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Younger Sons in Jane Austen’s England

This guest article is written by Rory Muir – a visiting research fellow at the University of Adelaide and a renowned expert on British history. You can buy a signed copy of his book, Gentleman of Uncertain Fortune, in the Jane Austen Online Gift Shop.

 

Younger Sons in Jane Austen’s England

Like many people, I first read Jane Austen’s novels in my mid-teens when I was still at school, and I fell in love with their sharpness, their wit and their emotional pull. I was intrigued by their depiction of early nineteenth century British society, with its minute distinctions of class and status indicating degrees of good breeding or vulgarity, and I appreciated the way that Austen showed that even her heroes and heroines were flawed, or at least behaved badly on occasion, without sacrificing our sympathy for them.

I was also interested in the early nineteenth century in a different way. When I was still in primary school I had become fascinated in the battle of Waterloo and this had broadened to cover all of Napoleon’s campaigns and the nature of Napoleonic warfare. This interest in military history continued at university and led in turn to a doctorate and then a number of books looking at Britain’s part in the war against Napoleon and Wellington’s campaigns in particular. I edited a collection of confidential letters from Alexander Gordon, one of Wellington’s ADCs, which gave new insight into the way Wellington operated, and I wrote a comprehensive two volume life of Wellington which was published in 2013 and 2015. That book took me fifteen years and by the time I had finished it, I needed a change, but I still loved the period and wanted to keep on writing.

Both Alexander Gordon and Wellington were younger sons whose fathers died when they were very young. Neither inherited enough to live on, and they depended on their elder brothers – who inherited great estates – for assistance in their careers. I was struck by the obvious injustice of this: that one brother would inherit an estate that gave him an income of £16,000 or £17,000 while the other would get only £2,000 of capital (which might produce £100 income), and that everyone accepted that this was perfectly normal and reasonable. The consequence of this was that younger sons and younger brothers had to go out and make their way in the world even when their father was a wealthy lord.

But how could the younger son of a lord, or an independent gentleman, make money in Regency England? Suppose Mr and Mrs Bennet, in Pride and Prejudice, had had five sons, not five daughters, how would the younger ones have made a place for themselves? And for that matter, how did Jane Austen’s own brothers fare?

I already knew the rough answer to the question. That relatively few careers were open to young men of good family without the loss of some social status: they might become officers in the army or the navy; or clergymen; or lawyers. Medicine was rather more dubious, but physicians were often regarded as gentlemen, and surgeon-apothecaries were no longer the crude barber-surgeons of the past. Some young men might follow a family connection into trade (and some business ventures, such as banking, were socially acceptable), while others were sent out to India or other colonies in the hope – a rather desperate one – that they would make a fortune and return a wealthy nabob.

But that was no more than an outline, and no one seemed to have gone any further. What did it mean to become an officer in the army, or a barrister, or a clergyman? What prospects of worldly success or of happiness did these careers offer? What sort of life would they bring?

When I dug a little further I found some fine scholarship on individual careers: the clergy and the navy were particularly well covered, while other careers had received much less attention. But even the best of these studies lacked a comparative element. How did a clergyman’s prospects compare to those of a naval officer? Was an attorney, or a curate, or militia officer more suitable as a suitor or a young woman of good family?

I set to work to try to answer these questions and I found the result fascinating. The result, Gentlemen of Uncertain Fortune: How Younger Sons made their way in Jane Austen’s England, was great fun to write and I hope will be fun to read, even though some of the lives that it recounts were sad and often quite short. Jane Austen, her characters and her family figure prominently, for they provide an excellent entry point to the great majority of young men who never became particularly successful. But Wellington is there too, and so is Alexander Gordon; Sydney Smith, the witty clergyman, and a young lawyer, John Scott, whose career almost ended in obscurity but was saved by a chance opportunity. Then there are Henry Thornton, a banker; John Green Cross, a surgeon; Benjamin Smith, an attorney; Henry Roberdeau, an official of the East India Company, and many more. It is a wonderful subject, and I was delighted to find so many vivid first hand accounts describing the lives of these young men, who might easily have provided the model for a character in any of Austen’s novels.

