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