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Anne Ford

Gainsborough's Anne Thicknesse (nèe Ford) (1760)

Anne Ford (1732–1824) was a performer on the musical glasses, well known in London, and the first to publish a 'method' on how to play them. She was also one of the foremost performers on the viola da gamba of her day, and composed for the instrument as well. She also was an author who published several books.

She was the only child of Thomas Ford, solicitor [lawyer] and Clerk of the Arraigns, and his wife (née Champion). Through her mother's side, Anne was the niece of Dr. Ford, the Queen's physician, and of Gilbert Ford, Attorney General of Jamaica.1

Anne was an only child, and educated was educated ‘with uncommon care, and at no small expence’. At an early age she displayed an aptitude for languages, art, and dancing, but particularly for music. How Anne received her musical training is unknown, we are told only that she was ‘taught music by the most eminent professors of the day’. But by her late teens she was apparently an accomplished musician who sang and played the wire-strung English guitar, the gut-strung Spanish guitar, and the viola da gamba. She also played the harp.2 Her interest in these instruments would suggest a propensity for unusual musical instruments since, by this point, the viola da gamba had passed out of general use, and the guitar was a rarity.3 She gave Sunday amateur concerts which "attracted the notice of all the gay and fashionable world', and were attended by the best society.4 Anne was joined by eminent professionals such as Dr. Arne, composer of Rule Britannia and great castrato Giusto Ferdinando Tenducci (c.1735–1790).

Anne Ford playing the Viola da Gamba

Apparently Anne was also involved in private theatricals. On October 2, 1758, an attendee described a performance of Julius Caesar in which Anne participated:

They introduced a procession of vestals to mourn over Caesar's body ... [O]ne of them sang a dirge divinely well. She is, I think, take her for [what] she is ... the most pleasing singer I ever heard I don't dare say the best because I have not judgment enough to decide, but I know that I would rather hear her than any Italian I have yet heard. She is a Miss Ford, daughter of a sort of Lawyer in the city.5

Phillip Thicknesse—Anne's future husband—played on the lute at these concerts, and his wife Elizabeth attended.6

Apparently around December 1758 Anne's father decided it was time for Anne to `settle down':

At this critical period, finding herself closely pressed by her father respecting some proposals about settling in life, she was reduced to the disagreeable necessity of flying from the paternal mansion, and taking refuge in the house of a lady of quality [Elizabeth Thicknesse]. Here she deemed herself equally secure from enquiry and pursuit; but she proved to be mistaken; for the premises were surrounded by the myrmidons [cops] of Sir John Fielding [the Bow Street magistrate[, whose very name carried terror along with it; and a warrant, granted under the signature of that magistrate, having been presented, all resistance proved vain, so that the young lady was taken prisoner and carried home!

While in the carriage, in her way back, she found herself in company with a gentleman whom she had before seen, who was particularly attentive to her, and soon after seized an opportunity to disclose his passion to her in due form; but he met with a rebuke instead of a kind return, on account of his ill-timed intervention. Mr. Ford, however, deemed him a proper person to be a suiteor to his daughter, and his addresses were accordingly encouraged. It was even hinted, that marriage might conquer any affected dislike; and that before their arrival in Jamaica, wheere he possessed large estates, which he was about to visit, they would become a happy couple!

The idea of an union with a man she could not love, and being sent into exile in the West Indies, at a distance from all her friends [and her music], appeared intolerable to a young lady possessed of sensibility. She accordingly eloped a second time, and having taken a lodging at Kensington, happily eluded all pursuit. In this situation, instead of resigning herself to grief and melancholy, she determined to turn her talents to advantage, and by one bold effort render herself independent. As she had lived in habits of familiarity with the first nobility, she conceived the idea of rendering their patronage subservient to her scheme. The Opera-House was accordingly hired, and a fine band of music prepared for three nights only. Every one was eager to subscribe; and the young performer was wooed, like Danaë of old, in a shower of gold.7

The outlandishness of this venture can be seen by observing that hers were the only subscription concerts held in London between 1756 and 1763, which were "quite outside the mainstream," with "fashionable and sizeable" audiences "perhaps more attracted by the scandal than her music."8 Her father also offered her a settled income if she would cease from public performance—she declined.9

Later in life Anne wrote a novel called The School for Fashion (1800). In the novel she apears as the heroine Euterpe, and many of the other characters are clearly based on the members of her circle.10 Thus the novel is an additional source of biographical information aboutAnnen (when it can be verified against other sources).

