Ayscough, Samuel

, a very useful contributor to the literary history of his country, was the son of George Ayscough of Nottingham, a respectable tradesman, who unfortunately launched into speculations which impaired | his fortune. His son Samuel, after receiving a school education, assisted his father in the business of a farm for some time, and afterwards was reduced to work as a labouring miller for the maintenance of his father and sister. While at this humble occupation, which did not procure the very moderate advantage he expected, an old schoolfellow and friend, hearing of his distress, about 1770, sent for him to London, and obtained for him at first the office of an overlooker of some paviours in the street. Soon after, however, he assisted in the shop of Mr. Rivington, bookseller, of St. Paul’s Church-yard, and then obtained an employment in the British Museum, at a small weekly stipend. Here he discovered a degree of knowledge, which, if not profound, was highly useful, in arranging and cataloguing books and Mss. and his services soon recommended him to an increase of salary, and to some extra employment in regulating the libraries of private gentlemen, the profits of which he shared with his father, whom he sent for to town, and maintained comfortably until his death, Nov. 18, 1783.

About 1785 he was appointed assistant-librarian to the British Museum, on the establishment, and soon after went into orders, and was ordained to the curacy of Normantou upon Soar in Nottinghamshire. He was also appointed assistant-curate of St. Giles’s in the Fields; and in all these situations conducted himself in such a manner as to gain the friendship of many distinguished characters. In 1790 he was appointed to preach the Fairchild lecture*


In 1729 Thomas Fail-child, of Shoreditch parish, gardener, bequeathed a urn of money for a sermon on Whit-­Tuesday, on “The wonderful works of God in the Creation,” Sec. It has been preached by some very eminent men, a list of whom may be seen in Ellis’s History of Shoreditch, p. 288.

on Whit-­Tuesday, at Snoreditch church, before the Royal Society, which he continued to do till 1804, when he completed the series of the discourses in fifteen sermons.

His labours in literature were of the most useful cast, and manifested a patience and assiduity seldom to be met with, and his laborious exertions in the vast and invaluable library of the British Museum form a striking instance of his zeal and indefatigable attention. He soon acquired that slight degree of knowledge in several languages, and that technical knowledge of old books and of their authors, and particularly that skill in decyphering difficult writing, which amply answered the most useful purposes of the | librarian, as well as the visiting scholar. He assisted also in the adjustment of the records in the Tower, and in theformation of many useful indexes and catalogues, some of which will be noticed hereafter. By these means his situation became very comfortable, and about a year before his death it was rendered yet more so, by his being presented with the living of Cudham in Kent, by lord chancellor Eldon. He wrote a very accurate account of this parish irt the Gentleman’s Magazine a few weeks before he died, and by an affecting coincidence, it appeared in that excellent repository the same month in which his death was announced. This event happened on the 30th of October, 1804, at his apartments in the British Museum, in the fifty-ninth year of his age.

Mr. Ayscough was a man of a benevolent and charitable disposition, and frequently consulted how he might exereise these virtues, without reflecting that his means were circumscribed. Having experienced much distress himself with regard to pecuniary matters, he was ever ready to alleviate it in others, and became a patron almost before he ceased to be a dependant. In his office in the Museum he will long be remembered for the pleasure he seemed to take in assisting the researches of the curious, and imparting the knowledge he had acquired of the vast resources in that national repository. With somewhat of roughness, or bluntness, in his manner, he delighted in volunteering his services in all cases where the visitors wished for information and there was a preciseness and regularity in all the arrangements he had made, which enabled him to do this with a facility which often cannot be acquired by veteran bibliographers.

In 1783 Mr. Ayscough published a small political pamphlet, entitled “Remarks on the Letters of an American Farmer or, a detection of the errors of Mr. J. Hector St. John pointing out the pernicious tendency of those letters to Great Britain.” But among his more useful labours must be particularly distinguished his “Catalogue of the Manuscripts preserved in the British Museum, hitherto unclescribed, consisting of five thousand volumes, including the collections of sir Hans Sloane, bart. and the Rev. Thoraas Birch, D. D. and about five hundred volumes bequeathed, presented, or purchased at various times” 2 vqls 1782, 4to. This elaborate catalogue is upon a new plan, for the excellence of which an appeal may safely be made | to every visitor of the Museum since the date of its publication. Mr. Ayscough assisted afterwards in the catalogue of printed books, 2 vols. folio, 1787, of which about twothirds were compiled by Dr. Maty and Mr. Harper, and the remainder by Mr. Ayscough. He was also, at the time of his death, employed in preparing* a new catalogue of the printed books, and had completed a catalogue of the ancient charters in the Museum, amounting to about sixteen thousand. As an index-maker his talents are well known by the indexes he made for the Monthly Review, the Gentleman’s Magazine, the British Critic, &c. and especially by a verbal index to Shakspeare, a work of prodigious labour. It remains to be* added, that his knowledge of topographical antiquities was very considerable, and that perhaps no man, in so short a space of time, emerging too from personal difficulties, and contending with many disadvantages, ever acquired so much general knowledge, or knew how to apply it to more useful purposes. The leading facts in this sketch are taken from the Gentleman’s Magazine for December 1804. To that miscellany, we believe, he was a very frequent contributor, and what he wrote was in a style which would not have discredited talents of which the world has a higher opinion.