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Historical Knotwork – The Sea Chest Becket

Historical Knotwork of a sea chest becket

Historical Knotwork – A Naval CV of Sorts

This sea chest becket (handle) is exactly the sort which would have been found on the naval chests used by sailors in Nelson’s Navy. Not only is it a beautiful item in itself, it’s also an object which would have worked as a sort of “knotwork CV” for any boy who wished to be hired.
Nelson himself joined the Royal Navy in 1771 at the age of twelve. In that era, children of this age were old enough to take up training or apprenticeships and it was normal for boys to go to sea to train as officers and, if they passed the examination before the Commissioners of the Admiralty, they could expect to be lieutenants at the age of eighteen.
If any boy (or trained sailor for that matter) needed to prove his worth to a prospective captain or other marine employer, then a sea chest becket such as this one would show his skill with ropes, and prove that he would be a skilled pair of hands to have aboard ship. However, usually they would not be done by the sailor, but would come already installed on the chest. Those with the skill to make them would get the chest with plain beckets and then replace them when he had the time.
How is it made?
This sea chest becket is made from a rope centre, spliced at either end,  padded with canvas (or “pudding’d” to give it it’s technical term) to give it a bit of shape, and then covered with a variety of hitches and techniques. Each historical knotwork technique would be needed on board ship for a different use.
What are the knot and what would they be used for?
Techniques visible from the top down are:
double crown knots…
…ring bolt hitching on the top loops beside the red washers…
…moku hitching…
…and coach-whipping.
Each section is joined by a Turk’s Head, which hides the joins of the different coverings and makes for a decorative touch.
These knots could be used on board ship for such things as making stair handrails (moku hitching), covering metal rings so that they would not slip or rub and were easier to handle (ring bolt whipping), stopping masts from chaffing on the ropes, or creating stoppers (as is the case for the double crown knot).
A pair of these beckets would be fastened to each end of a sea chest with a wooden boss, similar to the one shown here.
If you wanted a last bit of detail on your sea chest beckets they could be painted (and commonly were)  with shiny oil blacking and with the accents picked out in gold. Some genuine examples from the Georgian era have been coated over again until they take in a lacquered look. One of the big advantages of leaving the beckets unpainted is that you can see the knotwork better.
*****
This sea chest bracket was made at the Orkney College Maritime Dept, to be presented to Princess Anne who presided over their graduation ceremony this year (2018).
The knotwork information and photos were kindly provided by Mark Shiner, who also made the bracket itself, and who is the curriculum leader for Maritime Studies at the University of the Highlands and Islands – Orkney College.
Words by Jenni Waugh.
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Jane Austen and the Oliphant in the Room

by Alice Chandler, author of Aunt Jane and the Missing Cherry Pie

I do apologize for the pun in my title.

The Olifant I refer to is Margaret Olifant (1828-1894), a prolific and popular nineteenth-century writer and said to be Queen Victoria’s favorite novelist. The reason that I figuratively place Olifant in the same room as Jane Austen is that she was such a trenchant and perceptive critic of Austen’s work.

Austen was not always fortunate in her woman critics during the century after her death. While famous male authors lauded her and often compared her work to Shakespeare’s, some notable women writers were very critical of her writing.  Her contemporary Mary Mitford, whose mother actually knew Jane Austen, was well-known in her time for her charming short novel, Our Village. Mitford disliked Elizabeth Bennett as a character and criticized “the entire want of taste that could produce so pert, so worldly a heroine as the beloved of such a man as Darcy.”

 Charlotte Bronte was particularly negative about Austen. She compared her writing to a “daguerrotyped portrait of a commonplace face” and complained that her work “lacked poetry.” She thought that Austen’s novels delineated “the surface… lives of genteel English people.”  But they ignored “what throbs fast and full… what the blood rushes through… the unseen seat of life.” Or to put it more simply, her books had no heart. Elizabeth Barrett Browning was similarly, though less violently, critical of Austen’s passionlessness. She found her novels perfect but shallow.

