Bewick, Thomas: My Life.

Bewick, Thomas - My Life. Folio Society, 1981, 1st thus.

'Look at his tailpieces, Reader,' wrote John James Audubon in 1831, of Thomas Bewick, 'And say if you ever saw so much life represented before.' The world, in general, took the hint, to an extent Audubon could hardly have foreseen. Scarcely a day passes in the modern world without his wood-engravings being reproduced: for the labelling of fertiliser sacks and bread wrappers, for the decoration of writing paper, pottery, books, wallpaper, visiting cards, for the improvement of every conceivable kind of advertisement. His work has become better known than his name. Like Mozart, he would (if royal-ties were paid forever) be a posthumous millionaire. Six years before he died, he started to set down a memoir of his life. It has become a minor classic: a unique record of a life as child, apprentice, and craftsman in Georgian England. The vivid sketches were left unfinished at his death in 1828 and unprepared for the press. It was not till 1862 that a first edition was put together. Now he was to find fame as writer too. Charles Kingsley, presented with an early copy, said, 'I have read it through, and am equally delighted and astonished at it. Brought up as I was on Bewick's Birds. . . I have always held him to be a genius in his own line, but I was not prepared to find him so remarkable a man in other respects. What gives these irrepressibly lively sketches their appeal is Bewick's 'painter's eye': the eye which records at the back of a minute vignette a boy relieving himself in a stream, or a dog frightened out of its wits by shadows. Nothing natural escaped him. Still, no doubt, it is the early part of the life of the man from Cherryburn (the farm where he was born) that has inspired the great and enduring affection for this small masterpiece: his intensely felt recollections of Northumberland in winter cold and summer breeze; of pranks on the river; or the cruelty of huntsmen; or the pleasures of angling; or memories of a 500-mile walk round the Highlands. This he started on concluding his seven-year apprenticeship - 'I felt just as one may suppose a bird would feel, upon escaping from its cage.' Soon after came his one long visit to London, 'I must first begin to tell you that I like it (or like to live in it) very badly,' and his memorable description of the capital 'which is cover'd with all the porrige of outside show'. He was soon back in Newcastle, and in partnership with his old master Beilby, working on the books which brought him fame, interspersing his more serious studies, as he tells us 'with tailpieces of gaiety and humour, as instruction is of little avail without constant cheerfulness and occasional amusement'. Unfinished and carelessly constructed though it is, his memoir nevertheless gives a moving and delightful picture of the character which made such an indelible impression on Audubon as a 'perfect old Englishman. . . truly a Son of Nature'. This edition omits some of the philosophical passages towards the end of the book. It includes, in addition to a representative selection of the wood-engravings, thirty-one of the little known yet delicately beautiful water-colours which Bewick made as preliminary studies. (Folio Society).

9½" x 6¼", 192pp plus 8 plates, quarter brown cloth with yellow paper sides, hardback. Illustrated by the author with monochrome engravings throughout the text and 8 plates of watercolour drawings.

Very slightly sunned spine; fine, probably unread; no glassine wrapper (not issued in a slip-case); still has its sign up a new member postcard.


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