Critical Introduction

by Tim McLoughlin

1. Preliminary

The aim of this digital edition of the Correspondence of James Barry (1741-1806) is to provide as comprehensive a corpus as possible of letters written by and to this remarkable and somewhat unconventional Irish neo-classical painter. The three main reasons for deciding on this particular project were, first, since the funding was for a limited duration, it was important to select a fairly small corpus of work that could be satisfactorily completed within the time-scale; second, the term ‘correspondence’ highlights the sense of interaction between Barry and those who shaped his life in some way or other, and thirdly, Barry is a much neglected figure in eighteenth-century studies. This project could thus provide a significant body of primary source material that would enlarge our understanding of him and of the cultural milieu he moved in. The edition, it is hoped, will throw light on late eighteenth-century Britain as witnessed through the correspondence of one of that period’s major painters.

James Barry is a relative newcomer to public and scholarly attention. His major achievement, the six enormous canvases that decorate the walls of the Great Room of the Royal Society of Arts in London, has long been admired by visitors and the paintings feature in guide-books to the city, but little else has been noted except by art experts. Hence this edition provides a further primary source for those interested in Barry and his milieu. Although particular paintings by Barry featured at exhibitions from time to time during the nineteenth century, his work has been relatively neglected.01 The comprehensive analysis of Barry by William L. Pressly in 1981,The Life and Art of James Barry,02 gave a fresh stimulus to an interest that then found expression in an exhibition of Barry’s work at London’s Tate Gallery in 1983. Later, in 2005, another comprehensive exhibition was held at the Crawford Municipal Art Gallery in Cork as part of that city’s celebrations as the European Capital of Culture for that year. Books, articles and doctoral research reflect a growing intellectual curiosity about the work of this Irish painter who was a major figure in later eighteenth-century art and yet a cantankerous outsider, an artist who lived most of his life in the centre of London but kept largely to his studio, never married and had few close friends. Scholarly interest in Barry has been focused almost exclusively on his art and what he wrote about art. As well as paintings and engravings he published four books, each reflecting his preoccupations about the state of art in Britain or aspects of his own work;03 these contribute significantly to our understanding of Barry’s place in the wider context of European art in the eighteenth century. They evidence the seriousness with which he approached his art and the range of scholarship and skill he brought to that work, be it on canvas or in print. However, this edition does not mean to enter into issues of aesthetics or the history of art. The annotation may occasionally allude to them; the main purpose is to make the correspondence available.

2. Barry's 'Correspondence'

Why so little notice has been taken of Barry's correspondence is not surprising. The only published source has been a selection of letters interspersed in the two volume edition of Barry's Works edited by his friend Edward Fryer in 1809.04 That remains the only edition ever published. Fryer included just over 100 letters, mostly by Barry, and some by friends such as Edmund Burke. His methods of editing will be discussed later and are the subject of one of the appendices to this edition;05 what is worth noting here is that Fryer alludes to several other letters he did not publish. The plan for a new edition faced two immediate problems: where to find the manuscripts from which Fryer made his selection? and, what other manuscript material was there? There is no record of what happened to the Barry papers Fryer worked from. Some have resurfaced, but not as the corpus Fryer used. The problem of primary sources has been eased considerably by the scrupulous research findings in Pressly's Life and Art of James Barry. His list of manuscript sources (pp. 304-5) provided the basis for a comprehensive edition of letters; he had consulted the two major resources - the Barry papers at the Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University, and the Archives of the Royal Society of Arts in London - and had unearthed several other smaller deposits. In addition it turns out that the Minute Books of both the Royal Society of Arts and the Royal Academy include copies of letters from and to Barry which were read at the meetings.06 Although not the originals, these are reliable versions approved by members present at the meetings. Such leads have made it possible not just to add another 100 letters to Fryer's selection, but in certain cases to compare manuscripts with Fryer's printed version. However, it soon became apparent that Fryer had made several minor adjustments to Barry's phrasing and punctuation, and hence letters for which the only source was Fryer were probably not exactly what Barry had written. This new edition therefore cannot claim to be free from interference. Fryer is a ghostly editorial presence: much as this is to be regretted, it must be said that without it several letters would not appear at all.