We have her advertisments for the March—April 1760 concert series:

MISS FORD’s first Subscription Concert will be To-morrow, the 18th instant, at the Little Theatre in the Haymarket. As the Pit, Boxes and Gallery, are the same Price, the latter will be equally illuminated with Wax-Candles.

First Part. Overture of Pasquali; Song by Miss Ford, Voi Legete; Concerto Hautboy [oboe], Mr. Simpson; Song, Miss Ford, Gentle Youth, &c. Solo, Miss Ford, on the Viol di Gamba.

Second Part. Concerto Bassoon, Mr.Miller; Song ,Miss Ford, Sparge Amar; Solo Violin, Mr. Pinto; Song, Return O God of Host. Full piece of French Horns.

Tickets at Half a Guinea each, to be had at the Theatre; at Mr. Deard’s; at Mr. Gardens, in St. Paul’s Church-yard; and at Mr. Walsh’s, in Catharine-street. No persons to be admitted behind the Scenes.

To begin at Seven o’Clock.

No more Tickets will be delivered than the House will contain.

The Public Advertiser, Monday, 17 March 1760; also 4, 5, 8, 11 and 18 March 1760

25 March 1760:

MISS FORD’s second Subscription Concert will be This Day the 25th Instant, at the Little Theatre in the Haymarket. The Vocal Parts by Miss FORD, who will play a Solo on the Viol di Gambo, and a Concerto on the Guittar. Pit and Boxes are laid together, at Half a Guinea each Ticket; Gallery 5s.

Tickets to be had at Mr.Deard’s Toy-shop, at Mr. Garden’s in Saint Paul’s Church-yard; and at Mr.Walsh’s in Catharine-street.

To begin at Seven o’Clock.

The Public Advertiser, Tuesday, 25 March 1760; also 20, 22 and 24 March 1760

8 April 1760:

MISS FORD’s Third Subscription Concert will be This Evening at the Little Theatre in the Haymarket. The vocal Parts by Miss FORD, who will play a Solo on the VIOL DI GAMBO; and a Lesson and Song accompanied with the Guittar. Signor Gwkottowsky will play a Concerto on the German Flute.

SONGS.

Non sai qual pena.

Hush ye pretty warbling Choir.

What tho’ I trace each Herb and Flower.

Ah se un Cor Barbaro.

Tickets to be had at the Theatre; at Mr. Deard’s Toy-shop, and at Mr.Walsh’s, at Half a Guinea each. Gallery 5s. To begin at Seven o’Clock.

The Public Advertiser, Tuesday, 8 April 1760; also 3, 4, 5 and 7 April 1760

14 April 1760:

MISS FORD’s Fourth Subscription Concert will be This Day the 14th Instant, at the Little Theatre in the Haymarket.

The vocal Parts by Miss Ford, who will play a Solo on the

VIOL DI GAMBO.

OVERTURE.

Nonsai qual paza sia. Song.

Concerto Traversa, by Sen.G.

Sweet Bird. Song.

Solo Viol di Gambo.

Concerto Violoncello, sen. Pasqualina. Hush ye pretty warbling Choir. Song.

Solo, Violin, Mr. Pinto. Duetto, Caro Spiegar Vorrei.

Lesson on the Guittar, and (by particular Desire) the 104th Psalm.

FULL PIECE.

Tickets to be had at the Theatre; at Mr. Walsh’s, in Catharine Street in the Strand; and at Mr. Garden’s, in St. Paul’s Church-Yard.

Pit and Boxes laid together at 10s. 6d. Gallery 5s.

To begin at Seven o’Clock.

