1766
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Birth of Fashion, a Specimen of a Modern Ode.

The New Bath Guide: or, Memoirs of the B-R-D Family. In a Series of Poetical Epistles.

Christopher Anstey


In the third letter of the Christopher Anstey's epistolary satire on fashionable manners "the closeness with which Anstey follows L'Allegro indicates that he realized how much the 'modern ode' derived from Milton" Raymond Dexter Havens, The Influence of Milton (1922) 468. The volume originally appeared anonymously. From this very popular volume the Birth of Fashion was singled out for reprinting in several periodicals. A note identifies "Moria" as the "Goddess of FOLLY."

Critical Review: "These poetical epistles contain a humorous account of the customs of Bath, and the amusements of the polite company which resort to that scene of gaiety and dissipation" 21 (May 1766) 369.

Gentleman's Magazine: "There is a rich strain of humour in these Epistles, which renders them entertaining to those who are unacquainted with the characters to which they relate" 36 (May 1766) 241.

John Langhorne: "There is a species of humour in these droll Epistles, which has the greater force, as it seems to proceed from a simple and unembellished character, the hopeful offspring of a considerable family in the North, who comes to Bath for the cure of those crudities of mind and body, which an entire seclusion from the world, and the good cookery of a tender mother, had occasioned. Along with him comes his sister Prudence, and her maid Tabitha, together with a pert niece of the family.... In the last epistle, we find little more than the old story, that the piper is to be paid, and a melancholy detail of Bath-expences; yet we cannot dismiss the article without making our acknowledgments to the Author for the uncommon entertainment his book has afforded us" Monthly Review 34 (June 1766) 467-72.

Horace Walpole to George Montagu: "It is a set of letters in verse, in all kind of verses, describing the life at Bath, and incidentally everything else; but so much wit, so much humour, fun, and poetry, so much originality, never met together before. The man has a better ear than Dryden or Handel. Apropos to Dryden, he has burlesqued his St. Ceclia, that you will never read it again without laughing. There is a description of a milliner's box in all the terms of landscape, 'painted lawns and chequered shades,' a Moravian ode, and a Methodist ditty, that are incomparable, and the best names that ever were composed" 20 June 1766; in Letters, ed. Cunningham (1906) 4:504.

Thomas Gray to Thomas Wharton: "Have you read the New Bath Guide? It is the only thing in fashion, and is a new and original kind of humour" 26 August 1766; Poems of Mr. Gray, ed. Mason (1775) 323.

John Anstey: "As a poem of the Epic cast, it must be allowed to be complete in all the characteristic and essential properties; in the choice of its hero, and the preservation of his character, as well as in the moral tendency, and effect of his example and catastrophe; at the same time that it is original in almost all its analogies to this species of composition. The epistolary form in which the story is conceived, and the very frame of the metre in which it is written, (although not the invention of the Author,) is new in its application to the subject of a continued poem. It is no less original in the happiest adaptation of names, by which a very large establishment of subordinate heroes is maintained as it were at the public expense, without prejudice to the reputation of any one individual. The rich vein of genuine humour and pleasantry by which every scene and incident is enlivened, in a connected system of disguised and temperate satire, entitles it to be regarded as one of the most original poems which has appeared in the last century. It has now been in the hands of the public above forty years, the admiration and delight of its readers of all ages, and of all descriptions, and of every country where the English language is known or studied" Poetical Works of Christopher Anstey (1808) xxi.

Edmund Gosse: "The New Bath Guide, which appeared in quarto in 1766, was the herald of a new school of society verse, and led the way towards Praed and Oliver Wendell Holmes. The author was a Cambridge scholar of distinction, a fox-hunting country squire, and an inglorious member of Parliament, Christopher Anstey (1724-1805). This gentleman had for many years frequented Bath, then in the heyday of fashion, and he determined to lampoon the society of that city in a rhyming satire. The sub-title of The New Bath Guide is 'Memoirs of the B—r—d Family,' and the poem takes the form of fifteen letters addressed by members of that family, who are drinking the Bath waters for their health. The first correspondent remarks: 'From waters sprung, like flowers from dew, | What troops of Bards appear! | The God of Verse — and Physic too— | Inspires them twice a year.' And accordingly all the Blunderheads, male and female, express their feelings, whether cynical or romantic, in rhyme. The whole poem, though coarse in parts, and in others darkened by lost allusions, remains one of the lightest and most sparkling of purely mundane compositions in the language; the 'letters,' written in anapestic verse of four stresses, being decidedly the best. It is in these latter that we see the coming Goldsmith foreshadowed" History of Eighteenth-Century Literature (1889) 315-16.