The corpus of correspondence collected here for the first time contains some 100 letters from Barry. Many of these are concerned directly or indirectly with his six murals in the Great Room of the Society of Arts, The Progress of Human Culture. [img] The other main body of his letters are to his sponsor Edmund Burke and his family, written while Barry was studying art in France and Italy between 1765 and 1771. The fact that these are written to be read by the whole Burke household is an indicator that they are often written out of a sense of duty, of a pleasurable obligation. Even with such good friends whom he so admired he keeps his private life to himself. Other letters, to a range of people, be they nobility or his old mentor in Cork Dr. Sleigh, have this same timbre: he writes for a purpose. Very seldom does he strike a note of relaxed intimacy or personal feeling. Such letters, two to his old friend William O'Brien and one to his parents after the death of his younger brother Jack, point to a side of his character that he preferred to keep off the page.

About half the correspondence is addressed to Barry: this includes a good number of letters about his work, but there are several from people outside the art world, and what are common to them all are warm feelings and admiration for Barry. These letters help us appreciate a side of Barry that has been long hidden. The letters Fryer included from Dr. Sleigh, from Burke's kinsman William Burke and Burke's brother Richard had hints of this. Richard Burke who had visited Barry in Paris writes affectionately to suggest Barry relax a little, 'dear Barry, take care of yourself, but not too much; dispute, but not too much; be a free-thinker, but not too much; drink, but not too little'. Such hints of the person Barry was are filled out in new letters from friends like James Loach and William Keable. Keable teases Barry about his behaviour with a young Italian woman in Bologna. For a man who never married, the question arises as to how he related to women. Had he any sexual relationships? There is no clear answer, but a later letter from his friend Francis Burroughs carries the telling advice, 'lay aside these chimerical hopes of finding what I fear is not to be found - a fit companion & disinterested female friend!' 07 Barry may have talked with his friends about such personal concerns, but put nothing on paper.

The collection of Barry papers at the Lewis Walpole Library raises the question that taxes many an editor of personal correspondence - what precisely is a letter? What qualifies as 'correspondence'? Apart from personal letters, there are invitations, receipts, bills, nortices. For much of the Barry material there is no problem: the word ‘correspondence’ usually means a body of letters by and to a particular person; they are personal, intimate and sometimes deal with matters, opinions or feelings not to be shared with anyone else than the recipient. The manner of discourse presumes a personal reader perusing the letter in private; furthermore, ‘the composition of informal letters depends on the possibility of a frequent candid exchange between writers who trust each other’.08 A letter is easily recognised by its format – an opening address, a body of text, then a personal signing off. Often it is accompanied by a cover or envelope with at least the name of the addressee. Much of the Barry material in the Lewis Walpole Library and elsewhere conforms to these norms. What many of his letters lack in intimacy and personal reflection, they make up for in vigorous thought and feelings about art and its milieu. In this respect Barry reflects a not uncommon feature of eighteenth-century letters: 'The best familiar letters of the eighteenth century seem distinguishable from those of earlier and later masters in that the writer revealed his own character through candid accounts of matters other than simply himself'.09 His early letters from Italy to the Burke family serve as a kind of report-back, an account of what he has seen and what he thinks about the paintings he has been studying. Barry is nothing if not serious.

But a 'letter' does not necessarily contain material that is private or personal. A letter to a newspaper editor, for example, while expressing personal views, is so written as to engage with the public at large, with the newspaper's readers, most of whom are unknown to the writer. Such letters by Barry are an integral part of this edition. What then to do with the much longer letter, running to over a hundred pages, put into the public domain as a separately published work, such as Barry's A Letter to the Right Honourable the President, Vice-Presidents, and the rest of the noblemen and gentlemen of the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce, John-Street, Adelphi , London, 1793? The same question arises over his A Letter to the Dilettanti Society, respecting the obtention of certain matters essentially necessary for the improvement of public taste, and for accomplishing the original views of the Royal Academy of Great Britain, London, 1798. Should such letters be included in a writer's 'correspondence'? They are not in this edition because the editor regards them, in spite of their titles, as belonging to a different kind of discourse. The personal element which marks the private letter and is still present in a letter to a newspaper has given way to something else. The informality and individual marks of letter-writing have been subsumed by the larger concerns of design and an overarching argument. These are what now matter and carry the interest. Hence such 'letters' more properly have a place in a writer's Works, not in his correspondence.

