Page images
PDF
EPUB
[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]

port my title.” William did not see the force of this argument, and Mr. Nash remained Mr. Nash till the day of his death. He had another chance of the title, however, in days when he could have better maintained it, but again he refused. Queen Anne once asked him why he declined knighthood. He replied: “There is Sir William Read, the mountebank, who has just been knighted, and I should have to call him “brother.' The honor was, in fact, rather a cheap one in those days, and who knows whether a man who had done such signal service to his country did not look forward to a peerage? Worse men than even Beau Nash have had it.

Well, Nash could afford to defy royalty, for he was to be himself a monarch of all he surveyed, and a good deal more; but before we follow him to Bath, let us give the devil his due-which, by the way, he generally gets—and tell a pair of tales in the Beau's favor.

Imprimis, his accounts at the Temple were £10 deficient.. Now I don't mean that Nash was not as great a liar as most of his craft, but the truth of this tale rests on the authority of the “Spectator," though Nash took delight in repeating it.

“Come hither, young man,” said the Benchers, coolly : “ whereunto this deficit ?”

“Pri’thee, good masters,” quoth Nash, “that £10 was spent on making a man happy."

“A man happy, young sir, pri'thee explain.”

“Odds donners," quoth Nash, “the fellow said in my hearing that his wife and bairns were starving, and £10 would make him the happiest man sub sole, and on such an occasion as His Majesty's accession could I refuse it him ?”

Nash was, proverbially, more generous than just. He would

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

X .

amount to the first friend that begged it. There was much ostentation in this, but then my friend Nash was ostentatious. One friend bothered him day and night for £20 that was owing to him, and he could not get it. Knowing his debtor's character, he hit, at last, on a happy expedient, and sent a friend to borrow the money “ to relieve his urgent necessities.” Out came the bank-note, before the story of distress was finished. The friend carried it to the creditor, and when the latter again met Nash, he ought to have made him a pretty compliment on his honesty.

Perhaps the King of Bath would not have tolerated in any one else the juvenile frolics he delighted in after years to relate of his own early days. When at a loss for cash he would do any thing, but work, for a fifty pound note, and having, in one of his trips, lost all his money at York, the Beau under

[blocks in formation]

took to “ do penance” at the minster door for that sum. ІІe accordingly arrayed himself-not in sackcloth and ashes, but -in an able-bodied blanket, and nothing else, and took his stand at the porch just at the hour when the dean would be going in to read service. “He, ho,” cried that dignitary, who knew him, “Mr. Nash in masquerade ?” “Only a Yorkshire

? penance, Mr. Dean," quoth the reprobate; “for keeping bad company, too," pointing therewith to the friends who had come to see the sport.

This might be tolerated, but when, in the eighteenth century, a young man emulates the hardiness of Godiva, without her merciful heart, we may not think quite so well of him. Mr. Richard Nash, Beau Extraordinary to the Kingdom of Bath, once rode through a village in that costume of which even our first parent was rather ashamed, and that, too, on the back of a cow! The wager was, I believe, considerable. A young Englishman did something more respectable, yet quite as extraordinary, at Paris, not a hundred years ago, for a small bet. He was one of the stoutest, thickest-built men possible, yet being but eighteen, had neither whisker nor mustache to masculate his clear English complexion. At the Maison Dorée one night he offered to ride in the Champs Elysées in a lady's habit, and not be mistaken for a man. A friend undertook to dress him, and went all over Paris to hire a habit that would fit his round figure. It was hopeless for a time, but at last a good-sized body was found, and added thereto, an ample skirt. Félix dressed his hair with mainte plats and a net.

He looked perfect, but in coming out of the hairdresser's to get into his fly, unconsciously pulled up his skirt and displayed a sturdy pair of well-trowsered legs. A crowdthere is always a ready crowd in Paris—was waiting, and the laugh was general. This hero reached the horse-dealer's “mounted,” and rode down the Champs. “A very fine woman that,” said a Frenchman in the promenade, “but what a back she has !” It was in the return bet to this that a now well-known diplomat drove a goat-chaise and six down the same fashionable resort, with a monkey, dressed as a footman, in the back seat. The days of folly did not, apparently, end with Beau Nash. X

There is a long lacune in the history of this worthy's life, which may have been filled up by a residence in a sponginghouse, or by a temporary appointment as billiard-marker; but the heroic Beau accounted for his disappearance at this time in a much more romantic manner. He used to relate that he was once asked to dinner on board a man-of-war under orders for the Mediterranean, and that such was the affection the of

132

A VERY ROMANTIC STORY.

ficers entertained for him, that, having made him drunk-no difficult matter—they weighed anchor, set sail, and carried the successor of King Bladud away to the wars. Having gone so far, Nash was not the man to neglect an opportunity for imaginary valor. He therefore continued to relate that, in the apocryphal vessel, he was once engaged in a yet more apocryphal encounter, and wounded in the leg. This was a little too much for the good Bathonians to believe, but Nash silenced their doubts. On one occasion, a lady who was present when he was telling this story, expressed her incredulity.

“I protest, madam,” cried the Beau, lifting his leg up, “it is true, and if I can not be believed, your ladyship may, if you please, receive further information, and feel the ball in my leg."

Wherever Nash may have passed the intervening years, may be an interesting speculation for a German professor, but is of little moment to us. We find him again, at the age of thirty, taking first steps toward the complete subjugation of the kingdom he afterward ruled.