Whi Continue reading Jane Austen and the Oliphant in the Room

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Aunt Jane’s Trial

Jane Leigh Perrot

The Trial of Mrs Jane Leigh Perrot – the Primary Sources

by David Pugsley

Discussions of Aunt Jane’s trial and the question whether she was innocent or guilty are normally based entirely on John Pinchard’s account, conveniently re-printed in MacKinnon’s Grand Larceny (1937), as if there was no other source of information and as if all the witnesses were telling the truth. However, there are other contemporary sources

 

I. The advertisements in the Bath Chronicle and other local newspapers

Jane Leigh Perrot

There is a series of advertisements in the Bath Chronicle for no. 1, Bath Street, near or opposite the King’s Bath: 14 May and 16 July 1795, Gregory & Co; 19 May 1796, 5 and 12 January 1797, W Smith; 11 May 1797, Smith, “Mrs Smith is also just returned with an elegant assortment of Millinery, etc”; 29 June 1797, Smith; 8 November 1798, 28 March and 4 April, 21 November  (“The Proprietor”) 1799, 6 February, 10 and 17 April, and 11 more dates in 1800; 10 dates in 1801; 12 dates in 1802; 10 dates in 1803, plus 8 and 15 December (death of W. Smith); 8 dates in 1804; 9 dates in 1805; 8 dates in 1806, including 18 December (“A vacancy for an apprentice at Christmas”); and 3 dates in 1807, ending on 19 March, all Mrs Smith.

Contrast Elizabeth Gregory’s evidence under cross-examination by Mr Dallas: “Witness said she had been in the shop nearly five years; kept it two years herself; is sister to Mrs Smith, who kept it before; Mr Smith in London 8th August; carried on business on her own account, not for the benefit of Smith and wife” (Pinchard, p. 10). Under further cross-examination: “Mrs Smith was not entitled to more of the profits than witness chose to give her … She bought and sold upon her own account and in her own name; it is customary and advantageous that the old name should be continued on shops, and it was sometimes done for years after a person had given up trade; Smith’s name was continued over the door with this view only” (Pinchard, p. 12).

(Were Elizabeth Gregory and Charles Filby taking advantage of Mrs Smith’s absence in Cornwall to try to make a little money for themselves?) Continue reading Aunt Jane’s Trial

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The Formative Years of George Austen, Jane’s father

George Austin

A look at James Cawthorn, George Austen and the Curious Case of the Schoolboy Who Was Killed by Martin J. Cawthorne

George Austin

 

Jane Austen’s father, George Austen has many connections to the city of Bath.

On the 26th April 1764 he married, by special licence, Cassandra Leigh in St Swithin’s, Walcot.  The Austen family were regular visitors to Bath and in December 1800, after 35 years ministering in Steventon, George Austen announced his retirement and moved to Bath, where he spent his final years.  He died in the city on the 21st January 1805 and is buried at St Swithin’s Church where a memorial to him has been erected.

Jane Austen lived at home with her parents all her life and the Rev George Austen played a significant part in her life.  Apart from a brief period at boarding school, Jane was largely educated at home; George also provided writing equipment for her to develop her literary talent.  The Rev Austen features in Jane’s correspondence and as a result much is known about his adult life. Very little, however, has been written about George Austen’s early life, before he met and married Cassandra Leigh.  It is known that he was orphaned at the age of six before going to school in his home town of Tonbridge, Kent, from where he won a scholarship to study at St John’s College, Oxford.  However, very little has been written about these formative early years of his life – until now.

Continue reading The Formative Years of George Austen, Jane’s father

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Rural England in the Age of Jane Austen

Rural England in the Age of Jane Austen

by Marc DeSantis

country-life-farm-painting

A Rural England

Though Jane Austen’s life of forty-one years was lamentably short, her time on earth, 1775 to 1817, was nonetheless one of great and momentous change.  England was still largely rural in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and the rhythm of its country life was tied to the seasonal needs of agriculture.  The population of Britain at the dawn of the nineteenth century was nine million, with four-fifths of this total living in the country.  Fully one-third of the population of England was employed in agriculture.
Like farmers in all times and places, the rural folk of Jane’s English countryside were at the mercy of the weather, which was especially fickle in the late eighteenth century.  The winters were often very cold, and the springs very wet and late in arriving.  Summers could be either very dry or cold and wet.  Crops and livestock could be devastated by too much cold or not enough rain.  Poor weather also encouraged the spread of blights and rots.  When the wheat harvest was bad, the price of bread shot up, making it hard for the poor to feed themselves, and riots over food would sometimes erupt among the rural hungry.
Life in the country had other hardships.  There were highwaymen on the roads ready to waylay travelers, groups of gypsies robbed countryfolk as well, and thieves stole horses and other valuables.  On some occasions there were even murders, particularly when it was thought that a vulnerable mark might have some money on him.
Gas and electrical lighting still lay in the future.  Illumination was provided by candles, with the finest being made from beeswax, which burned with minimal smoke.  Ordinary candles were of tallow, made from animal fat.  Though cheaper, they were not as bright and their smell was less than ideal.  For the heating of homes, coal was increasing in use thanks to Britain’s developing network of canals, which made transporting the fuel much easier.
Wood was of course still in widespread use, especially where it could be had more cheaply than coal.  Though collecting firewood was a time-consuming activity, particularly for the poor, working in the mines digging coal out was even less appealing work.  The hazard of lethal explosions deep underground was constant.  Many other miners lost their lives when the roofs of their tunnels caved in or to other mishaps.