The question as to what to include and what to leave out is eased in a digital edition in that any amount of doubtful material can conveniently be placed in appendices. The Barry papers contain many documents that are not in the conventional format of a letter - for example printed invitations. These are included as 'correspondence', but Barry’s rent agreement for his house in Castle Street is not. Invitations fulfil most of the criteria for a letter. The rent agreement appears in this edition in an appendix:10 it informs certain details in the correspondence, but is not itself a letter. Bills and receipts to do with repairs on Barry’s house or his purchase of clothes have been omitted.

Correspondence would normally include memoranda, in the sense of messages conveying a decision taken or a plan of action. Three documents in the Barry corpus, each important in its own way, fall roughly into this category . The first is a paper, written and signed by Barry, which he did not send but took with him and read out to the Council of the Royal Academy (Barry to Royal Academy, November 1796). This is included in the correspondence. The second contains Barry's proposals on how to set up the pictures in the Royal Academy's exhibition in 1776; these were entered in the Minutes of the Academy. The decision to put them in an appendix rather than the correspondence rests on the fact that there is no addressee or signature and the discourse is discursive and impersonal.11 The third document is Barry's memorandum dated 19 March 1799 in which he records what happened at a meeting of the Royal Academy that evening. This is an aide-memoire, a personal record, not a memorandum for anyone else than himself, and therefore it appears in an appendix.12

Given the relatively small number of letters in the correspondence, it is not surprising that there are times in Barry’s life for which we have virtually no letters. For example, for the best part of a year between 4 Nov 1772 and 29 August 1773 the only letters are those from ‘Fresnoy’ published in the Morning Chronicle. This was the time of Barry's election to the Royal Academy and of the exhibition which caused ‘Fresnoy’ to write such brutal letters. Those few letters address Barry as a person well-known to the public, vociferous in his views, even a nuisance. It would have been interesting to have private letters to or from Barry to hear another side of the story. The same is true for the six years during which he was working on the pictures in the Great Room of the Society of Arts. There is Barry's important long letter to Lord Shannon, Pollock’s letter from Ireland and Dr. Johnson’s plea that a picture by Mauritius Lowe be reconsidered for the next Royal Academy exhibition, but there is not much else. It is tantalising to know that in the summer of 1779 William Blake submitted a drawing to the members of the Royal Academy by way of application to be admitted as a student. Barry may have been his sponsor.13 But no letters have been found that might enlighten us.

One advantage of the digital medium is that it places no restrictions on space. An edition of correspondence such as this can therefore include whatever auxiliary materials seem relevant, and for that reason this edition has appendices in which a variety of documents are introduced along the lines of an archive. They supplement the correspondence, contribute to our understanding of particular letters, but are not a necessary part of them.

3. Editing the Correspondence - Problems

While every edition, be it printed or digital, has its problems, some of the following are peculiar to this particular edition; others highlight difficulties that are endemic to the emerging phenomenon of digital editing in the Humanities.

The only source for a substantial number of the letters in this edition is Edward Fryer's edition of the Works of Barry, published only once in 1809. For the rest there are original manuscripts and authoritative copies of manuscripts. Where the two overlap and we can compare Fryer's edited version of a letter with the original, the discrepancies reflect poorly on Fryer. That means that letters for which Fryer is the only available source are not altogether reliable copies. He edited the letters in such a way as to iron out something of the rough spirit of the man who wrote them. Fryer's changes affect the very quality of scholarship that can be provided in this edition and therefore they need to be explored.

Shortly after Barry’s death in January 1806 his papers were gathered together for a two volume edition of his works that brought together his published books, pamphlets, unpublished prose pieces and a good number of letters. The editor was Dr Edward Fryer, one of Barry’s close friends.14 By July 1808 the work was sufficiently near completion for Barry’s sister Mary Ann Bulkley to write to her lawyer, Daniel Reardon, about the copyright fee for her from the publishers Cadell and Davies; ‘I am convinced the Doctor has done every thing that could be done for the Honor of the Works’. Another mutual friend, General Miranda, ‘who,’ she told Reardon, ‘has read the Works’ thought the fee should be £1,000. The two volume edition was published in 1809. Barry’s sister wanted the edition to be an impressive and lucrative production, as well as a credit to her brother. What happened to Barry’s papers after the publication is not known. Part of the collection, including some 30 of Barry’s letters, as distinct from other papers, is now in the Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University; further papers are in the archives of the Royal Society of Arts in London. The minute books of that organisation, as well those of the Royal Academy, have copies of many more letters to and from Barry. But for about 50% of the letters we are dependent on Fryer’s 1809 first and only edition. Hence a new edition of Barry is heavily reliant on Fryer.

