Thomas Bewick

Much more might be said of this distinguished artist. More has been said. In Blackwood’s Magazine (for 1825), there is a very elegant critique upon Mr Bewick’s works[1]. In the first volume of the Transactions of the Natural History Society of Newcastle, p. 132, is a Memoir of Mr Bewick, by George Clayton Atkinson, Esq., whose love of nature led him, while very young, to seek the acquaintance of our native artist, who was always ready to encourage rising merit. But amidst much judicious remark, there is a detail of particular conversations, etc. which, though highly interesting in this particular neighbourhood, would probably not be so to the public at large. In the third volume of Audubon’s Ornithological Biography, p. 300, an account of his interviews with Mr Bewick, during his residence in Newcastle, forms one of those delightful Episodes with which he contrives to enliven his accounts of birds. We have taken the liberty of quoting it.

“Through the kindness of Mr Selby of Twizel-House in Northumberland, I had anticipated the pleasure of forming an acquaintance with the celebrated and estimable Bewick, whose works indicate an era in the history of the art of engraving on wood. In my progress southward, after leaving Edinburgh in 1827, I reached Newcastle-upon-Tyne about the middle of April, when Nature had begun to decorate anew the rich country around. The lark was in full song, the blackbird rioted in the exuberance of joy, the husbandman cheerily plied his healthful labours, and I, although a stranger in a foreign land, felt delighted with all around me, for I had formed friends who were courteous and kind, and whose favour I had reason to hope would continue. Nor have I been disappointed in my expectations.

Frightened dog
Frightened dog
“Bewick must have heard of my arrival at Newcastle before I had an opportunity of calling upon him, for he sent me by his son the following note: – ‘T. Bewick’s compliments to Mr Audubon, and will be glad of the honour of his company this day to tea at six o’clock.’ These few words at once proved to me the kindness of his nature, and, as my labours were closed for the day, I accompanied the son to his father’s house.

“As yet I had seen but little of the town, and had never crossed the Tyne. The first remarkable object that attracted my notice was a fine church, which my companion informed me was that of St. Nicholas. Passing over the river by a stone bridge of several arches, I saw by the wharfs a considerable number of vessels, among which I distinguished some of American construction. The shores on either side were pleasant, the undulated ground being ornamented with buildings, windmills, and glass-works. On the water glided, or were swept along by great oars, boats of singular form, deeply laden with the subterranean produce of the hills around.

“At length we reached the dwelling of the engraver, and I was at once shewn to his workshop. There I met the old man, who, coming towards me, welcomed me with a hearty shake of the hand, and for a moment took off a cotton night-cap, somewhat soiled by the smoke of the place. He was a tall stout man, with a large head, and with eyes placed farther apart than those of any man that I have ever seen: – a perfect old Englishman, full of life, although seventy-four years of age, active and prompt in his labours. Presently he proposed shewing me the work he was at, and went on with his tools. It was a small vignette, cut on a block of boxwood not more than three by two inches in surface, and represented a dog frightened at night by what he fancied to be living objects, but which were actually roots and branches of trees, rocks, and other objects bearing the semblance of men. This curious piece of art, like all his works, was exquisite, and more than once did I feel strongly tempted to ask a rejected bit, but was prevented by his inviting me up stairs, where, he said, I should soon meet all the best artists of Newcastle.

“There I was introduced to the Misses Bewick, amiable and affable ladies, who manifested all anxiety to render my visit agreeable. Among the visitors. I saw a Mr Good, and was highly pleased with one of the productions of his pencil, a full-length miniature in oil of Bewick, well drawn, and highly finished.