Lives less ordinary
Perhaps we should all aspire to histories as remarkable as these men who made an impact on the salerooms
IF ever a man deserves a biography, it must be Peter Perez Burdett. Other than the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry by Paul Laxton (who might, of course, be producing one), there is little in print about a man who seems to have been a talented and engaging bounder.
He was born in 1734/5 and inherited a small property from his grandfather, the Essex rector after whom he was named. One wonders whether he had some training from Paul or Thomas Sandby at the Ordnance Office at the Tower of London, as not only was he a watercolour painter, but also an accomplished professional cartographer.
In 1762, he was in Derby working on an engraved 16-sheet 1in-to-the-mile map of the county, which took five years to complete and publish, winning him a £100 prize from the Society of Arts.
He married a widow who was older, but also better provided with money, than he was, and he made friends with the painter Joseph Wright of Derby, who included him in a number of his best known works such as The Orrery.
Wright also painted a superb double portrait, now in the Národní Gallery, Prague, of the Burdetts in full fig, he exuding charm and holding a telescope, she with a flower basket and looking distinctly irked. From time to time, he borrowed money from Wright, which was not always repaid, but he also brokered commissions and sold paintings for him.
In 1768, he moved to Liverpool with Wright and combined cartographic projects with other artistic ventures, among them the founding of the Liverpool Society of Arts, of which he was first president. It is likely that he invented the aquatint process at this time—certainly, he produced the first English example in 1771—and he sold the process to Paul Sandby for £40.
Other schemes involved him with Josiah Wedgwood, who eventually gave up on the idea to apply aquatint to ceramics, Frederick the Great and George Perry of the Coalbrookdale iron works as well as Benjamin Franklin, who remarked that the Colonies were not yet ready for Burdett.
In 1775, he left wife, debts and country to take service with the Margrave of Baden. There, he surveyed the margravate, founded a school of surveyors, was made a major, and designed a yacht for his employer. His watercolours of it under construction are admirable. He also acquired a second wife and their daughter married a local count. He died in 1793, thus avoiding the Revolutionary Wars.
A book sale held by Tennants of Leyburn at the end of April included a copy of his Survey of Derbyshire (Fig 1), which, as well as the map, has a Rococo cartouche, inset plan of Derby, trigonometry diagram and vignette of rocks and the outlines are partly hand-coloured.
The auctioneer noted it as a scarce example of the first edition, which rarely appears on the market, and it reached £1,344.
Someone, a member of Gloucestershire CCC, we learn, evidently put a great deal of work into assembling one of the more expensive lots here, which sold for £14,664. Should one suspect a pun in the cataloguing of ‘Wisden (John). Wisden Cricketer’s
Almanack An Unbroken Run from 1864 (First Year) to 2000’?
It was a mixed set of original hardbacks (Fig 3) with rebinds in various styles and condition was assiduously noted: ‘The bindings variously bumped, rubbed and in some cases stained and scuffed, spines with varying degrees of wear and fading, the usual signs of use for a reading library of Wisdens’.
There were 136 editions in all, together with two of Green’s four-volume Anthology of Wisden and the 1985 index volume. The Rev Sir Genille Cave-brownecave, 12th Bt, led a wandering life, but was probably not a Burdett-like bounder. A second son, he combined the military and clerical traditions of a family that claims descent from a Norman conqueror.
He went to Australia, India and Burma and was involved in some capacity in the campaign against the Chinese Boxers and in the Spanish-american war, also fighting the Boers.
Thereafter, he was a member of the Legion of Frontiersmen, a Scout-like organisation (or runagates’ club) founded in 1905 by ‘mostly but not entirely, men of middle age—or older—who have “knocked about” a good deal’, which still exists today. He was a cowboy for some years, sensi- bly using an alias. According to the New York Times, May 12, 1908: ‘The room of “Mr. Harrison” in Mills Hotel at Thirtyseventh Street and Seventh Avenue is vacant, and a well-knit, cleareyed Englishman of 38 will today be on the sea bound for London to meet his lawyers and to claim his title of Sir Genille Cavebrowne-cave, his old Norman castle in Leicester, his 6,000 acres, and his right to appoint a vicar for his domain and his tenants.’
The same paper claimed that he had been a barman in Denver and the Los Angeles Times reported that he left behind a chambermaid fiancée.
During the First World War, he served in the Royal Garrison Artillery, a coastal defence unit, and, after it, he took Holy Orders. All this, and much more, will no doubt entrance the buyer of the annotated typescript proof of his From Cowboy to Pulpit Being Reminiscences from my Life, which sold for £171 (Fig 2).
In this company William, 4th Lord Byron (1669–1736), unlike his great-grandson, seems to have lived a comparatively blameless life. His highest public attainment was employment as a Gentleman of the Bedchamber to Queen Anne’s husband, Prince George of Denmark of whom Charles II famously remarked: ‘I have tried him drunk and I have tried him sober, but there is nothing in him.’
However, Byron was also Chief Ranger of the Purlieus, which sounds more promising. He was an amateur water-colourist and, at Forum Auctions in late March, a 71 ∕8in by 10½in drawing of a tree blasted by lightning reached £10,400 (Fig 4). The sale opened with a Beatrix Potter collection, headed at £15,600, by a first issue of the first edition of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, 1901 (Fig 5).
Fig 1 above: Survey of Derbyshire by Burdett. £1,344 Fig 2 right: Typescript proof of From Cowboy to Pulpit. £171
Fig 5: First edition of Peter Rabbit. £15,600
Fig 3 left: Unbroken run of Wisdens from 1864 to 2000. £14,664. Fig 4 above: A tree blasted by lightning by the 4th Lord Byron. £10,400