The extant manuscripts of letters reveal two interesting points: first, that Fryer either did not include or did not have access to a number of letters that have since come to light, and second, that where we have the original of a letter published by Fryer we can see exactly how he went about his task as editor. The two points may well be related to one another. I take the second point first. A comparison for example of Barry's manuscript with what appears in Fryer’s edition of Barry’s letter to the British envoy in Naples, Sir William Hamilton, on 29 November 1768, shows Fryer’s improving instinct hard at work.15 He makes a total of sixty-four editorial changes in a letter of less than fifty lines. Most of the changes are minor - spelling is corrected, capitals altered, brackets omitted, contractions like 'don't' expanded to 'do not', words added, phrasing altered. Minor as these seem, the accumulation of them points up Fryer's assiduous determination to tidy up, to present Barry as something of a gentleman letter-writer. That tendency is confirmed in the changes in punctuation: Fryer adds some 27 commas, usually in order to clarify the sense of the sentence. Where Barry writes using no commas, 'Lord Fitzwilliams & Mr.Crofts in a conversation they had on their return home with Mr. Burk (a freind of mine) said many civil good natur'd things of my picture'; Fryer corrects the spelling, places commas to shape the phrasing more clearly and thus gives a visible structure to the progress of the sentence: 'Lord Fitzwilliam and Mr. Crofts, in a conversation they had on their return home, with Mr. Burke a friend of mine, said many civil good natured things of my picture'. Barry's hurried vigorous manner is thus transformed into something more controlled and closer to Fryer's desired image of Barry the letter-writer. The same is true where he changes the phrasing. Fryer sometimes clarifies the sense by changing or adding words: for example, Barry, mildly complaining that he has not been introduced to many influential travellers to Rome, writes, 'a man whose mind is occupied with Studying the Antique & the people of the Sixteenth Century, may bring himself to that pass as to be content for a time to give up the profits of his profession'. Fryer raises the tone by substituting the urbane 'Sixteenth Century' with the more cultured, better educated 'cinque cento'; he then adds the phrase 'in some measure', suggesting discernment, thoughtfulness: Fryer’s version reads, 'a man whose mind is occupied in studying the antique, and the people of the cinque cento, may bring himself to that pass, as to be in some measure content to give up the profits of his profession'. Conversely Fryer removes a phrase which may sound common or vulgar: Fitzwilliam and Crofts came to Rome, Barry tells Hamilton, 'with your name in their mouths'; the phrase is simply left out in Fryer's edition. The omission is not singular. Asterisks indicate he has omitted a section, a paragraph perhaps, in another letter. Perhaps he left out entire letters as unsuitable for some reason. We do not know.

Fryer’s methods make life difficult for subsequent editors where he is the only source for the material. We now know that his text is frequently an improved version of what he was working from. The new editor might well be excused for regarding the materials that exist only in Fryer’s edition with a sceptical eye: he knows the text has been tampered with, it is untrustworthy, but he is helpless to remedy the changes. He could build up a profile of what Fryer’s editorial habits were – on punctuation for instance - and reverse such details as he thinks are certainly Fryer’s interventions. But in the end that would be guesswork. What is difficult for the new editor to swallow is that the new edition will have the look of a mule – neither donkey nor horse, a hybrid whose better half will afford but glimpses of what might have been.

Yet on the positive side, the incorporation of original manuscripts goes a long way to correcting that desire of Barry’s sister, his well-meaning friends and Dr Fryer to give posterity an ‘improved’ Barry, the man they would like him to be remembered as, but who never in fact existed. We know from other sources that Barry had a fiery temper, was outspoken, impetuous in meetings, rough in his manner, good company over a drink and witty. He was lampooned as the rowdy, brusque Irishman Jemmy O’Blarney in Pasquin’s farce The Royal Academicians (1786). To claim him as a gentleman when he sat down to write a letter is to miss the point. He was passionate, often bruisingly argumentative, fiercely dedicated to, and uncompromising in matters of the arts and the integrity of the institutions entrusted to promote art. Not surprisingly something of that single-minded, impetuous, irreverent character comes out in the very manner of his writing in his manuscript letters, in the flow of his language – the hurried thought, ideas and details crowding onto the page, the long sentences, the lax punctuation, all the things Fryer wanted to curb as unbefitting a great man.

