Friday, August 17, 2012

Thomas Wilson, Dancing Master

Thomas Wilson saw himself as the premier exponent of dancing in the Regency era. He had, I think, delusions of grandeur in that vision, but he worked hard to make his dream come true.

We don't know, it seems, where or when Thomas Wilson was born, or where and when he died. It appears that he was married for there are references to Mrs. Wilson. Whether he had any children is unknown.

What he did have was a love of the dance. He was for many years a dance instructor/coordinator at the King's Theatre (Opera House). The dancers on the Opera House stage in 1808 below may have been trained by Wilson.

Mr. Wilson was not content, however, with his work at the theatre. He soon extended his vision to include a dancing academy (which changed location repeatedly) where he taught the popular social dances. An advertisement from the London Times of 1803 stated:
Dancing taught in the most elegant style, quite in private...
He also held public balls:
"Mr. Wilson's Annual (being his 81st Public) Ball, will take place on Monday next, 18th Dec. 1820, at the Globe Tavern, Fleet-street. The Ball will be opened at Eight o'Clock, with the Quadrille Minuet, by Misses Jones, Wilkins, Ivory, and Gillman (his Pupils) who will dance the Union Waltz, new Shawl Dance, Terpsichore Allemande, and a new Fandango, all composed by Mr. Wilson.
There is a substantial list in this ad of the general Dances to be undertaken, several of them composed by Mr. Wilson, and 'Double Tickets' are priced at 12 shillings. I do wonder who was the target market for these balls. Certainly the ton would not attend, but perhaps the rising middle class?

The same advertisement notes "...just published, the "Quadrille Panorama"; also, "The Complete System of English Country Dancing"; together with his various other Works on Dancing; also his new Comedy, in verse, called "The Disappointed Authoress". "

Mr. Wilson wrote, and wrote, and wrote: 'An Analysis of Country Dancing' (illustration above), 'Treasures of Terpsichore', 'The Quadrille Instructor', 'A Companion to the Ballroom', 'The Ecossoise Instructor', and more. He instructed on the manners required in the ballroom, he wrote dramas and verse, and he wrote scathing indictments against his competitors in the teaching of dance. His dance movements look astonishingly intricate,
and one of his opponents said Wilson's Treasures of Terpsichore "should be universally exploded as unintelligible and useless,..."

Thomas Wilson was so well known that Leigh Hunt, in his 1840 publication The Seer, included an essay "Dancing and Dancers"--much of it pointed comment on Wilson, " of several dramatic pieces, and inductor of ladies and gentlemen into the shapely and salutary art of dancing." Advertisements for Wilson's work appeared in all the major journals of the day, 'The Gentlemen's Magazine', 'The Literary Panorama', 'The Monthly Magazine', 'The European Magazine', and 'The Ladies' Monthly Museum'. His publisher was sometimes Button and Whitaker whom I discussed here.

Despite his precocity and his abundant activity, however, Thomas Wilson seems a man never confident, never certain of his own success. The Literary Gazette published a nasty little verse about him: "we
It goes on for several more lines, lampooning the man, and ends:

Does such commentary indicate that Thomas Wilson was a success and therefore could be excoriated without harm? Or does it prove that despite all his efforts Wilson was a running joke among his contemporaries, and a man with more pride than prosperity?

'Til next time,



Regencyresearcher said...

I have a copy of his companion to the Ballroom published in 1816. In it he says he will be publishing a book on the French and Belgian waltzes.
The paper of the book is good but the stitching gave way. The book doesn't appear to have ever been really bound . The Library of Congress has several of his books available for digital download but I haven't seen more of the book I have than the picture on the cover.
Thanks for the information about him. Wilson says that he is not a teacher for the upper classes an almost seems to consider the upper classes as a distinct group as far as dancing was concerned. However, he was quick to latch onto the dances the Haut Ton made popular.
My book has music and steps ... the steps are oftn intricate even if the music is no more than 8 bars, repeated.

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

How lucky you are to have a copy of Wilson's Companion to the Ballroom. And how interesting that he states he is not a teacher for the upper classes--another indication of the intricate hierarchy of Regency society! Thanks for stopping by, Nancy

Paul said...

The comments in The Literary Gazette appear to be a quotation that Wilson wrote about himself in the prologue to his 1824 work, 'The Danciad':

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

How very interesting, Paul. I am surprised that Wilson would include that poem as I don't regard it as at all complimentary. I do think, however, it was written for The Literary Gazette as it was published prior to the Danciad. Thank you for the link and the interesting sidelight on Thomas Wilson!

Paul said...

Thanks for the reply. :-)

For what it's worth, the Literary Gazette quote seems to be at the end of a rather long editorial piece reviewing 'The Danciad' and 'The Tricks of Bakers Unmasked' by James Maton (No. 398, Sept 1824).

The reviewer is quite dismissive regarding Wilson, so I accept your point, it's just a little ironic that Wilson's book is dismissive regarding the entire profession of dance instruction.

Love the blog by the way.