is a place to learn about 18th-century Wedgwood pottery
and dream about owning something very special.
All eyes were fixed on the Wedgwood vases
In 1792, King George III sent Lord Macartney on an embassy to the Qianlong Emperor to open up trade between Great Britain and China. The mission was a failure.
The embassy took the finest gifts for the emperor that Britain could muster including a planetarium, scientific instruments, lustres, Argand lamps, firearms, steel from Sheffield, clocks by Vulliamy, the finest textiles –
and a variety of Wedgwood jasper, including an original Portland vase.
According to the official account of the embassy, written by Lord Staunton in 1797, the Chinese were unimpressed with the fabulous gifts, considering “every object as a work of ordinary merit,” with one singular exception :
What pieces of Wedgwood’s jasper had so impressed the Qianlong Emperor’s court? Remarkably, a full listing survives in the records of the East India Company:
Lord Macartney himself also left an account of the presentation of the gifts, here taken from Helen H. Robbins, Our First Ambassador to China an Account of the Life of George, Earl of Macartney (London, 1908), pp. 278-83. Highlighted below in yellow are the words “Derbyshire porcelain vases.” We can excuse Lord Macartney for calling the Wedgwood jasper vases “Derbyshire porcelain vases,” for Wedgwood jasper vases is what he meant; no Derbyshire porcelain vases were taken on the embassy. And how marvelous it is to envision the whole scene, including the exact placement of the Wedgwood vases!
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Learn more about Wedgwood in the eighteenth century through the letters
written by Josiah Wedgwood to his business partner, Thomas Bentley.
Each new letter will be posted 250 years to the day after it was written.
The next letter will be on July 2, when we have a tantalizing note about new business in the Russian Empire; Wedgwood’s plans to visit London and see the first service made for the Empress Catherine the Great, the so-called husk service; and a wonderful first-hand statement from Wedgwood about his lack of interest in making porcelain – it would not be much better liked than queen’s ware, more expensive, and the queen’s ware sells so well as to be as much as he can manage.
June 19, 2020
On this date two hundred and fifty years ago, Josiah Wedgwood wrote the words below to his business partner Thomas Bentley. Wedgwood, from a long line of potters working in Burslem “the mother town of the Potteries” in Staffordshire and Bentley, a Liverpool warehouseman, had become close friends upon their first meeting in 1762. At the time of this letter, they had only recently begun their partnership for the manufacture and sale of ornamental pottery. Wedgwood writes from Etruria, the newly built factory town he was creating and the site of the manufacturing of ornamental wares, to Bentley who was then resident in London running the firm’s Chelsea decorating studio and, as time went by, was increasingly the face of the firm in fashionable London.
Etruria, 19th June, 1770.
With respect to our business answering I have not the least doubt of it, nor do I think you will, now your good sister is recovering; I could feel the impression her illness made upon your spirits very sensibly by sundry expressions in your last letters, however there is nothing like demonstration, & if you will let us have the accounts up to the end of Augt. next we will then see what we have done with certainty.
I have form’d a little plan to treat myself with a sort of pleasure journey to London to have a peep at the Russian service, & your enamel work at Chelsea & shod. be glad to know when you think I shod. set out for that purpose, but before I leave Mr. Cox shod. be here, & that about a week before I set out, for I have nobody that I can rely much upon for their steadiness in the Vase work for Danl. will absent himself sometimes when he shod. not.
Did I tell you that we had inoculated Joss, he is now at the height of the disorder, the eruption is a good sort but thick & teizes the poor fellow sadly, but hope he will now be soon well over with it. Jackey Willett is under the same circumstances, only much better.
PS. I am over head & ears in planing, altering, & setting out my works. Mr. Pickford & I shall not agree, I believe, but we must begin to build at all events.
Etruria, 31 May, 1770.
I recd. your favour of 26th & shod. have wrote to you yesterday but it was Saint Amputation day, & my friends came upon me before I could sit down for that purpose, & now I have scarcely three minutes to spare.
I do not know your objections to the Painters working over hours. As you want painting I shod. think the more hours they work the better, but I do not know your reasons to the Contrary, so cannot tell that I am right. I only judge from what I do in the like case with my Potters.
I am glad you like the dark Pebbles as I have made a good many of them. Sally said they wod. do, & that made me venture to do more of them that I otherwise shod. have done. Farewell for a week – I believe you will say amen. Oh! that you wod. but mark out a place for your seal as I do.
Etruria, 23rd May, 1770.
The Man I mention’d to you from Derby will do us no good. He told the Man he work’d along with that he wod. stay abot. a month here, wod. then go to Liverpool which wod. complete his Tour over all the works in England, & he wod. then embark for America. He has been drinking three days & I have ordd. him off that he may proceed upon his intended Tour without farther loss of time, so you will hear no more of him.
I observe what you say about the care of the Cash, & have not the least doubt of the integrity of the two you mention. But you know the cash is a weighty matter, it is the Ultimatum of all our labours, & unless either you or I know that the acct. is kept right we shod. never be easy about it. At the same time I wish you to make your burden as light as may be, & you will know much better how to adjust these two matters than I can at this distance advise you.<br>So you have had your visions of late, well, I hope you will communicate them when you have time & paper. I have a waking notion haunts me very much of late which is the begining a regular drawing & modeling school to train up artists for ourselves. I wod. pick up some likely Boys of about 12 years old & take them apprentice ’till they are twenty or twenty one & set them to drawing & when they had made some tolerable proficiency they shod. practice with outlines of figures upon Vases which I wod. send you to be fill’d up. We could make out lines which wod. bear carriage & these might tend to facilitate your doing a quantity of the Patent Vases, & when you wanted any hands we could draft the out of this school. “The Paintings upon these Vases from W & B school” – so it may be sd. 1000 years hence. Adieu.
