Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ayton, Richard

AYTON, RICHARD (1786–1823), dramatist and miscellaneous writer, was born in London in 1786. His father, a son of William Ayton, banker in Lombard Street, removed some time afterwards to Macclesfield, Cheshire, and at the grammar school of that town young Ayton obtained a good elementary knowledge of Latin and Greek. In accordance with the wish of his father, who died in 1799, that he should be educated for the bar, he was sent to study law at Manchester, and at the end of a year became the pupil of a barrister in London; but conceiving from the beginning a distaste for the profession, he never set himself seriously to prepare for it. As soon as he came of age, he retired to the coast of Sussex, resolved to limit his expenses to his comparatively small income, and to consult only his own inclinations in the occupation of his time. There he amused himself with desultory reading and active outdoor exercise, boating being his special delight. In 1811 he returned to London, and accepted a situation in a public office; but this he relinquished in 1813, to accompany William Daniell, A.R.A., in a voyage round Great Britain. An account of the voyage, with views drawn and engraved by Daniell, appeared in 8 vols. folio, 1814–25 [see Daniell, William]; but the letterpress of only the first two volumes is by Ayton. Disagreeing with Daniell in regard to his plans for the future volumes, Ayton declined to proceed further with the book, and betook himself to play-writing. Two of his farces, acted at Covent Garden, were total failures; but he adapted from the French several pieces for the English Opera House with moderate success. During a voyage between Scarborough and London, Ayton was nearly shipwrecked, and received an injury to his ankle which confined him to bed for more than a year. In the spring of 1821 he was sufficiently recovered to go to the coast of Sussex, but his health continued uncertain and precarious. In July 1823 his illness assumed so serious a form, that he removed for medical advice to London, where he died shortly afterwards. During the last eighteen months of his life Ayton occupied himself in the composition of a number of essays, chiefly on pastimes and similar subjects, written in a genial and playful spirit, and displaying considerable sprightliness and humour. These, with a short memoir prefixed, were published in 1825.

[Memoir in Edinburgh Magazine, new series, x. 254–5, which contains some additional details to those given in Monthly Magazine, iv. 153–4, and Gent. Mag. vol. lxvii. part 2, pp. 731–2.]

T. F. H.