Nash, Richard (DNB00)

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NASH, RICHARD, Beau Nash (1674–1762), born at Swansea on 18 Oct. 1674, was the son of Richard Nash, a native of Pembroke, who, as partner in a glass-house at Swansea, had earned the means of giving his son an excellent education. It was commonly stated, by Dr. Cheyne among others, that Nash had no father, and the Duchess of Marlborough once twitted him with the obscurity of his birth; but Nash rejoined with characteristic felicity, 'Madam, I seldom mention my father in company, not because I have any reason to be ashamed of him, but because he has some reason to be ashamed of me.' The 'Beau's' mother was niece to Colonel John Poyer [q. v.]

After some years spent at Carmarthen grammar school Nash matriculated from Jesus College, Oxford, on 19 March 1691-2; but he left the university without a degree. His father next purchased him a pair of colours in the army, and Nash dressed the Eart, says Goldsmith, 'to the very edge of is finances;' but he soon found that 'the profession of arms required attendance and duty, and often encroached upon those hours he could have wished to dedicate to softer purposes.' He accordingly reverted to the law, for which profession he had originally been intended, and entered as a student of the Inner Temple in 1693. There he distinguished himself by his good manners, by his taste in dress, and by leadiny so gay a life without visible means of support that his most intimate friends suspected him being a highwayman.

He was selected by the students of the Middle Temple to superintend the pageant which they exhibited before William III in 1695, and displayed so much skill in the matter that William offered to knight him. Nash, however, evaded the honour by the remark, 'If your majesty is pleased to make me a knight, I wish it may be one of your poor knights at Windsor, for then I shall have a fortune at least able to support my title.' He is said to have been offered a knighthood subsequently by Queen Anne, but refused to receive the distinction, simultaneously with Sir William Read [q. v.], the empirical oculist. Between 1695 and 1705 he must have been reduced to strange expedients in quest of a livelihood. A favourite resource was the acceptance of extravagant wagers, such as that he would ride through a village on cowback naked. On one occasion he won fifty guineas by standing at the great door of York Minster as the congregation came out, clad only in a blanket. To the gaming tables he was soon indebted for a handsome addition to his income, and his addiction to gambling drew him to Bath in 1706. Bath had been rendered fashionable as a health resort by Queen Anne's visit in 1703. But the wealthy and leisured people who visited the springs found no arrangements made for their comfort or amusement. Dancing was conducted on the bowling green; there was no assembly, and no code of etiquette, nor of dress; men smoked in the presence of the ladies who met for tea and cards in a canvas booth; gentlemen appeared at the dance in top-boots, and ladies in white aprons; the lodgings, for which exorbitant prices were charged, were mean and dirty; the sedan chairmen were rude and uncontrolled; there was no machinery for introductions; the gentlemen habitually wore swords, and duels were frequent.

In 1704 Captain Webster, a gamester, had endeavoured to improve matters by establishing a series of subscription balls at the town-hall; but Webster was killed in a duel shortly after Nash's arrival. Nash soon resolved to correct the provincial tone of the place, and, as an agreeable and ingenious person of organising capacity, he obtained a paramount influence among the visitors. He readily obtained the goodwill of the corporation, and engaged a sood band of music ; he then set on loot a subscription of a guinea, subsequently raised to two guineas, per annum, provided an assembly house, drew up a code of rules, and caused them to be posted in the pump-room, which was henceforth put under the care of an officer called 'the pumper.'

The company consequently increased; new houses of a more ambitious type began to be built, and in 1706 Nash raised 18,000l by subscription for repairing the roads in the neighbourhood of the city. He also conducted a successful crusade against the practice of habitually wearing swords, against duelling, against informalities of dress, promiscuous smoking, the barbarities of the chairmen, and the exorbitant charges of the lodging-house keepers. His command of the band gave him control of the hours for the balls and assemblies, and his judicious regulations were despotically enforced. Royalty in the person of the Princess Amelia was compelled to submit to his authority, and deviations from his code by per sons of inferior rank were severely dealt with. It is related how on one occasion the Duchess of Queensbery came one night tu the assembly in a white apron. Nash, on perceiving this infringement of his rules, promptly approached her grace, and, with every gesture of profound respect, untied her apron, and threw it among the ladies' women on the back benches, observing that such a garment was proper only for Abigails. By such displays Nash arrived at the position of un- questioned autocrat of Bath and 'arbiter, elegantiarum.'

He became formally known as master of the ceremonies, and informally as king of Bath. The corporation hung his portrait, by Hoare, in the pump-room, between the busts of Newton and Fope, a proceeding which occasioned Chesterfield's epi- gram:

This picture plac'd the busts between,
Gives satyr all his strength;
Wisdom and wit are little seen,
But folly at full length.

(The various reasons given for disputing Chesterfield's authorship in 1741 are quite inconclusive. See Notes and Queries, 5th ser. xi. 857).

