A Book of British Etching: From Francis Barlow to Francis Seymour Haden

By Walter Shaw Sparrow | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
THE FIRST PIONEERS FROM FRANCIS BARLOW TO JAMES SEYMOUR

I

IN 1725, or a little later, a very good collector of original research, George Vertue, put his hand on a few early prints composed and etched by Francis Barlow. They were done for a book written by a minor poet, Edward Benlowes, an ardent Royalist, who inherited Brent Hall in Essex, and began life with money enough to help authors and artists; but died in bitter poverty, at Oxford, in his seventy-third year, 1676, hungry and cold, during a very hard winter, according to Anthony Wood.

Benlowes invited Barlow to etch some illustrations for a poem divided into cantos, also a portrait of the author, and Barlow formed an original blend of allegory with two contrastive things--hints of country life, and a minor poet's downright vanity. Barlow was chosen for this commission because of his known affection in art for birds and animals, drawn from nature. I say "known affection" because of a few words in Evelyn's diary which were written on January 19th, 1656: "Went with Dr. Wilkins to see Barlow, the famous painter of fowls, beasts, and birds."1

Fame being a will-o'-the-wisp, George Vertue always wanted to find out when and how artists became men of known name. Dates in their careers he noted carefully. Dates, indeed, form biographical step-ladders, which enable us to go up and down the rise and decline of important lives. Vertue, himself an engraver, viewed with a professional eye his find of

____________________
1
Dr. Wilkins, afterwards Bishop of Chester, married Cromwell's sister, and Evelyn says of him that he "took great pains to preserve the Universities from the ignorant sacrilegious commanders and soldiers, who would fain have demolished all places and persons that pretended to learning."

-92-

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