Nash, Richard, Esq.

a very extraordinary personage, was born at Swansea, in Glamorganshire, Oct. 18, 1674. His father was a gentleman, whose principal income arose from a partnership in a glass-house: his mother was niece to colonel Poyer, who was killed by Oliver Cromwell, for defending Pembroke-castle against the rebels. He was educated at Carmarthen-school, and thence sent to Jesus college, Oxford, in order to prepare him for the study of the law. His father had strained his little income to give his son such an education; and from the boy’s natural vivacity, he hoped a recompence from his future preferment. In college, however, he soon shewed, that, though much might be expected from his genius, nothing could be hoped from his industry. The first method Nash took to distinguish himself at college was not by application to study, but by assiduity in intrigue. Our hero was quickly caught, and went through all the mazes and adventures of a college intrigue, before he was seventeen he offered marriage, the offer was accepted but, the affair coming to the knowledge of his tutors, his happiness, or perhaps misery, was prevented, and he was sent home from college, with necessary advice to him, and proper instructions to his father. He now purchased a pair of colours, commenced a professed admirer of the sex, and dressed to the very edge of his finances; but soon becoming disgusted with the life of a soldier, quitted the army, entered his name as a student in the Temple-books, and here went to the very summit of second-rate luxury. He spent some | years about town, till at last, his genteel appearance, his constant civility, and still more his assiduity, gained him the acquaintance of several persons qualified to lead the fashion both by birth and fortune. He brought a person genteelly dressed to every assembly; he always made one of those who are called good company; and assurance gave him an air of elegance and ease.

When king William was upon the throne Nash was a member of the Middle Temple. It had been long customary for the inns of court to entertain our monarchs, upon their accession to the crown, or any remarkable occasion, with a revel and pageant. In the early periods of our history, poets were the conductors of these entertainments; plays were exhibited, and complimentary verses were then written but, by degrees, the pageant alone was continued^ sir John Davis being the last poet that wrote verses upon such an occasion, in the reign of James I. This ceremony, which has been at length totally discontinued, was last exhibited in honour of king William; and Nash was chosen to conduct the whole with proper decorum. He was then but a very young man; but at an early age he was thought proper to guide the amusements of his country, and be the arbiter elegantiarum of his time. In conducting this entertainment he had an opportunity of exhibiting all his abilities; and king William was so well satisfied with his performance, that he made him an offer of knighthood. This, however, he thought proper torefuse, which, in a person of his disposition, seems strange. “Please your majesty,” replied he, “if you intend to make me a knight, I wish it may be one of your poor knights of Windsor; and then I shall have a fortune, at least able to support my title.” Yet we do not find that the king took the hint of increasing his fortune; perhaps he could not; he had, at that time, numbers to oblige, and he never cared to give money without important services.

But though Nash acquired no riches by his late office, he gained many friends; or, what is more easily obtained, many acquaintances, who often answer the end as well, and, besides his assurance, he had in reality some merit and some virtues. He was, if not a brilliant, at least an agreeable companion. He never forgot good manners, even in the highest warmth of familiarity, and, as we hinted before, never went in a dirty shirt, to disgrace | the table of his patron or his friend. “These qualifications,” says his biographer, “might make the furniture of his head; but, for his heart, that seemed an assemblage of the virtues which display an honest benevolent mind; with the vices which spring from too much goocl nature.” He had pity for every creature’s distress, but wanted pru*­dence in the application of his benefits. He had generosity for the wretched in the highest degree, at a time when his creditors complained of his justice*. An instance of his humanity is told us in the “Spectator,” though his name is not mentioned. When he was to give in his accounts to the masters of the Temple, among other articles, he charged, "For making one man happy, Jo/. Being questioned about the meaning of so strange an item, he frankly declared, that, happening to over-hear a poor man declare to his wife and a large family of children, that lOl. would make him happy, he could not avoid trying the experiment. He added, that, if they did not -chuse to acquiesce in his charge, he was ready to refund the money. The masters, struck with such an uncommon instance of good nature, publicly thanked him for his benevolence, and desired that the sum might be doubled, as a proof of their satisfaction.

