A German Lady’s Impressions of Regency Bath

Literature & Humanities lecture

Convened & chaired by Dr Rex Valentine

Emeritus Professor Peter Skrine

University of Bristol

23 January 2006

 

This was a popular, well attended & very appropriate lecture for the time of year.

It was accompanied by a fascinating display of relevant views & documents from the

Victoria Art Gallery & Museum & BRLSI’s own collection, mounted by the convenor.

Many visitors have recorded their impressions of Bath. Professor Skrine focused on Johanna Schopenhauer, mother of the famous German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, whose first-hand account of her visit in 1803 is particularly engaging. A short-lived truce between England and France, known as Peace of Amiens, had made it possible for European travellers to visit our country once again, and she and her husband, a well-to-do North German businessman, seized the opportunity. Their visit to Bath came towards the end of an ambitious five-month tour of England and Scotland. Frau Schopenhauer’s response to the city and its location was immediate, as was evident from the descriptions specially translated by Professor Skrine for the occasion. She also quickly sensed the social implications of its many new buildings – not least Queen’s Square, where it seems likely they took rooms, and which she found particularly beautiful. She also appreciated the many bookshops and their dual role as lending libraries and the ready availability and moderate fares of sedan chairs to go up and down Bath’s hills, and appreciated the amenities offered by the new Assembly Rooms and especially the Sydney Gardens. Interestingly, she found Bath’s social life and the routines of its season far stiffer and more regimented than at fashionable German and Austrian watering places such as Carlsbad and Marienbad!

The vivid and varied passages Professor Skrine read to his large and attentive audience conveyed the immediacy and liveliness of Johanna Schopenhauer’s take on Bath, and made us realize that this lively and observant German woman author has much to tell us about Bath at the time when Jane Austin was living here; her impressions, some wry, some rhapsodic, but always apt, aroused many a smile of recognition, though we could not help feeling sorry for ten-year-old Arthur – the future pessimistic philosopher - who was parked at a private school in Wimbledon to learn English: in fact he became a devoted Times reader for the rest of his life!

Peter Skrine