The Public Advertiser, Monday, 14 April 1760; also 11 and 12 April 1760

22 April 1760:

MISS FORD’s fifth and last Subscription CONCERT, will be This Day the 22d instant, at the Little Theatre in the Haymarket. The Vocal Parts by Miss Ford, who will play a Solo, and accompany a Song, (Oh Liberty, thou choicest Treasure) on the Viol di Gambo; a Lesson on the Guittar, and sing a Hymn set by herself.

Pit 179 and Boxes laid together at Half a Guinea each; Gallery 5s.

Tickets to be had at Mr. Walsh’s, in Catharine Street; at Mr. Garden’s, in St. Paul’s Church-yard; and at the Theatre.

To begin at Seven o’Clock.

The Public Advertiser, Tuesday, 22 April 1760; also 17, 18, 19 and 21 April 1760

The advertisement for her first concert specified that she would "play a solo on the Viol da Gamba"—an instrument somewhat like the cello—held between the player's knees when played by men, nevertheless see figure for a drawing of Anne herself playing the viola de gamba.

Nevertheless, performing on the viola da gamba was somewhat scandalous as the instrument was conventionally reserved to male performers. She also sang and played the guitar. The violinist Thomas Pinto, and other instrumentalists also contributed pieces.11 No musical glasses yet.

So Anne's father attempted to disrupt the first concert:

He was still vexed, and agngry at her having left his house; and he abhorred the idea that his daughter should appear on the stage for any period, however short, or under any circumstances however favourable. He accordingly applied to the same magistrate who had before assisted him, and all the avenues to the Haymarket were occupied by Sir John's runners. But these myrmidons [cops] were dispersed by the late Lord Tankerville, then an officer in the Guards, who threatened to punish any interposition on their part, at a time when some of the royal family were expected to be present; and to enforce his declaration, determined to send for a detachment of horse and foot. On this they immediately disappeared. 12

The reference to the royal family is explained in the next paragraph:

The timidity incident to a first performance, was in some measure repressed by the kindness and support of her friends. Prince Edward condescended to drink a cup of tea with her in the green-room; on which occasion his equerry, Colonel Brudnel, brother to the Duke of Montague, stood behind his chair, and soon after handed her to the stag door, where she was received with bursts of applause. Nor was the audience disappointed; for when Miss Ford, who was dressed in white satin and pearls, sang one of Handel's oratorio songs, beginning
'Return, O God of Hosts!
Relieve thy servant in distress!'
she displayed such exquisite sensibility, that many of her friends actually burst into tears.13

And so, after her success in the spring of 1760, Anne went to Bath.

Some relaxation, after such an exhausting effort, now became ecessary, and the town itself henceforth ceased any longer to have charms. Miss Ford accordingly left the great world divided into parties concerning her conduct; and having accepted an invitation on the part of Governor and Lady Betty Thicknesse, accompanied them into Suffolk.14

Before she was 20 she had been painted by Nathaniel Hone (1718–1784) "in the character of a muse playing on the lyre, sweeping the strings of the viol di gamba, and expressing, if not uttering, melody'. The painting appears to be lost.15

And in 1760 Thomas Gainsborough (1727–1788) painted his famous portrait of her. The Thicknesses were friends and benefactors of Gainsborough—Phillip Thicknesse (1719–1792) would go on to write the first biography of Gainsborough16 And Gainsborough and Miss Ford were both in fashionable Bath in 1758, when he painted a portrait of Lord Villiers, son of the third earl of Jersey. (We shall meet his father, the aged and ailing Earl of Jersey presently.) This circle included William Whitehead, from whom we get a glimpse of the effect Miss Ford had:

I have seen Miss Ford, nay almost lived with her ever since I have been here. She has a glorious voice, & infinitely more affectation than any Lady you know. You would be desperately in love with her in half an hour, & languish & die over her singing as much as she does in performance.17

Gainsborough had moved to Bath in Oct. 1759 to improve his fortunes, and rapidly built a reputation for painting superb likenesses. One well-worn tactic for promoting yourself was to display prominently in your painting room a striking, full-length portrait of a person who was then in the public eye. So, in 1760, a visitor to his studio would have been confronted with Anne Ford's full-sized portrait: 197 x 135 cm (77 1/2 x 52 7/8 in.), by far his most ambitious full-length work to date, a portrait of "stunning virtuosity and coloristic bravura."18

