Imágenes de páginas
[ocr errors]

love Italian operas of all things.' But he sometimes found his match. So, child, you are just come to Bath,' said he to a country girl. Yes, sir,' replied the visitor courteously. And you have been a good girl in the country and learned to read your book, I hope.' 'Yes, sir.' Pray now, let me examine you. I know you have read your Bible and the history of Tobit and his Dog. Now, can you tell me what was the dog's name?' 'His name was Nash, and an impudent dog he was.'

[ocr errors]

Mr Richard Nash, M.C., who calls upon us shortly after our arrival at Bath, is clearly a gentleman of ready wit and pleasing address.

'A lion renowned, the country all round,

For cutting no end of a dash;

Most gorgeous and grandest of Georgian dandies,
The great "King of Bath," Mr Nash.'

His strength and agility, we are told, commend him to
his own sex; and his 'great comeliness of person' keeps
him from being disagreeable to the other.' Natural-
good temper, great politeness and good wit make his
conversation as a private person as entertaining and as
delightful as his authority as a Governor is respectful.'
'In height about five feet, eight inches; of a Diameter exactly
proportioned to your Height, that gives you the finest Shape;
of a black-brown Complexion that gives a Strength to your
Looks, suited to the elastic Force of your nervous Fibres and
Muscles. With these happy Accomplishments' (says an ad-
miring dedication), ' with the fine Taste you discover in what-
ever Habit you please to appear and great Gracefulness with
which you dance our Country Dances, it will be no great
Wonder, that you support your Empire, when once you
obtained it. I don't mention your great Dexterity in French
Dances, because you don't affect dancing them, in which I
think you show your Judgment; though no doubt you might
as well excell in a Minuet or Reggadon, as in Bartholomy Fair
or Thomas I cannot.'

'Genius Loci,' in Bath Anecdotes and Characters' (p. 59), tells us of Nash's duties.

The business of the Master of the Ceremonies is to regulate the company when they assemble together, to visit them at their houses and lodgings, and, as arbiter elegantiarum, to see that the ladies who dance minuets do not presume to stand

up without long lappets; that commoners do not dare to sit with peeresses; and when the clock strikes eleven, with the sight of his watch to bid the music cease and the dance to be done. Although these attentions may in themselves be necessary, yet, if a Master of the Ceremonies would dare avow himself a man of honour or of virtue; if he would point out to the company the notorious gamester, or the suspected fortune-hunter; if he would be the protector of simplicity and the guardian of innocence, he might then not only be called arbiter elegantiarum, but he would deservedly be esteemed Publicæ Virtutis Conservator. He would then be an important member of society, and of more real consequence to the community, than merely to hand a lady out to a minuet, or regulate the etiquette of precedence.'

Though a gallant himself, Nash did not ignore the moral side of his functions, and was always careful to check in others any tendency to a rash liaison, or runaway match with a penniless or reprobate adventurer, even when to achieve his kindly object he was compelled to make disclosures to the girl's parents.' Goldsmith cites one instance.

'One night when I was in Wiltshire's Room, Nash came up to a lady and her daughter, who were people of no inconsiderable fortune, and bluntly told the mother she had better be at home: this was at the time thought an audacious piece of impertinence, and the lady turned away piqued and disconcerted. Nash however pursued her and repeated the words again; when the old lady, wisely considering that there might be some hidden meaning couched under this seeming insolence, retired and, coming to her lodgings, found a coach and six at her door, which a sharper had provided to carry off her eldest daughter.'

In view of such good deeds, Anstey in The New Bath
Guide' might well say:

'Long reigned the great Nash, this omnipotent lord,
Respected by youth, and by parents adored;

For him not enough at a ball to preside,

The unwary and beautiful nymph would he guide;
Oft tell her a tale, how the credulous maid

By man, by perfidious man, is betrayed.'

The greatest and best reform he achieved was in the campaign he waged against the practice of duelling, and

even against that of carrying swords. It was the insolence of the chairmen, says Wood, which brought about the latter reform. It having been usual with those turbulent people to provoke gentlemen to draw their swords upon them; and then by defending themselves with their chair poles, the danger of murder frighted the ladies to such a degree that public assemblies for diversion seldom ended without the utmost confusion.' But the law was also designed against gamesters who, losing their money, were apt also to lose their temper and draw their swords. Ever after two gamblers had fought and one of them had been run through the body, Nash, on hearing of a challenge, had the parties arrested. To enforce his authority, he desired to give proof that he himself was no coward. So he determined to commit some trivial offence against the code of honour and himself to fight. He soon found an opportunity. A newly-wedded woman of great beauty was in the Cross Bath. Her husband exclaimed, 'She looks more like an angel than a mortal being,' and after further encomiums on her face and form concluded with the wish that he was with her. Nash instantly threw the uxorious young man into the water, with the result that he was called out and wounded in the arm.