I condole with you for the return of your Elephant, & will send you more more such cumbrous Animals ’till you have sold what you have, for as the Lady sd. I fear we made a Bull when we first made an Elephant.
Etruria, 19th of May, 1770.
You certainly judge very right when you say we must have a 2nd & a 3d. sort of painting, permit me to carry this idea yet farther & to believe that the bulk of our Vases must be in that stile or we shall never have very many done. I wod. have what quty. I could get done in the best manner, to please the nicest eye, & shew what we can do; but at the same time I wod. get all I could done in such a manner as Mrs. Willcox, a Japaner, Coach, Fan, or Waiter Painter could do them, & I think I may venture to assert that if all your present stock of plain vases were done in that way they wod. be sold in a few days, & more money got in the same time by these common paintings, than by the very fine ones, & no credit lost to us, as we shall have very fine ones for very fine Folks, & they must fetch a very fine price as they will allways be raritys, few hands, who will paint potts, being to be had to do them.<br>What is become of your scheme for taking in Girls to paint? Have you spoke to Mrs. Wright? Mr. Coward too said he could tell you of some Fan Painters. – You observe very justly that few hands can be got to paint flowers in the style we want them. I may add, nor in any other work we do – We must make them. There is no other way. We have stepped forwd. beyond the other Manufactures & we must be content to train up hands to suit our purpose. Where amongst our Potters could I get a complete Vase maker? Nay I could not get a hand through the whole Pottery to make a Table plate without training them up for that purpose, & you must be content to train up such Painters as offer to you & not turn them adrift because they cannot immediately for their hands to our new stile, which if we consider what they have been doing all this while we ought not to expect from them. <br>J. Bakewell sets out by tomorrows coach & promises to be a very despatchfull hand.
Etruria, 12th of May, 1770.
You will certainly do right in bringing the painting to piece work but it will require a good deal of knowledge & attention in fixing the price or the hands will all be ruin’d, by geting too much in a little time. I mean cheifly, flower painters. The fine figure Painters are another orr. of beings, & I suppose must be by piece work, that being as you observe the likelyest way to satisfy them. The crack’d Vases must be stopped after they are enameled. We have very few crack’d now to what we used to have. We have drawn a bisket oven this morning & scarcely a bad vase in it. We shall send you some Green Porphiry Vases, Gilt, but I hope to make some true Porphiry, ungilt Vases soon, if you dare risque their spoiling the sale of your stock on hand.
Etruria, 4th of May, 1770.
I thank you for two fine packets by the last post which I must reply to as briefly as possible having just rec’d. a summons from Mr. Baumgartner to meet him at Newcastle where he arriv’d this morning, & from thence by Etruria to Liverpool is our route.
I have this moment ingaged one of my hands to come to London. I have hired him for three years to have 16s per week in London & 13s when in the Country, & I purpose sending him & R. Unwin the next week. I spoke to Mr. Rhodes about Ralph being with him to which he was agreeable & I have promis’d Joseph Unwin that his son shall be there & within a few doors of you.
Mr. Baumgartner is here now (Saturday morning) & he proposes sending four or five boxes of Vases to Italy for his Bror. to dispose of & take orders by. He is fully perswaded there may be a quty. sold there, especially the painted Etruscans. He will look out the boxes of patterns with you in London.
As I going to Liverpool I will talk with Mr. Boardman about settling a Correspondence with a good Jewelers shop or two in Dublin, & I think we shod. have another in Bath wch. with a City Correspondt. may perhaps take off as many Vases &c as we can make.
I think the Windsor brick will make a more durable Kiln than composition, but experience only must determine that point. I hope you will have a kiln of some sort up soon that we may drive away like Jehu the son of somebody.
-“Bronze Terrines” – Take the covers off, I think they Terrineify the Vase and spoil it. Do not call them nor the others done here Bronze. They will give bad ideas of a good thing.
Etruria, 29th April, 1770.
… We are allways too much in a hurry to do anything right.” Who says so? “Things done in a hurry are never done well.” Never? That I deny as Mr. Yorick says on another occasion for, first thoughts are often best, & many things must be done now or never, – Dispatch is the soul of business – And – Take Time by the forelock or he will slip through your fingers – And – but I have not time for any more old proverbs or I wod. string you as complete a necklace of them as ever Sancho hung round his masters neck. It was not precipitation in making, but in firing the Kiln at Chelsea which blew it up.
I am told young Stringer of Knutsford is coming to Town to see the exhibitions & draw at the Acadamy. I sent him a direction to you & ventur’d to promise you wod. introduce him to the notice of some Painters, who might be of use to him, & hinted at your being able to put him in a way of geting some money to pay his expences in Town if he chose it. You will know I mean by painting Vases so if he shod. call you will know how to act with him.
Etruria, 18th April, 1770.
