The term “the seaside” might be held to be a synonym for, “coast,” but it conjures up the image of holiday resorts: ice cream on the promenade, donkey rides and Butlins . Ness and Hartlepool are on the coast, but they are not really at the seaside, Europie Beach notwithstanding.
The seaside, like most good things: scrabble, detective stories, baseball and the free indirect narrative voice, etc, etc, was invented by Jane Austen.
No one had heard of the seaside before Jane took up her pen. OK, the Romans had summer villas on the coast around Naples but their amusements were more along the lines of feeding unsatisfactory slaves to their pet moray eels than sunbathing in deck chairs with knotted handkerchiefs on their heads, so I submit that they don’t count.
And sea bathing had begun to be prescribed as a medicinal cure from the 17th Century. As the 18th Century wore on Britain became richer (see certain Bristolian statue controversies for a clue to one reason for the increase in wealth) but medicine hardly developed at all, so taking the waters at spa’s like Bath and sea bathing at new resorts like Brighton and Scarborough (which managed to be both spa and bathing spot) became ever more popular amongst doctors and their patients, and the presence of so many wealthy people concentrated in these spots made them fashionable…
It is even possible that other writers mentioned this phenomenon before Austen, but I haven’t come across any, so again they don’t count.
Jane mentions seaside in Pride and Prejudice where Brighton plays a part, though the massing of soldiers is more the attraction than sea bathing. In Emma, Southend, Cromer and Weymouth all get a mention, but things get really seasidey in Persuasion with a pleasure trip to Lyme Regis playing an important part.
Sanditon, the book she was working on when she became ill and died was about the seaside, set in a resort that is actually in the process of being developed. Sadly, very little was competed by the time she became too unwell to work, but it would certainly have been the first seaside novel.
Sonnet 75: “One day I wrote her name upon the strand” by Edmund Spenser
One day I wrote her name upon the strand;
But came the waves, and washed it away:
Again, I wrote it with a second hand;
But came the tide, and made my pains his prey.
Vain man, said she, that dost in vain assay
A mortal thing so to immortalize;
For I myself shall like to this decay,
And eke my name be wiped out likewise.
Not so, quoth I, let baser things devise
To die in dust, but you shall live by fame:
My verse your virtues rare shall eternize,
And in the heavens write your glorious name.
Where, when as death shall all the world subdue,
Our love shall live, and later life renew.
Smooth between sea and land
Smooth between sea and land
Is laid the yellow sand,
And here through summer days
The seed of Adam plays.
Here the child comes to found
His unremaining mound,
And the grown lad to score
Two names upon the shore.
Here, on the level sand,
Between the sea and land,
What shall I build or write
Against the fall of night?
Tell me of runes to grave
That hold the bursting wave,
Or bastions to design
For longer date than mine.
Shall it be Troy or Rome
I fence against the foam,
Or my own name, to stay
When I depart for aye?
Nothing: too near at hand,
Planing the figure sand,
Effacing clean and fast
Cities not built to last
And charms devised in vain,
Pours the confounding main.
Two rather different themes have emerged, the first is seaside, beaches, coast, the juncture of sea and land
But the poems and one of the songs are more about the impermanence of life and the futility of trying to make lasting monuments, or lasting anything.
Or, to put it more positively, the importance of seizing the moment and enjoying it, rather than trying to set it in stone.