The Circus

The Circus

Pp 359-361

18th C

At forty-six and not in the best of health herself, Margaret had to cope with this husband of hers, currently moody and depressed.  She was always concerned about his health as he was never robust.  She agonized over his generous nature, seriously concerned that he would give away his last penny without a thought for his family's future.  Philip Thickness, her enemy, nevertheless agreed with her, commenting that Gainsborough was notably over-generous to friends in need.   He would, he commented, have died a much richer fellow had he been a more "worldly-minded" man.

The Gainsboroughs' attitude to money caused constant strife between them.  He was notoriously generous to all and sundry.  Margaret veered in the opposite direction, gaining a widespread reputation for her constant nagging about money or the lack of it.  As well, Margaret had to cope with Gainsborough's moodiness:  he could be a charming, intelligent, amusing companion to his friends.  At other times he exhibited another less attractive side of his character:  irritability and a certain sarcastic severity of manner.

Margaret tolerated his indiscretions with prostitutes because she had no option, and she berated him for his long and often unexpected absences from home.  He, on his part, had to put up with her constant nagging about money while his friends openly tormented him for being a hen-pecked husband.  There can be no doubt at all that Margaret held the purse strings close throughout their marriage, allowing her husband a strictly controlled sum for pocket money in these later years, demanding close scrutiny of the professional fees t paid for his highly lucrative portraits.  Clearly, from the family's point of view, this was necessary.  As Thickness rightly pointed out the Gainsboroughs would have been bankrupt had Thomasvbeen permitted to live as generously as he wished without restriction.

At this time, 1773-4, the Gainsborough's main private family concern was the mental state of their elder daughter Mary whose behaviour was becoming increasingly odd.  They were aware that her condition was likely to deteriorate in future and financial provision for her for life was essential.  The younger daughter Margaret was  lively, demanding and headstrong but so far unaffected by the disease affecting her sister.