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Philip Thicknesse (part two) – died  19th November 225 year ago.

Philip Thicknesse – a miniature by  Nathaniel Hone, 1757

In yesterday’s post I looked at the earlier part of the life of Philip Thicknesse – today I wanted to show how his notoriety as a quarrelsome bully was reflected in contemporary prints. The National Portrait Gallery has an almost inoffensive one by Gillray, of all people, used as the frontispiece to James M. Adair’s ‘Curious Facts and Anecdotes, not contained in the Memoirs of Philip Thicknesse, Esq.’

©  National Portrait Gallery. Thicknesse by Gillray, 1790,

O.K. -“No ties can hold him, no affection bind, And fear alone constrains his coward’s mind…” is hardly complimentary but it was nothing, but nothing, to what Gillray moved on to. As will be seen, Gillray was not going to let a good target go undamaged….First though, an offering from Isaac Cruikshank:

Thicknesse, complete with his ‘Foul Letter bag’, according to Cruikshank…

The reputation of Philip Thicknesse as a ball of bile led to various caricatures, including the one above, but my favourite is this one below showing Thicknesse with his codpiece marked Genius but also standing on Moral and Religious Duties, with legs of Deceit and Hypocrisy. In his right arm he holds a quill pen marked Assassination and he has a stomach for Cruelty, Cowardice Quackery and Buffoonery. On his left thigh the Devil is shown chasing a figure of Thicknesse,  kicking him away from the flames of Hell, saying, “I won’t be troubled with you – you are too bad for me; this is Hope”.

© The Trustees of the British Museum.   A man of many parts….

Beneath the title is etched: ‘Most heartily Addressed, (without permission) to Phil. Thicknesse, Esq. Formerly a Lieutenant Governor and lately Doer of the St. James’s Chronicle, but now Nobody at his Hut in Kent.’ (This, a reference to the fact that Thicknesse had been living for a time in a converted barn on the South coast, with views over towards France). The image, by W Dent, is entitled  ‘The cutter cut up, or, the monster at full length.’

Thomas Rowlandson also had a pop at Thicknesse – the British Museum site shows a pen and ink drawing by him entitled ‘Philip Quarrel the English hermit and beaufiddelle the mischievous she-monkey, famous for her skill on the viol de gamba’ with a picture of Thicknesse and his third wife, complete with references alluding to her affair with Lord Jersey, allegations of blackmail and extortion, and so on.

But an even more vicious personal attack was to come from James Gillray. You might think that Gillray would be nice to a fellow dyspeptic, always complaining about one thing or another. Wrong! Gillray managed in 1790 to produce a caricature in which just about every single misdemeanour associated with Thicknesse in his long history of grumbling, bullying and blackmail was exposed, in his ‘Lieut goverr Gall-stone, inspired by Alecto; or, the birth of Minerva.’ By way of explanation, Alecto was one of the Erinyes, or Furies, in Greek Mythology and Minerva was the goddess of strategic warfare.

© The Trustees of the British Museum.

It is a complicated caricature, described by the British Museum in its site as follows:

“Philip Thicknesse writes at a table; he listens to Alecto who whispers slyly in his ear, her right hand on his right shoulder; she is seated partly on his knee partly on a cloud behind him which rises from the jaws of Hell, the gaping mouth of a monster in the lower right corner of the design. Alecto  is a winged hag, with hair of writhing serpents, one of which coils round Thicknesse’s right arm, its poisoned fang touching the tip of his pen. He is seated on a close-stool inscribed ‘Reservoir for Gall Stones’.

An explosion issues from the crown of his head in the centre of which is Minerva who is shot into the air surrounded by books written by Thicknesse. She is a classical figure in back view; her head is the source of a billowing pillar of smoke which conceals it. In her right hand she supports a gun, which rests on her hip, and is inscribed ‘The Coward’s delight or, the Wooden Gun’.

On her left arm is an oval shield, cracked and bordered with serpents, inscribed: ‘Acts of Courage and Wisdom. Running away from my Command in Jamaica, for fear of the Black-a-moors, Refusing to fight Lord Orwell, after belying him; & afterwards begging pardon. Extorting 100 pr Annum from my eldest Son by a Pistol – Swindling my youngest son Phil: out of £500 by a forged Note of Hand – Debauching my own Niece, on a journey to Southampton – Horsewhipping my own Daughter to death for looking out at Window. Attempting to gull Lord Thurlow. Extorting £100 pr Annum from Lord Camden for suppressing his confidential Letters to myself. Gulling of Lord Bute: – Ditto Lord Bathurst: – Ditto Lord Coven: Causing my Footman to be pressed from Bath & cruelly Flogg’d for refusing to Father my own Child by the Cook Maid, Scandalizing Women of Virtue, to be reveng’d upon their Husbands: – Noble defence before the Court Martial for embezzling the Kings Stores; – Patient endurance of my Sentence in a Goal: – and heroic bearing of my discharge from the Service for Cowardice.’

