Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ashton, Thomas (1716-1775)

ASHTON, THOMAS, D.D. (1716–1775), divine, son of Dr. Ashton, usher of the Lancaster grammar school, was born in 1716. After being educated at Eton, he proceeded in 1733 to King's College, Cambridge, where he made the acquaintance of Horace Walpole. He is the 'Thomas Ashton, Esq., tutor to the Earl of Plymouth,' to whom Walpole addressed his Epistle from Florence (Dodsley, Poems, iii. 75). In a letter to Richard West, dated 4 May 1742, Walpole speaks in high terms of Ashton's success in the pulpit: 'He has preached twice at Somerset Chapel. . . . I am sure you would approve his compositions, and admire them still more when you heard him deliver them' (Letters, ed. Cunningham, i. 161). In less than a month West was dead; and in a letter to Sir Horace Mann, dated 30 June 1742, Walpole encloses an elegy on his death by Ashton. For some time Ashton held the living of Aldingham, Lancashire; in May 1749 he was presented to the rectory of Sturminster Marshall in Dorsetshire; and in 1752 to the rectory of St. Botolph, Bishopsgate. Meanwhile his acquaintance with Walpole had come to an end. Writing to Sir Horace Mann on 25 July 1750, Walpole says: 'I believe you have often heard me mention a Mr. Ashton, a clergyman, who, in one word, has great preferments and owes everything upon earth to me. I have long had reason to complain of his behaviour; in short, my father is dead, and I can make no bishops. He has at last quite thrown off the mask, and in the most direct manner, against my will, has written against my friend Dr. Middleton. . . . I have forbid him my house' (Letters, ii. 216). Cole (MS. Athenæ) mentions that Ashton owed his Eton fellowship to Walpole's influence. In 1759 Ashton took the degree of D.D.; in December 1760 he married a Miss Amyand; and in May 1762 was elected preacher at Lincoln's Inn, which office he resigned in 1764. He died on 1 March 1775, after 'having for some years survived a severe attack of the palsy.'

Ashton was the author of a number of sermons, among which may be mentioned 'A Sermon on the Rebellion,' 1745; a 'Thanksgiving Sermon' on the close of it in 1746; a 'Sermon preached before the House of Commons' on 30 Jan. 1762; a 'Spital Sermon' at St. Bride's on Easter Wednesday of the same year. These, with others, were collected in a volume of 'Sermons on several Occasions,' 1770, 8vo. Prefixed to this volume is a mezzotint portrait of Ashton from a painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds. In 1754 he had an altercation with a methodist minister of the name of Jones, to whom he addressed 'A Letter to the Rev. Thomas Jones, intended as a rational and candid answer to his sermon preached at St. Botolph, Bishopsgate.' He also wrote some pamphlets against the admission of aliens to Eton fellowships.

[Nichols's Literary Anecdotes, iii. 88-90; Walpole's Letters, ed. Cunningham, i. 161, 184, ii. 216-17; Cole's MS. Athenæ.]

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