In the mean time, the Prospectus had the effect of introducing the spirited undertaker to the notice of many ardent cultivators of natural science, particularly of Marmaduke Tunstall, Esq. of Wycliffe, whose museum was even then remarkable for the extent of its treasures, and for the skill with which they had been preserved; whose collection also of living animals, both winged and quadruped, was very considerable. Mr Bewick was invited to visit Wycliffe, and made drawings of various specimens, living and dead, which contributed greatly to enrich his subsequent publications. The portraits which he took with him of the wild cattle in Chillingham Park, the seat of the Earl of Tankerville (whose agent, Mr John Bailey, was also an eminent naturalist, and very intimate friend of Mr Bewick), particularly attracted Mr Tunstall’s attention; and he was very urgent to obtain a representation, upon a larger scale than was contemplated for his projected work, of those now unique specimens of the ancient Caledonian breed. For this purpose, Mr Bewick made a special visit to Chillingham, and the result was the largest wood-cut he ever engraved; which, though it is considered as his chef d’œuvre, seemed, in its consequences, to shew the limits within which wood-engraving should generally be confined. The block, after a few impressions had been taken off, split into several pieces, and remained so till, in the year 1817, the richly figured border having been removed, the pieces containing the figure of the wild bull were so firmly clamped together, as to bear the force of the press; and impressions may still be had. A few proof-impressions on thin vellum of the original block, with the figured border, have sold as high as twenty guineas.
As it obviously required much time, as well as labour, to collect, from various quarters, the materials for a General History of Quadrupeds, it is evident that much must have been done in other ways, in the regular course of ordinary business. In a country engraver’s office, much of this requires no record; but, during this interval, three works on copper seem to have been executed, chiefly by Mr Thomas Bewick. A small quarto volume, entitled, A Tour through Sweden, Lapland, etc, by Matthew Consett. Esq., accompanied by Sir G. H. Liddell, was illustrated with engravings by Beilby and Bewick, the latter executing all those relating to natural history, particularly the reindeer and their Lapland keepers, brought over by Sir H. Liddell, whom he had thus the unexpected opportunity of delineating from the life. During this interval, he also drew and engraved on copper, at the expense of their respective proprietors, The Whitley large Ox, belonging to Mr Edward Hall, the four quarters of which weighed 187 stone; and The remarkable Kyloe Ox, bred in Mull by Donald Campbell, Esq. and fed by Mr Robert Spearman of Rothley Park, Northumberland. This latter is a very curious specimen of copper-plate engraving, combining the styles of wood and copper, particularly in the minute manner in which the verdure is executed.
At length appeared The General History of Quadrupeds, a work uncommonly well received by the public, and ever since held in increased estimation. Perhaps there never was a work to which the rising generation of the day was, and no doubt that for many years to come will be, under such obligations, for exciting in them a taste for the natural history of animals. The representations which are given of the various tribes, possess a boldness of design, a correctness of outline, an exactness of attitude, and a discrimination of general character, which convey, at the first glance, a just and lively idea of each different animal. The figures were accompanied by a clear and concise statement of the nature, habits, and disposition of each animal: these were chiefly drawn up by his able coadjutors, Mr Beilby, his partner, and his printer Mr Solomon Hodgson; subject, no doubt, to the corrections and additions of Mr Bewick. In drawing up these descriptions, it was the endeavour of the publishers to lay before their readers a particular account of the quadrupeds of our own country, especially of those which have so materially contributed to its strength, prosperity, and happiness, and to notice the improvements which an enlarged system of agriculture, supported by a noble spirit of generous emulation, has diffused throughout the country.