The origin of wo&d engraving, the former processes employed in accomplishing the work, and in taking impressions therefrom, have been fully treated in a former number of this journal. To trace the various improvements in the art, and follow it in its progressive stages down to the present time, will be the main object of this article. : Wood engraving, or "Xylography," as it is technically termed, reached its various stages of perfection in Europe through the instrumentality of a few celebrated painters, who, it may be said, were the pioneers in giving to the civilized world, faithful copies of their own and the works of the great masters. Among the most prominent of these artists were Mark Antonio Raimondi, Titian, Caracci, Salvator Rosa, Claude, Guercino, and Canaletti, of the Italian school; Albert Durer, Holbein, Bloemart, Muller, Rubens, Vosterman, Rembrandt, Vandyke, Jacob Ruysdael, and Paul Potter, of the Dutch and Flemish schools; Garnier, Edelinck, Audran, LeClerc, Wille, and Vivares, of the French school; Woollett, Sir Robert Strange, Sir Christopher Wren, Vertue, and Hogarth, of the English school. The works of these artists, who ill became celebrated as engravers on copper and wood, oi-fered an incentive to hundreds of others to engage in the art, nany of whom from tinle to time, added new improvements ipon the style and execution of their predecessors. Still as ihe foundation was laid by the painters, it was comparatively m easy task for those who succeeded them, to rear the super-jtructure and thus perfect the work. A great deal of time and labor were expended in completing fine wood engraving during the period to which we refer, which necessarily made the prices demanded for such be-fond the reach of the masses, the demand being thus ex-:remely limited. The gradual spread of education, and tha general diffusion of knowledge, rendered further improvements necessary, among the foremost of which was a method by which the work could be facilitated, both in the engraving 5f the block and in the impressions taken therefrom. This 5vas essentially necessary in illustrated books, as the impulse created by the increased demand for reading, as a sequence, intimately associated itself with the business of wood-cutting, ro effect a large circulation of these works among all classes 3f people, it became necessary that a style of engraving should be adopted peculiarly applicable to cheap publications, with the view of placing these bobks, and other illustrated works, tvithin the reach of all. To England belongs the honor of first introducing the improvement which ultimately led to this much desired result. The principal feature in this improved style of xylography, was a bold method of cross hatching, first adopted by Sylvanus Jackson, of Lqndon, in 1833, at which time the Penny Magazine and the Penny Encyclopedia, afforded the people at large, through the auspices of The Society for Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, the opportunity of buying a valuable publication, in serial numbers, for the low price of one penny. After repeated experiments this artist succeeded in imitating, on wooden blocks, at one tithe the labor and cost, the admirable cross hatchings of the fine old copper plate engravings of Raffaelle Morgan, and other distinguished artists, whose copies of the works of the old masters-are to this day considered models of artistic excellence. These cross hatchings require an entirely different mode of manipulation on wooden blocks compared to metal plates. It is the business of the wood engraver to leave all the lines upon the block which the draftsman has traced with his pencil, and to accomplish this he cuts away all ihe parts which form the spaces between the various lines of the drawing. The lines thus stand up in relief, and when ink is applied to the block by the printer, in the same way he applies it to metal types, the impression on the paper is taken by subjecting it to an adequate pressure. Engraving on copper is performed by cutting away the lines representing the subject and leaving the intermediate spaces. When the ink, which is of a different kind from that used on wooden blocks, is applied to the plate, the lines, which represent so many gutters, become filled with it. The surface is thei wiped off and cleaned with a roller, and the impression afterwards made on a graver's press, that portion being padded which comes in contact with the plate. When it is known that the plate has to be cleaned and polished after it is inked, at every impression, it will not be difficult to comprehend that, with the facilities afforded in steam print ing, one hundred impressions can be taken from the wooden blocks in the same time it would take to print five from the metal plates. The reference to steam printing brings us forward to a still later improvement in xylography; namely, the process of adapting the engraved blocks to the uniform printing, to be effected by the revolutions of a rotary or cylinder press—the latest and most approved style of press for expediting the work of printing now in use. This process consists in lowering the surface of the wood wherever light tints are required to be produced. This is effected by scooping out the wood, like an inclined or shelving trench, from the edges of the shadows, and afterwards engraving the hatched lines upon the lowered surface, the surface of the block thus being accommodated to the action of the revolving cylinder. This process is technically termed scooping (or scauping) and trenching. By this mode of lowering the lights upon the block, the artist is sure that if ordinary care is used, at every impression of his performance on a cylinder press, the lights and shadows will be equally perfect. This great improvement, which has progressively been pursued of late years in wood engraving, and the immense reduction of the cost of their manufacture, are mainly attributable to this process. In connection with the appliances above named for taking the impression, this feature of mechanical art, which is based solely upon scientific principles, will not only lead ultimately to a high state of perfection in wood engraving, but will read ily adapt itself to the continually-increasing demand for cheap illustrated literature. We have already shown that through its means an immense number of any illustrated work can be executed with the greatest rapidity at a comparatively small cost. We will now refer to still further improvements, which have so far elevated the business of wood engraving as a branch of