Anstey with his daughter,
by William Hoare (c. 1777)
|Born||31 October 1724
|Died||3 August 1805 (aged 80)
|Notable work||The New Bath Guide (1766)|
Christopher Anstey (31 October 1724 – 3 August 1805) was an English poet who also wrote in Latin. His New Bath Guide began an easy satirical fashion that was influential in the second half of the 18th century.
Anstey was the son of the Rev. Dr. Christopher Anstey, the rector of Brinkley in Cambridgeshire, where he was born in 1724. He was educated at Eton College and King's College, Cambridge, where he distinguished himself for his Latin verses. He became a fellow of his college (1745), but the degree of M.A. was withheld from him in 1749, owing to his defiance of the university authorities and the offence caused by an address that is said to have begun: "Doctores sine doctrina, magistri artium sine artibus, et baccalaurei baculo potius quam lauro digni" (Doctors without doctrine, artless Masters of Arts, and Bachelors more worthy of the rod than the laurel).
In 1754 he succeeded to the family estates, including Anstey Hall, Trumpington and left Cambridge. Two years later he married Ann, the sister of his friend John Calvert of Albury Hall, Hertfordshire, and for a considerable time Anstey lived the life of a country squire, with his increasing family of thirteen children (of whom only eight were to survive him). Though cultivating letters, as well as his estates, he published little of any note apart from a translation into Latin of Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”, published anonymously in 1762.
Following a period of depression, aggravated by ill health, after the death of a beloved sister in 1760, he was advised to take the waters at the fashionable spa of Bath, Somerset, and was so impressed that he returned annually and decided to settle there permanently in 1770. His home was at No. 4 Royal Crescent for the next thirty-five years. In 1766 he had achieved fame after the publication of The New Bath Guide, or Memoirs of the Blunderhead Family, which eventually went through some twenty editions before 1800. The work had immediate success, and was enthusiastically praised for its gently satirical humour by such literary figures as Horace Walpole and Thomas Gray. In a bid to maintain its momentum, he later followed it with An Election Ball, in Poetical Letters from Mr Inkle at Bath to his Wife at Gloucester (1776).
The theme of the latter had been suggested to him at the literary gatherings of the Batheaston Literary Circle which he had been attending, and to the last of whose regular anthologies he contributed. Other suggested themes occasioned published works of some length, but the connection did his reputation more damage than otherwise and was ended with the death of the coterie’s patroness, Anna, Lady Miller, in 1781. In the years that followed he thought of collecting his poems for general publication but the project was only finally completed by his son John in 1808.
Although Anstey declared himself uninterested in public office, he had served as High Sheriff of Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire for 1770-71, on the eve of his move to Bath. Once there, he busied himself in various philanthropic ventures, such as supporting the scheme for the support of the poor on behalf of which the Batheaston Circle’s Poetical Amusements were sold. In addition he served between 1781-95 on the board of governors of Bath Hospital, for whom he wrote effective fund-raising poems. Later he supported the work of Hannah More, in whose series of Cheap Repository Tracts appeared his long ballad, “The Farmer’s Daughter, a poetical tale” (1795). His final Latin poem, the Alcaic stanzas addressed to Edward Jenner on his work on inoculation (1803), demonstrated the persistence of his humanitarian interests.
Anstey’s normally strong constitution gave way early in 1805. Dying in August, he was buried at St. Swithin's Church in Walcot, Bath. Later a white marble memorial tablet was placed in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey.
Although Latin poetry makes up only a quarter of Anstey’s published output, it is noteworthy that his poetical career both began and ended with pieces in that language. Anstey’s university connection was important, quite apart from some initial college exercises, for the fact that his first major work was undertaken in collaboration with his friend William Hayward Roberts, also a Fellow at Kings College at the time. This was Eligia Scripta in Coemeterio Rustico Latine reddita, a translation of Thomas Gray’s already celebrated “Elegy written in a country graveyard”, dating from 1751, on which they worked in consultation with the author himself.