Festivities

Yet country living was not without its charms and pleasures.  The boring toil of agricultural work was broken by seasonal festivals such as May Day.  Towns had markets which provided a venue in which country people could sell their food, including such edibles as poultry, eggs, and vegetables.  If these markets outgrew their original surroundings, then fairs were held outside the towns in nearby fields.
The fairs became ever larger when merchants selling tools, cheese, clothing, earthenware, and leather goods arrived.  With so many people present, other vendors began to sell food and drink to the visitors.  Sports and other games were also part of the festivities, with the fair becoming something far greater than its original purpose of being a place to sell farm produce.
Dancing was also included in a fair’s usual list of activities, and was a popular form of entertainment everywhere.  For a young middle-class woman such as Jane, residing in the country, dancing was a premier delight.  It was on the dance floor where she could meet people and make friends.
The countryside was not disconnected from the wider world.  When word reached the inhabitants of great victories won against England’s enemies, celebrations would erupt, which included parades, music, and fireworks.  Jane’s own brothers, Francis and James, were serving with the Royal Navy during the long wars with France, and each would rise to the rank of admiral.  Jane, along with her family, would spend the years 1806-1809 in Southampton to be close to the great navy base of Portsmouth where her brothers served.

village-festival-painting

War Abroad, Taxes at Home

Britain was to be at war for most of Jane’s life, first with her rebellious colonies in America, and then with France from 1793 to 1815 during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.  This produced enormous demand for food which could only be met in the country, which was intensively farmed.  Not a single bit of arable land was allowed to go to waste.  The pressing need for money to pay for Britain’s army and navy also saw the levying of many unpopular taxes, including the introduction in 1799 of the much detested “Income Tax” of up to two shillings per pound (there were twenty shillings in a pound sterling).  This imposition was only repealed in 1815, when the era of the great wars came to a close.
Money was sometimes a problem in another way.  “Real” money in Jane’s day was still of gold or silver, and paper bank notes were often refused as tender when metal money was in short supply.  When there was not enough metallic currency to go around ordinary life and business could not be conducted.  This caused great anxiety when people found themselves short of coins and were left wondering how they were going to pay for anything.

The Regency

Britain underwent important political and cultural changes during Jane’s lifetime.  She would know only one king, George III, who would reign for nearly sixty years.   However, the king was beset by bouts of severe mental illness, with the last and most serious one arriving in 1810.  He was found to be incapable of carrying on his duties as monarch, and Parliament passed the Regency Bill in 1811, which made his son, the roguish and high-living Prince of Wales, regent of the kingdom until the king died in 1820.  It was said of the frivolous prince that he “was addicted to lying, tippling and low company.”  The Prince Regent also had an insatiable hunger for women and a startling propensity to land himself deep in debt.  He would nevertheless eventually ascend the throne upon his father’s death and become George IV.
These years came to be known as the Regency, an era deemed one of high achievement in art, architecture, music, and literature, but also of deep moral laxity.  The loose-living of the Regency was in many ways a reaction to the strait-laced and dull propriety of George III’s reign.  Not everyone shared the enthusiasms of England’s “Prince of Pleasure.”  At the forefront of these were the Evangelicals, who looked askance at many of the common amusements of the day such as dancing, prize-fighting, and card games, believing them dangerous to one’s soul.
Despite its often dour and puritanical outlook, Evangelical Christianity was a growing force for moral improvement around Britain, gaining strength from the need to correct the perceived immorality of the period and remedy the general harshness of life for the common people.  In contrast to the bad examples set by too many aristocrats, the Evangelicals preached discipline and personal responsibility.  This humanitarian spirit also sought to turn the Christian religion into a force for social good, with one of the movement’s leading lights being the abolitionist William Wilberforce, who founded the Society for the Suppression of Vice in 1797.  Wilberforce’s Practical Christianity was one of Evangelicalism’s principal guides to a more moral way of life, and overall the movement was not without success.  The legal abolishment of the slave trade in 1807 is largely attributable to the efforts of the Evangelicals.

