We make our first introduction to Wedgwood about the year 1741, as the youngest of a family of thirteen children, and as put to earn his bread, at eleven years of age, in the trade of his father, and in the branch of a thrower. Then comes the well-known small-pox: the settling of the dregs of the disease in the lower part of the leg: and the amputation of the limb, rendering him lame for life. It is not often that we have such palpable occasion to record our obligations to the small-pox. But, in the wonderful ways of Providence, that disease, which came to him as a two-fold scourge, was probably the occasion of his subsequent excellence. It prevented him from growing up to the active vigorous English workman, possessed of all his limbs, and knowing right well the use of them; it put him upon considering whether, as he could not be that, he might not be something else, and something greater. It sent his mind inwards; it drove him to meditate upon the laws and secrets of his art. The result was, that he arrived at a perception and a grasp of them which might, perhaps, have been envied, certainly have been owned, by an Athenian potter. Relentless criticism has long since torn to pieces the old legend of King Numa, receiving in a cavern, from the Nymph Egeria, the laws that were to govern Rome. But no criticism can shake the record of that illness and mutilation of the boy Josiah Wedgwood, which made for him a cavern of his bedroom, and an oracle of his own inquiring, searching, meditative, and fruitful mind.
From those early days of suffering, weary perhaps to him as they went by, but bright surely in the retrospect both to him and us, a mark seems at once to have been set upon his career. But those, who would dwell upon his history, have still to deplore that many of the materials are wanting. It is not creditable to his country or his art, that the Life of Wedgwood should still remain unwritten. Here is a man, who, in the well-chosen words of his epitaph, “converted a rude and inconsiderable manufacture into an elegant art, and an important branch of national commerce.” Here is a man, who, beginning as it were from zero, and unaided by the national or royal gifts which were found necessary to uphold the glories of Sevres, of Chelsea, and of Dresden, produced works truer, perhaps, to the inexorable laws of art, than the fine fabrics that proceeded from those establishments, and scarcely less attractive to the public taste. Here is a man, who found his business cooped up within a narrow valley by the want of even tolerable communications, and who, while he devoted his mind to the lifting that business from meanness, ugliness, and weakness, to the highest excellence of material and form, had surplus energy enough to take a leading part in great engineering works like the Grand Trunk Canal from the Mersey to the Trent; which made the raw material of his industry abundant and cheap, which supplied a vent for the manufactured article, and opened for it materially