The Museum description continues:

“Beside Minerva (right) is her owl, flying towards the spectator and holding three papers including ‘Character’ by Sam Foote. (Phill: is as stupid as an Owl; as senseless as a Goose; as vulgar as a Blackguard; & as cowardly as a Dunghill Cock). On the writing-table is a pile of books on which stands an ape-like creature dressed as a postillion and flourishing a whip above his head. In his left hand he holds up a bottle labelled ‘Laudanum, or the Preservative of Life – prepared by Lieut Genl Jackoo, Spanish Postillion to Dr Viper – O Death! where is thy Sting?’ A bottle protrudes from each coat-pocket, one inscribed ‘Extract of Hellebore’, the other ‘Extract of Hemlock’. One bare claw-like foot tramples down the broken end of a long spear, held by Death, a corpse-like body, almost a skeleton, who stands on the extreme left, frowning and raising a denunciatory hand. Between Death’s legs lies a dead dog on its back; a pamphlet beside it is inscribed ‘Elegy on the death of my favourite Dog. – Horsewhipped to Death for Barking while I was kissing my Wife’.. ..Over the front of the table hang two prints:

[1] a rat-trap inscribed ‘Landguard Fort’, “a Frontier Garrison of importance”.

[2] a boy wearing a cocked hat and holding a hammer and a hoop: ‘The Cooper’s Boy, turnd Soldier – an old Song’. Under the table are ‘Extortive Letters’ spiked on a file and a number of money-bags, three being labelled: £100 pr A’, ‘£100 pr Annum from Lord Comb. and £100 from Lord B.’ The background is covered by scenes and objects interspersed among the clouds produced by the fires of Hell and the explosion from Thicknesse’s head. Behind the table the apex of an obelisk partly obscures a framed picture of a building inscribed ‘St Ardres Nunnery or, a Grave to immure my Daughters alive; to keep their Fortunes myself’. “

It really was an extraordinary attack on Thicknesse and shows a very detailed knowledge of his misdemeanours – and a willingness on the part of Gillray to leave himself open to an action in defamation. But although Thicknesse printed a card by way of a response (see his printed announcement to ‘The Nobility and Friends’) no retaliation seems to have occurred.

In 1792 Mr and Mrs Thicknesse set off for Italy but it was a journey he never completed. He had a massive stroke in Boulogne and died there on 19 November. His poor wife Ann was promptly locked up for being a foreigner and had to spend eighteen months in a convent, until after Robespierre’s execution. She died in 1824.

And why am I interested in the curmudgeonly old fellow? Well one of the men he crossed swords with (wrong word: ‘crossed quill pens with’) was a chap called Edmund Rack.

Edmund Rack

Rack was an interesting guy: the founder, in 1770, of the Bath and West of England Agricultural Society – still going strong as the ‘Royal Bath and West’ with its annual show at Shepton Mallet. During his time in Bath, Rack was believed by Thicknesse to have been the author of a somewhat insulting ‘A Letter addressed to Philip Thickskull, esq.’ and Thicknesse called him out with his reply: ‘A Letter from Philip Thickskull, Esq., to Edmund Rack, Quaker’. Handbags at dawn boys, and may the best man win!

I have been asked to give a talk about the city of Bath in 1780, to coincide with the publication of a book based on Rack’s journals, by the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institute. The BRLSI are hosting a trio of talks on 24 March 2018 under the title ‘Science, Scandal and Society in Georgian Bath’, The event will be held at 16 Queen Square Bath BA1 2HN and although it is a while off, tickets can be obtained from Bath Box Office 01225 463362

Talk details:

24 March 2018 10.30 to 13.00

Bath Royal Literary & Scientific Institution

Science, Scandal and Society in Georgian Bath

Dr Andrew Swift, author and local historian

‘Inspir’d by Freedom’

Catharine Macaulay was one of the most remarkable women of her age – an eminent historian and avowed republican who inspired and influenced both the American and French Revolutions. She shocked Bath society by running off with ‘a stout brawny Scotsman of 21’.

Stuart Burroughs, Director at Museum of Bath at Work

Experimental Roots: Edmund Rack & the Origins of the Bath and West

Edmund Rack, a Quaker and the son of a Norfolk labouring weaver, moved to Bath in 1775. Dismayed by the poor farming practice in the West Country, he initiated the founding of an Agricultural Society to investigate ways of improving the agricultural resources of the country.

Mike Rendell, writer on 18th century social history

Bath in the 1780s: Quakers, Quacks & Quadrilles

A look at everyday life in the Georgian ˜City of Fun” its diversions and eccentricities.

Bath Royal Literary & Scientific Institution, 16 Queen Square, Bath BA1 2HN

Visitors £6 Members/students £4 – (plus £1 booking fee)

I hope to see some of you there!

2 thoughts on “Philip Thicknesse (part two) – died  19th November 225 year ago.”

  1. What interesting reading regarding one of my forebears! Thankfully the detestable nature of Philip Thicknesse seems to have been bred out. My maternal grandmother was a Thicknesse and a very loving, caring woman. I have great interest in reading about these people and would like to see Ann Ford’s (Mrs Philip Thicknesse) painting by Gainsborough one day, which I understand is hanging in Cincinnati somewhere! Funnily enough I was in Bath at the Holburne museum this past week and happened to see the painting by Gainsborough ‘lady in a blue cloak’ which is of an ‘unknown’ woman. Could she be any relation to Ann Ford I wonder…? She is the image of my mother’s cousin!

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