country-farm-scene-painting

Toward a Middle Class Industrial Nation

Snobbery toward the prosperous middle class, growing in size and influence, was still very strong in Jane’s England.  “[W]e are not absolutely a nation of shopkeepers,” one gentlemen’s magazine sniffed, but “[w]e are much afraid that nine-tenths of the middling . . . sort of people among ourselves belong to this reprobated class of traders and dealers, and have much the same manners with their brethren in America.”
But the future would ultimately belong to the middle class.  Tectonic changes were coming to England’s economy far from the bucolic countryside that Jane knew, with merchants, factory owners, and inventors of the middle rank leading the way.  Cities were swelling as they drew ever more people to them for the opportunity to find work.
These were the years when Britain’s Industrial Revolution accelerated, with its multiplying factories consuming vast amounts of coal and producing ever-increasing amounts of iron and finished textiles made from cotton.  Industrial production shot skyward, doubling in just the twenty years between 1780 and 1800.  The demand for labor and raw materials for the factories would only increase, and Britain was well on its way to becoming the world first industrialized nation.
The increasing mechanization of work in the factories produced a backlash from disaffected workers known as Luddites.  They would smash the new mechanical looms not, as is commonly thought, because they wanted to stop technological progress, but because the machines they attacked were turning out inferior stockings that flooded the marker and depressed prices even for better quality items.  The basic dispute was not over technology but disgust that some employers were taking a shortcut to quick profits by knocking out substandard goods. Nonetheless, English justice was extremely harsh and unforgiving toward the Luddites.  After one 1813 trial in York, a dozen machine-smashers were hanged.
The defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815 marked the end of the long wars with France.  The Royal Navy was the unchallenged mistress of the seas, a preeminent position that it would hold for the rest of the nineteenth century.  The Britain that Jane left behind when she passed away in 1817 was now the most powerful and economically advanced nation in the world, sitting at the hub of a large and expanding overseas empire.

Marc DeSantis is a historian and author in want of a wife.  He lives in New York.

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The Work of the Type Founder

Type Founder

What Was A Type Founder, And What Did He Do?

“We shall see nothing of Streatham while we are in town; Mrs. Hill is to lye in of a daughter. Mrs. Blackstone is to be with her. Mrs. Heathcote and Miss Biggare just leaving her. The latter writes me word that Miss Blackford is married, but I have never seen it in the papers, and one may as well be single if the wedding is not to be in print.”
Jane Austen to Anna Austen-Knight, 1814

The first part of the type founder’s business is to prepare the metal, which is a composition of lead and regulus of antimony, melted together in a furnace. In larger foundries this metal is cast into bars of twenty pounds each, which are delivered to the workmen as occasions may require; this is a laborious and unwholesome part o the business, owing to the fumes which are thrown off. Fifteen hundred weight of this metal is cast in a day, and the type founders usually cast as much at one casting as will last six months.

We now come to the letter-cutter; that is, to him who cuts the moulds in which the letters are cast; and he much be provided with vices, hammers, files, gravers, and gauges of various kinds. He then prepares steel punches, on the face of which he draws or marks the exact shape of the letter, and with the pointed gravers and sculptors he digs out the steel between the strokes or marks which he made on the face of the punch, leaving the marks standing. Having shaped the inside strokes of the letter, he deepens the hollows with the same tools; for, if a letter be not deep in proportion to its width, it will, when used at press, print black, and be good for nothing. He then works the outside with files till it is fit for the matrice.

A matrice is a piece of brass or copper about an inch and a half long, and thick in proportion to the size of the letter it is to contain. In this metal is sunk the face of the letter intended to be case, by striking the letter-punch. After this the sides and face of the matrice must be cleared, with files, of all bunchings made by sinking the punch.

