Sir Thomas Lawrence portrays William, the youngest of twelve children in the Linley family, on the verge of manhood, who was known for his voice at the time. His boyish free-flowing locks and rosy cheeks; was commented on by George III when he saw the portrait: ‘Ah! Ah! Why doesn’t the blockhead have his hair cut?’ By contrast William’s voice and rosy cheeks inspired Coleridge to write the sonnet ‘While my young cheek retains its youthful hues’ in 1797 while hearing him sing Purcell.
There is some debate as to when this portrait was executed. It has been suggested that William wears the uniform of a scholar of St. Paul’s School (which he attended until 1785) leaving at the age of sixteen. Alternatively the portrait was painted before he departed for India in 1789, making him twenty years of age.
William began his career as a Civil Servant in the East India Company from 1790 to 1795 and again in 1800 to 1806. His career began with the statesman Charles Fox offering him an appointment as Assistant under the Military Secretary in Madras. He progressed as a Collector of Madura and Dindigul and then to Deputy Secretary to the Military Board. William was forced to return to England on the grounds of ill-health.
William also pursued a career in music, following in the family’s footsteps. Upon returning to London in 1795 he worked with his brother-in-law, Sheridan, at Drury Lane Theatre. Although William’s musical career was not as successful as that of his brother, Thomas Linley the younger, or his sisters Elizabeth and Mary, he wrote songs, elegies, glees, poems and novels. He wrote the comic operas ‘The Honey Moon’ and ‘Pavilion’ but had most success with ‘The Dramatic Songs of Shakespeare’ in 1816.