Alan Powers

Blake’s Antitype

Nature’s Engraver: A Life of Thomas Bewick


Faber & Faber 458pp £20 order from our bookshop

Towards the end of his life, in the years between Waterloo and Catholic Emancipation, the Northumbrian wood-engraver Thomas Bewick began to write an autobiography. Looking back to his boyhood in Cherryburn, upriver from Newcastle, he gave a personal and verbal counterpart to the little scenes of rural life which delighted readers of his two major books, A General History of Quadrupeds (1790) and The History of British Birds (two parts, 1797 and 1804). Had Bewick simply issued these books with the engravings of animals and birds, we would doubtless admire them still, as naturalists and country gentlemen immediately did, for their information, both visual and verbal, was the best of its kind available. It is not the main subjects of each page that made Bewick’s work so deeply loved, however, but the tailpieces, appearing after nearly every entry in British Birds, that enable us to enter late Georgian rural England and enter the mind of Charlotte Brontë, as a shortsighted twelve-year-old, finding the solace in them that she later allowed Jane Eyre to find, hidden behind curtains in the library at Gateshead Hall.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • The entertaining Howard Jacobson is in conversation with Prof John Mullan at the Queen’s Park Book Festival on Sund… ,
    • 'A modest and retiring man, Thompson spent his life describing apple varieties and recommending the best – Ribston… ,
    • 'Macfarlane is a poet with the instincts of a thriller writer, an autodidact in botany, mycology, geology and palae… ,
    • 'Some scholars attribute Shakespeare’s pre-eminence to four centuries of propaganda and not to the fact that Hamlet… ,
    • RT : We would appreciate any retweets ,
    • We've just stumbled on a gem from the LR archive. The emoluments page from May 1995, in which one reviewer asked to… ,
    • Unlike Mary Shelley's monstrous creation, Jeanette Winterson's Frankenstein-inspired novel feels 'barely alive', sa… ,