Fryer's urge to curb Barry, taken along with Pasquin’s farcical caricature of Barry as a blustering violent Irishman, raises a question about the cultural factors at work. Barry and Fryer were friends, but that does not mean they were of the same character; there is even a suggestion that Fryer was a restraining, calming companion to the impetuous, fiery, combative, boisterous Barry. Perhaps Barry appreciated Fryer for qualities he knew he himself lacked, while Fryer admired Barry's energy and achievement as a warm humane, if volatile personality who, if a little out of control, needed and enjoyed his companionship. At bottom, Barry’s Irishness was evident to all: he was well-read in Irish history and emotionally caught up in the plight of his native country: Fryer was a professional middle-class Englishman. What we may have in Fryer’s editorial practices is the occlusion of those very characteristics that Pasquin absurdly exaggerates: an English editor tidying up an Irish sensibility for English consumption.

What then is a new editor to do? Let sleeping dogs lie? The problem is not unique to Barry, as Ernest W. Sullivan's work on John Donne shows.16 Unreliable primary sources pose multiple and complex problems to the editor. Clearly we are indebted and grateful to Fryer for letters that exist in no other form. This edition includes as many original manuscripts as it has been possible to locate. The point is not just to go beyond Fryer's edition, but to recover Barry in the raw. This I attempt to do in an appendix,17 by working at an example of a Barry manuscript alongside Fryer’s printed version of the same letter. That example is meant as a kind of caveat for the reading of Fryer. But it also throws light on early nineteenth-century editing practices and attitudes. Differences between Fryer's edition and this one are a reminder that editors can be creative in the way they present their material, but not with the material itself.

4. Barry the Letter-Writer

This edition provides a relatively small body of letters for so well known a person who lived to be 64. It may be that many more letters have been lost, but probably not that many. Barry lived in the heart of London in the Covent Garden area for most of his life. Letters to or from London friends and acquaintances were not necessary much of the time, and he had few friends outside London. Barry lived most of his life in central London, first in Suffolk Street, then Sherrard Street off Piccadilly, and finally in Castle Street. From either place, he was within easy walking distance of the Royal Academy in Piccadilly and close to the Society of Arts in the Strand. Friends like Edmund Burke lived not much more than a mile away in Westminster, and when he lived in Suffolk Street, Dr Nugent lived opposite. Sir Joshua Reynolds lived in Leicester Fields nearby and his friends the Burneys, whom he often visited, had a house less than ten minutes away in St. Martin's Street: Fanny Burney tells of her first meeting Barry in 1780 at a gathering that included Samuel Johnson, the book-collector Herbert Croft, Mrs Reynolds and Giuseppe Baretti.18 It was at a dinner at Timothy Hollis’ house in Great Ormond Street, not a long walk away, that he first met William Godwin who was to become a good friend.19 Barry's London covered but a few square miles.

In addition Barry did not like writing letters. Soon after he left England for the continent he told Burke, 'I have the greatest aversion to letter writing' (c. 20 December 1765). In his old age he repeated the point to Lord Buchan, ‘But I must here take leave of your Lordship, writing, tho I am often forced upon it, is not my province, nor agreable to my Inclination’ (3 March 1802). Letter-writing was tedious: he says to Arthur Young, 'Of all things I hate writing at any time more particularly at present when I had resolved to allow myself some days Sabbath' (April 1783). Barry seems to have much preferred talking: he writes to a correspondent whom we know only as R.J.L.,‘There are many reasons which at present induce me to decline stating the particulars I wish to discuss with you: one is, that it would take up too much time, and I do not love writing, especially to an anonymous correspondent’(10 May 1783). This reluctance goes some way to explain why his letters lack the personal relaxed intimacy of many another writer.