'By this double stroke,' says Thicknesse, 'he showed himself a man of pleasantry as well as spirit, two excellent qualifications for a Prince who presides over the pleasures and pastimes of youth.' ('New Prose Bath Guide,' p. 27.)

Though Nash to a large extent made his living by gambling, there are yet many stories to show that he would frequently intervene between a gambler and his fate, and was always ready to give good advice to the infatuated crew which gathered about him and his tables at Bath and Tunbridge. For he made his sway felt almost as much in the latter place as at home. Once a year he went in state to Tunbridge and remained until after the opening ball of the season. His arrangements for visitors were the same as at Bath. He was immensely popular in both places. In 1740 the Corporation of Bath placed a full-length statue of him in the ball-room between those of Newton and Pope. This of course gave rise to a good deal of pleasantry and to an epigram,

attributed to Lord Chesterfield, which appeared in 'The Gentleman's Magazine' for February 1741.

'Immortal Newton never spoke

More truth than here you'll find,
Nor Pope himself e'er penn'd a joke
More cruel on mankind.

The picture plac'd the busts between
Gives satyr all his strength;
Wisdom and Wit are little seen,
But Folly at full length.'

His popularity and fortunes somewhat declined after an unfortunate law-suit in regard to his dealings with the profits of the gaming tables at Bath and Tunbridge; and in 1748 he was accused of having appropriated some funds raised for a charitable purpose. Yet in 1752 we find another statue erected in his honour, which proves that he had regained any ascendancy and popularity he may have lost by the casino scandal. And for nearly another decade things went well with him. One way or another he must have drawn a large income to meet his expenditure, for he lived in great style. His dress alone, it is said, must have cost him a small fortune. His six black coach-horses were enviously admired. They were so well matched and paced so well together when in full trot that any person at a distance would imagine it was only one horse that drew the carriage. It was in this coach that he made his state visit to Tunbridge, preceded by outriders and French horns. He had also a running footman, a 'gentleman' out of livery, two footmen in livery, a coachman and a postillion.

It is to Nash's credit, as even the hostile Whartons allow, that, in an age of toadyism, he paid no special regard to rank, and did his best to remove the odious distinctions which class-pride would have kept up in his dominions. In fact, King Nash may be thanked for having, by his conduct in this respect, introduced into society the first elements of that middle class which is found alone in England.' As Goldsmith puts it (p. iii): 'He was the first who diffused a desire of society and an easiness of address among a whole people who were censured by foreigners for a reservedness of behaviour, and an awkward timidity in their first approaches. He first taught a familiar Vol. 216.-No. 431.

2 A

intercourse among strangers at Bath and Tunbridge, which still subsists among them. That ease and open access first acquired there, our gentry brought back to the metropolis; and thus the whole kingdom by degrees became more refined by lessons originally derived from him.'

'Boys, boys! let us now be wise, for here is a fool coming in,' said Dr Clarke, conversing gaily with Locke and other learned friends when Nash's chariot stopped at the house. But Nash was no fool. 'No fool,' says Mr Melville, could have controlled the unruly throng that flocked to Bath, year in year out, for half a century, and nowhere else was amenable to influence.' Whatever Nash may or may not have been, he must have had great strength of character and a marked personality. There was a whimsical refinement in his person, dress, and behaviour, which was habitual to and sat so easily upon him that no stranger who came to Bath ever expressed any surprise at his uncommon manner and experience,' says the author of the 'Life of Quin.' Finally, to quote Douglas Jerrold in his 'Beau Nash, A Comedy':


'He is in Bath the despot of the mode, the Nero of the realm of shirts, the Tiberius of a silk stocking. 'Tis said his father was a blower of glass; and they who best know Nash, see in the son the confirmation of the legend. 'Tis certain our monarch started in life in a red coat; changed it for a Templar's suit of black; played and elbowed his way up the back-stairs of fashion; came to our city; championed the virtue of the wells against the malice of a physician; drove the doctor from his post; founded the Pump-room and the Assemblyhouse; mounted the throne of etiquette; put on her crown of peacock-plumes; and here he sits, Richard Nash, by the grace of impudence, King of Bath!'

Such, then, was the great man who has come to welcome us strangers to the city, glad, and in a measure proud, to be his subjects for the nonce. He gives us advice as to the disposal of our time. First of all, we have to be up betimes and go to the Bath and thence to the Pump-room to drink the waters, 'Three glasses at three different times, the intervals between each glass enlivened by the harmony of a small band of music as well as by the conversation of the gay, the witty, or the forward. Then into our chairs to be taken back to our hotel or lodgings for breakfast, unless, indeed, we are

« AnteriorContinuar »