The picture certainly attracted attention. On October 23, 1760, Mrs. Mary Delany visited Gainsborough's studio and was struck by "Miss Ford's picture, a whole length with her guitar, a most extraordinary figure, handsome and bold; but I should be very sorry to have any one I loved set forth in such a manner." The portrait was, after all, by the standards of the day, borderline risqué. Joseph Burke has noted how Miss Ford "... crosses her legs above the knee, a masculine freedom unrecorded in the female portraits of Rubens and Van Dyck.... An air of high breeding redeems the suggestion of wantonness in the bold asymmetrical pose," a judgment borne out by a contemporary conduct book, which advised women against crossing their legs in company, "for such a free posture unveils more of a masculine disposition than sits decent upon a modest female."19

It was in the "Gainsborough circle" that Miss Ford met the Earl of Jersey (1706–1769), who was as captivated by her as everyone else. He was a `constant attender at her concerts' and, although old (26 years her senior), was `extremely agreeable, gay, and rich'. He was married, though he `still presumed to talk of love'; his wife `being supposed to be attacked by an incurable malady, which soon after actually put an end to her life, he was already looking out for a cussessor'. He offered to marry Anne on his wife's death, offering £800 a year in the meantime, but this `coronet in expectancy had no charms' for her, and she rejected him.20

It would seem that the Earl of Jersey persisted, because in January of 1761 Anne rejected him in print. She published a thinly disguised pamphlet entitled A Letter from Miss Fxxd, addressed to a Person of Distinction, of which the following is a sample:

When your L..d..p, on your knees, and with tears trickling down your aged cheeks, swore the sincerity of your love; when you told me you could not help your age, if I object to that, but every proof which was in your power I might command: You know, I then told your L..d..p, that your age and person were both very agreeable to me.... I should have preferred you to any other man in the Kingdom, had you been single...21

Her pamphlet sold 500 copies in the first five days. A year later it was reprinted, and at the same time appeared a reply from the Earl: A letter to Miss F..d, which quickly ran into a second edition.22 The second edition included this figure:

A letter from Miss F--d

In it we see the gouty earl kneeling at the feet of Anne, who is seated holding what looks like a lute-shaped English guitar. Her father looks on approvingly on the left, while there is a boar's head on the table—a reference explained by Anne's remark that the earl sent her 'a present of a boar's head' and that it was `an odd, first, and only present, from a L—d to his beloved mistress'. The earl is singing `Believe my sighs my Vows my dear &c', a snatch deriving from the song `Believe my sighs my tears my dear' from George Bickham's Musical Entertainer. She replies with `Si tutti de Olberir', which is a reference to her song `Se tuti gli alberi dell mondo'. 23

And the January and February 1761 editions of the Gentleman's magazine treated readers to long excerpts from Ford's and Jersey's pamphlets. The Earl of Jersey also attempted to sabotage a concert by arranging an alternative entertainment to which he induced many of her invited guests to go instead.24

Simultaneously, in January 1761, Anne mounts two concerts at the Haymarket:

MISS FORD’s Subscription Concert will be at the Little Theatre in the Haymarket, on Friday the 23d instant. The Vocal Part by Miss Ford, who will also play a Solo on the Viol di Gambo, and a Lesson on the Arch-Lute and Guittar.

The Instrumental Parts by the best Performers.

Pit and Boxes laid together, at Half a Guinea each. Gallery 5s. Places to be taken and Tickets to be had at the Snuff-shop adjoining to the Theatre.

To begin precisely at Seven o’Clock.

The Public Advertiser, Saturday, 10 January 1761; also 13, 15 and 17 January 1761

MISS FORD’s Subscription Concert will be THIS DAY, the 23d Instant, (being the last Time of her appearing in Public) at the Little Theatre in the Haymarket. The vocal Part by Miss Ford who will play a Solo on the Viol di Gambo; a Lesson on the Guittar; and sing the 104th Psalm, accompanied by herself on the Arch Lute.

Pit and Boxes laid together at 10s. 6d. Gallery 5s.