Nash was now fairly for life entered into a new course of gaiety and dissipation, and steady in nothing but in the pursuit of variety. He was thirty years old, without fortune, or useful talents to acquire one. He had hitherto only led a life of expedients; he thanked choice alone for his support; and, having been long precariously


A gentleman told him, “he had just come from seeing the most pitiful sight his eyes ever beheld, a poor man and his wife surrounded with seven helpless infants, almost all perishing for want of food, raiment, and lodging; their apartment was as dreary as the street itself, from the weather breaking in upon them at all quarters; that upon inquiry he found the parents were honest and sober, and wished to be industrious if they had employment; that he had calculated the expence of making the whole family comfortable and happy.” “How much money,” exclaims Nash, “would relieve them and make them happy?” “About ten guineas,” replied the friend,“would be sufficient for the purpose.” Nash instantly went to his bureau, and gave him the cash, at the same time pressing him to make all possible haste, for fear of the sudden dissolution of the miserable family. “I need not go far,” says the friend, smiling, and putting the money into his pocket; “you know you have owed me this money a long while, that I have dunned you for it for years to no manner of purpose; excuse me, therefore, that I have thus imposed on your feelings, not being able to move your justice, for there are no such objects as I have described, to my knowledge: the story is a fiction from beginning to end; you are a dupe, not of justice, but of your own humanity.

| supported, he became, at length, totally a stranger to prudence or precaution. Not to disguise any part of his character, he was now, hy profession, a gamester; and went on from day to day, feeling the vicissitudes of rapture and anguish in proportion to the fluctuations of fortune. About 1703 the city of Bath became, in some measure, frequented by people of distinction. The company was numerous enough to form a country-dance upon the bowling-green; they were amused with a fiddle and hautboy, and diverted with the romantic walks round the city. They usually sauntered in fine weather in the grove, between two rows of sycamore trees. Several learned physicians, Dr. Jordan and others, had even then praised the salubrity of the wells; and the amusements were put under the direction of a master of the ceremonies. Captain Webster was the predecessor of Mr. Nash. This gentleman, in 1704, carried the balls to the town-hall, each man paying half-a-guinea each ball. One of the greatest physicians of his age conceived a design of ruining the city, by writing against the efficacy of the waters; and accordingly published a pamphlet, by which, he said, “he would cast a toad into the spring.

In this situation things were when Nash first came into the city; and, hearing the threat of this physician, he humourously assured the people, that if they would give him leave, he would charm away the poison of the doctor’s toad, as they usually charmed the venom of the tarantula, by music. He therefore was immediately empowered to set up a band of music against the doctor’s reptile; the company very sensibly increased, Nash triumphed, and the sovereignty of the city was decreed to him by every rank of people. None could possibly conceive a person more fit to fill this employment than Nash: he had some wit, but it was of that sort which is rather happy than permanent. He was charitable himself, and generally shamed his betters into a similitude of sentiment, if they were not naturally so before. His first care, when made master of the ceremonies, or king of Bath, as it is called, was to promote a music subscription, of one guinea each, for a band, which was to consist of six performers, who were to receive a guinea a week each for their trouble. He allowed also two guineas a week for lighting and sweeping the rooms, for which he accounted to the subscribers by receipt. By his direction, one Thomas Harrison erected a | handsome assembly-house for these purposes. A better band of music was also procured, and the former subscription of one guinea was raised to two. Harrison had three guineas a week for the room and candles, and the music two guineas a man. The money Nash received and accounted for with the utmost exactness and punctuality. The balls, by his direction, were to begin at six, and to end at eleven. Nor would he suffer them to continue a moment longer, lest invalids might commit irregularities, to counteract the benefit of the waters. The city of Bath, by such assiduity, soon became the theatre of summer amusements for all people of fashion; and the manner of spending the day there must amuse any but such as disease or spleen had made uneasy to themselves. In this manner every amusement soon improved under Nash’s administration. The magistrates of the city found that it was necessary and useful, and took every opportunity of paying the same respect to his fictitious royalty, that is generally extorted by real power. His equipage was sumptuous, and he used to travel to Tunbridge in a postchariot and six greys, with out-riders, footmen, French horns, and every other appendage of expensive parade. He always wore a white hat; and, to apologize for this singularity, said he did it purely to secure it from being stolen; his dress was tawdry, and not perfectly genteel; he might be considered as a beau of several generations; and, in his appearance, he, in some measure, mixed the fashions of a former age with those of his own. He perfectly understood elegant expence, and generally passed his time in the very best company, if persons of the first distinction deserve that title.