Commenting on the draft sent him, Gray remarked that “Every language has its idiom, not only of words and phrases, but of customs and manners, which cannot be represented in the tongue of another nation, especially of a nation so distant in time and place, without constraint and difficulty; of this sort, in the present instance, are the curfew bell, the Gothic Church, with its monuments, organs and anthems, the texts of Scripture, &c. There are certain images, which, though drawn from common nature, and every where obvious, yet strike us as foreign to the turn and genius of Latin verse; the beetle that flies in the evening, to a Roman, I guess, would have appeared too mean an object for poetry.” And further on he enquires, “Might not the English characters here be romanized? Virgil is just as good as Milton, and Cæsar as Cromwell.”
Gray’s stance was traditionalist and did not take account of the way Vincent Bourne’s poems had already demonstrated how Latin could be adapted to express contemporary reality. Preferring the latter's approach, for the most part, Anstey’s version tries to remain faithful to Gray’s text and certainly retains the historical English names rather than making Roman substitutes. It was published anonymously in 1762 and was later to appear in the 1768 and 1775 Irish editions of Gray’s poems, along with an Italian and two other Latin versions of the Elegy. In 1778 there appeared an emended translation in which the introductory lines were signed C. A. et W. H. R. This was subsequently reprinted in Venice in 1794 and from there made its way into Alessandro Torri’s multilingual anthology of translations of the Elegy, published in Verona in 1817.
In later years Anstey went on to translate himself. First there was his version of "Letter XIV" from The New Bath Guide, that was only included in the posthumous collected edition of his work. This was a ‘humorous and whimsical’ tour de force with both internal and end-rhymes, exactly fitting the spirit of the original. Secondly, there was the resumé of the themes in his later The Election Ball in a 1777 Latin epistle to its would-be illustrator Coplestone Warre Bampfylde, of which an English adaptation, ‘translated and addressed to the ladies’, appeared separately in the same year. Anstey's other translation during that time was of the fables of John Gay, undertaken originally for the guidance of his sons, whom he was preparing for entrance into Eton. This was published anonymously in a badly edited state, then subsequently revised for a new edition in 1798. However, reviewers complained of its rigid metres and ‘diffusion extended into weakness’ as being badly fitted to the sprightly octosyllabics of Gay’s original. It had too much of the schoolroom about it.
Anstey was principally known for his long epistolary poem, The New Bath Guide. He never quite recaptured the success of that work, which was continuously in print throughout his lifetime, although he returned to humorous depiction of the same Bath types in such works as An Election Ball and "The Decayed Macaroni". Finding little to admire in such sequels, Horace Walpole judged that Anstey “ought to have shot himself the moment he had finished the Bath Guide”, but others since have seen more to respect.
Gray described the Guide as having “a new and original kind of humour”, although in terms of the Classical models of his time it could be described as satire on the good-natured Horatian model. The alternative sharp Juvenilian style of the recently deceased satirist Charles Churchill was not for him. Indeed, in an unfinished poem preserved by his son, he had declared himself
- Unskill’d in flattery’s softer arts,
- Unfit for satire’s pointed darts,
- Else would my faithful muse reveal
- What wights bestride the commonweal.
Instead he made his subject matter the familiar follies of the landed squirearchy in a poem that, “while it includes a number of particular and topical Bath references to give the flavour of the place and time, has sufficient scope and is written from enough of a detached viewpoint to make its critique of manners and morals of enduring application.”
Commenting on the appearance of the Guide, published far away in Cambridge on the other side of the country by an unknown author, his son later marvelled that “It was hardly possible that a work of this description…could have made its appearance under circumstances of greater disadvantage.” The title was an added hindrance at first, since the third edition of the official city guide, now titled The New Bath Guide or useful pocket companion, had been published in 1765, the year before Anstey’s work. Though it provided a useful point of reference to readers, repeated editions of the pocket companion, ‘corrected and much enlarged’, continued to sow confusion for as long as the two books continued to appear.
The Guide relates the misadventures of the three naïve children of a Northern squire as reported by them in letters to friends and parents, and incidentally give a comic picture of life in the spa. In a far departure from the Augustan manner common until then, the style is colloquial and written in loose anapaestic tetrameters.