Places to be taken and Tickets to be had at the Snuff-shop adjoining to the Theatre. To begin at Seven o’Clock.

The Public Advertiser, Friday, 23 January 1761; also 19, 20 and 22 January 1761

In these advertisements we find hints that these performances weren't as successful as those nine months earlier: in the January 19th advertisement we read that it would be `the last time of her appearing in Public' and the phrase `The Instrumental Parts by the best Performers' is omitted—the advertisement makes it clear that Anne is providing her own accompaniment. Also, it was advertised as a 'subscription concert', but since there were no more concerts in early 1761, it would seem that the subscription plan had to be abandoned due to lack of subscribers.

In the fall of that year she announces yet another concert series, this time in a much less prestigious venue, on a different basis, and this time including the musical glasses. In her Instructions for Playing the Musical Glasses she writes:

From the short practice I have had, it being not above four weeks since I first heard them, and little more than a fortnight since I made my first attempt to play, I have not had sufficient time to examine what improvements the musicall glasses are capable of...

Her Instructions were publised November 2, 1761; her first advertisement for a concert that included the musical glasses was October 14; all of which would suggest that she first heard and began playing them in the autumn of 1761.

These concerts are no longer at the prestigious Haymarket, they're in an 'Auction-Room'. Her ticket prices are a quarter of what they had been just a year previous. And her advertisements have to reassure the public that the venue will be heated!—`a constant Fire kept':

MISS FORD having engaged the large Room late COX’s Auction Room, over the great China-shop near Spring-Garden, (which will be fitted up in a proper Manner for the Reception of genteel Company) proposes To-morrow, the 15th Instant, between the Hours of One and Three, to sing some favourite English Songs, and accompany herself on the Musical Glasses; she will also play a Lesson on the Guittar, and a Solo on the Viol di Gambo.

The Room will be opened at Twelve o’Clock, which is well aired, and a constant Fire kept in it.

Admittance Two Shillings and Sixpence.

The Public Advertiser, Wednesday, 14 October 1761; also 15 October 1761

MISS FORD having engaged the large Room, late Cock’s Auction-Room, over the great China-Warehouse, Spring-Gardens, (which is fitted up for the Reception of genteel Company) proposes singing a few English Airs, and accompanying herself on the Musical Glasses; she will also (if desired) play a Solo on the Viol di Gambo, and a Lesson on the Guittar.

The Room will be opened at Twelve o’Clock, which is well aired, and a constant Fire kept. The Performance will be every Day between the Hours of One and Three.

Admittance Two Shillings and Sixpence.

The Public Advertiser, Saturday, 17 October 1761; also 19–24 and 26–31 October 1761, 2–7 November 1761

Count Kielmansegge describes one of Anne's concerts:

In the morning of the 7th of November I went to hear Miss Four's [Ford's] concert. She is a pupil of Schumann, and has performed here for some time on musical glasses. She plays entire concerts with one finger, on a row of tuned wine-glases, and is accompanied by a violoncello; she sings well, and has a good voice, accompanying herself on the 'viola di Gamba' and guitar, and gives her audience a varied entertainment.25

Frederic Theodor Schumann taught both the English Guitar and the Musical Glasses. It is clear from advertisements for Schumann's own perfomances, also in Cox's Room from August 6 to October 7, 1761, that Anne's were an imitation of his. Furthermore, Anne published treatises on playing two instruments that Schumann played and taught: the musical glasses, and an earlier treatise on playing the English Guitar, which couldn't have made Anne's teacher or former-teacher very happy. Schumann promised to play 'UPON THE GLASSES' and to attend there `every Day (except Sunday) from One to Three, and Likewise from Six till Eight, to play to company'.26 It would seem that Schumann took offence at competition from a pupil, for soon afterAnnen's concerts began at Cox's Room he started his own series at his house in Bury Street. Starting on October 27 he promised music `every Day upon the GLASSES, between the Hours of One and Three'.27 He seems to have won the contest, for on November 7, the day Anne gave up for good, he wrote triumphantly: `As Mr. SCHUMAN's Performances on the MUSICAL GLASSES have given so great Satisfaction to the Public, he now begs Leave to return his grateful Thanks for the Encouragement he has me with'.28

This concert series was her last.

