John Brand

 

Two hundred and fifty years ago he taught

at the Newcastle Grammar School, where he ‘did not

have recourse to the strap’ (rare

omission for the time), albeit he was large and fair

 

and ‘a jovial man, and as lumbering as his book’

(which was an unhurried look

into Histories and Antiquities of the Town

and County of Newcastle). On their way down

 

to Sunday sermons the faithful would see

him at his singular devotions, sinking to one knee

before the lower shelves of the town’s main bookstall

while they slow-marched past him towards (all

 

this in his own indignant words) ‘that terrible time they

were going to waste at church.’ He stuffed or stowed away

into his amazing pockets, unwrapped,

the books he’d buy, so that those pockets flapped

 

and even dragged behind him. Two

local engravers printed the bookplates he would glue

into those volumes—bearers of words which, he would say,

might speak for him, or even, perhaps, sing, come Judgement Day.

 

Here’s to you, John Brand.

Can you feel my hand,

 

across the years?

 

(Citations based on Nature’s Engraver: A Life of Thomas Bewick, by Jenny

Uglow)