The letters give few hints about Barry's inner personal feelings, unless he is attacking people or ideas. The contrast with letters from his family and friends, especially his brothers, or Loach and Keable, shows up his want of intimate, or easy, relaxed converse. In an era of gifted letter-writers, Chesterfield, Boswell, Burke and Horace Walpole for instance, Barry's letters lack the variety and spark of that literary age. His syntax is too frequently without discipline, his sentences unusually long; at times the sense can be difficult to follow. His preoccupation with art, with painters and paintings, with the activities of the Royal Academy and the Society of Arts means a narrow and specialised focus. His total giving to these things is both striking and limiting. Unlike the letters of say Reynolds or Johnson, his letters give no insights on his day to day thoughts, feelings, chores, visits of friends, conversations or movements. Reynolds writes to Hester Thrale, 'I would (to use Dr. Goldsmiths mode) give five pounds to dine with you tomorrow, and I would as Mr. Thrale very justly thinks, put off a common dinner engagement, but I have unluckily above a dozen people dine with me tomorrow on Venison which Lord Granby has sent me'.20 Barry found this easy conversational tone impossible. There is no mundane chatter or local news in Barry's letters, except when in a fix - as he was in Italy; only then does he send Burke a detailed account of his plight and the need for his allowance. In the typical Barry letter he gets immediately to the point; his views and ideas spill onto the page in long complex sentences, littered with subordinate clauses and conjunctions. He writes about issues that engage him intellectually and emotionally; especially in the later years, issues of public concern about art and the nation, about the conduct of the Royal Academy, about the plight of art in the national consciousness. His syntax reflects the energetic stream of his thoughts. Barry writes an evenly sized, evenly spaced, clear, rounded hand suggesting a clarity of mind and purposefulness.21 The initial draft of a letter to Lord Buchan for instance, written on the back of an invitation, is written in neat lines and he fills the page to its very margins; from top to bottom and margin to margin the page is full of writing. There are few corrections and additions for a draft - eleven in fifty lines: the overall impression is of clarity of purpose.22

Why then edit Barry's correspondence? What is in these letters for the modern reader? They serve most obviously as what Halsband calls 'documents', closer to archival than personal material about Barry and painting in the eighteenth century.23 They trace the progress of an unusually gifted Irishman, his education in the arts, his achievements, and not least his battles with suspicion and prejudice in turbulent times both intellectually and politically, in an age marked by revolutions in America, France and Ireland. In addition the electronic medium, not a place for sustained enjoyable reading for many, provides the opportunity to search multiple aspects of these letters which give a unique insight into the intellect, the opinions and tastes of one of the century's major historical painters. Whatever the narrowness of his concerns and his own eccentricities, these letters give an unusual slant on art in the late eighteenth century, on how a particular painter, accomplished, passionate and unconventional, grounded himself in the mastery of his craft, in the history of painting, and then established a particular place for himself in the art world of London. The correspondence is an important contribution to our understanding of that period in British cultural history when the moral critique of people like Samuel Johnson, taken up later by Matthew Arnold, came under serious institutional threat from people whom Barry considered self-interested philistines. Arnold described culture in the Preface to his Culture and Anarchy (1875) as, 'the great help out of our present difficulties; culture being a pursuit of our total perfection by means of getting to know, on all the matters which most concern us, the best which has been thought and said in the world...' Barry foreshadows such sentiments by nearly a hundred years. In addition, the manuscript letters bring us much closer to the way he went about putting his thoughts on paper.

5. James Barry in the Correspondence

What difference do the additional letters published here for the first time make to our understanding of Barry? The first discovery, as hinted above, is the realisation that the image of Barry as seen through the correspondence in Fryer’s edition has been sanitised. The manuscript letters help to strip that image of its gloss and provide new insights on Barry the man. Some characteristics are reinforced – Barry’s far-reaching thoughtfulness about art, his passionate commitment to the best in art, his conviction about the high seriousness of great art. Letters published here for the first time give fresh insights on Barry the acknowledged painter and, to a lesser extent, on Barry the private person.

