Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ashby, George (1724-1808)
ASHBY, GEORGE (1724–1808), a learned antiquary and sometime president of St. John's College, Cambridge, was born in Red Lion Street, Clerkenwell, in 1724. Educated at Croydon, Westminster, and Eton, he entered St. John's College, Cambridge, on 30 Oct. 1740, and took the degree of B.A, in 1744, of M.A. in 1748, when he was admitted fellow of St. John's, and of B.D. in 1756. He was presented by a relative to the rectory of Hungerton, in Leicestershire, in 1754, and in 1759 to that of Twyford in the same county; he held both benefices in conjunction till 1767, when he resigned the former, and in 1769 he gave up the latter on his election to the presidency or vice-mastership of St. John's College. About 1775, when he became a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, he appears to have resigned his official connection with Cambridge, where he supported academic reform too vigorously to obtain further preferment. Among other changes, he advocated the right of the fellows to marry. At the same time he accepted the college living of Barrow in Suffolk, to which Dr. Ross, the bishop of Exeter, an intimate friend and patron of Ashby, added the rectory of Stansfield in 1780. In 1793 his sight began to fail, and shortly afterwards he became totally blind. He died of paralysis at Barrow on 12 June 1808, and was buried in the parish church, where a monument was erected to his memory.
Although Ashby published little, his varied learning was the admiration of the best known literary antiquaries of the last century, all of whom he reckoned among his friends. He was intimate for some years with the poet Gray, and portions of his voluminous correspondence with Bishop Percy, Richard Gough, John Nichols, William Herbert, and the Rev. James Granger, have been printed in Nichols's 'Illustrations of Literature' (vii. 385 et seq.) and in Granger's 'Letters.' Very various are the antiquarian topics he there deals with; in one letter he proposes an emendation of a line in 'Hamlet,' in another he points out errors in the 'Biographia Britannica,' which he had read from end to end, and in a third he discusses some vexed questions of numismatics. He was a regular contributor to the 'Gentleman's Magazine;' he added notes to Nichols's 'Literary Anecdotes' under the initials of T. F. (Dr. Taylor's Friend); he greatly aided Nichols in his 'History of Leicestershire,' to which he contributed an elaborate essay on the Roman Milliary at Leicester (i. pp. cix-clviii); and he gave material assistance to Daines Barrington, when preparing his 'Observations on the Statutes.' In the 'Arcæhologia' (iii. 165) appears a dissertation by him on a coin of Nerva newly discovered at Colchester. Some volumes of his manuscript collections, together with numerous letters on antiquarian themes, are preserved among the Cole, the Egerton, and the Additional Manuscripts at the British Museum. They include interesting notes on archery, an essay on parish registers, and extracts and notes on old English and French plays, of which the English plays are mainly early sixteenth-century interludes. His valuable library, which was bequeathed to Thomas Lyas, his amanuensis, was sold soon after his death to a bookseller at Bury, and was rapidly dispersed.[Gent. Mag. lxxviii. 653; Nichols's Literary Anecdotes, i. 577-8; Baker's Hist, of St. John's College (ed. Mayor), vols. i. ii.; Cole MSS. 20, 41, &c.; Egerton MSS. 2371 f. 240, 2374 if. 287-92; Addit. MSS. 22596 f. 95, 29790 ff. 926, 1006-136, 29793.]