Gayton, Edmund (DNB00)

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GAYTON, EDMUND (1608–1666), author, son of George Gayton of Little Britain, London, was born there 30 Nov. 1608. In 1622–3 he entered Merchant Taylors' School, whence he was elected to St. John's College, Oxford, in 1625. He proceeded B.A. 30 April 1629, and M.A. 9 May 1633, and was elected fellow of his college. He developed some literary faculty, visited the wits in London, and became one of Ben Jonson's adopted sons. In 1636 he was appointed superior beadle in arts and physic in his university, and was in the same year one of the actors in ‘Love's Hospital, or the Hospital for Lovers,’ a dramatic entertainment provided by Laud when the king and queen were his guests at St. John's College (30 Aug. 1636). He studied medicine and received a dispensation from the parliamentary delegates for the degree of bachelor of physic 1 Feb. 1647–8. In 1648 the parliamentary delegates expelled him from his beadleship. He ‘lived afterwards in London in a starving condition, and wrote trite things merely to get bread to sustain him and his wife’ (Wood). He composed verses for the pageant of Lord Mayor Dethicke, exhibited 29 Oct. 1655, the first pageant allowed since Cromwell was in power. Unfortunately when the performance took place Gayton was in a debtors' prison. On 22 Sept. 1655 he was taken to the Wood Street counter, and in 1659 was removed to the King's Bench. Later in the latter year he settled in Suffolk. At the Restoration he again became beadle at Oxford, and wrote many broadside verses. He died in his lodgings at Cat Street, Oxford, 12 Dec. 1666, and was buried in St. Mary's Church. Seven days before his death he had published his ‘Glorious and Living Cinque Ports.’ When convocation proceeded three days after his death to elect a new beadle, Gayton was denounced by the vice-chancellor, Dr. John Fell, as ‘an ill husband and so improvident that he had but one farthing in his pocket when he died.’

Wood calls Gayton a vain and impertinent author, Hearne calls him vain and trifling. But his chief publication, ‘Pleasant Notes upon Don Quixot’ (fol. London, 1654), a gossipy and anecdotal commentary in four books, in both prose and verse, is spiritedly written. It embodies many humorous anecdotes and quotations from the works of little-known contemporaries, besides references of high historical interest to contemporary society and ‘our late stage.’ Shakespeare is thrice mentioned, pp. 21, 95, 130, but Gayton regarded his ‘father, Ben,’ as the greater dramatist (cf. Notes and Queries, 5th ser. iii. 161, x. 301). There is prefatory verse by John Speed, Anthony Hodges, and others. In the headlines of the pages the work is called ‘Festivous Notes.’ An expurgated, corrected, and greatly abbreviated edition in 12mo appeared (with an index) in 1768 as ‘Festivous Notes on the History and Adventures of the Renowned Don Quixote.’ The editor, John Potter, writes of Gayton as ‘a man of sense, a scholar, and a wit.’ But Potter's introduction of original illustrations drawn from contemporary events, without any indication that they were not in Gayton's own work, drew down on him a sharp reprimand in the ‘Critical Review,’ September 1768, p. 203. Potter replied in a new edition in 1771. Gayton's other works are: 1. ‘Chartæ Scriptæ, or a new Game at Cards call'd Play by the Booke,’ printed in 1645; fantastic verse description of a pack of cards. An admiring versifier in a prefatory poem tells Gayton ‘your Pen reviv'd Ben Iohnson from his grave agen.’ 2. ‘Charity Triumphant, or the Virgin Hero. Exhibited 29 Oct. 1655, being the Lord Mayor's Day,’ London, 1655, dedicated to Alderman Dethicke. 3. ‘Hymnus de Febribus,’ 4to, London, 1655, dedicated to William, marquis of Hertford, with commendatory verse by Francis Aston: an account in Latin elegiacs of the symptoms, causes, &c., of fevers. 4. ‘Will. Bagnall's Ghost, or the Merry Devil of Gadmunton in his Perambulation of the Prisons of London,’ London, 1655, in prose and verse. 5. ‘The Art of Longevity, or A Diæteticall Institution,’ London; printed for the author 1659, dedicated to Elizabeth, wife of John Rous of Henham Hall, Suffolk. Sir Robert Stapylton, E. Aldrich, Captain Francis Aston, and others prefix verses. The book is a verse description of the wholesomeness or otherwise of various foods. Chapter xv.—‘Of the flesh of Swine, Deer, Hares, and Bears’—opens with a reference to the ‘Every Man out of his Humour’ of Gayton's ‘father’ Jonson. 6. ‘Wit Revived, or a new excellent way of Divertisement digested into most ingenious Questions and Answers,’ London, 1660, under the pseudonym ‘Asdryasdust Tossoffacan.’ 7. ‘Poem upon Mr. Jacob Bobard's Yewmen of the Guards to the Physic Garden to the tune of the Counter Scuffle,’ Oxford, 1662. 8. ‘Diegerticon ad Britanniam,’ Oxford, 1662. 9. ‘The Religion of a Physician, or Divine Meditations on the Grand and Lesser Festivals,’ London, 1663. 10. ‘The Glorious and Living Cinque Ports of our fortunate Island twice happy in the Person of his Sacred Majestie’ (Oxford, 1666), poems in heroic verse addressed to the Duke of York, Prince Rupert, Monk, Duke of Albemarle, and others engaged in the battle with the Dutch off the Downs, June 1666. 11. ‘Poem written from Oxon. to Mr. Rob. Whitehall at the Wells at Astrop, Oxford, 1666.’ An answer prepared by Whitehall was not printed. Gayton also edited—‘not,’ writes Wood, ‘without some enlargements of his own, which hath made many to suppose that they were … devised’ by him—‘Harry Martens Familiar Letters to his Lady of Delight,’ Oxford, 1663, and is said by Wood to be the author of ‘Walk, Knaves, Walk; a discourse intended to have been spoken at Court. … By Hodge Turberville, chaplain to the late lord Hewson,’ London, 1659. Gayton likewise produced two Oxford broadsides, ‘Epulæ Oxonienses, or a jocular relation of a banquet presented to the best of kings by the best of prelates, in the year 1636, in the Mathematic Library at St. Jo. Bapt. Coll. (song with music in two parts),’ and ‘A Ballad on the Gyants in the Physic Garden in Oxon.,’ Oxford, 1662.

[Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, iii. 756–8, iv. 275; Wood's Fasti; Robinson's Reg. Merchant Taylors' School; Notes and Queries, 7th ser. i. 317; Collier's Bibliographical Catalogue; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

S. L. L.