- ‘Tis this that provokes Mrs.SHENKIN Ap-LEEK
- To dine at the ord'nary twice in a week,
- Tho' at home she might get a good dinner in comfort,
- Nor pay such a cursed extravagant sum for't:
- But then her acquaintance would never have known
- Mrs.SHENKIN AP-LEEK had acquir'd a ‘’bon ton’’;
- Ne'er shewn how in taste the AP-LEEKS can excel
- The Duchess of TRUFFLES, and Lady MORELL;
- Had ne'er been ador'd by Sir PYE MACARONI,
- And Count VERMICELLI, his intimate crony;
- Both men of such taste, their opinions are taken
- From an ortolan down to a rasher of bacon.
The inventiveness of the rhymes and the puns on the ridiculous names given to the characters adds further humour here.
Such naming, an aspect of the work which was widely admired, derives from theatrical practice at the time and gives a clue to the person’s character, but in the case of the main protagonists there is added irony too. Their Blunderhead surname not only sums up the various meanings of the word ‘blunder’ in their behaviour but has the overtones of stupidity contained in the colloquial ‘dunderhead’ as well. This is further emphasised in the son’s first name, Simkin, which is a dialect expression denoting a simpleton. The behaviour of his sister Prudence, on the other hand, is at variance with her name. She most imprudently allows herself to be seduced by a Methodist imposter with the expressive name of Roger, the slang meaning of which is sexual intercourse, while in dialect it refers to a tricky person.
The broad 18th century humour of the Guide inevitably met with criticism in some quarters. While the parodies and allusions to Milton, Dryden and the Classical authors were well received, the perversion of Methodist terminology in Prudence’s account of her seduction at least caused controversy. To dispel some of this, the second edition contained an epilogue which added considerably to the book’s length but light-heartedly tried to meet some of the objections. Nevertheless, a comment at the start of the more prudish 19th century concerning “those violations of decency which disgust us in the New Bath Guide” indicates that they were not forgotten.
When Anstey returned to a burlesque of Bath society a decade later in An Electoral Ball, it allowed him to embroider on some of his earlier themes. Thus Simkin’s shocked account of female hairdressing in "Letter XII" of the Guide was expanded to outright farce in An Election Ball and had an immediate effect. In Samuel Hoare’s conversation piece portrait of him (see above), his daughter is shown trying to draw his attention to the extravagant doll in her hand, in reality the kind of lay figure sent from Paris to guide dressmakers in the latest styles. Though she seems to distract him from composition, she is also serving as muse, for the doll’s fantastic hairstyle is just such as, judging from the pattern of lines on his manuscript, Anstey went on to describe in the poem: “To a cap like a bat / (Which was once my cravat) / Part gracefully patted and pinn’d is, / Part stuck upon gauze/ Resembles mackaws/ And all the fine birds of the Indies. It was this episode too, featuring Madge Inkle as she confects a hair ornament from the purloined tail feathers of the rooster, that Anstey’s friend Coplestone Warre Bampfylde chose as the first scene to illustrate in An Election Ball. Arriving too late for inclusion in the revised edition of 1776, they were first used instead in the Latin epistle that Anstey addressed to Bampfylde, including mention of all the scenes the artist had chosen to picture.
Added evidence of the way Anstey’s social comedy and adoption of the epistolary style had captured the general imagination is given by the large number of imitations that followed its publication. The following year saw the appearance of the complimentary Poetical Epistles to the author of the New Bath Guide (London 1767) and the Tunbridge Epistles from Lady Margaret to the Countess of B, featuring Bath’s rival spa. Another close imitation was The Register of Folly, or characters and incidents at Bath, containing twelve poetical epistles ‘by an invalid’ (London 1773). Others in the same vein included the fourteen letters of John Williams’ A Postscript to the New Bath Guide by ‘Anthony Pasquin’ (London 1790) and The Seaside, by ‘Simkin Slenderwit’ (1797), featuring Ramsgate and the new fad of sea-bathing that was replacing the hot springs at Bath. Although the majority of these lacked the charm of novelty, and often attracted scornful reviews, George Dallas at least made his name with an exotic adaptation. This was The India Guide, or Journal of a Voyage to the East Indies in the Year 1780: In a Poetical Epistle to Her Mother by ‘Emily Brittle’ (Calcutta 1785), which he dedicated to Anstey.
