The Fables of Aesop and Others Spread 0

The Fables of Aesop and Others Spread 0 cover


Thomas Bewick was born in August 1753 at Cherryburn in the parish of Ovingham, Northumberland. His parents were the tenants of a small eight acre farm with an adjacent colliery and Thomas, being the eldest of eight children, was expected to help with the chores. His love of the surrounding countryside and close experience of the natural world were to have a considerable influence on his later work.

Thomas was a reluctant pupil at the local school in the nearby village of Ovingham and he often amused himself by sketching in the margins of his books. His artistic skill developed and at the age of fourteen he was apprenticed to Ralph Beilby, the owner of an engraving business in Newcastle. During his seven year apprenticeship he was instructed in all the skills of the engraving business but his talent for wood engraving was soon recognised.

On completing his apprenticeship Thomas spent some time away from Northumberland in Scotland and London, but he returned to Newcastle and by 1777 was in partnership with his former teacher, Ralph Beilby.

The engraving business of Beilby and Bewick flourished and over the years a number of talented apprentices worked under Bewick although he was evidently not the easiest of men to work with. The output of the workshop was general and various with work being carried out on printing banknotes, billheads and labels for local manufacturers as well as illustrations for numerous publications.

By 1790 Bewick’s own book A General History of Quadrupeds was published, followed by A History of British Birds in two volumes published in 1797 and 1804 respectively.

The partnership of Beilby and Bewick ended acrimoniously in January 1798 and Bewick retained the engraving business. In 1812 Bewick suffered a long illness and it was during that time that he “determined, if I recovered, to go with a publication of ‘Aesop’s Fables’…. I had presented to my recollection almost everything that had passed through life, both what I had done and what I had left undone… I could not, however, help regretting that I had not published a book similar to ‘Croxall’s Aesop’s Fables’, as I had always intended to do.” Once Bewick was fit enough he began work but it took six years to complete, held up by his ill health and all the other work of the firm. The first edition finally went to press on the 1st October 1818. Unfortunately, the quality of the work was a disappointment to Bewick and his public, although the copies sold well.
There were two editions; the first edition was published in 1818 and the second in 1823.

Thomas Bewick was a celebrity in his own lifetime and the interest in his life and works continued long after his death. When Isabella, the last surviving member of Bewick’s four children, died the wealth of watercolour and pencil drawings, woodblocks and engravings which had been collected over many years were dispersed. One of the collectors of Bewick memorabilia was John William Pease who bequeathed his collection to Newcastle Libraries on his death in 1901. This collection, known as the Pease Collection, is still housed in the City Library and will be given pride of place as part of the Newcastle Collection in the brand new City Library which is due to open in Newcastle in the summer of 2009.

Collection: Pease
Number: 138