When the metal and other things are properly prepared, the matrice is fastened to the end of the mould, which the caster holds in his left hand, while he pours the metal in with his right. By a sudden jerk of the hand, the metal runs into the cavity of the matrice and takes the figure or impression. The mould consists of an under and upper half, of which the latter is taken off as soon as the letter is cast, and the caster throws the letter upon a sheet of paper, laid for the purpose on a bench or table, and he is then ready to cast another letter as before.

When the casters have made a certain number of types, which are made much longer than they are wanted, boys come and break away the jets, or extra lengths from the types; the jets they cast into the pot, and the types are carried to the man who is represented sitting at his work in the plate, who polishes their broadsides. This is a very dexterous operation; for the man, in turning up the tupes, does it so quickly, by a mere touch of the fingers of the left hand, as not to require the least perceptible intermission in the motion of the right hand upon the stone.

The caster represented in the plate is seen in the act of pouring the metal into the mould. He takes it up with a small ladle from the pan, which is constantly kept over the fire in a sort of stove under the brick-work. The iron plate on the right hand of the caster is to defend him from the heat of the fire, and the screen between the two workmen is to prevent the man sitting from being injured by the metal, which is apt to fly about by the operation of casting. On the table near the newly cast types, are several blocks of metal, with which the caster replenishes his pan as he makes the letters.

A type founder will cast upwards of 3000 letters in a day; and the perfection of letters thus cast, consists in their being all straight and square; of the same height, and evenly lined, without sloping one way or the other.

What is called a found or font of letter, is a quantity of each kind cast by the letter-founder and properly sorted. A complete font includes, besides the running letters, all the single letters, double letters, points, commas, lines borders, head and tail pieces, and numerical characters.

Letter-founders have a kind of list by which they regulate their founts: this is absolutely necessary, as some letters are much more frequently used than others, of course the cells containing these should be better stored than those of the letters which do not so often recur. Thus a fount does not contain an equal number of a and b, or of e and z. In a fount contacting a hundred thousand characters, the a should have five thousand, the c three thousand, the e eleven thousand, the i six thousand, and the other letters in proportion.

Printers order their founts either by the hundred weight or by the sheet. If they order a fount of five hundred, they mean that the whole shall weigh 500 lb.; but if they demand a fount of ten sheets, it is understood that with this fount they shall be able to compose ten sheets, or twenty forms, without being obliged to distribute. The type founder reckons 120 lb to a sheet, but this varies with the nature of the letter.


From The Book of Trades or Library of  the Useful Arts, Part I The First American Edition;  1807

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The Regency Engraver

engraver

The Engraver – During the Regency, and age before the dawn of photography and color printing presses, engravings, made from copper plates were one of the only ways of transferring an image to the printed page.

Anne … in walking up Milsom Street had the good fortune to meet with the Admiral. He was standing by himself, at a printshop window, with his hands behind him, in earnest contemplation of some print, and she not only might have passed him unseen, but was obliged to touch as well as address him before she could catch his notice. When he did perceive and acknowledge her, however, it was done with all his usual frankness and good humour. “Ha! is it you? Thank you, thank you. This is treating me like a friend. Here I am, you see, staring at a picture. I can never get by this shop without stopping. But what a thing here is, by way of a boat. Do look at it. Did you ever see the like? What queer fellows your fine painters must be, to think that any body would venture their lives in such a shapeless old cockleshell as that. And yet here are two gentlemen stuck up in it mightily at their ease, and looking about them at the rocks and mountains, as if they were not to be upset the next moment, which they certainly must be. I wonder where that boat was built!”
-Persuasion

Rudolph Ackerman is, perhaps, one of the most famous of the Regency Engravers, but there were many such establishments during the Regency, happy to oblige the public with a copy of the latest political cartoon or famous portrait. Fashion plates of the time were another popular use of the art, and had to be hand coloured in each journal or magazine they appeared in. The following piece, reprinted from The Book of Trades (1806) gives a glimpse into the art of the engraver:

Engraving on copper is employed in representing different subjects, as portraits, historical pieces, landscapes, &c. either after paintings, or after designs made for the purpose. It is performed either with the graver, the dry point, or with aquafortis.

