James Gillray’s signature on a letter dated 1800. BL Add Mss 27337.

By the middle of the 1790s James Gillray was becoming something of a celebrity among the affectedly art-conscious ranks of the British upper classes. The surviving remnants of his personal papers indicate that his postbag bulged with letters from amateur caricaturists and aspiring wits who desperately sought to have him translate their ideas into print. The following letter, written by Francis Hawksworth Esq. of Hickleton Hall in South Yorkshire, is indicative of the type of correspondence Gillray must have received from such people on a fairly regular basis. In this case Hawksworth goes a step further in actually requesting that Gillray touch up a plate he had already partially engraved himself and then send him copies of the finished prints. Gillray’s reply hasn’t survived but it seems hard to imagine that he would have turned down the request, particularly as Hawksworth he had offered to pay him a fee equivalent to that he would normally expect for engraving a new plate of his own design from scratch.

Nov. 18th 1799

Dear Sir,

Enclosed I send you five Guineas, which will cover your acc[oun]t for etching Sir George Sackville’s Monument. I have begun to try etching myself, but I am so defeated in the attempt that I must apply to you for a little assistance. Will you send me down a couple of needles and some wax, the same that you etch with yourself, and tell me how you lay it on… I have a great favour to ask of you. I have sent up by the mail coach of tonight a copper plate that has a very bad etching on it – some parts about the buggy are too strong, some parts by the horse are so weak as not to be seen in the impression. I would have destroy’d the plate immediately had not the face and figure of the man been so extraordinarily like him that I am sure I can never get such a resemblance again. Now I want you to cover the plate with waxand touch it up for meI would be very happy to give you the same price for doing this as if you were to etch a new one. If the lines of the face are too strong, you must burnish them down, but not by any means alter the likeness. Pray get the plate cut off at the bottom just above the letters and make a couple of lines at the sides of the plate. I know I have imposed upon your hands a piece of drudgery, but I really shall by greatly obliged if you will make an attempt to make it look decent. The sooner you send it me down and the better with twelve impressions not coloured [sic]. Give my complements to Mrs Humphreys [sic].

Your obed. servt. F. Hawksworth. Hickleton Hall near Doncaster.

P.S. I admire very much your etchings of Lord Moira, Mr Skeffington and Penn, they are vastly good indeed.

Add Mss 27337 ff 53.

Bold text represents underlining in the original.