« PreviousContinue »
possible ; and while it must be of the most moderate cost, it must receive all the beauty that can be made conducive to, or concordant with, the use. And because this business of harmonising use and beauty, so easy in the works of nature, is so arduous to the frailty of man, it is a business that must be made the object of special and persevering care. To these principles the works of Wedgwood habitually conformed.
“He did not, in his pursuit of beauty, overlook exchangeable value, or practical usefulness. The first he could not overlook, for he had to live by his trade: and it was by the profit derived from the extended sale of his humbler productions that he was enabled to bear the risks and charges of his higher works. Commerce did for him what the King of France did for Sèvres, and the Duke of Cumberland for Chelsea-it found him in funds. And I would venture to say that the lower works of Wedgwood are every whit as much distinguished by the fineness and accuracy of their adaptation to their uses as his higher ones by their successful exhibition of the finest arts. Take for instance his common plates, of the value of, I know not how few, but certainly of a very few pence each. They fit one another as closely as the cards in a pack. At least, I for one have never seen plates that fit like the plates of Wedgwood, and become one solid mass. Such accuracy of form must, I apprehend, render them much more safe in carriage. Of the excellence of these plates we may take it for a proof that they were largely exported to France, if not elsewhere; that they were there printed or painted with buildings or scenes belonging to the country, and then sent out again as national manufactures. Again, take such a jug as he would manufacture for the washhand table of a garret. I have seen these made apparently of the commonest material used in the trade. But instead of being built up, like the usual and much more fashionable jugs of modern manufacture, in such a shape that a crane could not easily get his neck to bend into them, and the water can hardly be poured but
CAUDLE SERVICE PRESENTED TO THE QUEEN.
without risk of spraining the wrist, they are constructed in a simple capacious form, of flowing curves, broad at the top, and so well poised that a slight and easy movement of the hand discharges the water. A round cheese-holder or dish again generally presents in its upper part a flat space, surrounded by a curved rim; but a cheese-holder of Wedgwood's will make itself known by this—that the flat is so dead a flat, and the curve so marked and bold a curve; thus at once furnishing the eye with a line agreeable and well defined, and affording the utmost available space for the cheese. I feel persuaded that a Wiltshire cheese, if it could speak, would declare itself more comfortable in a dish of Wedgwood's than in any other dish.”
In September, 1761, his Majesty George III., who in the previous year had ascended the throne, married the Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburgh Strellitz, and on the occasion of her accouchement in the succeeding year, Wedgwood, having by that time perfected the body and glaze of his fine creamcoloured ware, presented to her Majesty (then of course Queen Charlotte) a caudle and breakfast service of his manufacture, which was most graciously and flatteringly received. This service, which was of course made of the finest and best cream-coloured quality which could be produced, was painted in the highest style of the day by the first artists of the works, Thomas Daniell and Daniel Steele. The ground of this service, which was prepared with all the skill the art would then admit of, was yellow, with raised sprigs of jessamine and other flowers, coloured after nature. The Queen received this tribute of an infant art, and was so pleased with it that she at once expressed a wish to have a complete table service of the same material. Wedgwood submitted patterns for the several pieces, “which were approved with the exception of the plate, which was the common barleycorn pattern, then making by all the saltglaze mauufacturers. Her Majesty objected to the roughness—the barleycorn-work as it is called and therefore this part was made plain ; on the edge was left only the bands,
marking the compartments; and being approved by her Majesty, the pattern was called Queen's pattern." The ware was at once named by Mr. Wedgwood QUEEN'S WARE, and he received the Queen's commands to call himself by the proud distinction of “Potter to her Majesty.” On the service being completed the King gave Wedgwood his immediate patronage by ordering a similar service for himself, but without the bands or ribs. This alteration in pattern was “effected to the entire satisfaction of his Majesty," and some little alterations being made in the forms of some of the other pieces, it was called the “ Royal Pattern."
