What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Our PROFESSOR of MUSIC, Theoretical, Rudimental and Practical, absconded.”
Whether they taught reading and writing, dancing and fencing, French and Latin, or singing and playing musical instruments, sometimes itinerant tutors meant trouble for the communities they visited. That seems to have been the case with William Crosbey, “PROFESSOR of MUSIC, Theoretical, Rudimental and Practical,” in Portsmouth in the fall of 1773.
Crosbey first introduced himself to prospective students and the public in a lengthy advertisement in the August 13 edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. He proclaimed that the “Charms, Beauties and Advantages of MUSIC are so universally known, that it is quite unnecessary to say any Thing for recommending it,” but also cautioned that music “looses most of it’s Beauties when not performed under the proper Restrictions of Rule and Judgment.” To help prospective students elevate their abilities and, in turn, avoid embarrassment in social settings that involved music, Crosbey “proposes to teach Psalmody in it’s various Branches,” naming a variety of composers in his repertoire, and “teaches all Sorts of Dramatic Miusuc, such as Songs, Airs, Solo’s, Duett’s, [and] Dialogues.” To that end, he anticipated receiving “a choice Collection of vocal Music … consisting of the newest and best Songs, as they are now sung at the Mary-Bone, Vaux-Hall and Covent Garden” in London. Crosbey cited entertainment venues in the most cosmopolitan city in the empire, situating himself and his pupils within contemporary transatlantic popular culture.
In his initial advertisement, the tutor presented several opportunities for lessons. He ran a singing school in the evening and private lessons in the homes of students during the day. In addition to singing, he also “teaches the Scale of the Violin, Flute, Harpsichord and Organ.” In a subsequent advertisement on August 27, Crosbey declared that he would open “his School for Music at the Assembly Room” the next day. He detailed the rates for instruction by the quarter and by the month, at the school and at home, noting that “One third of the Money for each Condition to be paid at Entrance.” To get a sense of total enrollments, he requested that “whatever Gentleman or Lady intends to Honor him with the Care of their Tuition, would attend at the Assembly Room” the following day. He planned to open the school “with a Dissertation on Music, in general, which will be beneficial to every young Beginner.” A week later, he placed the same advertisement with a small revision. The first day of classes had been “deferred last Week,” though the tutor did not specify why. The inaugural lesson would take place on Saturday, September 4.
The next issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette featured another advertisement concerning Crosbey, this one placed by “The SUFFERERS” that he apparently duped. The day after Crosbey held his first class and presumably delivered his “Dissertation on Music” and collected the entrance fees from his students, he absconded. The “SUFFERERS” lamented the “Damage the Public must sustain by his unexpected Retreat” and offered a reward to anyone who apprehended the Crosbey and delivered him to Portsmouth. In a short description, the advertisers informed readers that Crosbey “had on when he went away, a green Coat, white Waistcoat and Breeches, and has a peculiar Mark, which Time will ne’er deface.” Did that “peculiar Mark” refer to a birthmark or scar? Or did it refer to a figurative stain resulting from an inappropriate interaction with one or more of his students? Whatever other misconduct Crosbey committed, he apparently collected tuition from his students and then ran away before giving them lessons. His advertisements had been part of a scam perpetrated on the people of Portsmouth. Rather than a “PROFESSOR of MUSIC, Theoretical, Rudimental and Practical,” Crosbey was a swindler who took advantage of students who aspired to improve their musical skills.