Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Linley, Thomas (1732-1795)
LINLEY, THOMAS, the elder (1732–1795), musical composer, born at Wells in 1732, was the son of a carpenter. Being sent on one occasion to execute some carpentering work at Badminton, the seat of the Duke of Beaufort, he derived such pleasure from listening to the playing and singing of Thomas Chilcot, the organist of Bath Abbey Church, that he determined to become a musician.
He studied first under Chilcot at Bath, and afterwards at Naples under Paradies. On his return to England he set up in Bath as a singing-master, in which capacity Parke (Musical Memoirs, i. 203) declares him to have been ‘almost unrivalled in England.’ For many years, assisted by his children, he carried on the concerts in the Bath Assembly Rooms with great success, devoting special attention to the production of Handel's works.
On the retirement in 1774 of John Christopher Smith, Linley took his place as joint-manager with Stanley of the Drury Lane Oratorios. He still, however, made his home in Bath, at No. 5 Pierrepont Street, in which house his daughter Elizabeth Ann (afterwards Mrs. Sheridan) was born. After Stanley's death in 1786, Linley continued to direct the Oratorios with the assistance of Dr. Arnold.
In 1775, together with his eldest son, Thomas, he composed and compiled the music to the comic opera ‘The Duenna,’ written by his son-in-law, Sheridan, who added one or two airs by Jackson of Exeter. The piece was produced at Drury Lane on 21 Nov. 1775, and enjoyed the then unparalleled run of seventy-five nights. While the piece was in rehearsal Linley came to London at Sheridan's urgent request, and never afterwards returned to Bath. In 1776 he joined with Sheridan and Richard Ford in purchasing Garrick's share in Drury Lane, and directed the music there for about fifteen years. On 2 Nov. 1777 he was admitted a member of the Royal Society of Musicians.
He married (about 1753?) and had twelve children, of whom only three (Ozias, William, and Jane) survived him. During the later years of his life monetary difficulties (greatly complicated by those of Sheridan) and grief at the loss of his children undermined his health. The death of his son Thomas in 1778 induced an attack of brain fever, after which he never regained his strength. He died suddenly at his house in Southampton Street, Covent Garden, on 19 Nov. 1795, and was buried on 28 Nov. in Wells Cathedral, where a monument, erected to his memory by his son William, states that he died ‘aged 63.’ The monument (originally situated in the nave of the cathedral, but transferred during a restoration to the cloister) is also to the memory of Linley's daughters, Mary (afterwards Mrs. Tickell) [q. v.] and Elizabeth Ann (afterwards Mrs. Sheridan) [q. v.], and of Mary, the infant daughter of the latter.
Linley's music, which gained for him a high position among English composers, is distinguished by admirable taste and simplicity of design. Dr. Burney, who calls him ‘a masterly performer on the harpsichord,’ says that his style of composition ‘seems to have been formed upon the melodies of our best old English masters.’ His personal manner appears to have been grave and reserved, though in moments of relaxation he was full of anecdote. Busby, in his ‘Concert-Room Anecdotes’ (i. 171), relates an instance of the correctness of Linley's judgment in vocal matters.
His compositions include the music to the following dramatic pieces: ‘The Duenna’ (in collaboration with his son Thomas), 1775; ‘Selima and Azor’ (by Sir George Collier, chiefly adapted from Grétry's ‘Zemire et Azor’), and some of the music for a production of ‘The Tempest’ at Drury Lane, 1776; ‘The Camp’ (a jeu d'esprit by Richard Tickell, his son-in-law, on a camp formed in the summer of 1778 at Coxheath), 1778; ‘The Gentle Shepherd’ (altered by Tickell from the original of Allan Ramsay), ‘The Carnival of Venice’ (by Tickell), and ‘Robinson Crusoe,’ 1781; ‘The Triumph of Mirth,’ 1782; ‘The Spanish Maid,’ 1783; ‘The Spanish Rivals,’ 1784; ‘Tom Jones,’ 1785; ‘The Strangers at Home’ (comic opera, libretto by James Cobb), ‘Richard Cœur-de-Lion’ (adapted from Grétry), and ‘Love in the East,’ 1788.
He also contributed the music for the song in the ‘School for Scandal,’ 1777, wrote new accompaniments to the airs in the ‘Beggar's Opera’ for a production on 8 Nov. 1777, and set the portions to be sung of Sheridan's ‘Monody on the Death of Garrick,’ 1777.
Other of his works are: ‘Elegies for Three Voices, with an Accompaniment for a Harpsichord and Violoncello,’ written while he was at Bath, and published in London about 1770; ‘Twelve Ballads,’ London, 1780; an anthem, ‘Bow down thine ear,’ inserted in Page's ‘Harmonica Sacra;’ and various separate songs, glees, and canzonets.
A posthumous collection of works by himself and his son Thomas was published in two volumes by his widow, London, 1800. It comprises songs, cantatas, madrigals, and elegies, and includes an admirably graceful five-part madrigal, ‘Let me, careless,’ by the elder Linley. Some part-songs by Linley are in Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 31415.
Linley's sons Thomas [q. v.] and William [q. v.] and his daughters Mary Linley [q. v.] and Elizabeth Ann Sheridan [q. v.] are noticed separately.
His eldest son, Ozias Thurston Linley (1766–1831), musical amateur and composer, matriculated at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, 19 March 1785, graduated B.A. 1789, and took holy orders. He became minor canon of Norwich 1790, vicar of Stoke Holy Cross, Norfolk, 1807, and of Trowse with Lakenham 1815 (Foster, Alumni Oxon.) He subsequently resigned his benefice, and accepted on 5 May 1816 a junior fellowship, with the post of organist, at Dulwich College. He died there, aged 65, on 6 March 1831. His portrait, by Sir Thomas Lawrence, is at Dulwich. His anthems and services (see Notes and Queries, 4th ser. ii. 323) have not been published (Gent. Mag. 1831, i. 474).
A younger daughter, Maria (d. 1784), was a favourite singer at Bath concerts and in oratorio. She died at an early age of brain fever, at her father's house in Bath, on 15 Sept. 1784. After one of the severest paroxysms she rose up in bed and began to sing the air, ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth,’ in as full and clear a tone as when in perfect health (Kelly, Reminiscences, ii. 127). This circumstance gave rise to the false impression that Miss Linley died suddenly ‘at the piano,’ or ‘on the concert platform.’Another son, Samuel, who was a lieutenant in the navy, died from fever a few years after the death of his elder brother, Thomas. Another daughter, Jane, was married to Charles Ward, secretary to the management of Drury Lane Theatre.
[Grove's Dict. of Music, ii. 143, iv. 701; Brown's Biog. Dict. of Music, p. 388; Fétis's Biog. Univ. des Musiciens, v. 211; Parke's Musical Memoirs, i. 11, 203; Musical Biography, ii. 211; Harmonicon for 1825, pp. 215–20; Tinsley's Mag. xxxix. 134, 249; Gent. Mag. 1795, ii. 973, 1052; Fitzgerald's Lives of the Sheridans, i. 75, ii. 49; Peach's Historic Houses in Bath, 1st ser. p. 30; Miss Lefanu's Memoirs of Mrs. F. Sheridan, pp. 416–20; Burney's Hist. of Music, iv. 675; Records of the Royal Society of Musicians; Registers of Wells Cathedral; Brit. Mus. Catalogues.]