Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Men Behaving Badly: Captain Thicknesse Offers a Warning

Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Susan reports:

As more and more 18th c. Englishmen began traveling to the Continent for both pleasure and business, guidebooks were published to answer every question regarding a foreign journey. One of the most popular of these books was written by Captain Philip Thicknesse (1719-1792.) A minor military officer as well as an opinionated author known for his often eccentric views, Capt. Thicknesse believed firmly in the superiority of all things English, and the suspiciousness of everything else that wasn't.

The theme of the captain's guidebook, published repeatedly in the later 18th c., can best be summarized by the book's complete title: The Gentleman's Guide in his Tour through France, wrote by An Officer, Who lately travelled on a Principle which he most sincerely recommends to his Countrymen, viz. Not to spend more Money in the Country of our natural Enemy, than is requisite to support, with Decency, the Character of an ENGLISHMAN.

Here's a typically inflammatory sample:

Having hinted at the affability of the [French] ladies, I think it may be highly necessary to advise you to be extremely cautious in your amours (if any you propose.)  The air of the southern parts of France is warm and impregnating. Consequently the women are extremely amorous, and the majority of them have it in their power to confer upon you a certain favour, which if it does not cost you your life, may stick by you all your days; it being reputed to be equally destructive as that of the Neapolitans. The surgeons here make a very serious affair of such an accident, and will run you up a bill of fifty guineas before you can look round you; so that a misfortune of this nature will throw your frugality out of the window, and set your constitution on the wreck. You will no doubt be frequently accosted in the streets, by fellows who are lookers-out to bawdy-houses, asking you if you want a jolie fille. And happy are they, when they can lay hold of an Englishman, [for] as these girls say, they bleed freely. Their reward on those occasions, [should be] to break your cane over their shoulders; for many unguarded foreigners have been seduced by those notorious villains, into places from whence they have never more made their appearance.

If you'd like more of his advice, the fourth edition of The Gentleman's Guide (printed in 1770) can be downloaded here.

Above: Captain Philip Thicknesse by Nathaniel Hone, 1757


Rowenna said...

Hilarious! And probably good advice to stay away from houses of ill repute (the Captain is right that they're, em, bad for your health), though walloping a stranger with a cane may not be in good taste. Thanks for sharing!

Undine said...

Well! They just don't write travel guides like that anymore, do they?

Susan, thanks ever so much for bringing the good Capt. to our attention. That title alone makes this a book to be cherished.

Lindsey said...

Let's see. In one paragraph he insults all the women of France and Naples as being so amorous that they'll jump on any English male, and then insults all the doctors who will try to cheat you after you insist on going to a bawdy house. Priceless!

LaDonna said...

There are still plenty of tourists who seem to travel only to declare their own superiority wherever they go. Look at all the Americans who insist that everyone in France and Italy speak English to them while they eat exclusively at Mickey D's.

ILoveVersailles said...

This is more of the French referring to the Italian Pox, and the Italians calling it the English pox, while to the English it's the French pox. All evil comes from Someplace Else. But still a lot of fun to read about!

Do you know if this is the same Mr. Thicknesse whose wife was painted by Gainsborough?

Catherine Delors said...

For shame! Thanks for sharing the good Captain's travel insights, Susan. He doesn't say whether he speaks from personal experience...

Undine said...


It seems likely. He and Gainsborough were friends, and I can't imagine "Thicknesse" was a particularly common name.

Speaking of the Captain's lady, can you imagine what a, well, interesting life she must have led?

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

I'm actually planning to write about Mrs. Thicknesse (the third Mrs. Thicknesse) for Friday. She had a VERY interesting life...even before she married the Captain. And yes, there is a beautiful portrait of her by Gainsborough, who, as Undine notes, was close friends with the Captain. It's a small world in 18th c. London!

CC said...

It is the same.

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