But perhaps the reader may demand, what finances were to support all this finery, or where the treasures that gave him such frequent opportunities of displaying his benevolence, or his vanity? To answer this, we must now enter upon another part of his character, his talents as a gamester; for, by gaming alone, at the period of which we speak, he kept up so very genteel an appearance. Wherever' people of fashion came, needy adventurers were generally found in waiting. With such Bath swarmed, and, among this class, Nash was certainly to be numbered in the beginning; only with this difference, that he wanted the corrupt heart, too commonly attending a life of expedients; for he was generous, humane, and honourable, even though | by profession a gamester. But, whatever skill Nash might have acquired by long practice in play, he was never formed by nature for a successful gamester. He was constitutionally passionate and generous. While others made considerable fortunes at the gaming-table, he was ever in the power of chance; nor did even the intimacy with which he was received by the great, place him in a state of independence. The considerable inconveniences that were found to result from a permission of gaming, at length attracted the attention of the legislature; and, in the twelfth year of his late majesty, the most prevalent games at that time were declared fraudulent and unlawful. The Eo was at first set up at Tunbridge, and was reckoned extremely profitable to the bank, as it gained two and a half per cent, on all that was lost or won. As all gaming was suppressed but this, Nash was now utterly destitute of any resource from superior skill and long experience in the art. The money to be gained in private gaming is at best but trifling, and the opportunity precarious. The minds of the generality of mankind shrink with their circumstances and Nash, upon the immediate prospect of poverty, was now mean enough to enter into a base confederacy to evade the law, and to share the plunder. Nash had hitherto enjoyed a fluctuating fortune; and, had he taken the advantage of the present opportunity, he might have been for the future not only above want, but even in circumstances of opulence. In the mean time, as the Eo table thus succeeded at Tunbridge, he was resolved to introduce it at Bath; and previously asked the opinion of several lawyers, who declared it no way illegal. The legislature thought proper to suppress these seminaries of vice. It was enacted, that, after the 24th of June 1745, none should be permitted to keep a house, room, or place for playing, upon pain of such forfeitures as were declared in former acts instituted for that purpose.

By this wise and just act, all Nash’s future hopes of succeeding by the tables were blown up. From that time, we find him involved in continual disputes, every day calumniated with some new slander, and continually endeavouring to obviate its effects. Nature had by no means formed him for a beau garq on: his person was clumsy, too large, and awkward, and his features harsh, strong, and peculiarly irregular; yet even with those disadvantages he made love, became an universal admirer of the sex, and | was universally admired. He was possessed, at least, of some requisites of a lover. He had assiduity, flattery, fine clothes, and as much wit as the ladies he addressed. Wit, flattery, and fine clothes, he used to say, were enough to debauch a nunnery. He did not long continue an universal gallant but,in the earlier years of his reign, entirely gave up his endeavours to deceive the sex, in order to become the honest protector of their innocence, the guardian of their reputation, and a friend to their virtue. This was a character he bore for many years, and supported it with integrity, assiduity, and success; and he not only took care, during his administration, to protect the ladies from the insults of our sex, but to guard them from the slanders of each other. He, in the first place, prevented any animosities that might arise from place and precedence, by being previously acquainted with the rank and quality of almost every family in the British dominions. He endeavoured to render scandal odious, by marking it as the result of envy and folly united. Whatever might have been his other excellences, there was one in which few exceeded him, his extensive humanity. None felt pity more strongly, and none made greater efforts to relieve distress. “If we were,” says his biographer, “to name any reigning and fashionable virtue in the present age, it should be charity. We know not whether it may not be spreading the influence of Nash too widely, to say, that he was one of the principal causes of introducing this noble v emulation among the rich; but certain it is, no private man ever relieved the distresses of so many as he.” Before gaming was suppressed, and in the meridian of his life and fortune, his benefactions were generally found to equal his other expences. The money he got without pain, he gave away without reluctance; and, when unable to relieve a wretch who sued for assistance, he has been often seen to shed tears. A gentleman of broken fortune, one day standing behind his chair, as he was playing a game of piquet for 200l. and observing with what indifference he won the money, could not avoid whispering these words to another who stood by, “Heavens! how happy would all that money make me!” Nash, overhearing him, clapped the money into his hand, and cried, “Go, and be happy.” In the severe winter of 1739, his charity was great, useful, and extensive. He frequently, at that season of calamity, entered the houses of the poor, whom he | thought too proud to beg, and generously relieved them. But of all the instances of Nash’s bounty, none does him more real honour, than the pains he took in establishing an hospital at Bath; in which benefaction, however, Dr. Oliver had a great share. This was one of those wellguided charities, dictated by reason, and supported by prudence, chiefly by the means of Dr. Oliver and Mr. Nash; but not without the assistance of Mr. Allen, who gave them the stones for building, and other benefactions. As Nash grew old, he grew insolent, and seemed not aware of the pain his attempts to be a wit gave others. He grew peevish and fretful; and they, who only saw the remnant of a man, severely returned that laughter upon him, which he had once lavished upon others. Poor Nash was no longer the gay, thoughtless, idly industrious creature he once was; he now forgot how to supply new modes of entertainment, and became too rigid to wind with ease through the vicissitudes of fashion. The evening of his life began to grow cloudy. His fortune was gone, and nothing but poverty lay in prospect. He now began to want that charity, which he had never refused to any; and to find, that a life of dissipation and gaiety is ever terminated by misery and regret. He was now past the power of giving or receiving pleasure, for he was poor, old, and peevish; yet still he was incapable of turning from his former manner of life to pursue happiness. An old man thus striving after pleasure is indeed an object of pity; but a man at once old and poor, running on in this pursuit, might excite astonishment.