I wrote a few lines to you from Leicester & Loughbro’ which I hope you recd. That Evening I got to Ashbourne, & dined here yesterday. I found all friends well, Mr. & Mrs. Willet have dined with us today, we drank your health & our friends in London. Mrs. Willet is very well & look as if nursing her younge Patagonian was not very prejudicial to her health. They are just gone back, making but a short visit least her younge Gentleman shod. miss his Mamma.
We have another Ovenfull of Vases for bisketing which we shall set in the oven tomorrow. I apprehend we shall make many more than you can sell in any one place, that some other additional mode of sale must be thought of or our dead stock will grow enormous.
I was not surpris’d at learning by Mr. Cox’s note that one of Mr. Rhodes’s men wanted to be rais’d to 24s. per week because I had expected that consequence from an imprudence I had been guilty of, contrary to my judgment & settled rules of acting in such cases – I mean telling Mr. Rhodes in the hearing of his servants how much we wanted of Enamd. ware & what a number of hands he might employ &c. My conscience smote me before I left the room, & I expected the consequence which has follow’d. Our treatment of the first appearance of this disorder to which painters are more liable I think than other men, will have its consequences too. If we absolutely refuse this mans demands, & turn him off, or let him go about his business, & at the same time instruct Mr. Rhodes to tell the rest, that unless I can have the usefull ware enameld upon moderate terms in London, I am determin’d to have it done in the Country where I can have hands in plenty at 12s or 14s per week the dissease may perhaps be stopped in its first stage, but if his demands are at all complyd with, it is sure to spread & infect every soul we employ. It is very probably a settled plan that this man – this best hand – shall make the first onset upon his new masters; if he succeeds, the rest, both those we have at present & shall ingage afterwards are sure to follow the example, & there is no knowing where it will end. I am therefore for parting with this man at all events, unless he chooseth to be good, & continue upon the terms he is at present ingaged for. I believe I could send Mr. Rhodes two or three hands who wod. soon learn to do flowers, & desire he will let me know if he cannot meet with enough to his mind & I will seek after some & send them up as he can employ them …
I wish you could take some opportunity to call upon Checkaw & tell him, or Mr. Marr, that I was oblig’d to leave London (my Wife ordd. me positively away you know) before Monday or I wod. have sat to him, but it shall be the first thing I do when I return to Town again.
I hope to have a peaceable letter from you tonight acquainting me that every body has been very good at the release of their Patriot [Wilkes was released from prison in this month.] We have had great rejoycing in the Country, Ringing & roasting sheep, Drinking, Dancing, &c, but we are all very quiet again now as I hope you are.
Etruria, 19 Feb: 1770.
Will Bourne got to London! I need not tell you by this time that he is a chip-i’th’-porridge Animal, will neither do much good, or harm in any situation, he took French leave of us because pounding plaister blister’d his hands which is all the Character I can give you of him, my Workmen call’d him Miss Nancy.
If it is bearable to keep in with Mr. Crofts we had better do it, he may give us more trouble in our patent than anybody else.
I wish you every good thing in yr. new habitation & am most affectionately yours, J.W.
Etruria, 10th Feby., 1770.
The last Vases were not, some of them, what they were intended to be, & it will very often happen so in Pebble Vases, but I have often observ’d that we we have esteem’d a great fault, has been admir’d by some as a peculiar beauty wch. makes me easier about such mishaps…
When you have settled matters in the best manner you can in London & Chelsea, I could wish you to be at the Manufactory awhile to learn the Art of Pottmaking, whilst I am able to go through that branch with you, which I shall do with great pleasure & hope you will carry on to great perfection those improvements which I have been endeavouring to lay a foundation for, & shall be happy in leaving a foundation for, & shall be happy in leaving them with you my good & worthy friend, who neither want ability or spirit to pursue the task. = May it be a pleasing & successfull one, – Indeed I have no doubt but it will, & so long as my eyes & health will permit I shall gladly assist you in it. Do not think by what I have wrote that my eyes are worse, but I am sensible of my danger, & the last attack may be sudden & not give me an opportunity of communicateing many things which I wod. not have to die with me. I know how ill you can be spared from the rooms, but I think it will be better to suffer a little inconvenience for the present than leave you immers’d in a business, & not master of the principal parts of it
Etruria & Burslem, 3d Feby., 1770.
I thank my dear friend very cordially for his last kind & affecte. letters which I read over, & over again by way of cordial to my heart when it stands most in need of support. Your advice to make my business an amusement only is very good, & wod. suit me extremely well if I could but put it into practice, but ’tis very difficult to see things going wrong without feeling uneasy sensations & exerting the necessary force be it more or less, of the head or hands to set them right again. I do strive to make things pass on with me as easy as possible, & hope to be makeing some progress in that very usefull Philosophy, but to keep 150 hands of various professions, & more various tempers & dispositions, in tolerable order is no easy task even when the mind is otherwise free & in full vigor. I long to see you my dear friend, & I must on acct. of the Patent be in Town in a few weeks, but how to leave these works at Etruria, & the Warehouse without any head to look after them I do not know.
Danl. does pretty well when at work, & I am here every day, but he often leaves the works, & drinks two or three days together, & or the Warehouse I have nobody at all.
Burslem, 24th Jany., 1770.
