A Thoroughly English Street Brawl

Beau Nash, the A-list dandy of the 18th Century!
Beau Nash, the A-list dandy of the 18th Century!

Or, how to deal with a pompous toff!

An incident recorded by John Wesley in his journals became widely known both for its humour and for the quick-witted way Wesley dealt with his objector, Beau Nash.

Nash was the unrivalled leader of fashion in Bath, a popular figure at parties, an A-list celebrity. He knew how to put on the kind of ball that Jane Austen’s characters would die for. But he had a run-in with John Wesley (not known for his fashion sense or party-going!). So the story was of great interest to Wesley’s readers.

Wesley writes, ‘Tues 5th June 1739 – There was great expectation at Bath of what a noted man was to do to me there, and I was much entreated not to preach because no-one knew what might happen.

By this report I also gained a much larger audience, among whom were many of the rich and great.

I told them plainly, the Scripture had concluded them all under sin; high and low, rich and poor, one with another.

The ‘Champion’, Beau Nash, takes Wesley on
Many of them seemed to be a little surprised and were sinking into seriousness when their champion appeared, and coming close to me, asked by what authority I did these things.

I replied, ‘By the authority of Jesus Christ, conveyed to me by the (now) Archbishop of Canterbury, when he laid hands upon me and said, ‘Take thou authority to preach the Gospel.’’

He said, ‘This is contrary to Act of Parliament: this is a conventicle.’

I answered, ‘Sir, the conventicles mentioned in that Act (as the preamble shows) are seditious meetings. But this is not such. He is no shadow of sedition, therefore it is not contrary to that Act.’

He replied, ‘I say it is. And beside, your preaching frightens people out of their wits.’

‘Sir, did you ever hear me preach?’


‘How then can you judge of what you never heard?’

‘Sir, by common report!’

‘Common report is not enough. Give me leave, Sir, to ask, is not your name Nash?’

‘My name is Nash.’

‘Sir, I dare not judge of you by common report, I think it is not enough to judge by.’

Here he paused awhile, and, having recovered himself, said, ‘I desire to know what this people comes here for.’ On which one replied, ‘Sir, leave him to me. Let an old woman answer him. You, Mr. Nash, take care of your body. We take care of our souls, and for the food of our souls we come here!’

He replied not a word, but walked away.’
(John Wesley Journals, vol. 1, Baker edition, p.198-9)

© 2009 Lex Loizides


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