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THE SCENE OF “THE RIVALS”

Origin and Growth of Bath. The little town of Bath, where the action of The Rivals takes place, was of very ancient origin. Early in their occupation of Britain, the Romans discovered medicinal springs in the middle of a beautiful valley, near a river, and established there a health resort which they named Aquae Solis

“ Baths of the Sun. The Saxons destroyed the place in the sixth century, but several of the old Roman baths remain to this day. The city was well known in the seventeenth century, was made popular by a visit of Queen Anne shortly after 1700, and reached the peak of its prosperity during the middle and latter parts of the eighteenth century, under Beau Nash and his successors.

Beau Nash. With Bath is inseparably connected the name of Richard Nash, or “ Beau Nash, as he is known to history. Educated at Oxford and trained as a lawyer, he organized a band under his own control about 1720, and became Master of Ceremonies for the Assemblies. Through a natural adaptability and a large stock of selfassurance he came to be recognized as the social leader of the place - indeed, a kind of uncrowned king. His powers were exercised autocratically, but with more wisdom than usually is found in such cases.

He dictated reforms in dress; he banished from the Assembly “high boots, riding dress, and white aprons." He forbade extortionate charges on the part of lodginghouse keepers, and was instrumental in having the roads kept in some degree of proper repair. He restrained the insolence of chairmen.” He even went to the extent of checking the evil of dueling; under his régime it was forbidden to wear swords in the streets. This prohibition is noted in The Rivals: A sword seen in the streets of Bath,” says Jack Absolute," would raise as great an alarm as a mad dog." Nash not only enforced rigidly the customary laws of good society but insisted on the observance of his own Rules of Behaviour, which were posted in the Pump Room.

The laws and customs which he had established long outlived him, and are to be traced as late as the time of Dickens's account in The Pickwick Papers. His own end was rather melancholy. His money was derived from a “silent” partnership in certain gaming-houses; when laws against gambling were passed, he lost his income. His ultimate fate was to be pensioned off by the Corporation of Bath, and to wander like an uneasy ghost among the scenes of his former triumphs.

Fashionable Routine. When Bath was at its height as a center of fashion, there was a regular routine for the upper classes. It began with the medicinal bath, which was supposed to be completed by nine in the morning. Then everyone who was anyone assembled at the Pump Room to drink the waters. Doubtless Sheridan here gathered many a suggestion both for the delightful vagaries of Mrs. Malaprop, and the biting scandal of Lady Sneerwell and her friends. Afterwards came walks on the North and South Parades, formal breakfasts, visits to the various circulating libraries, and concerts. The afternoon was

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Rivals,

usually occupied with a second visit to the Pump Room, followed by tea at the Assembly Rooms. The evening was taken up with card parties, concerts, or the theater. Balls, according to the strict rule established by Nash, began at six and ended at eleven. “ The regular hours stupefy me," complains Fag, in the first scene of The

not a fiddle nor a card after eleven!” If we add to what has been said the brilliant and changing costumes, the life and movement of the time, we shall see that Bath had plenty to offer the fashionable seeker after amusement.

Dress. The fashions of the eighteenth century were always striking and decorative, and were of course seen at their best among the social leaders at Bath. Men wore short wigs, powdered and curled, embroidered coats and waistcoats, silk knee-breeches and stockings, and shoes with huge glittering buckles. For women, the following is an account from a magazine article of 1775:

“The fashionable dress for February, as established at St. James's and Bath. FULL DRESS: The ladies in general still wear their hair dressed high, broad at top, with large flys. Negligees of rich plain colored silks or satins, very much trimmed with chenille, and gauze fancy trimming, ornamented with tassels of different colors and no flounce to the petticoat. Large hoops and drop ear-rings. Colored shoes, and small rose buckles.”

Descriptions. The interesting little city occupied an important place of its own in the life of the eighteenth century, as may be gathered from the numerous descriptions, in novels, magazines, and letters. Two of Smollett's novels - Peregrine Pickle and Roderick Random — contain some vivid passages. A highly humorous picture of Bath society appears in The New Bath Guide, a satirical poem of 1766. Goldsmith's Life of Richard Nash is a most readable biography of that notorious character. Horace Walpole wrote some brilliant letters on the occasion of his visit there; letters which are more clever than complimentary. Frances Burney, in The Diary and Letters of Madame d'Arblay, wrote entertainingly of what she saw. Jane Austen, a native of Bath, placed there the scene of Northanger Abbey. For a later description, a picture of a rather faded society living on the memory of past grandeur, one should read Chapters XXXV, XXXVI, and XXXVII of Dickens's Pickwick Papers. Here is an amusing sketch of the Bath which he knew :

“The great pump-room is a spacious saloon, ornamented with Corinthian pillars, and a music gallery, and a Tompion clock, and a statue of Nash, and a golden inscription, to which all water-drinkers should attend, for it appeals to them in the cause of a deserving charity. There is a large bar with a marble vase, out of which the pumper gets the water; and there are a number of yellow-looking tumblers, out of which the company get it; and it is a most edifying and satisfactory sight to see the perseverance and gravity with which they swallow it. There are baths near at hand, in which a part of the company wash themselves; and a band plays afterwards, to congratulate the remainder on their having done so. There is another pump-room, into which infirm ladies and gentlemen are wheeled, in such an astonishing, variety of chairs and chaises, that any adventurous individual who goes in with the regular number of toes, is in imminent danger of coming out without them; and there is a third into which the quiet people go, for it is less noisy than either. There is an immensity of promenading, on crutches and off: with sticks and without: and a great deal of conversation, and liveliness and pleasantry.

Every morning, the regular water-drinkers ... met each other in the pump-room, took their quarter of a pint, and walked consti

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tutionally. At the afternoon's promenade . all the great people met in grand assemblage. After this, they walked out, or drove out, or were pushed in Bath chairs, and met one another again. After this, the gentlemen went to the reading-rooms and met divisions of the mass. After this, they went home. If it were theatre night, perhaps they met at the theatre; if it were assembly night, they met at the rooms; and if it were neither, they met the next day

a very pleasant routine, with perhaps a slight touch of sameness.”

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