Philip Thicknesse

By all accounts Philip Thicknesse was a bit of a cad and a bounder. Born in 1719, he was the son of the rector of Farthinghoe. A rector is a vicar who receives all the tithes (=church taxes) of a parish as his income, whereas a vicar only got part of them. In 1742 he eloped with Maria Lanove, a wealthy heiress, after he abducted her from a street in Southampton and took up residence in Bath with her. In 1749 Maria and his three children contracted diphtheria; she and two children died, leaving only a daughter, Anna. When Maria’s parents died some time later, John Thicknesse spent much time in trying to claim their fortune. He then married Lady Elizabeth Tuchet, but she died in childbirth in 1762. His third wife was his late wife’s companion, Anne Ford. She was a gifted musician with a beautiful voice who was well-educated and knew five languages. She gave Sunday concerts at her father’s house, but her ambition was to became a professional actress and, in spite of her father’s disapproval, she left home to enter the stage. The couple spent a lot of time travelling in Europe. (adapted from wikipedia and other sources)


ThicknesseThe book in my collection, A Year’s Journey Through The Pais Bas: or, Austrian Netherlands, was first published in 1786 as a collection of letters written to the The Reader during one of their sojourns on the Continent. In these letters we find the customary sense of superiority often displayed in books written by travellers from England. A few interesting excerpts, including a description of water torture used by the courts of the Pais-Bas to obtain confessions (author’s italics):

“I must observe therefore, that strangers, who are permitted to the honour of eating, and conversing, with the high and mighty people of the Païs-bas, should avoid playing with them; first, because they understand play; and secondly, because they do not always, as Englishmen do, pay when they lose.”

“The idea of the riches of all Englishmen who travel, can never be rooted out of the natives of the continent; and though travelling is dear in England, I do aver, that even the Bath road to London is not so dear as on the great roads in France, or Flanders, with this difference only, that the traveller thinks he drinks better wine; he certainly does drink weaker, and perhaps wholesomer wine than English road port.”

“The Hôtel de Commerce was an inn much frequented by the English, but the people who keep it are rich and insolent, therfore I have used the New-inn, kept by an English family. When you have seen what this town offers to the notice of a stranger, you will be, as I was, glad to quit it, for the inhabitants (quite the reverse of their neighbours the French) are all shut up within their houses, and a stranger is apt at Bruges to think himself in a city just depopulated by the plague.”

“Assassinations are very common, particularly in and about Liege, a city as replete with vice as it is with inhabitants.”

“Though I have more than once, in my confidence with you, mentioned the question being put [a euphemism for the use of torture to obtain a confession], I doubt whether you know what sort of punishment that is, which is inflicted on a man before they know whether he be innocent or guilty! Whatever it be, it is a most shameful mode of proceeding; and the best account I can give of it is, that the supposed offender is fixed on a frame, to which there are certain stretchers applied to his limbs, to draw them gradually beyond their natural extension and at the same time, drops of water are let to fall upon the breast, or some particular spot of the body, which by repetition, become almost intolerable.”


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