Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Anstey, Christopher

ANSTEY, CHRISTOPHER (1724–1805), poet, was born on 31 Oct. 1724. He was the only son of the Rev. Christopher Anstey, D.D., of Brinkley in Cambridgeshire, sometime fellow of St. John's College, Cambridge. He went to school at Bury St. Edmunds, and afterwards to Eton as an oppidan. In 1742 he succeeded to a scholarship at King's College, and distinguished himself by the Tripos verses he wrote for the Cambridge commencement in 1745. In the same year he was admitted fellow of King's, and in 1746 took his bachelor's degree. The leading part which he played in opposing certain alterations of the college regulations had the effect of preventing him from obtaining his master of arts degree. To this he refers in the Epilogue to the 'New Bath Guide:'

Granta, sweet Grauta, where studious of ease,
Seven years did I sleep, and then lost my degrees.

Besides the Tripos verses above referred to, he had distinguished himself at Cambridge by a Latin poem on the peace of 1748. He continued to be a fellow of King's, and occasionally resided there until 1754, when his mother died, and having succeeded to the family estates, he resigned his fellowship.

In 1756 he married Ann, third daughter of Felix Calvert, Esq., of Albury Hall in Hertfordshire, and for many years seems to have combined the cultivation of letters with the pursuits of a country gentleman. A bilious fever, partly brought on by the death of his only sister — the Miss Anstey of Mrs. Montagu's letters — led to his visiting Bath, where later he fixed his home. In 1751 Gray had published his famous 'Elegy,' and, in 1762, in conjunction with Dr. Roberts of King's, Anstey made the first translation of it into Latin — a translation which had the advantage of Gray's criticisms and the good fortune to elicit an interesting letter from the poet, part of which is given in Anstey's 'Works' (Introduction, pp. xv-xvi, ed. 1808). From 1762 to 1766 Anstey published nothing. In 1766, however, appeared the famous series of letters in rhyme entitled the 'New Bath Guide, or Memoirs of the B—r—d [Blunderhead] Family, in a series of Poetical Epistles.' It was composed at the author's country seat of Trumpington, and printed in quarto at Cambridge. Its success was instantaneous. Walpole enthusiastically describes it thus: 'It is a set of letters in verse, in all kind of verses, describing the life at Bath, and incidentally everything else; but so much wit, so much humour, fun, and poetry, so much originality, never met together before. Then the man has a better ear than Dryden or Handel. Apropos to Dryden, he has burlesqued his St. Cecilia, that you will never read it again without laughing. There is a description of a milliner's box in all the terms of landscape, painted lawns and chequered shades, a Moravian ode, and a Methodist ditty, that are incomparable, and the best names that ever were composed' {Letter to Montagu, 20 June 1766). Gray, too, writes to Wharton (26 Aug. 1766): 'Have you read the "New Bath Guide"? It is the only thing in fashion, and is a new and original kind of humour.' The 'new and original kind of humour' has by this time grown somewhat ancient in the metres of Barham and Moore and a hundred others, and the nineteenth century reader would scarcely endorse Walpole's view of the 'Methodist ditty,' which even in Anstey's day was sometimes pasted down by the scrupulous; but there can be no doubt of the contemporary popularity of the book, or its clever ridicule of fashion and her freaks. Dodsley, who, after the appearance of the second edition, paid the author 200l. for the copyright, had made so much money by it ten years later that he gave it back to him. Smollett was at Bath in 1766-7, and it is admitted, even by his biographers, that he was indebted to the 'New Bath Guide' for something of the scheme of 'Humphry Clinker.'

Anstey never repeated the success of the 'New Bath Guide.' His reputation as a rhymester and humorist attracted attention to his subsequent performances, but they have neither the freshness nor the vivacity of his first effort. In 1767 he published an elegy upon the Marquis of Tavistock, who died by a fall from his horse, and in the same year appeared ' The Patriot,' a 'Pindaric epistle' on prize-fighting, addressed to the notorious bruiser Buckhorse. In 1770, in order to educate his children, he removed to Bath permanently, and was one of the first residents in the Crescent. He continued to write verse at intervals, producing, among other pieces, 'An Election Ball,' 1776 (in the 'Bath Guide' vein); 'Envy,' 1778; 'Liberality, or the Decayed Macaroni;' and various occasional verses. The 'Election Ball' was a contribution to that egregious classic vase set up by Mrs. (afterwards Lady) Miller at Batheaston, of which, with its attendant ceremonial, so piquant an account is given by Walpole {Letter to Conway and Lady Aylesbury, 15 Jan. 1775). It was illustrated with six copper-plates by C. W. Bampfylde.

Anstey died in 1805, aged 81, and was buried in Walcot Church, Bath. A monument was afterwards erected to him in Poets' Corner.

[Poetical Works of the late Christopher Anstey, Esq., with some Account of the Life and Writings of the Author by his Son, John Anstey, Esq., 1808.]

A. D.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.7
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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39 ii 30 Anstey, Christopher : after other pieces insert ‘A Serious Alarm to the People of Bath’ [1772]; ‘The Priest Dissected,’ an exceptionally virulent satire
34 for was a contribution read and ‘Priest Dissected’ were contributed