to each other ended. Aubrey, around the same time, wrote to Wood that "I have been ever ready to serve you: but have gott neither thankes nor credit for it." Wood never, in writing, recognized his intellectual debt to Aubrey.