1. Christopher Anstey [1724 - 1805] made a specialty out of poking fun at Bath and its foibles. NOTE 1 As a satirist, Anstey enjoyed a certain popularity during his own lifetime, but is little read nowadays. His major work, a series of versified letters entitled The New Bath Guide, NOTE 2 originally published in 1766, enjoyed a considerable vogue — it eventually underwent over forty reprintings — and some think it influenced the writing of Smollet’s Humphrey Clinker. Attempting to capitalize on this success, Anstey subsequently wrote a second volume of such letters An Election Ball in Poetical Letters, in the Zomerzetshire Dialect, from Mr. Inkle, A Freeman of Bath, to his Wife at Glocester (Bath 1776). NOTE 3 This second satire enjoyed a far more moderate success: it only required one reprinting at Bath. An Election Ball consists of a series of letters from Mr. Inkle to his wife Dinah, currently at Gloucester, describing a 1775 ball given to celebrate Sir John Sebright’s reelection to Parliament as member for Bath. Inkle is scarcely a member of polite society, but he is an ambitious thruster and would very much like to become one. He brings along his daughter Margery (“Madge”), who has her own aspirations to become fashionable, with disastrous consequences, and we see the foibles eccentricities of Bath society through his naive eyes.
2. An Election Ball was accompanied by five comic illustrations by Anstey’s friend, the artist Coplestone Warre Bampfylde [1720 - 1791], the addressee of the present work, a lengthy Latin epistle also addressed to Bampfylde, printed at Bath in the same year. In it, Anstey indulges in further satire of Bath. The central portion of the poem consists of praise of Bampfylde’s illustrations, together with reminiscences of the incidents of An Election Ball which they depict. These latter passages presume the reader’s familiarity with the former work, and are not fully comprehensible without such knowledge. Hence the relevant passages must be reproduced here in appropriate commentary notes.
3. Epistola Poetica Familiaris is well worth reading. It contains plenty of satirical felicities, and allows Anstey to write for the consumption of a more sophisticated readership than he could in his English works. For the student of English Humanistic literature, one feature of interest is that it comes from a portion of the eighteenth century not very well represented by Latin literature. At the very beginning of the century we have Joseph Addison, and Anthony Alsop not much later. NOTE 4 Further along in the first half of the century comes Vincent Bourne. And then in 1795 the young Walter Savage Landor burst upon the scene with his extraordinary The Poems of Walter Savage Landor, a volume containing infinitely more pointed and vitriolic satire than anything Anstey had managed. Another feature of interest for the modern reader is that Anstey moved in, and wrote about, polite Bath society in a slightly earlier, but nevertheless recognizably similar, condition than what we encounter in the novels of Jane Austin.
4. Epistola Poetica Familiaris quickly found a translator. An anonymous version entitled A Familiar Epistle from C. Anstey, Esq. to C. W. Bampfylde, Esq. appeared later in the same year, with one printing at London and another at Dublin. The translation is at many points loose and periphrastic, but not without distinct merits, since the translator had his own flair for comedy. Unfortunately, at the point where Anstey begins to write of Bampfylde and his illustrations, the translator breaks off, excusing himself with a footnote “All the lines in the original which referred to the etchings, and which were for the most part translations from the Election Ball, are here omitted.” Then, when the subject changes once more, the translator resumes. For the purposed of the present edition I have filled in the gap with my own prose translation
NOTE 1 For Anstey see Robert James Merrett’s article in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
NOTE 2 See the appreciation of this work at Cambridge History of English and American Literature (1907 - 21) Vol. VIII, vii § 18.
NOTE 3 There is a modern edition of An Election Ball (Bristol, 1997), with a valuable Introduction by Gavin Turner, in which Anstey’s relations with Bampfylde the artist are discussed. Epistola Poetica Familiaris was reprinted by John Anstey (ed.), The Poetical Works of the Late Christopher Anstey, Esq. (London, 1808), pp. 385 - 417, a fine example of filial piety prefaced by an informative biography.
NOTE 4 D. K. Money, The English Horace: Anthony Alsop and the Tradition of British Latin Verse (Oxford, 1998).