The watercolour illustration of merchant shipping vessels on this manuscript relates to the poem below, which describes increasing opportunities for the trade of goods and exploration abroad; a major source of wealth in 18th-century Britain. The poem was written by the writing-master and accountant Joseph Champion (1709-c.1768).
Engraver and writing-master George Bickham produced this design for inclusion in his publication ‘The Universal Penman’, issued in parts between 1733 and 1741. The foreword explains that the book is intended to appeal ‘to the gentleman and scholar, as well as the man of business’ and includes an eclectic mix of verse and prose ‘embelish’d with beautiful decorations for the amusement of the curious’.
This particular poem is located after a plate with the heading ‘Avarice’ and alongside four other plates on the theme of ‘how to get riches’. This section is followed by a plate titled ‘Frugality; Most Commonly Practised in Old Age’. The design was engraved by Bickham, probably after his own design, as it follows a similar format to many other Plates in the publication. It was further embellished before it was published; the illustration showing four large ships on a rough sea.
George Bickham, engraver and writing-master, was praised by Joseph Champion for his ability to transfer a design onto a copper printing plate without tracing it first, therefore producing a more faithful copy of the original. Bickham worked on his most important publication, ‘The Universal Penman’, with John Bickham (active 1730-50), who may have been his brother. The publication was sold in 52 parts from Bickham’s house in Islington. It included the work of 25 contemporary writing-masters, reproduced in 212 Plates. The Plates were embellished with decorations around the edges, added by both Bickham himself and George Bickham Junior (c.1704-1771), his son.
below image: How to get Riches. / Humbly Inscrib'd to the / British Nation. / Thro' various Climes & and to each distant Pole / In happy Tides let active Commerce rowl / As our high Vessels pass their watry Way / Let all the Naval World due Homage pay / Let Britain's ships export an anual fleece / Richer than Argos brought to ancient Greece / Returning loaden with the shining Stores / Which lye profuse on either Indias shores / We then shall get great riches and ye Sway / To Calm the Earth, and vindicate the sea / And by your Aid, our potent Fleets shall go / As far as Winds can bear, or Waters flow / New Lands to make, new Indies to explore / In Worlds unknown to plant Britannia's Power / Nations yet wild by Precept to Reclaim / And teach 'em Arms, & Arts, in Britain's Name
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