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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Sir Robert Ayton (1570–1638)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
THIS Scottish poet was born in his father’s castle of Kinaldie, near St. Andrews, Fifeshire, in 1570. He was descended from the Norman family of De Vescy, a younger son of which settled in Scotland and received from Robert Bruce the lands of Aytoun in Berwickshire. Kincardie came into the family about 1539. Robert Ayton was educated at St. Andrews, taking his degree in 1588, traveled on the Continent like other wealthy Scottish gentlemen, and studied law at the University of Paris. Returning in 1603, he delighted James I. by a Latin poem congratulating him on his accession to the English throne. Thereupon the poet received an invitation to court as Groom of the Privy Chamber. He rose rapidly, was knighted in 1612, and made Gentleman of the Bedchamber to King James and private secretary to Queen Anne. When Charles I. ascended the throne, Ayton was retained, and held many important posts. According to Aubrey, “he was acquainted with all the witts of his time in England.” Sir Robert was essentially a court poet, and belonged to the cultivated circle of Scottish favorites that James gathered around him; yet there is no mention of him in the gossipy diaries of the period, and almost none in the State papers. He seems, however, to have been popular: Ben Jonson boasts that Ayton “loved me dearly.” It is not surprising that his mild verses should have faded in the glorious light of the contemporary poets.  1
  He wrote in Greek and French, and many of his Latin poems were published under the title ‘Delitiæ Poetarum Scotorum’ (Amsterdam, 1637). His English poems on such themes as a ‘Love Dirge,’ ‘The Poet Forsaken,’ ‘The Lover’s Remonstrance,’ ‘Address to an Inconstant Mistress,’ etc., do not show depth of emotion. He says of himself:—
  “Yet have I been a lover by report,
  Yea, I have died for love as others do;
But praised be God, it was in such a sort
  That I revived within an hour or two.”
  2
  The lines beginning “I do confess thou’rt smooth and fair,” quoted below with their adaptation by Burns, do not appear in his MSS., collected by his heir Sir John Ayton, nor in the edition of his works with a memoir prepared by Dr. Charles Rogers, published in Edinburgh in 1844 and reprinted privately in 1871. Dean Stanley, in his ‘Memorials of Westminster Abbey,’ accords to him the original of ‘Auld Lang Syne,’ which Rogers includes in his edition. Burns’s song follows the version attributed to Francis Temple.  3
  Ayton passed his entire life in luxury, died in Whitehall Palace in 1638, and was the first Scottish poet buried in Westminster Abbey. His memorial bust was taken from a portrait by Vandyke.  4
 
 
CONTENTS · GENERAL INDEX · SONGS & LYRICS · BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY
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