Thomas Bewick

Thomas Bewick’s box of engraving tools, from a drawing by Joseph Crawhall
Thomas Bewick’s box of engraving tools, from a drawing by Joseph Crawhall
“The old gentleman and I stuck to each other, he talking of my drawings, I of his woodcuts. Now and then he would take off his cap, and draw up his grey worsted stockings to his nether clothes; but whenever our conversation became animated, the replaced cap was left sticking as if by magic to the hind part of his head, the neglected hose resumed their downward tendency, his fine eyes sparkled, and he delivered his sentiments with a freedom and vivacity which afforded me great pleasure. He said he had heard that my drawings had been exhibited in Liverpool, and felt great anxiety to see some of them, which he proposed to gratify by visiting me early next morning along with his daughters and a few friends. Recollecting at that moment how desirous my sons, then in Kentucky, were to have a copy of his works on Quadrupeds, I asked him where I could procure one, when he immediately answered ‘here,’ and forthwith presented me with a beautiful set.

“The tea-drinking having in due time come to an end, young Bewick, to amuse me, brought a bagpipe of a new construction, called the Durham Pipe, and played some simple Scotch, English, and Irish airs, all sweet and pleasing to my taste. I could scarcely understand how, with his large fingers, he managed to cover each hole separately. The instrument sounded somewhat like a hautboy, and had none of the shrill warlike notes or booming sound of the Highland bagpipe. The company dispersed at an early hour, and when I parted from Bewick that night, I parted from a friend.

Bewick’s workshop in St. Nicholas churchyard, by John Jackson, 1838
Bewick’s workshop in St. Nicholas churchyard, by John Jackson, 1838
“A few days after this I received another note from him, which I read hastily, having with me at the moment many persons examining my drawings. This note having, as I understood it, intimated his desire that I should go and dine with him that day. I accordingly went; but judge of my surprise when, on arriving at his house at 5 o’clock, with an appetite becoming the occasion, I discovered that I had been invited to tea and not to dinner. However, the mistake was speedily cleared up to the satisfaction of all parties, and an abundant supply of eatables was placed on the table. The Reverend William Turner joined us, and the evening passed delightfully. At first our conversation was desultory and multifarious, but when the table was removed, Bewick took his seat at the fire, and we talked of our more immediate concerns. In due time we took leave, and returned to our homes, pleased with each other and with our host.

“Having been invited the previous evening to breakfast with Bewick at 8, I revisited him at that hour, on the 16th April, and found the whole family so kind and attentive that I felt quite at home. The good gentleman, after breakfast, soon betook himself to his labours, and began to shew me, as he laughingly said, how easy it was to cut wood; but I soon saw that cutting wood in his style and manner was no joke, although to him it seemed indeed easy. His delicate and beautiful tools were all made by himself, and I may with truth say that his shop was the only artist’s ‘shop’ that I ever found perfectly clean and tidy. In the course of the day Bewick called upon me again, and put down his name on my list of subscribers in behalf of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle. In this, however, his enthusiasm had misled him, for the learned body for which he took upon himself to act, did not think proper to ratify the compact.

“Another invitation having come to me from Gatehead, I found my good friend seated in his usual place. His countenance seemed to me to beam with pleasure as he shook my hand. ‘I could not bear the idea,’ said he, ‘of your going off, without telling you, in written words, what I think of your Birds of America. Here it is in black and white, and make of it what use you may, if it be of use at all.’ I put the unsealed letter in my pocket, and we chatted on subjects connected with natural history. Now and then he would start and exclaim, ‘Oh, that I were young again! I would go to America too. Hey! what a country it will be, Mr Audubon.’ I retorted by exclaiming, ‘Hey! what a country it is already, Mr Bewick!’ In the midst of our conversation on birds and other animals, he drank my health and the peace of all the world in hot brandy toddy, and I returned the compliment, wishing, no doubt, in accordance with his own sentiments, the health of all our enemies. His daughters enjoyed the scene, and remarked, that, for years, their father had not been in such a flow of spirits.

  • Image source: Boyd, Julia. Bewick Gleanings. Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Andrew Reid, 1886.