Thomas Bewick

Beggar attacked by a mastiff
Beggar attacked by a mastiff
“I regret that I have not by me at present the letter which this generous and worthy man gave me that evening, otherwise, for his sake, I should have presented you with it. It is in careful keeping, however, as a memorial of a man whose memory is dear to me; and be assured I regard it with quite as much pleasure as a manuscript ‘Synopsis of the Birds of America,’ by Alexander Wilson, which this celebrated individual gave to me at Louisville in Kentucky, more than twenty years ago. Bewick’s letter, however, will be presented to you along with many others, in connection with some strange facts, which I hope may be useful to the world. We protracted our conversation much beyond our usual time of retiring to rest, and at his earnest request, and much to my satisfaction, I promised to spend the next evening with him, as it was to be my last at Newcastle for some time.

“On the 19th of the same month I paid him my last visit, at his house. When we parted, he repeated three times, ‘God preserve you, God bless you!’ He must have been sensible of the emotion which I felt, and which he must have read in my looks, although I refrained from speaking on the occasion.

“A few weeks previous to the death of this fervent admirer of nature, he and his daughters paid me a visit to London. He looked as well as when I had seen him at Newcastle. Our interview was short but agreeable, and when he bade adieu, I was certainly far from thinking that it might be the last. But so it was, for only a very short time had elapsed when I saw his death announced in the newspapers.

Youngsters flying a kite
Youngsters flying a kite
“My opinion of this remarkable man is, that he was purely a son of nature, to whom alone he owed nearly all that characterized him as an artist and a man. Warm in his affections, of deep feeling, and possessed of a vigorous imagination, with correct and penetrating observation, he needed little extraneous aid to make him what he became, the first engraver on wood that England has produced. Look at his tail-pieces, Reader, and say if you ever saw so much life represented before, from the glutton who precedes the Great Black-backed Gull, to the youngsters flying their kite, the disappointed sportsman who, by shooting a magpie, has lost a woodcock, the horse endeavouring to reach the water, the bull roaring near the style, or the poor beggar attacked by the rich man’s mastiff. As you turn each successive leaf, from beginning to end of his admirable books, scenes calculated to excite your admiration everywhere present themselves. Assuredly you will agree with me in thinking that in his peculiar path none has equalled him. There may be men now, or some may in after years appear, whose works may in some respects rival or even excel his, but not the less must Thomas Bewick of Newcastle-on-Tyne be considered in the art of engraving on wood what Linnaeus will ever be in natural history, though not the founder, yet the enlightened improver and illustrious promoter.”

  • Image source: Bewick, Thomas. History of British Birds, vol. 1 & vol. 2. Newcastle: 1797 & 1804.
  • This article was taken from Natural History of Parrots written by Prideaux John Selbyand and published in Edinburgh, London, and dublin, 1836. It was printed as a preamble under the title: Memoir of Thomas Bewick; eminent engraver on wood.