The Brief Lives by John Aubrey (1626-1697) are a collection of short biographies of his contemporaries, chosen on eclectic grounds which allowed for the inclusion of personal friends as well as prominent figures from science, philosophy, the arts, politics and high society.
The Brief Lives have long been appreciated for the intimate tone, and personal insights based on interviews with the subjects' acquaintances.
Free online texts
The Great Conversation: Further reading at Tom's Learning Notes
Harold Bloom's Western Canon: The Brief Lives are included.