Of the public man, they broaden out our view of him as caught up in controversy from the early stages of his career through to his old age. Only two years after his return from studying in France and Italy, he is the subject of a fierce attack in the Morning Chronicle. Three open letters to Barry by ‘Fresnoy’, alias James Willis, for all their overblown criticism and sarcasm, seem not without foundation when criticizing the way Barry conducts himself in public because they repeat points made some years earlier by Edmund Burke and presage criticism of him at Royal Academy debates: ‘Fresnoy’ accuses him of ‘howling over our heads your mustard-bowl eloquence; which indeed so terrified us, that we did not dare to make public what we so severely felt from your performances. Never had we such a Stentor amongst the artists before!’24 The ‘we’ indicates that ‘Fresnoy’ thinks he speaks for the general public who do not understand what Barry has to say: he has returned from Italy ‘to perplex us with a multiplicity of incomprehensible ideas’.25 The final barb from ‘Fresnoy’ is, ‘Back to thy native land/ False fugitive!’26 For Barry even to draw such attention suggests he had made a striking impression in London soon after his return; and it was not just his painting that caused the attention. As Burke and others knew, he could be fiery and tetchy. A letter to Barry from the Royal Academy in 1786 to say the Council had decided his lectures would be postponed is written in the Secretary’s hand, but carries the hand-written initials of the President, Sir Joshua Reynolds;27 that was the Secretary’s safest defence lest Barry come storming in to protest. The problem was more serious than a personal quirk. At the root of the case against Barry when the Council of the Royal Academy debated whether to expel him or not, was ‘obnoxious’ behaviour: if he was guilty of that, he was guilty of contravening Article XXIV of the Academy’s constitution.28 The Academicians found him guilty.

Barry was well aware of his temper. He also knew the fault was not unusual among artists. In his proposals regarding the hanging of pictures in the next Academy exhibition he admits that artists are as prone to passionate outbursts as anyone else: he writes, ‘the Exhibition will remain as it ought, a field of generous contention, established upon equitable principles, & where Envy, Pique or any other unjust, base motive (that might hereafter arise amongst us, & that have always arisen amongst men where their passions & interests are concerned) will have no opportunity of exerting themselves with any success’.29

Given that Barry was a reluctant letter-writer and kept his private life very much to himself, the benefit of letters written by others to Barry is that they open up aspects of him that would otherwise have been lost. They strike a more intimate note. On the family front, there are several letters from his two brothers, Patrick and Redmond, and two from his sister Mary Ann. There is no evidence that Barry answered any of these. The only sibling he expressed affection for was his youngest brother Jack;30 the letters of the others show the huge gap between him and them, in both education and application. Patrick and Redmond were close to illiterate, frequently hard-up, and write begging letters to a brother they know is famous. Their years in the navy brought them nothing but discontent and misery. The sister Mary Ann, who had married in Cork, but lost her husband to the debtors’ prison in Dublin, appears as a correspondent only as late as 1804. She sends a begging letter delivered by her daughter. In 1805 she arrives in London to ask Barry for the title deeds of the house in Cork for her daughter. These letters point to a family almost dysfunctional and close to destitution. Barry himself lived his final years in considerable discomfort, but it was a discomfort from neglect and parsimony, not from necessity. He had the means to help his destitute relations, but chose not to. No wonder that on his death his sister and his one surviving brother Redmond were quick to secure what money was available from his estate. 31

In contrast to his immediate family, Barry comes across in these letters as having acquired over the years a remarkable self-education in the classics, history, architecture and art criticism. He does not wear his classical learning on his sleeve; these writers are an integral part of his thinking about art; they frequently inspire him to create work that images the texts. Milton’s Paradise Lost is but one of several cases.32 Among his favourite authors were Homer, Statius, Vetruvius, Hesiod and perhaps above all Pliny who is alluded to in a variety of contexts.33 When the subject of a new coinage comes up in England in the 1790s his letters display an outstanding knowledge of the history and production of coins. He knows that his opinions are founded on close and wide reading. That is what informs both his enthusiasm and, on occasions, his anger.

