Christopher Anstey
Born: 31 Oct, 1724
Died: 03 Aug, 1805
Field: Writer; poet
Location in the Abbey: South transept, poets corner
Type of memorial: Tablet
Type of material: Marble

On a pillar in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey is a white and variegated marble tablet to Christopher Anstey, put up by his son John. This is by the sculptor Charles Horwell and was moved further to the north when Tennyson’s bust was put in. The painted coat of arms at the base shows “or, a cross engrailed between four martlets gules” for Anstey impaling “or, three pallets sable, a bend counterchanged” for Calvert. The long Latin inscription can be translated:

“Sacred to the memory of CHRISTOPHER ANSTEY Esq. an alumnus of Eton, one-time Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge: a poet especially adorned with most refined scholarship, and holding a most distinguished place amongst the leading poets who had flourished in the same genre. Round about the year 1770 he exchanged his native countryside for Bath; that this place above all other was pleasing to him is witnessed by the well-known poem which takes its title from there. He lived there for 36 years, and died in 1805 in the 81st year of his age. But the poet’s fame did not perish with him, read by all, sorely missed by all. No sweeter sound than his verses falls upon the ear, no lines are more easily or gladly retained by the memory. It was his way to draw the material for his poetry only from the very source and spring itself: he touched nothing alien, or, if he did, he made it more lovely, and his own. To few is it given to make more acute judgements on the lives and morals of men, or to represent more felicitously their more venial vices and absurdities, the follies of depraved religion, and fictitious imaginings; to few is it given to jest so amiably, nor did he mingle unpleasantness or bitterness with his ridicule, or imbue his wit with poison. He was born to give pleasure, not pain. Most tender was his heart, imbued with Christian love. But wit and jesting was not enough for his versatile genius: he could at times touch upon serious and tragic matters, equally adept at moving his reader to laughter, or eliciting tears with sorrowful laments. Amongst these intellectual delights, he trod Life’s path undeterred by hope or fear. He was full of years before he felt old age creeping upon him, his intellect yet vigorous, his memory yet retentive, happy in private, respected in public; a delight to all his acquaintance by reason of the sweetness of his disposition and conversation; while, as for those with whom he lived most intimately, he has a place in their inmost hearts”.

Anstey was born on 31 October 1724 at Trumpington in Cambridgeshire, the only child of the Revd. Christopher Anstey (d.1751) and his wife Mary (Thompson). He was educated at Eton and Cambridge and on 20 January 1756 he married Ann Calvert (d.1812) and they had a large family. His translation of Thomas Gray’s Elegy into Latin and his book The New Bath Guide are perhaps his best known works. He died on 3 August 1805 and was buried in St Swithin’s church at Walcot, near Bath.

A photograph of his memorial can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library.

Further reading:

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004 (for Christopher and his son John)

"Christopher Anstey. A life in Eighteenth Century Bath" by Gavin Turner, 2005

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