There are several reasons why these concerts took the form they did, and why they eventually failed:29

  • Competition was increasing. The years 1761 to 1764 `saw a spate of daily exhibition performances given by young ladies and by self-publicising teachers', several of them, like her, playing `novelty' instruments such as the musical glasses and the English guitar.30 In addition to Anne and Schuman, and yet another musical glasses player named Lloyd, in late November and early December a Mr. Drybutter offered `Ten Tunes to each Set of Company' for only a shilling per person at his house n Pall Mall.31
  • Anne's connection with actor Thomas Sheridan. Anne had been `taught to read'—meaning, taught to read dramatic/poetic texts like Shakespeare in public—by the actor Thomas Sheridan (1719–1788). Sheridan had been giving lectures on elocuton and the English language in Cox's Room since February 23, 1759.
  • Anne's competition with her music teacher Schumann which we have already explored.

On November 2, 1761 she published the first 'method book' for playing the musical glasses: Instructions for Playing on the Musical Glasses, about which we will have more to say presently.

She also performed occasionally at Thomas Sheridan's lectures on Elocution. (In 1762 Sheridan published his Lectures on Elocution.) This came to an end in December, when the St. James's Chronicle[for 3 December 1761] announced that Anne Ford was to be replaced by Miss Lloyd:

At Mr. Sheridan's lecture on Elocution, Miss Lloyd succeeds Miss Ford in performing on the musical glasses for the amusement of genteel company.32

Elizabeth Thicknesse was expecting her sixth child, so Anne came down from London to be with Elizabeth in her confinement and to accompany the Thicknesses to his purchased post as lieutenant-governor of Landguard Fort, Suffolk. In January 1762 the baby was born, but three months later Lady Elizabeth died, leaving behind three sons and three daughters.

On this Mr. Thicknesse was greatly affected, left the spot where she died; and after paying a last tribute to the virtues, and erecting a monument to the memory, of his departed wife, he consigned the care of his family to Miss Ford, who acted during his absence with such discretion and propriety, as to ensure entire approbation on his return. Time and a change of scene at length abated his grief; and he began to think that no one could better supply the loss of his lady than her most intimate friend.33

And so it was that on September 27, 1762 Anne Ford became Thicknesse's third wife. Anne was now 25, he was 43. Anne's father refused to attend the wedding.34

That was apparently the end of Anne's short but extraordinary musical career (except for one charity performance, as we shall see).

Gillray's Lieutenant Governor Gall-stone (1790)

Thicknesse was hardly a prize catch. He was notorious as an ardent supporter of the slave trade, a blackmailer, a lecher and a sadist. Famous for his ill temper, he fell out with many local people. He frequently published attacks on the people he disliked, which even led to his imprisonment for libel. [citation ???]

Gillray sums up Thicknesse's character in a caricature of him entitled "Lieutenant Governor Gall-Stone", depicting him with an explosive jet of steam coming out of his head. One of Thicknesse's nicknames was 'Dr Viper', reflected in this print by the medusa-like creature sits at his shoulder. This is Alecto, one of the Furies of Greek mythology, who has emerged from the jaws of hell to offer him assistance. This caricature is a parody of the conventions of formal oil paintings, in which gentlemen are portrayed in their studies, depicted as learned and serious, surrounded by books.

But look! In the upper right-hand corner! Who do we see?

Detail of Gillray's Lieutenant Governor Gall-stone showing Anne Ford

Gillray shows Thicknesse, his hands raised in admiration, standing behind Anne. She is shown playing her musical glasses to an audience of boars (they all have tusks), one of which is moved to tears. Recall that a boar's head was a present the Earl of Jersey gave to Anne! The sheet in the boar's hands says "Pathetic Ode to Lord Jersey." Anne is accompanied by an orchestra of little devils.

This caricature was published in 1790—perhaps Anne continued to perform on her glasses.