I wrote to my dear friend by Mondays post & I fully purposed writing to Lady Cathcart today but find it impossible for me to do it on several accts. … I must my dear frd. scarcely use these eyes, or this head of mine at present -my life, as well as my sight is at stake, for I find this disorder with which I am afflicted nearly as often deprives the miserable patient of one as the other, of which we have had two recent instances in this neighbourhood very lately wch. have come to my knowledge, & many more perhaps of which I am unacquainted, for I have made no enquiry after such cases. If the disorder is seated near the brain wch. is often the case, Vertigoes convulsions &c put a period to life & sight together. I only mention these things now as a reason why I dare not make much use of my pen. Time – perhaps a little time may effect a change, & whether it be favourable to my hopes, or the contrary, I shall endeavour after that resignation & fortitude which I know my best friends wod. advise, & if possible inspire me with through every trying occasion in life.
22d Jany., 1770
Sr. Watkin Wms. must have anything & anyhow, so let us know as soon as possible what we must provide. I fear I cannot wait upon Sr. Watkin at Blithfield I am so tyed down to this spot of Etruscan earth.
Thank you my Dear friend fo your entertaing. and interesting acct. of the debates in the House of Lords, & for a thousand other good things which I recieve by every post but alass, all the return I can make is a gratefull heart, which you have every day & allmost every hour of my life.
I left Spen Green yesterday, & this time have brought my Wife & Child along with me. Etruria is now beginning to brighten up & look like itself again, five long weeks of absence have hung very heavy upon me, but her aid was much wanted to nurse & comfort an Aged, & worthy parent, & I was well pleased that she was able to pay this debt of duty & affection to him. He is now pretty well recover’d & sends his best respects & thanks to you.
Etruria, 15th Jany., 1770
How happy shod. I be in spending a few weeks, or even days with my dear friend, his letters comfort, & console me greatly, but his chearfull, & enlivening compy. accompanyd with the visible emanations of his sympathizeing heart wod. be a corcial indeed – a cordial wch. alass I must not expect. There is a gulph betwist us, which neither one nor the other can pass with any degree of propriety, prudence, or convenience. I am sensible what a wrong step it would be for you to quit the rooms at this season, & I am equally ingaged & tyed down to this spot. The frost is now nearly left us, & we are going to set out the buildings, & I am just open the eve of agreeing, or disagreeing with Mr. Pickford for completeing them. The prices he has given me in his estimate are much higher than I shall agree to, but he has deputed Mr. Matthews to talk with me upon the subject, we are to try what we can do tomorrow, & this afternoon I must prepare myself a little to be a match for him. I have seen Mr. Bent today at Newcastle, & told him you had sent me to consult with him upon the disorder in my eyes. He says a perpetual blister, or a caustick behind my neck he thinks is absolutely necessary, & he believes this wod. cure, or relieve them, & prevent their growing worse, but this application he told me with great earnestness & several times over he believ’d to be absolutely necessary for my safety. I did not greatly like the earnestness of his manner for reasons you will easily guess at, but I intend to try his prescription, though I must first consult the Doctr. under whose care I have put myself, & of whom I have a very good opinion.
I shod. my dear friend, be under some uneasy apprehensions for your Eyes, if I was not perswaded the crisis was over, & the danger past. Many I believe are attacked with this disorder. Some are perfectly recover’d, others remain in the same way with little variation their whole lives, whilst in others the disorder hurries on to the last dismal stage, a total deprivation of sight. Yours my friend I believe, & rejoyce in it, is of the middle kind, & there is all the reason in the world to believe the disorder will not proceed any farther, but I wish nevertheless you may believe them in so much danger as to induce you to use them gently. The disorder in my eyes is recent, & the event uncertain, but I am learning to acquiesce in this, whatever may be the issue, as I wod. wish to do in every other unavoidable evil. I am often practising to see with my fingers, & think I shod. make a tolerable proficient in that science for who who begins his studys so late in life, but shall make a wretched walker in the dark with a single leg.
I have a thousand things to say to you if I had time & eyes for it, but must not omit to thank your good sister for her kind concern in my behalf which induc’d her to consult her worthy cousin, who I believe is perfectly right in his opinion & I am under great obligations to him for so freely giving his advice wch. I shall pay a due regard to. – My best thanks are due to Mr. & Mrs. Cooper two worthy souls on the same account. My heart overflows with gratitude to my sympathizeing friends though I am often oblig’d to be short in the expressions of it. Will you my dear friend accept of the same apology for this short, or rather no reply at all to yr. two last good lettrs. & believe me at all times most gratefully & affectly. yr.
Spen Green, 10th Jany., 1770
I shod. have wrote to my dear friend on Monday but was two days, Sunday & Monday in traveling to this place, & am now weather bound, & do not know when I shall be releas’d for the Welkin is made of Glass & the snow comes down most abundantly. …
I hope to send Mr. Baumgartners orders complete, the next week, but for the future as we shall certainly have great choice of Vases at the Rooms I wish you could bring it so to pass with him, & he with his correspondents, that he might from time to time choose out of your stock instead of giving particular orders, which ordrs. must be given by his correspondts. from some of the first, & worst, & lowest priced things we have made, & our complying with such orders is carrying us many degrees backward (a road I hate to travel) in our manufacture. In my first essays upon Vases I had many things to learn myself & everything to teach the workmen, who had not the least idea of beauty or proportion in what they did, few, or none of our productions were what we should now deem tolerable, & the prices were fixed accordingly; but after so long practice from the best models, & drawings, such a long series of instruction as our workmen have gone through, & so very expensive an apparatus, or rather collection of apparatus’s as we are now masters of, & all to enable us to get up good things, I think we ought not, & I am sure we cannot without great loss return back again to make such things as we first started with.
