For Heritage Open Days- Edible England in the 18th century by Edmund Rack
Edmund Rack wrote a highly entertaining journal in 1779, vividly observing life and manners in Georgian Bath.
A Quaker, he was not preoccupied with the usual pleasures associated with Bath – gambling, bathing and dancing – preferring encounters with the more serious, intellectual inhabitants, like the astronomer William Herschel and the historian Catherine Macaulay. He did like to visit the market and comment on the latest price of meat and vegetables.
Occasionally he mentions some of the more extravagant excesses of entertainment around him. The literary salon of Lady Miller comes in for disapproval, although in fact he was not averse to joining her weekly soirees. Whether he abstained from the “chocolate & jellies & creams” on offer, we are not told.
BRLSI published ‘The Journal of Edmund Rack – an Enlightenment Gentleman’s Observations of Georgian Bath’ in 2018, £10.00, edited by Jude Harris, available at Bath Royal Literary & Scientific Institution, 16 Queen Square, Bath BA1 2HN.
27 December 1779
At 4 went to Curtis’ house in Belmont Row; found there his son from Oxford, & 3 very agreeable Ladys from Gloucestershire. An elegant dinner of 2 courses, 4 dishes in a course – & a pretty desert with cold fruits. After dinner, the ladies retiring, he proposed to me the establishment of a select Literary Society11 for the purpose of discussing scientific and phylosophical subjects & making experiments to illustrate them. The proposition was to me pleasing & I concured in it. We then made a list of near 30 men of science & distinguished abilities all residing in this city to apply to on the occasion, & drew the outline of a plan. Returned home at nine..
3 January 1780
On my return home met a card from Lady Miller inviting me to the Vase meeting on Thursday the 13th instant, which said invitation I shall scarcely comply with. I have been there only once this winter yet. Tis all parade & ceremony & chocolate & jellies & creams which by repetition lose their power of pleasing, and is trouble to little purpose when once it becomes customary.
4 January 1780
I dined on a rabbit value 9d – & then went to the house of Robt Madden Esq to see his fine library in which are the most valuable books in natural history that are in being.
7 January 1780
At 10 John Walcot Esq, a curious botanist, called me to ride with him to see & examine the fine scene of rocks at Wick in Gloucestershire 6 miles off…. it seems to be a spot favorable to the production of scarce plants and insects. Returning to our inn at 3 o’clock we sat down with good appetites to a dish of eggs & bacon, excellent cheese & Bristol ale.
24 January 1780
A fine clear frosty morning. Pump Room full & fish very dear – bought 24 oz fine Carmarthenshire butter at 6¼d a pound – new is 10d. Abundance of wild fowl at the poulterers – snipes 1/-, woodcocks 18d each, wild geese 2/6, mallard 18d, teal 1/-, fieldfares & starlings 6d, larks 12d dozen.
18 February 1780
Walked to King James Palace – the gardens coming forward apace – the snowdrop & the crocus are ushering in the spring. The green houses are in full beauty and glow in all the radiance of exotic colouring. Green peas at Market half a guinea a pint. Asparagus half a guinea a hundred about the size of goose quills.
17 March 1780
After walking several hours we all fasted on the farmers bread & butter like so many hounds, and demolished near a loaf with several cups of sider. Returned home.