There is, among the hills of Somersetshire, a huge basin formed by the river Avon, and conveniently supplied with a natural gush of hot water, which can be turned on at any time for the cleansing of diseased bodies. This hollow presents many curious anomalies: though sought for centuries for the sake of health, it is one of the most unhealthily-situated places in the kingdom; here the body and the pocket are alike cleaned out, but the spot itself has been noted for its dirtiness since the days of King Bladud's wise pigs; here, again, the diseased flesh used to be healed, but the healthy soul within it speedily besickened; you came to cure gout and rheumatism, and caught in exchange dice-fever.

The mention of those pigs reminds me that it would be a shameful omission to speak of this city without giving the story of that apocryphal British monarch, King Bladud. But let me be the one exception; let me respect the good sense of the reader, and not insult him by supposing him capable of believing a mythic jumble of kings, and pigs, and dirty marshes, which he will, if he cares to, find at full length in any “ Bath Guide”-price sixpence.

But whatever be the case with respect to the Celtic sovereign, there is, I presume, no doubt, that the Romans were here, and probably the centurions and tribunes cast the alea in some pristine assembly-room, or wagged their plumes in some wellbuilt Pump-room, with as much spirit of fashion as the fullbottomed-wigged exquisites in the reign of King Nash. At any rate Bath has been in almost every age a common centre

NASH DESCENDS UPON BATH.

133

for health-seekers and gamesters--two antipodal races who always flock together—and if it has from time to time declined, it has only been for a period. Saxon churls and Norman lords were too sturdy to catch much rheumatic gout: crusaders had better things to think of than their imaginary ailments; good health was in fashion under Plantagenets and Tudors; doctors were not believed in; even empirics had to praise their wares with much wit, and Morrison himself must have mounted a bank and dressed in Astleyian costume in order to find a customer; sack and small-beer were harmless, when homes were not comfortable enough to keep earl or churl by the fireside, and “out-of-doors” was the proper drawing-room for a man: in short, sickness came in with civilization, indisposition with immoral habits, fevers with fine-gentlemanliness, gout with greediness, and valetudinarianism—there is no Anglo-Saxon word for that—with what we falsely call refinement. So, whatever Bath may have been to pampered Romans, who over-ate themselves, it had little importance to the stout, healthy Middle Ages, and it was not till the reign of Charles II. that it began to look up. Doctors and touters—the two were often one in those days—thronged there, and fools were found in plenty to follow them. At last the blessed countenance of portly Anne smiled on the pig-styes of King Bladud. In 1703 she went to Bath, and from that time “people of distinction” flocked there. The assemblage was not perhaps very brilliant or very refined. The visitors danced on the green, and played privately at hazard. A few sharpers found their way down from London; and at last the Duke of Beaufort instituted an M. C. in the person of Captain Webster-Nash's predecessor-whose main act of glory was in setting up gambling as a public amusement. It remained for Nash to make the place what it afterward was, when Chesterfield could lounge in the Pump-room and take snuff with the Beau; when Sarah of Marlborough, Lord and Lady Hervey, the Duke of Wharton, Congreve, and all the little-great of the day thronged thither rather to kill time with less ceremony than in London, than to cure complaints more or less imaginary.

The doctors were only less numerous than the sharpers; the place was still uncivilized; the company sinoked and lounged without etiquette, and played without honor; the place itself lacked all comfort, all elegance, and all cleanliness.

Upon this delightful place, the avatar of the God of Etiquette, personified in Mr. Richard Nash, descended somewhere about the year 1705, for the purpose of regenerating the barbarians. He alighted just at the moment that one of the doctors we have alluded to, in a fit of disgust at some slight on

[ocr errors]

134

NASH'S CHEF-D'EUVRE.

the part of the town, was threatening to destroy its reputation, or, as he politely expressed it,“ to throw a toad into the spring.' The Bathonians were alarmed and in consternation, when young Nash, who must have already distinguished himself as a macaroni, stepped forward and offered to render the angry physician impotent. “We'll charm his toad out again with music," quoth he. He evidently thought very little of the watering-place, after his town experiences, and prepared to treat it accordingly. He got up a band in the Pump-room, brought thither in this manner the healthy as well as the sick, and soon raised the renown of Bath as a resort for gayety as well as for mineral waters. In a word, he displayed a surprising talent for setting every thing and every body to rights, and was, therefore, soon elected, by tacit voting, the King of Bath.

He rapidly proved his qualifications for the position. First he secured his Orphean harmony by collecting a band subscription, which gave two guineas a piece to six performers; then he engaged an official pumper for the Pump-room; and lastly, finding

that the bathers still gathered under a booth to drink their tea and talk their scandal, he induced one Harrison to build assembly-rooms, guaranteeing him three guineas a week to be raised by subscription.

All this demanded a vast amount of impudence on Mr. Nash's part, and this he possessed to a liberal extent. The subscriptions flowed in regularly, and Nash felt his power increase with his responsibility. So, then, our minor monarch resolved to be despotic, and in a short time laid down laws for the guests, which they obeyed most obsequiously. Nash had not much wit, though a great deal of assurance, but these laws were his chef-d'oeuvre. Witness some of them :

1. “That a visit of ceremony at first coming and another at going away, are all that are expected or desired by ladies of quality and fashion-except impertinents.

4. “ That no person takes it ill that any one goes to another's play or breakfast, and not theirs-except captious nature.

5. “That no gentleman give his ticket for the balls to any but gentlewomen. N.B.—Unless he has none of his acquaint

6. “That gentlemen crowding before the ladies at the ball, show ill manners; and that none do so for the future except such as respect nobody but themselves.

9. “That the younger ladies take notice how many eyes observe them. N.B.- This does not extend to the Have-at-alls.

10. “That all whisperers of lies and scandal be taken for their authors.”

ance.

« PreviousContinue »