Besides, this course wod. not be doing justice to our selves or our manufacture on many accounts. The same hands who at first finish’d the serpent & other Vases with white bodys at about 3s. 6d or 4s 6d. each were content, with earning 7 or 8s per week, but they now are improv’d in their wages, as well as in their workmanship, to double that sum. – It wod. prevent our improvements from being seen or known abroad, & consequently all demand which suc improvements ought, & would naturally procure us; for how any man order what he has no idea of? I observe in the ordrs. which have come from Paris, that no regard has been had to the price, but to the goodness only of the articles sent for, & I have no doubt but they wod. act from the same motives if they were to ave all our all our improvements laid before them; & I am equally certain that it would be as much for the interest of Mr. B-s correspondts. as it wod. for our satisfaction, to have the choice of the Vases left to the judgment & good taste of Mr. Baumgartner, & I hope you will be able to shew such variety soon as we will give satisfaction to all parties. -Defend me from particular orders, & I can make you allmost double the quty. & accompanied with much greater variety & Elegance.
Though some of the faults you mention in the Vases had been observ’d by me before, do not let that prevent your writing just what occurs to you upon them, let it be good, bad, or indifferent. It is sure to be edifying, & often what may please me better- Flattering, when I find myself confirm’d in the opinions I had form’d, by your concurring approbation.
Whilst I have been busied at Eturia & elsewhere, the painters at Burslem I find have had shamefull prices, & done shamefull work for it. I have turned one off & reduced another from 3s. 6d. per doz. to 2s.-& I wish you wod. in some way or other let Mr. & Mrs. Willcox know this, as I find they were offended at these people who were inferior hands, geting as much or more than themselves.
Etruria, 6th Jany., 1770
As I have not for some time past omitted writing to my dear friend by every post I was surprised to find by your last very affectn letter that you recd. no letter from me on monday or Tuesday last. Upon inquiry I find it was not sent off in time to Newcastle which I had intrusted to Mr. Cox & begged the Man might be sent off in time, but he was not.
I thank you my dear friend for the share you take in our afflictions. I know your friendly & affectionate heart, & that you do sympathise with us most cordially, & this perswasion is not without its comfort, though the distance at which we are fixed robs us of a great deal more. I often stand in need of your advice, assistance, & consolation. The great variety, & load of business I am at present ingaged in with the near prospect of a vast increase if I pursue the plan I am already in a manner involved in, & can scarcely retreat from, without giving up business intirely & at the same time being threatned with a disorder which must totally incapacitate me from doing anything at all, & yet it is absolutely necessary that I shod. resolve upon, & pursue some one plan immediately – These things altogether, with some other Anxietys I have lately felt, have at times brot. on a temporary suppression of spirits which I am not accustomed to & which do not naturally belong to my constitution.
If I carry on my works I must build the next year. If I build I must lay in the Timber & other materials, agree with all sorts of workmen &c immediately, & perhaps may lose both my Eyes (for they are equally affected) before the building is completed. Is not this a terrible dilemma – What I do my Good frd. But who can advise what is best to be done, when the better or worse, depends upon an event which we can neither foresee nor command. – But let me turn from this dark scene, & tell you that my good Fatyher continues to recover without my interruption & I hope will be able to come down stairs, & spare me my wife again in a short time which will be a great comfort to me for at present I am sadly forlorn indeed. I hope I shall recieve a good letter from you by tonights post which will do me much good. God bless you & preserve you from every evil Amen.
Spen Green, 2nd Jany., 1770
I still date from this place, being confin’d here by rainy weather. My Father is not quite so well as he was yesterday, but notwithstanding these little relapses continues to mend upon the whole.
Mr. Cox I suppose will be with you before you recieve this, and I hope he will employ his time solely, as I have earnestly requested of him, in settling the accts. that collecting may go forward without the risque of ruining my Character. I have great need of the former, but am much more solicitous about the latter, as Cash may be procured on some terms, but a good name, when lost, is scarcely redeemable. Mind has been made free with here of late on another acct. A report has been pretty current that I was broke, & run away for no less a sum than Ten Thousand Pounds! This report I believe has been rais’d by Voyez, & I have sufficient ground for a prosecution, but I believe his insignificance, & worthlessness will save him. He is not worth any serious notice & yet I have half a mind to frighten the Rascal a little. It wod. be charity to the Country to drive him out of it, but I am aware that it wod. be deem’d revenge & pique rather than justice in me to do it. What wod. you advise me to do? I shall wait your advice before I take any decisive step in the affair.
Spen Green, 1st Jany., 1770
I cannot begin the new year better than by thanking my dear & worthy friend for his affectionate solicitude for my health and wellfare with that of my friends, & assuring him that whatever relates to his health, ease or happiness is far from being indifferent to his friends in Staffordshire. They lament with me the necessity of your very distant situation, & cannot any more than myself by reconciled to a plan which robs us of the pleasure we had long flatter’d ourselves with the enjoyment of in your company. I often comfort myself with the thought that this necessity may be of no long duration though at present, I must confess, I do not see any probability of our wishes being gratifyed soon – Patience & hope are our best friends, we allways need their assistance, & therefore shod. make them our constant companions through every stage of our lives.
