« PreviousContinue »
Art. 2.-BEAU NASH AND BATH.
1. Bath under Beau Nash. By Lewis Melville. London:
Eveleigh Nash, 1907. 2. Bath: a Poem. London: Longman, 1748. 3. An Essay towards a Description of Bath. By John
Wood. Two vols. London: Hitch, 1749. 4. The Life of Richard Nash. (By Oliver Goldsmith.)
London: Newbery, 1762. 5. Bath Anecdotes and Character. By the Genius Loci.
London: Dodsley, 1762. 6. The Jests of Beau Nash. London: Bristow, 1763. 7. The Valetudinarian's Bath Guide. By Philip Thick
nesse. London: Dodsley, 1780. 8. The History of Bath. By the Rev. Richard Warner. London : Robinson, 1801.
And other works.
It was a wearisome journey of two or three days, not indeed without its diversions and even dangers, from London to Bath in the early years of the eighteenth century. Let us suppose, however, that the journey has been safely accomplished, and that we used-up Londoners, seeking change of air, a water-cure, or a round of pleasure, have just been put down at Bath. As we enter the town the Abbey bells ring out a joyous peal. Is it a royal birthday? Has any glorious news been received ? Are any of our fellow-travellers persons of distinction ? No; the bells are ringing simply in honour of ourselves, for the great Beau Nash, who is King of Bath, has ruled that all visitors be thus welcomed ; and before we have settled down or even had time to unpack our trunks, we have the pleasure of paying an honorarium of half a guinea to the ringers for their services.
We might have taken rooms, or joined a house-party, but we have elected to go to the White Hart Hotel, on the right of which now stands the Grand Pump Room Hotel. It was then known as Hart's Lodgings'-a building with a gabled roof, a large porch, and Elizabethan windows. There was quite a number of inns to choose from the Lamb,' the Three Tuns,' the 'Greyhound and Shakspere,' and the Bear,' the culinary merits of which Smollett, in his Humphrey Clinker,' some years
later was to commend. But, having chosen the White Hart, it will be our duty at night to drink to our hostelry,
‘May the White Hart outrun the Bear
And make the Angel fly;
And drink the Three Tuns dry.'
I scarce was arriv'd when the fiddlers all came,
And archly demanded my pocket to pick.' We allow him to do this to the regulation tune of half-a-crown. What matters half-a-crown in view of our other disbursements ? For to-night or to-morrow morning we have to subscribe two guineas for the public entertainment fund, for which, however, we receive three tickets for each ball; a guinea or half-a-guinea, according to our rank and quality, for the liberty of promenading in the private walks of the Assembly Houses; and something additional for the use of the coffee-house, which covers the free use of pen, ink and paper. And then, most likely, we shall go to a bookseller's and pay a subscription for the privilege of borrowing a book to read. Perhaps, if we are of an enquiring turn of mind, we shall study the history of the city, from its legendary foundation down to our own times. It is an interesting history, but we must not dwell on it, for before we get to the end of our book we receive a visit of ceremony. Let us look well at our visitor, for he is the celebrated Beau Nash, whose name will ever be associated with Bath.
In 1705 Richard Nash came to the city as a visitor, with other young men, to try his luck at the tables. This 'ex-soldier, ex-lawyer, .who had come to play at hazard for a few weeks, remained more than half & century, the glory of the city, the unquestioned arbiter elegantiarum of his day; he had come to win a few score
pounds, he achieved a fortune and an undying fame. He became very friendly with Captain Webster, the then • King' of Bath, and was soon known as his aide-decamp. This relationship was not destined to last long; for, shortly after Nash's arrival, Webster was killed in a duel, and the Corporation elected Nash in his place.
Nash's father was a Swansea man and a partner in a small glass manufactory. From Carmarthen Grammar School young Nash went to Jesus College, Oxford, the college affected by Welshmen of that day. Goldsmith, who wrote his Life,' says, 'In college ... he soon showed that, though much might be expected from his genius, nothing could be hoped from his industry. Some intention of matrimony seems to have had something to do with Nash's leaving Oxford earlier than was usual with young men. He left behind him a tobacco-box, a fiddle, and some debts. His father thereupon bought him a commission in the army. As a young officer, he had many opportunities of practising the rôle he had begun in Oxford. He became a professed lady-killer, and dressed 'to the very edge of his finances.' But he found the army too costly for his means and too strict for his ideas of liberty; so he sold out, and became a law student at the Inner Temple in 1693. 'Though very poor, he was very fine’ (says Goldsmith); 'he spread the little gold he had, in the most ostentatious manner, and though the gilding was but thin, he laid it on as far as it would go. They who know the town cannot be unacquainted with such a character as I describe; one, who, though he may have dined in private upon a banquet served cold from a cook's shop, shall dress at six for the side-box; one of those whose wants are known only to their laundress and tradesmen and their fine cloaths to half the nobility; who spend more in chair hire than in housekeeping; and prefer a bow from a Lord to a dinner from a Commoner' (p. 9).