Anne seems to have performed in public only once after her marriage, for a benefit event for the new Casualty Charity in Bath. We are told in Public Characters that she was moved to organize it after hearing that an injured workman had been refused admission to the existing Pauper Hospital because it `was intended for strangers alone'35. Reports in the Bath Chronicle show that she was planning the performance as early as July 1787, and that it was advertised for the parish church at Walcot near Bath on December 5, 1787.36 It was postponed because of repairs to the church roof, and finally took place on December 12, 1787 in the Margaret Chapel in Bath. It took place in the context of morning service. Anne sang an anthem by John Weldon between the first and second lessons and her own setting of `All ye that pass by, to Jesus draw nigh' after the prayers, accompanying herself on the viola da gamba. There also must have been an accompanist, for we are told in Public Characters that the organ of Margaret Chapel was 'accompanied with her voice'.37

Thus we know that Anne continued to play the viola da gamba. On February 10, 1787 The Daily Universal Register, the forerunner of The Times, ran the first of three news items about Anne, comparing her favorably to Carl Friedrich Abel (1723–1787), who had been London's leading professional viola da gamba player for nearly forty years. The articles make clear that Anne was still a fine player and had written a significant amount of music for her instrument:

That Lady is an elegant, delicate, powerful, and learned performer on several instruments. Her vocal powers have seldom been equalled, and her compositions possess a happy union of taste and science. Her sonatas for the Viol da Gamba, with accompaniments for the harpsichord, &c. would do honour to Abel.38

And nine days after Abel's death, the newspaper went on to say:

By the death of Abel there is now but one capital Viol Di Gambo player in England, and that is a Lady, whose adagios, if not so highly dressed with graces, are not inferior, in point of sentiment and delicacy of touch, to that great master.39

And again on July 3:

The best performer on the Viol di Gamba now in England, or perhaps in Europe, is Mrs. Thicknesse. She was second only to Abel, as a general player. In more particular points, she was his equal. This accomplished lady has also composed for that instrument, and her compositions possess a degree of science, taste, and delicacy, which the best of Mr. Abel's productions never excelled.40

Alas, none of her viola da gamba sonatas appear to have survived.

She certainly continued the literary career she began with her Instructions for Playing on the Musical Glasses by publishing Sketches of the Lives and Writings of Ladies of France in three volumes (1778–1781) and a novel, The School for Fashion (1800). She apparently raised Philip's six children (never had any of her own), and accompanied her husband in eight changes of residence in England, Spain and France (including during the French Revolution!). In the fall of 1792 Philip Thicknesse died in Anne's arms in a coach on the way from Paris to Boulogne.41 On his monument Anne had inscribed:

Phillip Thicknesse ... He married thrice ... thirdly [to] Anne Ford, his now affectionate and afflicted widow, who inscribes this stone to her ever honoured and beloved husband, as the last mark she can give of her gratitude and unbounded love to the memory of a man with whom she lived thirty years in perfect felicity.42

Anne was subsequently arrested and confined to a convent (as were all unaccompanied English women in France at that time) and upon the death of Robespierre in 1794 she was released.43 She eventually returned to England.

In 1806—Anne would be 68 at this point—an anonymous writer described her thus:

Mrs. Thicknesse is in many respects the most singular, and if it may be added, perhaps the most accomplished woman of her day. She has attained the period of sixty-eight years, without any of the marks usually accompanying old age. Her teeth are as sound and to the full as white as those of a girl of nineteen. Her light-brown hair is braided around her head, without the least admixture of grey, or any appearance of change; while an uninterrupted series of health and a happy flow of animal spirits almost entitle her to expect that she will attain the age of the celebrated Countess of Desmond.

She still writes a fine, clear, intelligible Italian hand, that bespeaks vigour and strength of nerve; and such is the goodness of her eye-sight and her powers of execution that she has lately, in the way of trial, inscribed the Lord's Prayer in distinct characters within the circumference of a wafer.44

She lived her last 18 years with her friend Sarah Cooper, and died at age 86 in January 1824.45

Anne Ford's Method (1761)

Anne's Instructions for Playing on the Musical Glasses46 (1761) begins:

As the Tones of the Musical Glasses are, from their Similitude, more like the human Voice, than any musical Instrument, that ever was, or perhaps ever will be invented: there is much Reason to suppose, these Glasses will, in a short Time, become as common a piece of Furniture as an Harpsichord: and that every Lady, who can play or sing (but more particularly the latter) will be furnished with an Instrument, in itself of no great Expence: an Instrument, that not only sets off the Voice with greater Advantage than any other : and if I was to say, will assist and improve the Voice, I do not think I should say more than is due to the exquisite Tone it produces : a Tone superior to every other Instrument, and perhaps, the only one from which you hear the Effect without Cause.