My Good Father, in whose room I write, has had some comfortable sleep tonight, & is much better for it. His fever has in a great measure left him, & I hope he is in a fair way of recovering, though we must expect it only by very slow degrees. He desires me to send his best respects & thanks to you.
I thank you my dear friend for your kind caution & inquirys about my eyes. The Dr. I apply’d [to] has made these organs his study for many years, & is the most famous in this branch of the healing Art of any man in England. He cured the Duke of Bedford who was with him several weeks, & he was just return’d from attending the Duchess of Norfolk at Bath for a complaint in her eyes much the same as mine, when I waited upon the Dr. at his house. He has cured her, & hopes he shall be able to set me to rights but says there is allways some danger in these cases. He has ordd. me a Collyrium consisting of Elderflower water, Spt. of Wine Champoratd. – Sugr. of Lead & something else which I have forgot & with this I am to wash my eyes three times a day, & use them favourably & see him again in March, but in the meantime I must let him know the effect of his prescription. I have made use of it a week & percieve no alteration. The Atoms which appear when I look at the sky, the line or lines which are pellucid, & the little clouds continue still before my eyes when I look at the sky, or any distant object, as usual, & sometimes upon the paper when I am reading or writeing, but not allways. These things do not allways appear before my eyes, & never in the dust of the evening or by Candlelight, but I can allways find them (in the daytime) by looking for them in the Air, or against a cieling, & sometimes against the floor but not allways there. They are near, or father from the Eyes in proportion to the distance of the object I am looking upon. When I look at the sky, or a distant landskip they seem floating in the air at twenty or thirty yards distance, allways descending till I raise them again by a turn of the eyes. If I look at a window they are upon the glass, & float upon the paper (when they appear at all in that situation) when I write or read. The little Atoms are lucid, fill the whole compass which the eye takes in, & are ever twinkling & in motion. But these sorts of Atoms I have allways seem from a Child though not in the same degree as at present. The Dr. says that both they & the other appearances are the same disorder. Both my Eyes are equally affected. The lines & clouds assume various forms but ever appear like two distinct & different objects, – the lines always pellucid, & the clouds dark & more opaque.
Mr. Whitehurst was at Etruria about a fortnight since but I was at this place & did not see him. He told Mrs. Wedgwood he wod. insure my Eyes for 6d. – he had been affected in the same way, thought he was going blind immediately & apply’d to Dr. Darwin for advice. The Dr. told him he was very safe – that everybody at one tie of life or other had the same appearances before their eyes, but everybody did not look at them, that he wod. be well again in a little time, which he soon was, & says he has no doubt but I shall be so too.
Etruria, Wednesday Eveng.,
[Dec. 29, 1769].
It is now just dark, & I am absolutely forbid to write, or read by candlelight but I cannot longer forbear thanking my dear friend for his many kind letters & affectionate concern for my health & welfare.
Mr. Cox wod. write you that I was gone to consult a Dr. Elliott abot. my Eyes. I met with him at home & he told me there was allways some danger in these cases (Mice Volanti, I think he calls the disorder) but he hopes he shall be able to overcome them. I am this moment return’d from Spen Green where I left my Wife & her bantling [His second son, Josiah] both well, my Father is still very poorly, far, the Apothecary says from being out of danger.
I am very well in health but cannot help thinking my eyes in a bad way, & I do not know what to determine about building any more though I must leave my works at Burslem the next year.
Etruria 28th Decr., 1769
Keep making such things as these – I wish I had nothing else to do you shou’d see a great deal better very soon, indeed it has been the chief of my business since I came home, ’till within this week or ten days, but thirty hands employed in making Vases, things of which they have no idea when they are doing right, or when they are doing wrong, is alone sufficient employment for three of the best heads in the Kingdom to look after them. I shall do the best, but as I am obliged at present to leave them, sometimes for whole days together, many things will escape my attention ’till it is too late to remedy them, & this in every branch that is going forward from the Throwing to the Gilding, most of the faults you mention were noted by me before the Goods were sent off; but I shall nevertheless allways be glad to heare of any defficiencies, as they occure to you, as those I might know of will serve as memento, & those I did not is so much knowledge gained.
I am convinced of the Difficulty of your situation, owing chiefly to the perplexed state of accounts you are involved in, & I have my fears lest your adjournment to Chelsea will not mend the matter, you will then only be able to visit the Warehouse in the busy part of the day, when you will scarcely find time to recieve & examine their Cash & Cash accts. which shou’d be done daily, to avoid that confusion or, other bad consequences which may ensue, & there are a thousand other things which they will want to consult you about, & which that busy tie of the day is ill calculated for; if it now requires all your attention, which I know it does, when you are the whole 24 hours upon the spot, what will become of those things which you can scarcely keep streight in this time, when you have only four or five hours to regulate them in. I am perswaded you will find it necessary to Continue a bed in the house & stay now & then a night amongst them in the busiest part of the Season. I shall want Mr. Cox here early in the spring, & to stay with me the whole summer, & as he will be chiefly in the Country for the future, I apprehend it will not be convenient for him to be a Housekeeper in London. I have mentioned it to im, & he thinks as I do; he will acquaint you of the plan we have talked of, & either that or some other must be adopted in two or three months.
