Taking the Waters, Bath
Artist: Rowlandson, Thomas
As this cartoon from Thomas Rowlandson’s ‘The Comforts of Bath’ shows, drinking the mineral water at the Pump Room was supposedly for medicinal purposes. For most visitors, however, it was no more than a pretext for seeing and being seen:
“Mr. Allen, after drinking his glass of water, joined some gentlemen to talk over the politics of the day, and compare the accounts of their newspapers; and the ladies walked about together, noticing every new face, and almost every new bonnet in the room.”
Jane Austen was not the first author to mock the manners of Bath society. Rowlandson’s scenes in ‘The Comforts of Bath’ were accompanied by extracts from ‘The New Bath Guide’ by the poet, Christopher Anstey, published in 1766. Anstey's celebrated satire follows the fortunes and misfortunes of a young North-Country family, the Blunderheads, on their first visit to Bath. It takes the form of fifteen letters home, in which Anstey uses their naivety as a vehicle for unmasking the pretensions and pitfalls of fashionable society.