Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Twiss, Francis

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TWISS, FRANCIS (1760–1827), compiler, born in 1760, the son of an English merchant residing in Holland, was descended from Richard Twiss, a younger son of the family of Twiss resident about 1660 at Killintierna, co. Kerry (Burke, Landed Gentry). Richard Twiss [q. v.] was his brother. He is said to have been contemporary at Pembroke College, Cambridge, with William Pitt as a student under Tomline, but his name does not appear in the printed list of graduates of that university. ‘A hopeless passion for Mrs. Siddons’ is believed to have been once nourished by him, but he married on 1 May 1786 her sister, Frances (1759–1822), usually called Fanny, Kemble, second daughter of Roger Kemble [q. v.] Upon her marriage she retired from the stage, where her efforts as an actress had not been crowned with success. George Steevens [q. v.], the Shakespearean commentator, had championed her acting in the press, and wished to marry her, but the family deprecated the alliance (Fitzgerald, The Kembles, i. 227–32).

Mrs. Twiss, a lovely woman, of great sweetness of character, from 1807 kept a fashionable girls' school at 24 Camden Place, Bath, and was assisted in the management by her husband and their three daughters. He is described by Mrs. F. A. Kemble as a ‘grim-visaged, gaunt-figured, kind-hearted gentleman and profound scholar.’ A lively picture of husband and wife is given by George Hardinge (Nichols, Illustrations of Lit. iii. 37–8). ‘She was big as a house,’ affected in manner and with measured voice, but very good-natured. He was very thin, stooping, and ghastly pale; takes ‘absolute clouds of snuff,’ quaint in his phrases, ‘very dogmatical and spoilt as an original.’

Twiss died at Cheltenham on 28 April 1827, aged 68. His wife had predeceased him, at Bath, on 1 Oct. 1822. Their eldest son was Horace Twiss [q. v.]; another son, John Twiss, became a major-general in the army on 5 Jan. 1864, and was governor of the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich.

Twiss published in two volumes in 1805, ‘A complete verbal Index to the Plays of Shakspeare, adapted to all the editions,’ with a dedication to John Philip Kemble. It was a work of immense labour, but as it gives the word only and not the passage in which it occurs, his labours have been superseded by later concordances. Seven hundred and fifty copies were printed of it, and 542 of them were destroyed by fire in 1807.

A famous portrait of Mrs. Twiss, a half-length, was painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds in 1783, and exhibited at Burlington House in 1890. It was sold by Christie & Manson among the pictures belonging to the Right Hon. G. A. F. Cavendish-Bentinck in July 1891 for 2,640 guineas. It was engraved by J. Jones (Roberts, Christie's, ii. 170). Another admirable oil portrait of her, the work of Opie, but ‘showing the influence of Sir Thomas Lawrence,’ belongs to Mr. Quintin Twiss, who also possesses miniatures of Francis Twiss and his wife.

[Gent. Mag. 1822 ii. 381, 1827 i. 476; Boaden's Mrs. Siddons, ii. 92–103; Boaden's J. P. Kemble, i. 328; Campbell's Mrs. Siddons, i. 15; F. A. Kemble's Records of a Girlhood, i. 20–26; Leslie and Taylor's Sir Joshua Reynolds, ii. 426–40; Rogers's Opie and his Works, p. 171; information from Mrs. Quintin W. F. Twiss.]

W. P. C.