The plan I have mentd. to Mr. Cox is for the servts. to be at board wages & supposing there is four of them they may afford to give a woman her board for cooking, washing, mending &c for them, & we must pay her wages for cleaning the rooms, stairs & other things. There are some objections to this plan, & so there will be to every one, I wish we may fix upon that which has the least. I only mean to give hints & leave them to be digested by you.
I think Mr. Crofts does not use us very well & I admire in you what I feat I could have imitated, though I believe it was right – I mean your patience with him – Not pleas’d with our behaviour to him ! – Why if he had been a Nabob hiself we could not hd with more respect, & caution towards him, & between friends I believe that is the very thing which has spoiled him, by giving him an air of more importance than he can bear. – But does he think it is right in him, or doing justice to us, to neglect our constant employment for the sake of a lucrative jobb? – If he does, I wod. not give sixpence for him, or his principles, let his professions be what they will, we never have, nor ever shod. have serv’d him so, & as he knows how much we want the Vases done for this season, adn the bad consequences of neglecting Mr. Du Burks ordrs. I shall ot easily forgive his deserting us at this time, & meanly preferring a jobb to our constant employmt. He too will find in the end, as such people allways do, that he is penny wise & pound foolish. I shall be glad to know the new proposals he makes to you. I believe our ingaging him at the rate of 200 per Annm. & making a companionn of him, has turn’d his head more than his working for the Nabobs will ever do, though we shod. not have thought too much of one or the other, if he could have bore it. But enough of this subject, you will know much better what to do with him that I can at this distance advise.
I agree with you that it is very desirable that Vases of the same kind shod. be done the same way, but it cannot allways be so. They are done different ways to hide different defects wch. was the case with the Candlesticks with gilt Listels, & will unavoidably be so with many other things, but you may rest assur’d we shall observe your maxim when we can.
Pray get the Companion to our Triton if possible, but not at 30 Guineas. I suppose you mean the Triton was carv’d from a work of Michael Angelo’s.
My good Father is somthing better, but not out of danger, his disorder is a fever, & of a bad kind. He has kept his bed some weeks but as the fever dininishes a little I hope he will get over it. My eyes continue the same.
Etruria Decr. 16, 1769
I am much concerned to find so many more blunders in Mr. Cox’s Cash accot., as I am daily suffering in so tender a point, as that my Character for Honesty, & all through his neglect, I cou’d not help reproving him very severely for it, I shall send him up to Town immediately, & before he sets out, shall tell him that I insist on his doing nothing, but assist in clearing up the Books, ’till that is done, & ’till this work is finished, I beg you will not send out any more bills, unless such as you are certain are not paid, for I had rather hire money at fifty P Ct. interest, than lie under the suspicions, Mr. Cox’s extreme neglect has brought upon me. – It must appear as the Gentn. you mention justly observes, that I must either be wanting in honesty or have trusted my business to servants, who cou’d not, or wou’d not keep any books, & as you know this latter has been the case, I beg they may be told so without reserve, or any way mincing the matter though Mr. Cox shou’d be present at the time. I acquaint him with what I write to you, & I owe this piece of justice to myself. It is equitable and just, that he shou’d rather lose his Character as a book-keeper which he has deserved to do, than I shou’d lose mine for honesty, which I have never forfeited.
Josiah Wedgwood’s wife Sarah – Sally – takes up the pen on this day 250 years ago due to concerns about Wedgwood’s vision. Additionally we learn that there are issues with his wooden leg, the result of an amputation necessitated by a bout of smallpox in his youth. Mr. and Mrs. Wilcox will five years hence be among the painters of the second service for Empress Catherine the Great of Russia, often called today the Frog service.
Etruria Decr. 6, 1769
The complaint in Mr. Wedgwoods eyes which he mention’d to you in London growing worse he has consulted Mr. Bent who advises him to use them as little as possible and not to write by Candle light at all for which reason he knows you will excuse his not writing.
The peg leg is much wanted. Mr. & Mrs. Wilcox set out by the Waggon on Sunday night please to let somebody meet them at the Inn on Satturday the less Mr. Willcox sees beside his own proper business & better for he will drink and prate with every painter he meets .
Etruria 1st Decr., 1769
I have two good letters to thank my dear friend for, & first of the first with the Portrait of Mr. Grubb, an excellent likeness, so just that I see him squeeseing & straining his Phyz before me, just as he sat for you when you took the sketch. I hope he was easier when he left you with the Cash in his pocket. Much good may it do him, I do not think the Patent dear, & we must now endeavour to make the best use we can of it.
I am often giving my people lessons upon the loss of Clay, & with it the loss of credit in making heavy ware, but all will not do, I have bot them half a doz. pair of scales, but there seems one thing wanting still which I propose to have soon – A Clerk of weights & measures, whose constant business it shall be to weigh the goods as they are get up – he will save me three times his wages in Clay, & ten times as much in Credit. The first clever fellow I can spare I shall certainly set down to this business.
I have a very small drawing of a Vase which was dug out of Herculaneum, & I think you told me Sr Wm. Farringdon gave it to you. I do not see any beauty in it but will make somthing like it if we can manage it without too much trouble.