Several more authors rushed in where Anstey had feared to tread and adapted his style, and even his characters, to political themes. They include Ralph Broome’s The Letters of Simkin the Second, poetic recorder of all the proceedings upon the trial of Warren Hastings (London 1789); The New Parliamentary Register in a series of poetical epistles (1791), which was dedicated to Anstey and featured Simkin as a newly elected Member of Parliament; and George Watson-Taylor’s The Cross-Bath Guide, correspondence upon the subject of a late unexpected dispensation of honours by ‘Sir Joseph Cheakill’ (1815). At length John Anstey himself joined in and adapted his father’s style to his own lawyer’s profession in The Pleader’s Guide, a didactic poem, (London 1796), comprising eight verse lectures.
A late tribute came from John Betjeman in 1973. As a trustee of the Bath Preservation Trust since the 1940s, he protested the depredations of philistine developers in “The Newest Bath Guide”, quoting from and addressing Anstey. Its final couplet demonstrates how much Betjeman was indebted to him for his own art of satirical rhyming:
- Goodbye to old Bath! We who loved you are sorry
- They're carting you off by developer's lorry.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Anstey, Christopher". Encyclopædia Britannica 2 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- "Anstey, Christopher (ANSY742C)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
- Anstey, pp.vi-vii
- The plaque recording this is actually displayed outside No. 5, Lowndes, William (1981). The Royal Crescent in Bath. Redcliffe Press. ISBN 978-0-905459-34-9.
- Bishop pp.68ff
- Anstey p.xii
- Anstey pp.l-liii
- Anstey pp.499-503
- Thomas Gray archive
- Garrison, James D., A Dangerous Liberty: Translating Gray's Elegy, University of Delaware 2009, p.153ff
- Thomas Grey archive
- Editio nova prioribus emendatior, Stanford University
- Google Books
- Anstey p.95
- Ad C.W. Bampfylde, arm. epistola poetica familiaris, in qua continentur tabulæ quinque ab eo excogitatæ, quæ personas repræsentant poematis cujusdam Anglicani, cui titulus: An election ball, (Bath 1777)
- A familiar epistle to G.W. Bampfylde, London 1777, Google Books
- The Analytical Review, London 1799, pp.615-17
- Bishop p.67
- Cossic, p.14
- Cossic, p.43
- Anstey, p.xviii-xx
- Bishop, p.61
- Anstey, p.xx
- Google Books
- Letter X, Anstey pp.62-3)
- Oxford Dictionaries
- Joseph Wright, The English Dialect Dictionary, p.438
- Joseph Wright, The English Dialect Dictionary, p.141
- Cossic, pp.30ff
- The Eclectic Review, Vol.3 New Series, London 1815, p.397
- National Portrait Gallery
- Anstey p.215
- The Monthly Review Vol.36, p.409)
- Google Books
- Google Books
- The Monthly Mirror, Vol.4, p.217
- The Annual Biography and Obituary, Volume 18, London 1834, pp.30-31
- Online archive
- The Analytical Review, Vol.8, pp.551-3
- The Eclectic Review, Vol.1 New Series, pp.397-8
- Hathi Trust
- William S. Peterson, John Betjeman: A Bibliography, Oxford University 2006, pp.439-40
- Betjeman Concordance
|Wikisource has original works written by or about:
- Anstey, John, The Poetical Works of the Late Christopher Anstey, Esq: With Some Account of the Life and Writings of the Author, London 1808
- Bishop, Philippa, “The Sentence of Momus: satirical verse and prints in 18th century Bath”, in Bath History 5, 1994, pp.51-79
- Cossic, Annick (ed), The New Bath Guide, International Academic Publishers 2010
- Works by or about Christopher Anstey in libraries (WorldCat catalog)