120 years ago a collection of 124 exquisite drawings
and its surrounding neighbourhood
were created for the sumptuous volume 'Round about
the Round O with its Poets'.
The drawings now republished today as fine art giclée
prints, are available to buy securely online only
below extracts were printed
28th March, 1919 and offer a glimpse into the life
of a Scottish artist living in the 19th century.
Well known Arbroath
was some romance in the career of John Adam, Scottish
artist and wood engraver, in that he was practically
self taught, rose to front rank in his profession,
was one of the best employed engravers of his day,
who had to refuse about three times the amount of
work he was able to execute.
Wood engraving had disappeared towards the end of
last century, on the advent of the process block and
other methods. W. J. Linton in his sumptuous book
"Masters of Wood Engraving" points out that
an engraving on wood has its own special beauty not
surpassed in painter like touch and atmosphere, and
not excelled by engraving on copper. As to its revival
Linton says this will take place only when wood engravers
are artists. The subject of our sketch was both.
John Adam, son of a schoolmaster in Arbroath, was
born there, the youngest of four children, December
24, 1819 and died in Edinburgh on 6th March, 1897
aged 77 and was buried in Rosebank Cemetery. Young
Adam was sent at first to assist an Ironmonger, then
to a draper's shop, but just as he should have been
taking hold of the practical business of life, he
developed delicacy of constitution and a complaint
in his left knee by which he was rendered an invalid
from about his 14th to his 20th year.
He solved the problem of filling up the time which
might otherwise have hung heavy on his hands by developing
his natural talents for drawing and painting, and
before having a lesson painted a portrait of himself
when 16 which is still in the possession of his only
surviving daughter Miss Annie Adam. A later portrait
sent with a portion of his earnings to his mother
from Edinburgh shows a fine intelligent face, dark
brown eyes, and fine dark hair. Portraits of his father
and mother show even further development.
When Adam came to Edinburgh Infirmary to consult Professor
Syme regarding his knee, the great doctor told him
not to come back there as he could visit him in his
lodgings. He did more, and secured work for him in
the shape of Infirmary sketches of cases for himself
and other medical men.
The idea of engraving on wood came to him from the
execution of embroidery stamps for his sisters. He
must have made considerable progress by 1840 as there
is a letter of extract from his uncle D. R. Collie,
an Edinburgh printer about certain engravings.
"In my next letter I will tell you how to take
finer impressions of your cuts than printers in general
make, and by a very simple process."
"I was about advising you to go to London or
Edinburgh for a month or two, but you write you are
an invalid. If your illness is of a permanent nature,
I will advise you to the best of my ability how to
make a livelihood by your talents and will do what
I can by showing your work to the trade in Edinburgh.
You might do a design for a card of your own, with
specimens of your work on it."
was sound and helpful advice, and in an industrious
career Adam did hundreds of initial letters and printers
ornaments, for beginnings or endings of chapters.
kind and excellent patron was James Ballantine,
glass stainer and poet, whose firm was to execute
the windows in the House of Lords. He was then writing
and preparing for publication his 'Gaberinnzies
Wallet,' a Scottish story intermixed freely with
his own poems. Published by J. Menzies, 61 Princess
Street, in 1843.
Ballantine wrote from 15 Hanover Street, 22nd October,
1841 to express his high commendation of the manner
in which Adam had managed the woodcut of the 'Auld
Carle' evidently the frontispiece of his serial.
Everyone who had seen the illustration had admired
it, and he wished to have the services of the artist
in as constant employment as possible.
Ballantine asked him to do a drawing for Brown and
Somerville, engineers: "to take time, do it
well, and charge a good price. If
the work succeeds (and it did) you may rely on our
doing our best to make our sense of your merit."
In another letter he sends for woodcut drawings
to be done for the third of the serial issue. His
name got mentioned with praise by leading literary
journals. A prize he gained from a society for the
encouragement of Art and Industry further made his
name known, which may or may not have led W. &
R. Chambers to entrust him with some of their woodcuts,
and in 1842 the offer of £100 a year to come
to Edinburgh and be their woodcut artist.
& R. Chambers
letter in the handwriting of William Chambers show
that his work was appreciated.
EDINBURGH, Nov. 3,
"Sir,Yon will oblige
us by sending all the cuts you have done as they
are now wanted. We find that we have so much woodcutting
to execute, and it is inconvenient sending to Arbroath,
that we should greatly prefer your coming to Edinburgh
if that be at all convenient.
We shall be happy to give you £100 per annum
to work entirely for us here, and our engagement
for one year certain and you might rely on our doing
all in our power to make the situation comfortable.
Please to think of our offer, and let us hear from
you soon,Yours respectfully,
(Sgd.) W. and R. Chambers."
Today Chambers is a long established
publishing company producing dictionaries and thesauruses
as well as many other educational publications.
The history of W. & R. Chambers can be found