She goes on to describe how to build and play an instrument. From the one illustration in her method, it appears that her instrument did not have all the sharps and flats.

She concludes:

I have consulted an ingenious Organ-Builder who is very confident he can give the same Touch to these Glasses, and cause it to be done by the Keys, as on an Harpsichord: and I have employed him to make me an Organ with Glass Notes, instead of Pipes, which I have some Reason to believe I shall soon produce before the Public: and which, if it answers what the Workman seems confident it will, may be an Instrument that will astonish and delight more than any ever yet performed on. ...

Miss Ford's "Organ with Glass Notes" never appeared.

Thomas Jefferson had a copy of Anne Ford's Instructions for the Musical Glasses in his library.47


1 Holman (2004), 160

2 Holman (2004), 160

3 Holman (2004), 165

4Public Characters of 1806, p. 89–90, quoted in Holman (2004), 162

5 Letter 2 October 1758 from Mr. Frances Greville to Dr. Burney from Wilbury, quoted in Highfill (1978), 5:365

6Public Characters of 1806, p. 89–90, quoted in Holman (2004), 166

7Public Character, 93–95, quoted in Holman (2004), 169–170

8 McVeigh (1993), 14

9 Rosenthal (1998), 3

10"We have been assured, that all the anecdotes mentioned there [in the novel] are founded on fact, and contain an exact transcript of what occured in the history of the bon ton of a former day" Public Characters, 132, quoted in Holman (2004), 158

11 Gosse (1952), 130

12Public Character, 95, quoted in Holman (2004), 171

13Public Character, 95–96, quoted in Holman (2004), 171

14Public Character, 96, quoted in Holman (2004), 172

15Public Characters, 88, quoted in Holman (2004), 160

16Thicknesse, Phillip, A Sketch of the Life and Paintings of Thomas Gainsborough, Esq.; London, 1788

17William Whitehead, ms. "Letters I,", quoted in Rosenthal (1998), 2

18 Rosenthal (1998), 1

19 Burke (1976), 213–214

20Public Character, 91–93, quoted in Holman (2004), 169

21quoted in Gosse (1952), 132

22 Gosse (1952), 130

23Quoted in Holman (2004), 171

24 McVeigh (1993), 168

25 Kielmansegge (1902), 147–148

26Public Advertiser, October 27, 29, 30; November 2, 4 and 6, 1761; quoted in Holman (2004), 174

27Public Advertiser, November 7, 11, 13, 16, 1761; quoted in Holman (2004), 174

28Public Advertiser, November 27, 30; December 4, 1761; quoted in Holman (2004), 174

29I am indebted to Holman (2004), 173–174 for this analysis

30 McVeigh (1993), 91

31The Public Advertiser, November 27 and 30, and Debember 4, 1761. Quoted in Holman (2004), 174

32Quoted in Gray (1935), letter 351, fn.2

33 Gosse (1952), 127

34 Gosse (1952), 128

35p.131, quoted in Holman (2004), 176

36The Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, July 19, November 29, 1787; The Bath Journal, December 3 and 10. Quoted in Holman (2004), 175–176

37p.131, quoted in Holman (2004), 176

38quoted in Holman (2004), 176

39quoted in Holman (2004), 176

40Reprinted in The Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, December 12 1787, quoted in Holman (2004), 177

41 Gosse (1952), 313

42 Gosse (1952), 314

43 Gosse (1952), 313–4

44Public Characters of 1806, 127–128; quoted in Holman (2004), p.158

45 Highfill (1978) 5:366

46 Ford (1761)

47 Cripe (1974), Appendix I, 97–104.