A variety of causes concurred to embitter his departing life. His health began to fail. He had received from nature a robust and happy constitution, that was scarcely even to be impaired by intemperance. For some time before his decease, nature gave warning of his approaching dissolution. Theworn machine had run itself down to an utter impossibility of repair he saw that he must die, and shuddered at the thought. Fortitude was not among the number of his virtues. Anxious, timid, his thoughts still hanging on a receding world, he desired to enjoy a little longer that life, the miseries of which he had experienced so long. The poor unsuccessful gamester husbanded the wasting moments with an increased desire to continue the game; and, to the last, eagerly wished for one yet more happy throw. He died at his house in St. John’s court, Bath, | Feb. 3, 1761, aged 87. His death was sincerely regretted by the city, to which he had been so long and so great a benefactor. After the corpse had lain four days, it was conveyed to the abbey-church in that city, with a solemnity peculiar to his character. The few things he was possessed of were left to his relations. A small library of well- chosen books, some trinkets and pictures, were his only inheritance. Among the latter were, a gold box, given by the late countess of Burlington, with lady Euston’s picture in the lid; an agate etui, with a diamond on the top, by the princess dowager of Wales; and some things of no great value. The rings, watches, and pictures, which he formerly received from others, would have come to a considerable amount; but these his necessities had obliged him to dispose of: some family-pictures, however, remained, which were sold by advertisement, for five guineas each, after his decease.

In domestic life, among his servants and dependants, where no gloss was required to colour his sentiments and disposition, nor any ma^k necessary to conceal his foibles, he was ever fond of promoting the interests of his servants and dependants, and making them happy. In his own house, no man was perhaps more regular, cheerful, and beneficent. His table was always free to those who sought his friendship, or wanted a dinner. As his thoughts were entirely employed in the affairs of his government, he was seldom at home but at the time of eating or of rest. His table was well served, but his entertainment consisted principally of plain dishes. He generally arose early in the morning, being seldom in bed after five; and, to avoid disturbing the family, and depriving his servants of their rest, he had the fire laid after he was in bed, and, in the morning, lighted it himself, and sat down to read some of his few, but well-chosen books. His generosity and charity in private life, though not so conspicuous, was as great as that in public, and indeed far more considerable than his little income would admit of. Such is nearly the account given of this singular character in the preceding editions of this Dictionary, the omission of which might perhaps be felt by some of our readers, while others may justly doubt if the life of such a man has fair claims on our attention. It contains, however, some portion of amusement, and some of moral tendency. Our account is a very brief abridgment of the Life of Nash, published by | Goldsmith, who, it has been observed, tortured his genius to give substance to inanity, and strained to describe the gaudy hue of a butterfly, the glittering tinsel of a beau, the sentiments of a man devoid of all reflection, and the principles of an idler, whose walk of life never transgressed the eternal circle of gallantry, gambling, and the insipid round of fashionable dissipation. This account, however, is perhaps not more a satire on Nash, than on the age in which he lived. 1


Life by Goldsmith.—Warner’s Hist. of Bath (p. 365), a city which unquestionably owes much to Nash’s judicious administration of its pleasures.