The patronage thus given, and which was continued in the most liberal and gratifying manner, was of incalculable benefit to Wedgwood, to the district around him, and indeed to the whole kingdom, for it opened up a source of wealth to thousands of people, and was the means of extending commerce to a marvellous extent. Orders for the new kind of ware flowed in upon him in a regular and constantly increasing stream, and at prices which were then considered liberal, or even high. It is recorded that at this period he received at the rate of fifteen shillings per dozen for table plates, and for other pieces a proportionate price. The tide of fortune which had thus set in upon him was immensely increased by his subsequent inventions, and ultimately, as will be seen, swept him from his small manufactories at Burslem to the colony he established a few miles off at Etruria. The other most usual form of plate in his Queen's ware, was “the Bath or Trencher, from its resemblance to the wooden platter;" and this was succeeded by the concave edge, and other varieties.
These successes were not gained without heavy and severe losses, but the mind of Wedgwood overcame them all, as it would have done any amount of obstacles which might have been placed in his way. A most interesting document, written in the reign of George III., which is now before me, thus speaks of some of these difficulties :
“ The uncertain element of fire is the great enemy that the potter has to struggle with all his life. It is more especially formidable to him if he ventures to make vessels of any extraordinary size, such as some of those which are necessary for the use of the dining-table. Hence so few European manufactories of porcelain can be supported in the production of large vessels without the revenues of a prince. Mr. Wedgwood experienced all these vexations when he first began to make this earthenware for the table. Disasters after disasters ; the labour and expense of a month destroyed in a few hours; one kiln pulled down and another erected ; that, again, found deficient, and to be altered. A fatal mistake removed, another was discovered elsewhere. Thus it was not only after a considerable time, but with very heavy losses, that he accomplished this point, which has bestowed so many benefits on the neighbourhood he lived in, and given such extension to the national commerce. This is the creamcolour, or Queen's ware, now universally used in these kingdoms, and in every part of Europe where it is not shut out by the jealousy of the sovereign. Its introduction was very rapid. Under the auspices of the powerful patroness it had obtained, it found its way at once to the tables of persons of fortune, and was very soon afterwards universally adopted. The other manufacturers immediately took up the making of it, and building on the experience of the inventor, they were enabled to do so without the losses and vexations he had endured.
“This event was very soon followed by a great improvement of the forms of the vessels in use, and the addition of many others that have given taste and conveniency to the economy of the table. This first melioration of the forms in general use belongs exclusively to Mr. Wedgwood, and is a decisive proof that his mind was capable of comprehending whatever had relation to the work he had in hand. The fact is, that the models of everything his manufactory produced were originally formed by himself, with the same ideas of fame and reputation as must possess the mind of every
successful artist in more splendid works; and hence it happened that most of his forms were found to be useful studies, and they became patterns not only for the manufacturer in his own way, but for the silversmith and most other workers in metal. They have also been sought for with great eagerness by the conductors of porcelain manufactories on the Continent, and often sent to China as patterns for the manufacturers there. To this last use of them Mr. Wedgwood always thought it right to throw in the way every impediment he could, because the Oriental porcelain, better adapted in its forms to the European table, would very materially injure the sale of English earthenware in many foreign markets, where the former is admitted on low duties, or none at all, and the latter pay very heavy duties.
“ About the same time he adapted to the uses of pottery that curious machine the engine-lathe, heretofore employed only in the turning of ivory, wood, or metals. He first became acquainted with the engine-lathe from a large folio volume on the subject in French, which is now perhaps in his library. It was so rare an instrument that the possessor of one in London refused to let him go into the room where it was for a few minutes without paying five guineas.
“By the friendly assistance of Mr. Taylor, of Birmingham, he readily got one of them male at that place, and a person instructed in the manner of using it. The first application he made of this machine was to the red porcelain, which, being of a close texture, and without a glaze, was well suited to receive and retain a sharpness of work; but he also used it to decorate the vases which he made at that time in the green ware, after the antique, and the designs of several ingenious ladies of this country. And it enabled him to introduce so great a variety of new workmanship upon his wares of every species, both for ornament and use, that it may well deserve to constitute an era in the art of pottery, having become so necessary to it that there is scarcely a work without one or more of them.”
· Bell Works are situated at the corner of Brick Street