George Saintsbury: "Of the many practitioners of the lighter continuous anapest, Byrom, who has been noticed above, and Anstey of the New Bath Guide, stand out perhaps most prominently. Anstey did not confine himself to the anapest, but wrote (even in this book) in octosyllabics and other forms. Yet it is for his handling of the triple measure that he is deservedly celebrated. Indeed, he stands to Prior in this class very much as Thomson stands to Milton. He had the advantage of of still further modernised language; and I really do not know that much advance has been made upon him in the mere handling of this delectable instrument for light satire since. And, once more, the extreme popularity of the book helped to popularise the measure, and to fix its principles, all unconsciously, in the ears of those who read it. His other works were of little or no value; indeed, as Horace Walpole is rather fond of repeating, the additions to the New Bath Guide itself are inferior; but the first chronicle of the Blunderheads helped to fix the anapest as the favourite measure of the later eighteenth century for easy verse. Not merely was it used for definitely satiric purposes, as in Goldsmith's Retaliation, and in much of the political work which was such a feature of the time; but people of all sorts and conditions, from men of full age and sufficient position, like Dr. Burney, to school-boys or undergraduates, like Southey, wrote doggerel diaries in it — a distinct testimony, if not in very valuable material, to the general sense of its being at the opposite pole from the couplet" History of English Prosody (1906-10) 2:534.



Sure there are Charms by Heav'n assign'd
To modish Life alone,
A Grace, an Air, a Taste refin'd,
To vulgar Souls unknown.

Nature, my Friend, profuse in vain
May ev'ry Gift impart;
If unimprov'd, they ne'er can gain
An Empire o'er the Heart.

Dress be our Care in this gay Scene
Of Pleasure's best Abode:
Enchanting Dress! if well I ween,
Meet Subject for an Ode.

Come then, Nymph of various Mien,
Votary true of Beauty's Queen,
Whom the young and ag'd adore,
And thy diff'rent Arts explore,
FASHION, come: — On me a-while
Deign, fantastic Nymph, to smile.
MORIA Thee, in Times of Yore,
To the motley PROTEUS bore;
He, in Bishop's Robes array'd,
Went one Night to Masquerade,
Where thy simple Mother stray'd:
She was clad like harmless Quaker,
And was pleas'd my Lord should take her
By the Waist, and kindly shake her;
And, with Look demure, said she,
"Pray, my Lord, — do you know me?"
He, with soothing, flattering Arts,
Such as win all female Hearts,
Much extoll'd her Wit and Beauty,
And declar'd it was his Duty,
As she was a Maid of Honour,
To confer his Blessing on her.
There, 'mid Dress of various Hue,
Crimson, yellow, green and blue,
All on Furbelows and Laces,
Slipt into her chaste Embraces;
Then, like sainted Rogue, cry'd He,
"Little Quaker, — you know me."

Fill'd with Thee she went to France,
Land renown'd for Complaisance,
Vers'd in Science debonair,
Bowing, dancing, dressing Hair;
There she chose her Habitation,
Fix'd thy Place of Education.
Nymph, at thy auspicious Birth,
HEBE strew'd with Flow'rs the Earth;
Thee to welcome, all the Graces
Deck'd in Ruffles, deck'd in Laces,
With the God of Love attended,
And the CYPRIAN Queen descended.
Now you trip it o'er the Globe,
Clad in party-colour'd Robe,
And, with all thy Mother's Sense,
Virtues of your Sire dispense.

Goddess, if from Hand like mine,
Aught be worthy of thy Shrine,
Take the flow'ry Wreath I twine.
Lead, oh! lead me by the Hand,
Guide me with thy Magic Wand,
Whether deck'd in Lace and Ribbons,
Choose the Form of Mrs. GIBBONS,
Or the Nymph of smiling Look,
At Bath yclept JANETTA Cook.
Bring, O bring thy Essence Pot,
Amber, Musk, and Bergamot,
Eau de Chipre, Eau de Luce,
Sans Pareil and Citron Juice,
Nor thy Band-Box leave behind,
Fill'd with stores of every kind;
All th' enraptur'd Bard supposes,
Who to FANCY Odes composes;
All that FANCY'S self has feign'd,
In a Band-Box is contain'd:
Painted Lawns, and chequer'd Shades,
Crape, that's worn by love-lorn Maids,
Water'd Tabbies, flower'd Brocades;
Vi'lets, Pinks, Italian Posies,
Myrtles, Jessamins, and Roses,
Aprons, Caps, and 'Kerchiefs clean,
Straw-built Hats, and Bonnets green,
Catgut Gauzes, Tippets, Ruffs,
Fans and Hoods, and feather'd Muffs,
Stomachers, and Parisnets,
Ear-Rings, Necklaces, Aigrets,
Fringes, Blonds, and Mignionets.
Fine Vermilion for the Cheek,
Velvet Patches a la Grecque.
Come, but don't forget the Gloves,
Which, with all the smiling Loves,
VENUS caught young CUPID picking
From the tender Breast of Chicken;
Little Chicken, worthier far,
Than the birds of JUNO'S Car,
Soft as CYTHEREA'S Dove,
Let thy Skin my Skin improve;
Thou by Night shalt grace my Arm,
And by Day shalt teach to charm.

Then, O sweet Goddess, bring with Thee
Thy boon attendant Gaiety,
Laughter, Freedom, Mirth, and Ease,
And all the smiling Deities;
Fancy, spreading painted Sails,
Loves that fan with gentle Gales.—
But hark! — methinks I hear a Voice,
My Organs all at once rejoice;
A Voice that says, or seems to say,
"Sister, hasten, Sister gay,
Come to the Pump-Room — come away."

[pp. 18-24]