The tools necessary for engraving in the first method are gravers, a scraper, burnisher, an oil-stone, a sand-bag, an oil rubber, and some good charcoal.

The gravers are instruments of ternpercd steel, fitted into a wooden handle. They are either square, or in the lozenge form; the first is used in cutting very broad strokes, and the other other for fainter and more delicate lines.

The scraper is a three-edged tool for scraping off the bur raised by the grave. Burnishers are for rubbing down lines that may be cut too deep, or for taking out any scratches or defects in the copper; they are made of hard steel, well rounded and polished. The oil-stone is for sharpening the gravers, and the oil-rubber and charcoal are for polishing the plate when necessary. The sand-bag or cushion is for laying the plate upon, for the conveniency of turning it round in any direction : this is principally used by writing-engravers.

Having the copper, tools, and drawing ready, the first thing is to lay the on the plate : for this purpose,the plate is to be covered over with a, thin skin of virgin wax ; and the drawing or picture is to be copied on paper Avitha black-lead pencil, or any matter that is free from gum : this paper is to- be laid upon the plate with its penciled side upon the wax, and pressed all over so completely, that when the paper is withdrawn the impression may remain upon the waxed plate then with a sharp-pointed tool trace the design through the wax on to the copper. The plate is now to be warmed, and the wax cleaned off; after which the engraving is to be finished by means of the gravers.

Plates such as this one from Ackerman’s Repository show the fine detail and skill of the engraver’s art.

The dry-point or needle, so called because not used till the ground is taken off the plate, is principally employed in the extremely light parts of water, sky, drapery, &c.

Etching is a method of engraving on copper, in which the lines or strokes, instead of being cut with a tool or graver, are corroded in with aquafortis or nitrous acid, and it is thus performed : the copper-plate is first warmed, and then thinly covered with varnish ; it is then to be blackened over with the smoke of a wax candle.

The ground being now laid, and suffered to cool, the next operation is to transfer the design to the plate. For this purpose, the drawing must be traced on oiled paper, with pen and ink, having some ox’s gall mixed with it. Another piece of white paper must be rubbed with flake-white, and laid on the varnished copper, with the white white side next the plate : upon this is to be put the traced oil paper, and fastened with a piece of bordering wax to the copper.

When this is done, all the lines in the tracing must be gone over with a blunt etching needle, by which means the lines will be transferred to the ground •when the papers are taken away.

The plate is now prepared for drawing through the lines which have been marked upon the ground. For this, etching points or needles are employed, leaning hard or lightly according to the degree of strength required in the lines.

Kate Greenaway’s charming prints of Regency life were engraved by firm of Edmund Evans.

A margin or border of wax is now to be formed all round the plate, to hold the aquafortis when it is poured on; where it is to be left till the operation is completed. The biting-in of the plate, as it is called, is the most uncertain part of the process, and nothing- but experience can enable a person to know when the plate is sufficiently bit.

When the acid has been on long enough to bite the lines that are to be the faintest, the aquafortis is poured off, the plate washed and dried,* and those lines that are to be made deeper must be stopped with turpentine varnish, mixed with a little lampblack, and laid on with a camel’s-hair pencil; and when thoroughly dry, the aquafortis may be poured on again, to bite the other lines that are required to be deeper.

When the biting-in is finished, the bordering wax and ground are to be taken off, the plate cleaned, and an impression taken upon paper by a copper-plate printer; which impression is called a proof.

In almost all engravings on copper that are executed in the stroke manner, etching and graving are combined; the plate being generally begun by etching, and finished with the graver. Landscapes, architecture, and machinery, are subjects that receive most assistance from the art of etching; it is not so applicable to portraits and historical designs.

The screen that is suspended before the window is to keep off’ the glare of light, which would be mischievous to the engraver’s business. The screen consists of four laths joined at their ends, and covered on both sides with silver-paper. The art of engraving is ascribed to a M3 goldsmith at Florence, who, having placed a sheet of oiled paper under a plate of silver that was engraved, and on which by accident he had laid a heavy weight, was surprised to find a complete impression of the plate on the paper.


From The Book of Trades or Library of  the Useful Arts, Part II, Illustrated with Twenty-Four Copper-Plates. The Third Edition; London; 1806