Nash had a good manner and a ready tongue, and was always well dressed. These qualities, coupled with plenty of audacity, induced the students of the Middle Temple to select him to direct the pageant which they exhibited before William III in 1695. In the management of this he was so successful that the King desired to knight him as Master of the Revels. This honour he had the good
sense to decline. With ready wit, he said, · Please your Majesty, if you intend to make me a knight I wish it may be one of your Poor Knights of Windsor, and then I shall have a fortune at least able to support my title.' A similar honour offered by Queen Anne was declined on other grounds. • Dr' Read, an illiterate quack who advertised that he had been established thirty-five years in the practice of couching cataracts, taking off all sorts of wens, curing wry necks and hare lips, without blemish, though never so deformed, had just been knighted. So Nash declined, dreading lest Sir William Read, the mountebank, who had just been knighted, should call him brother.' Indeed, to do him justice, Nash had no desire for a title. When Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, rallied him upon the obscurity of his birth, and compared him with Gil Blas, who was ashamed of his father, he gave her a spirited answer: 'No, madam, I seldom mention my father in company, not because I have any reason to be ashamed of him, but because he has some reason to be ashamed of me.' A lady at Tunbridge Wells once asked him whose child he was, whereupon a young nobleman replied, 'He was the child of Chance, who left him to be nursed by Folly, and he has been always maintained at the expense of the public.' Nash in reply whistled, and, when asked why he did so, said he always whistled when his lordship’s led-captain or toad-eater was absent, that the company might know when he said a good thing. So Nash gave as good as he got. A charitable act of his at this time was told to Steele, that tender-hearted man who could never hear of a kindly deed without recording it.'
I remember to have heard a Bencher of the Temple tell & story of a tradition in their House, where they had formerly a custom of choosing kings for such a season, and allowing him his expenses at the charge of the society. One of our kings, said my friend, carried his royal inclination a little too far; and there was a committee ordered to look into the management of his treasury. Among other things it appeared that his majesty, walking incog. in the cloister, had overheard a poor man say to another, “Such a small sum would make me the happiest man in the world." The king, out of his royal compassion, privately inquired into his character and, finding him a proper object of charity, sent him the
money. When the committee read the report, the house passed his account with a plaudite without further examination, upon the recital of this article in them: For making a man happy, 101.' ("Spectator, Dec. 14, 1711.) The Benchers were indeed so struck with their deputy's good nature, that they publicly thanked him for his benevolence and desired that a further 101. might be given to the object of charity as a proof of their satisfaction with Nash's conduct.
How he maintained himself in his early days as a man of society, we are left to conjecture. His gains by gaming, even with his father's allowance, could hardly have been sufficient. As a gambler he seems to have been fairly cautious, for we read of him being one night one of a party gambling until a late hour in a tavern, when one of the players proposed to make the stakes for a final round four bottles of wine for the good of the house.' For the good of what?' asked Nash. I'll tell
• you what,' he added as he rose, you may do as you please, gentlemen, but for the good of my house, I'll go home.' It is said that on one occasion he won a considerable sum by riding naked through a village upon a cow, and gained rather than lost in reputation by so doing. He netted 501. on another occasion by standing wrapped only in a blanket at the great door of York Minster during the races, when the people were coming out from service. What, Mr Nash, in masquerade ?' said the Dean, who recognised him. No, Mr Dean,' replied the culprit, pointing to his companions, 'only a Yorkshire penance for keeping bad company.' There was so much curiosity as to his means of livelihood that some went so far as to say that he took purses' on the highway. He replied by showing a score of love-letters received during one day, containing money to the amount of fifty pounds.
The Beau loved a jest, especially at the expense of one even less of a scholar than himself. When a lady with pretensions to learning was at an auction, and the auctioneers put up an edition of Horace's works, reading aloud from the title-page, Horatii Opera,' she asked Nash, Whose operas did the man say?' 'Horace's, madam,' replied the latter; "he was an Italian.' 'Well, then,' said my lady, “I'll bid for Horace's operas, for I