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John Matthews’ “Bath: An Adumbration in Rhyme” is a humorous picture of a typical day in the most fashionable resort town of late Georgian England. For the gouty and the infirm, Bath offered health: its mineral waters, whether bathed in or drunk, were thought to relieve a variety of complaints. For everyone else, there was endless entertainment, from the morning visit to the Pump Room to the famous public balls held four evenings a week.
Bath was also the city that Jane Austen knew best, lived in longest, and wrote most about. Every one of her novels at least mentions Bath, and large portions of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion are set there. Published in 1795, Matthews’ poem captures the town just two years before Austen visited it for the first time. The sights and sounds he describes are the very ones that would have greeted a twenty-one-year-old Austen or a seventeen-year-old Catherine Morland.
This edition offers an array of critical resources that use “Bath: An Adumbration in Rhyme” to deepen readers’ appreciation of Austen’s life and work. The Biographical Essay explores parallels between the lives of John Matthews and Jane Austen. The Contextual Essay introduces readers to the tradition of the “Bath satire,” a popular genre in the late eighteenth century that Austen refined and challenged in her two Bath novels. The notes on the text provide not only historical and cultural information, but images of late Georgian Bath and direct connections between the poem and Austen’s novels.