Nash now had his levee, his flatterers, his buffoons, and even his dedicators. His vanity was proportionately large; he habitually travelled in a post chariot, drawn by six greys, with outriders, footmen, and French horns; his dress was covered with the most expensive embroidery and lace; he always wore an immense cream-coloured beaver hat, and assigned as a reason for this singularity that he did so to secure it from being stolen. In 1737 his reputation suffered considerably by his failure to recover the commission due to him on winnings at the gaming tables from Walter Wiltshire, lessee of the Assembly Rooms, the court deciding that the compact was immoral. In 1738, however, Nash took a leading part in the welcome given by the city to Frederick, prince of Wales, in memory of whose visit he erected an obelisk, for which, after some correspondence, he induced Pope, who had described him as an impudent fellow, to write the inscription.

In addition to being a sleeping partner in Wiltshire's, and very possibly in other gambling-houses in the city, Nash was himself a regular frequenter of the gaming tables, at which he made large sums, until by the act of 1740 severe penalties were enacted against all games of chance. He managed to evade the law for a time by the invention of new games, among which one called E O became the favourite; but in 1745 a more stringent law was passed. His income now became very precarious, and as a new generation sprang up, to which Nash was a stranger, his splendour gradually faded. Embittered by neglect, he lost the remainder of his popularity, and about 1758 the corporation voted him an allowance of 10l. a month. He long occupied a house in St. John's Court, known as the Garrick's Head, and subsequently rented by Mrs. Delaney, but moved to a smaller house near to it in Gascoyne Place, before his death, at the age of eighty-seven, on 3 Feb. 1762. The corporation having voted 50l. towards his funeral, he was buried with great pomp on 8 Feb. in Bath Abbey, where a monumental tablet bears an epitaph written by Dr. Henry Harington [q. v.] A long epitaph was also composed by Nash's old friend, Dr. William Oliver, and an elaborate 'Epitaphium Ricardi Nash' by Dr. William King, principal of St. Mary Hall, Oxford (all three are printed in Richard Warner's 'Modern History of Bath' 1801, pp. 370-2).

'Nature,' says Goldsmith, 'had by no means favoured Mr. Nash for a beau garçon; his person was clumsy, too large and awkward, and his features harsh, strong, and peculiarly irregular; yet, even with these disadvantages he made love, became a universal admirer, and was universally admired. He was possessed at least of some requisites as a lover. He had assiduity, flattery, fine cloaths, and as much wit as the ladies he addressed.' His successes with the fair sex extended to Miss Fanny Murray, whose charms were supposed to have inspired Wilkes's famous 'Essay on Woman' (see Notes and Queries, 4th ser. iv. 1).

Nash's foibles were compensated by many sterling qualities. According to Goldsmith, his virtues sprang from an honest, benevolent mind, and his vices from too much good nature. With Ralph Allen and Dr. Oliver, he was mainly instrumental in establishing the mineral-water hospital at Bath. He is praised for the great care he took of young ladies, whom he attended at the balls at the assembly-room, and warned against adventurers like himself. He was free alike from meanness and brutality, and the stories of his generosity at the gaming table are numerous. The humorous author of the anonymous life of Quin, published in 1768, describes Nash as in everything original: 'There was a whimsical refinement in his person, dress, and behaviour, which was habitual to and sat so easily upon him that no stranger who came to Bath ever expressed any surprise at his uncommon manner and appearance.'

Many of his sayings have found their way into familiar collections. His flow of conversation was irresistible, and examples of his monologue en gasconade have been preserved in the 'Gentleman's Magazine' and elsewhere. He was notorious as a scoffer at religion, but on one occasion he was effectually silenced by John Wesley (Wesley, Journal, 5 June 1739).

Nash's portrait, by Hoare, engraved by A. Walton, is prefixed to Goldsmith's 'Life.' Another portrait, painted by T. Hudson in 1740, has been engraved by Greatbatch and by J. Faber.

[Goldsmith's admirably written Life of Richard Nash, bought by Newbery for 14l., and published in 1762, was added by Dr. Johnson to his select library, and remains a classic; but the amount of information contained in it is, like Nash's own gold, ‘spread out as thinly and as far as it would go.’ Goldsmith speaks, however, as if he had been personally acquainted with the ‘Beau.’ An excellent memoir appeared in the Gentleman's Magazine for 1762. See also Anstey's New Bath Guide for 1762; Newbery's Biog. Mag. 1776, pp. 499, 500; Hist. MSS. Comm. 11th Rep. App. v. 327 (a letter from Lord Orrery giving an account of Bath in 1731); Wright's Historic Bath; Peach's Historic Houses in Bath, pp. 44–6; Doran's Memories of our Great Towns, 1878, pp. 83–9; Williams's Eminent Welshmen, pp. 355–6; London Mag. xxxi. 515–17; Univ. Mag. xxxi. 265; Blackwood's Mag. xlviii. 773; Grace Wharton's Wits and Beaux of Society; Lecky's Hist. of England, ii. 54; Richard Warner's Literary Recollections, vol. ii. passim; Chambers's Book of Days, i. 217–18; Letters of Henrietta, Countess of Suffolk, ed. Croker, ii. 114 sq.; Elwin and Courthope's Pope. Nash's history has also been treated with discernment in two modern novels, Mrs. Hibbert Ware's King of Bath and Mary Deane's Mr. Zinzan of Bath.]

T. S.