art, that it has at length, by common consent, been dignified as one of the fine arts. We look upon a finely executed engraving with evident pleasure, and, as connoisseurs, we know certain requisites are necessary to enable the artist to produce it. For example: correctness of drawing and design, vigor, freedom and facility of execution, clearness in the lights and transparency in the shadows, texture, and mechanical skill. In limning the human form, animals, etc., a knowledge of anatomy is superadded. In a landscape the engraver must also possess a creative talent, first, to conceive his composition, second, to imitate nature to that degree that his lines, produced by the graver, become capable of express- 68 ing character, quality, sunshine, moonlight, storm, morning, evening, distance, chairoscuro, grace, Jjeauty, and the most diflacult of all, color. In producing the latter the engraver uses his brain and his burin, while the painter is greatly assisted by the use "of various pigments, which of themselves resemble the natural hues perceptible in a landscape. To Ije able to invest his work with these several requisites the engraver must be a thorough artist, and, as the art has now reached this stage of perfection, it is properly classified among the fine (wts. We come now to THE PRACTICE OF THE WOOD ENGRAVER. To describe in detail everything connected with the business of wood engraving, and to follow the artist from the beginning to the completion of a picture, would occupy more time and space than can be devoted to a newspaper article. All, therefore, the readers can reasonably expect in this treatise is an outline of the modus operandi. The wood which is chiefly used for the purpose of engraving is that of the box tree, a cdnsiderable quantity of which is imported into this country, the best being obtained from Odessa. The blocks for engraving are cut directly across the grain, few logs furnishing pieces sufficiently large for wood cuts of any size, in which, case two or more pieces are fitted to-getlier with great exactness. Other woods are also used for commoner work, such as pear, bay, mahogany, maple, and white pine. Box is invariably preferred for fine work from the fact of its being less poroUjs, and its adaptability to the finest lines that a graver is capable of executing. Cut into blocks, it is the dearest of all the woods used in the business the price being from two and a half to ten cents per square inch. Maple is worth from two to three cents ; mahogany, one cent; pear, one and a half, arid white pine one dollar and twenty-five cents per slab of twenty-eight to thirty-two inches. Blocks for illustrated newspapers and books correspond in thickness to the length of the metal types used in printing. For separate engravings they are proportioned to the size of the work. It is a popular fallacy to suppose that chemicals are resorted to, to corrode the spaces between the hatched lines of a wood engraving ; aquafortis and other chemical agents are only used in etching and in mezzo tint and aqua tint engravings. The art of xylography consists simply in producing a design upon a wooden block by incision only. Early writers upon the subject, many of whom never saw an artist at Work, entertained certain pet theories which they ventilated in their histories, corrosion applied to wooden blocks being the most culpably fallacious among them. In the process of wood engraving the use of corrosive agents is strictly interdicted for the obvious reason that wood, being of a porous nature, would absorb all powerful chemical agents, and however often the surface of a block might be cleansed after the parts to be removed are eaten away, such is the insidious nature of the chemicals employed that the lines left standing would be also affected, the fiber of the wood thereby weakened, and the engraving in time destroyed by a slow but sure decay. Even with the box wood, the least porous of all the kinds used, the chemical acid, secreted in the pores, would eat into the softest part of the fiber, leaving the harder parts for a time intact, thus rendering the lines unequal and imperfect. The design is drawn upon a block, which presents a perfectly smooth sarface, with a fine pointed black lead pencil. This part of the work is done by a draftsman, whose profession is distinct from the engraver. The drawing upon the block, like that of any other kind of engraving, is the reverse of the impression made from it, in the same way that a mirror reflects a reversed view of any object in front of it. The engraver rests his block upon a flat circular cushion filled with sand ; this is about seven inches in diameter, controlling the block with his left hand as he operates with his right. For very fine work he uses a magnifying glass for the minute lines, even with the aid of this a true eye, a steady hand, and the utmost care are indispensable. The tools used in wood engraving, under the general name of gravers, are thus classified : First, squa/re toolsj for cross hatching ; second, lozenge tools, for foliage and ground work ; third, tinting tools, for producing the various tints ; fourth, gouges, or scaupers, for cutting out the dead wood ; fifth, fit chisels for lowering the edges. These tools vary in size and shape; some have a triangular point and edges ; some are pyramidal with irregular sides, others sharp pointed, square, and oval. They are all made of the finest steel, and when occasion requires it, are sharpened on an oil stone. The best tools now in use are those manu- factured by Renard, of Paris, the Messrs. Stubbs, of London, and Nixon, of this city. ' Where wood engravings are to be introduced in books or newspapers, they are incorporated in the form with the metal types, and, presenting a like flat surface, receive the ink from the roller, whn impressions on paper, dampened previously for the purpose, are thrown off with the same rapidity as any ordinary printed matter from the type alone. In conclusion, we cannot too highly commend the efforts of Linton, and a few other celebrated engravers of the present day, for their indefatigable zeal in advancing the art of wood engraving to the pre-eminence it now enjoys. They have not alone labored long and faithfully to improve and perfect the art, but they have taught us its great utility and importance, and we are now made to perceive that xylography bears the same relations to design and painting that typography bears to written language.
This article was originally published with the title "Wood Engraving—Improvements in the Art"