THE following memoir is neither calculated to inflame the reader's passions with descriptions of gallantry, nor to gratify his malevolence with details of scandal. The amours of coxcombs, and the pursuits of debauchees, are as destitute of novelty to attract us, as they are of variety to entertain, they still present us but the same picture, a picture we have seen a thousand times repeated. The life of Mr Nash is incapable of supplying any entertainment of this nature to a prurient curiosity. Though it was passed in the very midst of debauchery, he practised but few of those vices he was often obliged to assent to. Though he lived where gallantry was the capital pursuit, he was never known to favour it by his example, and what authority he had was set to oppose it. Instead therefore of a romantic history, filled with warm pictures and fanciful adventures, the reader of the following account must rest satisfied with a genuine and candid recital compiled from the papers he left behind, and others equally authentic; a recital neither written with a spirit of satire nor panegyric, and with scarce any other art, than that of arranging the materials in their natural order.
But though little art has been used, it is hoped that some entertainment may be collected from the life of a person so much talked of, and yet so little known as Mr Nash. The history of a man, who for more than fifty years presided over the pleasures of a polite kingdom, and whose life, though without any thing to surprise, was ever marked with singularity, deserves the attention of the present age; the pains he took in pursuing pleasure, and the solemnity he assumed in adjusting trifles, may one day claim the smile of posterity. At least such an history is well enough calculated to supply a vacant hour with innocent amusement, however it may fail to open the heart, or improve the understanding.
Yet his life, how trifling soever it may appear to the inattentive, was not without its real advantages to the public. He was the first who diffused a desire of society, and an easiness of address among a whole people who were formerly censured by foreigners for a reservedness of behaviour, and an awkward timidity in their first approaches. He first taught a familiar intercourse among strangers at Bath and Tunbridge, which still subsists among them. That ease and open access first acquired there, our gentry brought back to the metropolis, and thus the whole kingdom by degrees became more refined by lessons originally derived from him.
Had it been my design to have made this history more pleasing at the expense of truth, it had been easily performed; but I chose to describe the man as he was, not such as imagination could have helped in completing his picture; he will be found to be a weak man, governing weaker subjects, and may be considered as resembling a monarch of Cappadocia, whom Cicero somewhere calls, "the little king of a little people."
But while I have been careful in describing the monarch, his dominions have claimed no small share of my attention; I have given an exact account of the rise, regulation, and nature of the amusements of the city of Bath, how far Mr Nash contributed to establish and refine them, and what pleasure a stranger may expect there upon his arrival. Such anecdotes as are at once true and worth preserving are produced to their order, and some are added, which, though commonly known, more necessarily belong to this history, than to the places from whence they have been extracted. But it is needless to point out the pains that have been taken, or the entertainment that may be expected from the perusal of this performance. It is but an indifferent way to gain the reader's esteem, to be my own panegyrist, nor is this preface so much designed to lead him to beauties, as to demand pardon for defects.