We find our large Ovens very inconvenient for Vases, I mean in point of time as it is near two months work to fill the bisket oven. I am therefore building a small one of a new construction which is only to hold two or three basketfull, say £100 worth or so of Vases, it is to be a very good natur’d Oven & either bisket, Gloss, or Enamel as occasion serves. We have some Medallion Vases in the Oven, & are making plenty of them which you shall have in due time, I now give myself allmost entirely to Vasemaking & find myself to improve in that Art & Mysterie pretty fast. Many fine things revolve daily in my pericranium, some of which I hope will escape as our hands & other matters approach to greater maturity.
I have set two hands down to Lyons, Sphynx’s & figures, & work along with them myself, we have made a few much better than Boot ever did as you will see (pray keep one or two to compare with them) & shall improve as we proceed in the business.
Etruria 19 Novr., 1769
We have got another Lathe up (the third) and I have committed a sad robbery upon my works at Burslem to furnish it. I have taken James Bourn to Etruria! The only tolerable turner of Good things I had at Burslem, and he is far superior to Abram at Vases. I wod. not have parted with him from my works at Burslem for a great deal on any other acct. for we have not one Engine Turner left there now. Poor Burslem – Poor Creamcolour. They tell me I sacrifice all to Etruria and Vases!1
We have now got thirty hands here, but I have much ado to keep the new ones quiet. Some will not work in Black.2 Others say they shall never learn this new business, and want to be released to make Terrines and sa: boats3 again. I do not know what I shall do with them, we have too many fresh hands to take in at once, though we have business enough for them, if they knew how, or wod. have patience to learn to do it, but they do not seem to relish the thoughts of a second apprenticeship. I have been but three or four times at Burslem since my return though they want me there very much, indeed I have been confin’d to my room several days Planning with Mr. Gardner the remainder of my works here, wch. must be all built beside a Town for the men to life in, the next summer, for I have notice to leave the Brickhouse Works the next year, my Landlord is married and will come to them himself. Heres a fine piece of work cut out for me! Where shall I get money, materials, or hands to finish so much building in so short a time. It is work enough for years if I had not one other Iron in the fire, and must be done in one summer, and nothing else stand still the while. Collect – Collect my frd. – set all your hands, and heads to work – send me the L’Argent and you shall see wonders – £3000! – £3000?” – Aye £3000 not a farthing less will satisfy my Architect for the next years business, so you must either collect or take a place for me in the Gazett.
I sell for ready money only you know, now if we can but manage that it shall be so in reallity, all may be well and the business done in due time. When you want a hand I will send you John Wood, and when you needs must have another – Mr. Cox, but you’l let him stay here as long as you conveniently can, but you shall have him, Mr. Swift, myself, or anybody else when necessary, for the main point, getting in the Cash.
Oh, – thank you my inspired, poetical friend, a most excellent song indeed. – What a pity that the subject was no better, however I love, and thank you for your partiality and have begged the Original of Mr. Cox least any copies shod. get abroad.
I have no objection to employing Tassie,4 but the money, and I think we can repair the things as fast as we can make use of them, so you may send us some down from time to time for that purpose. We want several pieces to complete the Apollo and Daphne wch. is highly finished.
I have not seen these sd. black figures which have converted you again to a good Opinion of figure making, therefore if I shd. waver a little you will not wonder. My opinion is, that if we can make more Vases than can be sold, or find hands who can make figures and cannot work at Vases, then we shod. set about figure making, but ‘till one of these cases happen I cannot help thinking our hands are better imploy’d at Vases. If there was any such thing as geting one sober figure maker to bring up some Boys I shod. like to ingage in that branch. Suppose you inquire at Bow, I despair of any at Derby.
The six Etruscan Vases three handled sent to you a fortnight since were those we threw and turn’d the first at Etruria, and shod. be finish’d as high as you please, but not sold, they being first fruits of Etruria.
Has Mr. Cox taken a drawing of the Seve Vases at Morgans? I think them composed in a very Masterly stile, and as well put on. One or two of the forms were poor, the rest I thought good, that like Ld. Marches not so find as his Ld.ships. I shod. like much to have drawings of those Seve Vases, many of the parts are excellent, and the whole has often a very fine and pleasing effect, though after all I must confess that the colourg. has a great share in their merit.
Must we make pebble Teaware? – When you send the drawings for Sr. Geo. Young, and I can make a little time to attend to the forms we will see what can be done, but I could sooner make £100 worth of any ware in the common course that is going than this one sett. It is this sort of time loseing with Uniques which keeps ingenious Artists who are connected with Great Men of Taste, poor & wod. make us so too if we did too much in that way.
I am glad you go on so currently at Chelsea, and hope you will soon be settle there to your satisfaction, pray push them all you can to find money for the alternations, and take the new buildings too if practicable.
They must be unreasonable mortals who want a larger soup ladle than our largest. But peradventure it may be intended for the Patagonian trade. We are making the Vases light, but our composition is much more metallic and heavy than the Etruscan earth.
Katherine Eufemia Farrer, ed., Letters of Josiah Wedgwood 1762 to 1770. London: Printed by the Women’s Printing Society, Limited, n.d., pp. 308-12.
1 Cream-colored earthenware continued to be made at Burslem, while the ornamental wares were produced at Etruria.
2 i.e. black basalt.
4 This offhand reference to what is perhaps James Tassie, the Scottish gem engraver, is worth more research.
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