Thomas Bewick was born at Cherryburn in the Tyne valley
and wrote in his memoir:
“from the little window at my bed-head, I noticed all the varying seasons of the year ; and when the spring put in, I felt charmed with the music of birds, which strained their little throats to proclaim it”
When as a boy he started to draw, his father found fault for " mis-spending my time in such idle pursuits" "but my propensity for drawing was so rooted that nothing could deter me from persevering in it: and many of my evenings at home were spent in filling the flags of the floor and the hearthstone with my chalky designs"
When Bewick was 14 he was apprenticed as a trade engraver to Ralph Beilby in Newcastle.
" I liked my master, I liked the business; but to part from the country, and to leave all its beauties behind me, with which I had been all my life charmed in an extreme way- and in a way I cannot describe- I can only say my heart as like to break"
So he had to “ bade farewell to the whinny wilds, to mickley bank, to the stop cross hill, to the water banks, the woods and to particular trees, and even to the large old elm which had lain perhaps for centuries past on the haugh near the ford we were about to pass and which had sheltered the salmon fishers, while at work there, from many a bitter blast”
On 15th November 1785 when Thomas was 33 years old he began to engrave his personal work which continued for the rest of his life.
The day has significance, as his father died that day and he had lost his mother 6 months previously. He stopped visiting Cherryburn after work, and focussed on his first illustrated book: The History of Quadrupeds.
His motivation was to give pleasure to young people, and his only reward " was the great pleasure I felt in imitating nature"
With the success of his first book he went on to illustrate the History of British Birds which was published in 2 volumes;
History and Description of Land Birds in 1797 and History and Description of Water Birds in 1804, with a supplement in 1821
He also illustrated Aesops Fables throughout his lifetime.
Bewick loved nature "she has spread out her beauties to feast the eyes, and to invite the admiration of all mankind, and to whet them up to an ardent love of all her works. How often have I, in my angling excursions, loitered upon such sunny braes, lost in ecstasy, and wishing I could impart to others the pleasures I felt on such occasions"