1850 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Christopher Anstey

Edward S. Creasy, in Memoirs of Eminent Etonians (1850) 465-66.



From an Etonian who loved the English law [Sir Vicary Gibbs], and thought it the perfection of human wisdom, we now turn to one who certainly seems to have thought it the perfection of human absurdity.

Christopher Anstey, the son of the Rev. Christopher Anstey, was born in 1724. Like the two learned judges whom we have last mentioned, Anstey was educated on the foundation of Eton, and there became a scholar of King's. Anstey took his Bachelor's degree in 1746, but became involved in some quarrel with the University authorities, in consequence of which the degree of M.A. was refused to him.

Anstey studied for the law, but the opinions which he had of the study may be inferred from his humorous publication entitled "The Pleader's Guide; a didactic poem, in two books, by M. Surrebutter."

In 1754 he succeeded, on his mother's death, to some family property at Trumpington, near Cambridge. He now resigned his fellowship, and lived an independent life, without following any profession. Bath was one of his favourite residences, and, in 1766, he published an amusing poetical sketch, which he had composed, of the amusements and the habits of the fashionable visitors of that celebrated watering-place. This poem instantly acquired great popularity; so much so, that Dodsley, the bookseller, who had given Anstey £200 for the copyright, returned it to him in 1777, stating that he had made more money by the book than by any other in space of time. Anstey generously devoted the profits of his poem to the Bath General Hospital.

Anstey translated several English poems ("Gray's Elegy" among the rest) into Latin verse, and published a small volume of these performances. He also wrote some other little poems in English; but his two "Guides" are the principal works, and of them the "Bath Guide" is the one to which he mainly owes his reputation. The versification of this is remarkably graceful, and the spirit of good-humoured raillery is admirably kept up. The similarity of the metre and the subject of Moore's "Fudge Family in Paris," suggests a comparison, which may be worked out not at all unfavourably to Anstey. Anstey's power of writing rhyming Latin was very remarkable. His Latin version of part of his own poem, where the young lady who has taken up with Methodism complains of the wickedness of her friends and relations, almost beats the English:

Simkins frater
Deperatur,
Ludit, salit turpiter;
Ridet Jana
Sacra fana;
Tabitha Runt deperditur, &c. &c.

Anstey spent the latter years of his life entirely at Bath, and died there in 1805.