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The Life Of Beau Nash - Introduction

Late Master of the Ceremonies at Bath
Extracted Principally from his Original Papers



Oliver Goldsmith hardly needs introduction beyond Johnson's epitaph for him. "A Poet, Naturalist, and Historian, who left scarcely any style of writing untouched, and touched nothing that he did not adorn."  The Life of Beau Nash was his adornment of the art of biography. Nash, the subject of the book, was Master of the Ceremonies at Bath Spa in Somerset for many years in the eighteenth century, and is credited with reviving its fashionable status. Though it had been frequented from Roman times onwards for the health-giving properties of its mineral and hot springs, by 1700 it had declined to a shabby town with very little else to attract the visitor. Nash, despite a gentle upbringing and an expensive education, had failed as a lawyer and soldier, and was in the town trying to support himself as a professional gambler.  He persuaded the council to allow him to improve the organisation of the weekly ball, and from that he rapidly ascended to the direction of the social life of the city.  Nash instituted balls, assemblies, and other attractions, organised the municipal band, cleared and repaired the roads, put manners on the previously offensive and unruly sedan-chair men, smoothed over disagreements of all kinds, and enforced courtesy and decorum on all visitors.  Year by year the town became more fashionable and popular, frequented by royalty and aristocracy as well as squires, retired officers and parsons, and their wives and daughters, all ready to enjoy themselves while mingling freely in organised social gatherings.  The beautiful Georgian terraces and crescents were built in Nash's time to accommodate the visitors who would generally rent houses for several months. A genteel marriage mart also flourished, with people impoverishing themselves in order to bring their daughters there in the hope of finding a husband for them.  Rakes, too came in the hope of finding an heiress whose wealth they could batten on.  This is the subject of many novels of the period; for example Smollett's Roderick Random and Humphrey Clinker are partly set there.  Jane Austen lived there for several years, and Northanger Abbey and Persuasion are largely set there and partly based on what she saw and heard of the marriage mart. Nash is by no means forgotten in Bath; his portrait still graces the Pump Room and he is mentioned in all the potted histories of the city.  Despite this, Goldsmith's biography is very difficult to get hold of, even in Bath, and we hope our edition will revive interest.

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