Thomas Bewick on his encounter with Isaac Taylor
From A Memoir of Thomas Bewick, Written by Himself
Chapter VIII remained no longer in Newcastle than until I earned as much money as would pay my way to London. I then took my passage on board a collier bound to the great city; and after beating about in good weather and bad for about three week, I arrived in London on the first October 1776.
The first Cockney I met was the scullerman, who was engaged to land me and my luggage near Temple Bar. I was amused at his slang and his chatter all the way to London Bridge; and on approaching it, he asked me if I was “a-feared”; but not knowing what I was to be afraid of, I returned the question, at which he looked queer. We passed the gulf about which he wanted to talk, and I again asked him if he was “a-feared”.
It was not long before I found out my old school-fellows, Christopher and Philip Gregson, my old companion, William Gray, then a bookbinder in Chancery Lane, and my friend Robert Pollard. The first had provided me with a lodging, and the last — through the kindness and influence of his master, Isaac Taylor — with plenty of work. Before commencing work, I thought it best to take a ramble through the city and its environs … having rambled about till I had seen a good deal of the exterior as well as the interior of London — of which it would be superfluous to give an account — I sat down closely to work until I got through the wood cuts which, through Isaac Taylor’s kindness, had been provided for me ...
Notwithstanding my being so situated amongst my friends, and being so much gratified in seeing such a variety of excellent performances in every art and science — painting, statuary, engraving, carving, etc — yet I did not like London. It appeared to me to be a world of itself, where everything in the extreme might at once be seen: extreme riches, extreme poverty, extreme grandeur and extreme wretchedness — all of which were such as I had not contemplated before. Perhaps I might, indeed, take too full a view of London on its gloomy side. I could not help it. I tired of it, and determined to return home. The country of my old friends — the manners of the people of that day — the scenery of Tyneside — seemed altogether to form a paradise for me, and I longed to see it again. While I was thus turning these matters over in my mind, my warm friend and patron Isaac Taylor, waited upon me: and, on my telling him I was going to Newcastle, he enquired how long it would be before I returned. “Never,” was my reply; at which he seemed both surprised and displeased. He then warmly remonstrated with me upon this impropriety of my conduct, told me of the prospects before me, and, amongst many other matters, that of his having engaged me to draw in the Duke of Richmond’s Gallery; and he strenuously urged me to change my mind. I told him that no temptation of gain, of honour, or of anything else, however great, could ever have any weight with me; and that I would even enlist for a soldier, or go and herd sheep at five shillings per week, rather than be tied to live in London. I told him how sensible I was of his uncommon kindness to me, and thanked him for it. My kind friend left me in a pet, and I never saw him more. He afterwards, when an old man, visited Newcastle, but left it again without my knowing it till after he was gone. At this I felt much grieved and disappointed. I do not remember how long he lived after this; but a memoir of him was published in the Analytical Magazine at the time, together with a letter I had written to him some time before his death, which he never answered. He was in his day, accounted the best engraver of embellishments for books, most of which he designed himself. The frontispiece to the first edition of Cunningham’s Poems was one of his early productions; and at that time my friend Pollard and myself thought it was the best thing that was ever done.
The same kind persuasions were urged upon me by Mr Hodgson to remain in London, as had been used by Mr Taylor, which ended in a similar way …
Having spent the evening till a late hour with my friends at the “George”, in Brook Street, and in the morning taken my leave of my landlord and landlady, Mr and Mrs Kendal, and their family in Wharton’s Court, Holborn, I then posted off to the Pool, and got on board a collier; and after a very short passage, arrived in sight of St Nicholas’ Church steeple, about the 22nd June 1777.
Bewick (1753-1828) was a wood engraver, famous for his
subjects mainly drawn from nature and rural scenes. He came from
Northumberland, and spent a short time in London working for Isaac
Taylor, but didn’t like it and returned to the Newcastle area. Isaac
tried to talk him out of leaving London, and Thomas describes this in
his memoir, A Memoir of Thomas
Bewick, Written by Himself,
which he wrote between 1822-1828 and was published by his daughter in
1862. — SP