While hunting for reading matter on the history of Brighton, I came across Anthony Pasquin’s New Brighton Guide. As well as being a very funny satirical poem, he also gives us this prose portrait of Brighton in a footnote:
Brighthelmstone, or Brighton, in Sussex, is 54 miles from London.—It was, like Amsterdam, a miserable-fishing town, but is now a place of importance, to which it was raised by the countenance and bounty of the Prince of Wales. The houses are, generally speaking, more inconvenient than unhandsome; and the streets are narrow and irregular. In the year 1699, more than 100 huts were swallowed by the sea; and in a few years more, all the tenements on the Cliffs will be similarly devoured, unless a very formidable embankment is erected to resist that imperious element.
It is one of those numerous watering-places which beskirt this polluted island, and operate as apologies for idleness, sensuality, and nearly all the ramifications of social imposture: where the barren seek a stimulus for fecundity; the voluptuary to wash the cobwebs from the interstices of his flaccid anatomy; and the swag-bellied denizen, the rancid adhesion of old cheese, Irish butter, junk, assa-fœtida, tallow, mundungus, and train-oil.
There are two taverns, namely, the Castle and the Old Ship, where the richer visitors resort; and at each of these houses a weekly assembly is held, where a master of the ceremonies attends, to arrange the parties, not according to the scale of utility, but that of aristocracy.
There is a ball every Monday at the Castle, and on Thursdays at the Old Ship: every subscriber pays three shillings and sixpence, and every non-subscriber five shillings; for which they are entitled to a beverage which they call tea and coffee.
The masters of the respective inns receive the profits, except on those nights appointed for the benefit of the master of the ceremonies; to whom all, who wish to be arranged as people of distinction, subscribe one guinea—and who would not purchase distinction at so cheap a rate? Independently of this vain douceur, this must pay most liberally for their tickets! The card assemblies are on Wednesdays and Fridays.
There is an hotel, which was intended as a country Hummums, or grand dormitory; but, in my weak opinion, the establishment is somewhat inefficient, unless it can be supposed that the tumultuous equipment of stage-coaches, at the dawn of day, is contributory to the purposes of rest.
There is a theatre, commodious, and generally well directed; the nights of performance are Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. At the lower end of North-street is a sort of Birmingham Vauxhall, called the Promenade Grove: it is a small inclosure of a paddock, tormented from its native simplicity, befringed with a few gawkey poplars, and decorated with flowers, bowers, benches, frogs, ground-ivy, a ditch, and a wooden box for the minstrels.
The coast is like the greater part of its visitors, bold, saucy, intrusive, and dangerous.
The bathing-machines, even for the ladies, have no awning of covering, as at Weymouth, Margate, and Scarborough; consequently they are all severely inspected by the aid of telescopes, not only as they confusedly ascend from the sea, but as they kick and sprawl and flounder about its muddy margin, like so many mad Naiads in flannel smocks:—the shore is so disastrously imperfect, that those beginners who paddle in, are injured by the shocking repulsion of the juices to the brain; and of those who are enabled to plunge in, and swim beyond the surge, it is somewhat less than an even bet that many never return—in truth, the loss of lives here every season, would make any society miserable, who were not congregating in the mart of noisy folly.
There is a Subscription House, or Temple of Fortune, on the Steyne, where the minor part of our blessed nobility are accustomed to reduce their characters and their estates in the same period;—the signal for admittance is habeo—for rejection, debeo.
There are lodgings of all descriptions and fitness, from twenty pounds per week on the Cliffs, to half a crown per night in a stable; and the sinews of morality are so happily relaxed, that a bawd and a baroness may snore in the same tenement;—the keepers of the lodging-houses, like the keepers of mad-houses, having but one common point in view—to bleed the parties sufficiently.
There are carriages and caravans of all shapes and dimensions, from a waggon to a fish-cart; in which you may move like a king, a criminal, or a crab, that is, forwards, backwards, or laterally.
There are two libraries on the Steyne, replete with every flimsy species of novels, involving the prodigious intrigues of an imaginary society: this kind of recreation is termed light reading; perhaps from the certain effect it has upon the brains of my young countrywomen, of making them light-headed!
There is a parish church, where the canaille go to pray; but as that is on a hill, and the gentry found their sabbath visit to the Almighty very troublesome, the amiable and accommodating master priest has consigned the care of his common parish mutton to his journeyman, the curate, and has kindly raised a Chapel Royal for the lambs of fashion, where a certain sum is paid for every seat: and this, it must be admitted, is as it should be; as a well-bred Deity will assuredly be more attentive to a reclining Dutchess, parrying the assaults of the devil behind her fan, than the vulgar piety of a plebeian on his knees.
There were books open in the circulating libraries, where you were requested to contribute your mite of charity to the support of the rector, as his income is somewhat less than seven hundred pounds a year; the last incumbent died worth thirty thousand pounds. During the first dawnings of convalescence after the suspension of the King’s intellectual faculties, he asked Dr. Willis how much he netted by his Lincolnshire pluralities—“Eight hundred per year,” was the reply.—“Then why,” added the monarch, “do you, who are so rich, undertake to cure mad people for hire?”—“I imitate Jesus Christ, sire, who went about doing good.”—“Yes; but,” rejoined his Majesty, “in the first place, Jesus Christ did good for nothing; and in the second, he had not eight hundred a year, my friend!”
The full work is available at the Internet Archive.