"TANS'UR, William, an 18th-century musician, chiefly a composer of psalm tunes, though some secular pieces are also by him. In the preface to one of the many works he issued, The Elements of Music Displayed, 1772, he informs us that he was born at Dunchurch, Warwickshire, in 1700. He further confirms this by appending to his engraved portrait the words 'Aetatis suae 70 Christi 1770.' It is likely that he has made a mistake regarding the date of his birth, for the parish register of Dunchurch states that William Tanser, the son of Edward Tanzer and Joan [Alibone] Tanzer, was baptized Nov. 6, 1706. This year may be taken as the year of his birth, for John, a previous son of Edward and Joan Tanzer, was baptized on May 14, 1704, and it is unlikely that William would remain un-baptised six years after his birth.
The original name 'Tanzer' implies a German origin, and we learn from the register that Edward Tanzer, the father, was a labourer, and that he died, aged about sixty, on Jan. 21, 1712, while Joan, his wife, followed on Feb. 16 of the same year, aged fifty-one. Why Tans'ur changed his name does not appear. The chief details of Tans'ur's biography occur in the prefaces and imprints of his books. It appears that he was a teacher of Psalmody from early youth, and he seems to have settled at many different places in this pursuit, notably at Ewell near Epsom and Barnes in Surrey, and Stamford in Lincolnshire, at which places he was organist. He died at St. Neot's, Oct. 7, 1783. He had a son who was chorister at Trinity College, Cambridge."
"His wife, whose maiden name was Elizabeth Butler, was a native of Ewell in Surrey, where they were 'married w,h Banns May ye 20th 1730'. She died at Ware, January 9th 1767, aged fifty-eight years.
Tans'ur for a long period led 'an itinerant life'. 'Musick', he writes in 1756, 'has been my darling and daily exercise from my Youth, even to this Day, having made it my constant Practice above forty years, from the Place of my Birth, through divers Counties in this Kingdom to instruct others in the Art of Psalmody, in the Execution of which my days have been as a continual Way fare'.
He dates his published works in 1737 from Barnes in Surrey; in 1754 and 1776 from Cambridge**; in 1756 and 1759 from Stamford; in 1761 from Boston; and is said to have been living at Leicester in 1770. There are traces of him also at Ware; at Witham in Lincolnshire; and at Market Harborough, where he buried his son David*, January 8,1743, aged nine years. The last forty years of his life he was chiefly an inhabitant of St. Neot's as a stationer, bookseller, bookbinder, and teacher of music. I have talked with a person who knew him well. In 1747 the churchwardens of a neighbouring parish paid 'William Tansur, singing-master of St. Neot's, for a parish register'. In The Beauties of Poetry is a piece of about thirty stanzas called 'The Bookseller's Shop', headed:-
'William le Tans'ur recommends these Books to all his social Friends'
After naming books on many subjects and of a better class than one would have expected to find in a small country town, he proceeds:-
'ALSO ARE SOLD,W. L. T.'
Shop-Books and Paper; Ink of every Sort, Prints and Sea-Charts, to guide from Port to Port, Most curious Toys, Corn-Tables, and of Tide, With Musick Books, and Instruments beside, Turlington's Balsam; Scotch and Female pills, Norton's rare Drops, Elixirs for all Ills: Fine Telescopes, &c.
These books, and thousands more, of late invention,
And Manuscripts, more than I here can mention,
Are selling cheap (Books also neatly bound),
The like elsewhere is scarcely to be found:
Obedient to your orders, Sirs, I stand,
And am your humble servant at command.
Having proceeded from Tanser to Tansur and Tans'ur, which, by the way, he rhymes with answer he adopted, later in life, the name and style of William Le Tans'ur, Senior, Musico Theorico; which means, he explains -'A Person who studies the Science of Musick in general, and private; writes Treatises and Comments thereon; and endeavours to explain all critical and obscure Passages therein, both Ancient and Modern, as well as to give Instructions by Practice, Ac.' - New Musical Diet., p. 166. He also called himself 'Psalmodist'; 'Philo Music and Theology'; and 'Professor, Corrector and Teacher of Musick above fifty years'. He had a son who had been a chorister of Trinity College, Cambridge; joined his father as a teacher of music; and is said to have been living in 1811. Christiana#, a maiden daughter, wrote verses in the British Magazine for April, 1760, about a prolific pea in her garden, which produced a second crop in December, 1758; so that (Christmas Day) - '... on my Birth-Day, God sent me green peas for my dinner'.Le Tans'ur died at St. Neot's, October 7, and a stone in the east end of the churchyard points out where he was buried, October 9, 1783, aged eighty three. He published several works, and states that he sold many thousand copies of each."