In 1766 a small book, The New Bath Guide, was published by Dodsley, a London bookseller. It was written by a country squire from Cambridgeshire called Christopher Anstey, and it became an immediate best seller. The book was not a guide in the accepted sense of the word; it was a satirical review, in verse, of fashionable society in Bath in the mid-eighteenth century, and its broad humour found a receptive audience in London and Bath, where it was widely read and discussed. Ten editions appeared during the decades following its publication, and Anstey achieved a modest measure of fame.
He was born at Brinkley in Cambridgeshire in 1724, and was educated at Eton and King’s College, Cambridge, before settling down to manage his father’s estates. The idea of the book was conceived after a visit to Bath to take the waters; and following its remarkable success, he came with his wife and children to live permanently in the city, taking one of the new houses that had just been erected by John Wood the Younger in Royal Crescent. The bronze tablet on Number 5 states that this was the house he occupied; but the city’s early rate books seem to indicate that number 4 was his house—although for some reason he paid the rates of number 5 until 1789. In 1792 he moved to a house in the recently completed Marlborough Buildings, and there he lived until the year of his death in 1805.
His marriage was a successful one, and he and his wife lived contentedly together for nearly half a century; he described her as ‘the pattern of virtue, and the source of all my happiness’. There were thirteen children of the marriage, but only eight survived their father.
A portrait of Anstey hangs in the magnificent Banqueting Room in the Guildhall at Bath. It was painted by William Hoare, and it shows a dark-haired, good-looking man in early middle age; he wears a sage-green coat, braided with gold, and a long white waistcoat, unbuttoned at the top, into which his left hand is thrust, in the Napoleonic manner. His unlined, fresh-complexioned face has an undeniable air of tranquillity and contentment. He looks every inch a successful and happy man—a best-selling author, savouring the acclaim his work had brought him.
Oddly enough, he wrote nothing else of consequence after The New Bath Guide . The little book remains his memorial and the justification for the tablet that is dedicated to him in Poet’s Corner, in Westminster Abbey. It can still be read with much pleasure and amusement.