The New Bath Guide.
Christopher Anstey's New Bath Guide was first published late in 1766, and immediately delighted Horace Walpole, who thought it combined the 'easiest wit, the most genuine humour, the most inoffensive satire, the happiest parodies, the most unaffected poetry, and the most harmonious melody in every kind of metre'. This welcome new edition, lovingly annotated by Gavin Turner, confirms at least the tone of Walpole's judgement. Anstey was born in 1724, the son of the Rector of Brinkley in Cambridgeshire. By 1745 he was a Fellow of King's Cambridge, and a Latinist of some distinction. He made his first visit to Bath around 1760 and by 1770 had purchased a house in the Royal Crescent. The New Bath Guide offers a gentle parody of Bath society and polite mores in the form of fifteen poetical epistles, purporting to come from Mr Simkin, a member of a party of northern visitors to Bath. The first edition appears to have been little publicized but nevertheless sold rapidly. By 1776 some ten editions had appeared. Later editions contained two substantial additions, a 'Charge to the Poets' appended to Letter IX and a justificatory Epilogue. Walpole thought these 'most execrable additions', not least because they lacked both the lightness of tone and limpidity of touch which characterized the first edition. Here Turner rightly prints the text of the first edition and offers an appendix giving variant readings and additions from the third edition. The authenticity of the edition of agreeably subverted by including a selection of watercolours by John Sneyd, believed to have been executed to accompany an 1810 edition of The New Bath Guide. Turner's helpful introduction is accompanied by a further ten illustrations of Anstey, Bath, and its society.
Anstey never quite accuses physicians of quackery, preferring to dwell on the ritualized show of their treatments and leave his readers to infer that society was here triumphing over science.
'Twas a glorious Sight to behold, the Fair Sex All washing with Gentlemen up to their Necks, And view them so prettily tumble and sprawl In a great smoking Kettle as big as our Hall: And To-Day many Persons of Rank and Condition We boil'd by Command of an able Physician, Dean SPAVIN, Dean MANGEY, and Doctor DE'SQUIRT, Were all sent from Cambridge to rub of their Dirt.
Here the satire was not perhaps as inoffensive as Walpole thought. Anstey had been refused his MA at Cambridge in 1749 after objecting to the requirement of making a Latin oration, and offering instead a virtuoso parody, constructed around a rhapsody of adverbs. But personal, provincial concerns, if such they were, are soon thrown off, and Anstey pictures the scurvy worthies of the whole kingdom descending on Bath;
Miss SCRATCHIT went in, and the Countess of SCALES, Both Ladies of great Fashion in Wales; Then all on a sudden two Persons of Worth, My Lady PANDORA MAC'SCURVY came forth, With General SULPHUR arriv'd from the North.
The one cruel satirical moment comes with the poem's denouement, and reveals Anstey's distaste for religious enthusiasm. But those who wish to know more of the is promiscuous Moravian Minister should swell Mr Turner's royalties and revel for a while in Anstey's poetic tableau of his 'delightful retreat'.
DAVID EASTWOOD University of Wales, Swansea