Christopher Anstey

Alexander Chalmers, in General Biographical Dictionary (1812-17) 2:301-03.

CHRISTOPHER ANSTEY, an ingenious poet of the eighteenth century, was born Oct. 31, 1724. He was the son of the Rev. Christopher Austey, D.D. by Mary, daughter of Anthony Thompson, esq. of Trumpington, in Cambridgeshire. He was first educated at Bury St. Edmunds, under the Rev. Arthur Kinsman, and thence removed to Eton, where he was distinguished for industry and talents. In 1742 he succeeded to a scholarship of King's College, Cambridge, and soon added to his fame as a classical scholar by the Tripos verses which he wrote for the Cambridge commencement, while an undergraduate in the year 1745. In the same year he was admitted fellow of King's College, and in 1746 took his bachelor's degree. He was, however, interrupted in his progress towards his master's degree by having engaged in an opposition to what he conceived to be an innovation in the constitution of his college. King's college had immemorially exercised the right of qualifying its members for their degrees within the walls of their own society, as is the case in New college, Oxford, without that regular performance of acts and exercises generally in use in the university schools, and required of other colleges. It was, however, proposed as a salutary regulation, and a fit employment for the bachelor fellows of King's, that they should occasionally compose Latin declamations, and pronounce them in the public schools, a regulation altogether new and unprecedented in the annals of King's College. Mr. Anstey, who was at that time of six years standing in the university, and the senior bachelor of his year, finding himself suddenly called upon to make a Latin oration upon a given subject, attempted to resist it, but, finding that impossible, delivered a harangue composed of adverbs, so ingeniously disposed as to appear somewhat like sense, but was, in fact, a burlesque upon the whole proceeding. He was immediately ordered to descend from the rostrum, and another declamation prescribed, in which he gave so little satisfaction, that he was refused his master's degree in 1749. He succeeded, however, so well in his opposition to this innovation, that no more Latin declamations were required of the bachelors of King's college.

Mr. Anstey continued a fellow, and occasionally resided at college; until his mother's death in 1754, when he succeeded to the family estates, and resigned his fellowship. In 1756 he married Ann, third daughter of Felix Calvert, esq. of Albury Hall in Hertfordshire, by whom he had thirteen children, eight of whom survived him. He now devoted himself to the life of a country gentleman, agreeably diversified by the pursuit of classical learning and polite literature. He had long cultivated his poetical talents, but some of his early compositions were Latin translations of popular poems, as Gray's celebrated elegy, &c. His efforts in English were at first confined to small pieces addressed to his familiar friends; nor was it until the year 1766, that he published the "New Bath Guide," which at once established his fame as a poet of very considerable talent, and a satirist of peculiar and original humour, and there are few poems that can be compared with it in point of popularity. Dodsley, who purchased the copyright, after two editions, for £200 acknowledged that he profits upon the sale were greater than he had ever made by any other book, during the same period; and for that reason he generously gave back the copy-right to the author in 1777.

His other publications were, "An Elegy on the death of the marquis of Tavistock," 1767. "The Patriot," 1768, a censure on the encouragement given to prize-fighters: "An Election Ball," 1776, at first written in the Somersetshire dialect. "A C. W. Bampfylde, arm. Epistola," 1777. "Envy," 1778. " Charity," 1779. In 1786 he was induced to revise and republish these and other smaller occasional pieces; but he afterwards wrote several pieces, which have been collected by his son, in a splendid edition of his entire works, published in 1808, and prefaced by an elegant memoir of his life, to which the present sketch is highly indebted. His last publication was in Latin, written at Cheltenham, in the summer of 1803, and in the 79th year of his age, an Alcaic ode, addressed to Dr. Jenner, in consequence of his very important discovery of the Vaccine inoculation. He died in 1805, in his eighty-first year, and was interred in Walcot church in the city of Bath, where he had resided for many years. His son has delineated his character with filial affection, but at the same time with an elegant discrimination, and, as his surviving friends acknowledge, with a steady adherence to truth. As a poet, if he does not rank with those who are distinguished by the highest efforts of the art, he may be allowed an enviable place among those who have devoted their talents to the delineation of manners, and who have ennobled the finer affections, and added strength to taste and morals.