"Nathaniel Sparks - Memoirs of Thomas Hardy's Cousin the Engraver"

by Celia Barclay

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This book tells of how Nathaniel Sparks RE escaped from an impoverished and harsh childhood in Bristol by winning a scholarship to the RCA1. He left Bristol with Malcolm Osborne, future PRE2 becoming himself a fellow in 1911. Whistler chose him to pull his Venice set, a task he repeated thirty years later for Miss Rosalind Birnie-Philips, Whistler's executrix. At the same time he pulled prints from unknown plates dating from Whistler's last journey abroad. In 1956 it was Whistler's stepson, Edward Godwin, who designed Nathaniel's tombstone.

It also tells of his cousin, Thomas Hardy and his first catatonic years, the family's smuggling history, the devastating effect of Jemima Hardy's brain fever and the family renouncing parenthood. It relates how Thomas Hardy's six year old sister Kate became the virtual daughter of the famous author and his elder sister, Mary, and the dire consequences that ensued.

From 1938-40 Nathaniel cared for Kate, the last surviving Hardy sibling. It was then she confided to him many personal stories some amusing, some traumatic. These anecdotes inspired him to put together a family history and an extensive family tree. He was a compulsive hoarder of letters, wills, memorial inscriptions and ancient musters to which he added his own memoirs in a series of monographs, family stories and histories. It is from this material that this book draws.

Celia Barclay knew Nathaniel from her childhood until his death in 1956. She sees him with the clarity peculiar to children, and with the affection due to a revered adopted 'uncle'.


1 RCA = Royal College of Art

2 PRE = President of  the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers & Engravers


ISBN 0-9523658-0-4. 176pp. 212 x 144mm. Paperback.

Illustrations: 8 plates (4 colour), 22 text illustrations, 8 photographs, family tree.

Price: 20.00 including 1st class postage (UK only - international orders by air mail 5.00 extra)

(Prices correct from 01.06.2013)

For how to obtain your copy, click here: Ordering