Particular letters give us particular insights. One of the most interesting personal letters is William Keable’s to Barry in January 1771. Keable teases Barry in a mixture of rusty English and romantic Italian about his awkward and melancholy behaviour towards a young woman they had met; Keable had since been back to see her, ‘I have been two or three times to the wonted Grotto where always I found the dear Object and Authur of your present qualms of tenderness’.34 The letter gives a singular glimpse of that private side of Barry so absent from most of the correspondence. Keable tells Barry, in Italian, he has been back to visit the girl and ‘She says Barry is truly a good man and the mamma replies yes, it is true, he is a good dear son, and that they took great pleasure from the fact that he left so heroically’. One wonders how close this is to the truth, how much is playfulness The letter adds to our curiosity about another account by Barry’s contemporary, Henry Tresham, that while in Rome Barry was implicated with a married woman: ‘When Barry and Nollekens resided at Rome it was presumed that the former had (what was not very uncommon) made rather too free with the wife of his host. Barry was not singular in this instance; but the husband being less liberal in his ideas than many other Italian husbands, vowed vengeance against the violator of his honour’.35 A fictional reading of these allusions to Barry in Italy appeared many years after his death in a story 'Barry in the Vatican' by Francis Mahony, alias ‘Father Prout’.36 Mahony keeps so uncannily close to what little evidence we do have, that it seems he had access to more letters than have survived. Such traces, taken together with Burroughs’ advice, ‘to lay aside these chimerical hopes of finding what I fear is not to be found - a fit companion & disinterested female friend!’37 give reason to think the letter from Ann Brookes in 1800 reflects, albeit sketchily, another such relationship.38

Burroughs’ letter, written after some altercation with Barry on the previous evening, also adds to our sense of Barry’s personal friendships. It is a rare clue not just to the affection his friends had for him, but , as Burroughs hints, to Barry’s propensity to argue with and annoy even them.39

An unusual and remarkable letter to Barry is that from Joseph Pollock in Ireland,40 telling Barry that he had been elected an honorary member of the Monks of the Order of St. Patrick in Dublin. This was a patriots' club founded in Dublin in 1779 to tap the growing sense of nationalism in the country and to promote Ireland’s independence. Whatever might be said about Pollock’s nationalist fervour and admiration for Barry, the letter raises interesting questions about Barry’s reputation in Ireland - James Barry, the Irish painter and writer, who had achieved such a high profile in London. Pollock is clearly delighted to know Barry has been welcomed into a nationalist club. What Barry made of this we do not know. When he writes, for example, to Cooper Penrose, a friend and art collector in Cork, his mind is not on Ireland: he explains to him and to the public at large what he meant to achieve in the prints he had made from his paintings in the Adelphi.41 The one letter in which he does express his deep feelings about Ireland, that to Lord Shannon, which is dealt with below, is an extraordinary outburst, quite unlike any other letter in the collection.

6. Barry and the Society of Arts

About twenty per cent of the correspondence in this edition is between Barry and the Society of Arts, the body that allowed him to do the six huge murals that decorate their Great Room, ‘The Progress of Human Culture'.42 Barry worked on the project from the summer of 1777 to the spring of 1783; well before it was finished, the Morning Herald was calling it ‘one of the greatest exertions of genius that ever took place in any country…The artists who have seen it, pronounce Mr. Barry’s work to be one of the most capital that this country ever saw’.43 On the strength of these murals the American Congress invited Barry, through their envoy Mr Laurens, ‘to paint the actions of General Washington’, an offer he turned down.44 About 6,500 people came to see the work when it was first exhibited in 1783.45 He continued to touch up and rework the paintings for close on twenty years. Curious aspects of this undertaking, what remains a major achievement in eighteenth-century art in Europe, are first that Barry was not yet a member of the Society, and second that he offered to undertake the work for no fee, no reward; he asked only the costs of materials and models. The Society accepted the arrangement and assiduously met Barry’s requests as the work proceeded. The Society accounts show that by February 1782 the cost had amounted to £167.6.1 and that a further £128.18.5 was owing, giving a total thus far of £296.4.6. 46

The correspondence, although formal and business-like, provides an occasional look at the progress of the work, mundane considerations such as paying models, moving ladders, asking permission. The arrangement suited the Society – they had a Royal Academician doing a major work for them for no fee. They put themselves out to accommodate Barry’s wishes. Yet there are signs that they were unsure how to show their gratitude. When Barry requested that an explanatory catalogue be published for the exhibition, they had no hesitation in granting him the cost of the publication. A motion on 6 March 1782 that Barry be ‘presented’ with fifty pounds was ‘postponed’, then ‘disagreed to’, then finally ‘agreed to’.47

In keeping with what has been said of Barry the reluctant correspondent, these letters give no insights on what Barry thought or felt about the work he was doing. Blake said Barry told him he lived on bread and apples while he did that work.48 The housekeeper at the Society of Arts confirms he ate meagerly and spent his days at the paintings.49 Whatever his private thoughts, a tone of business pervades the letters. In keeping with this, the edition lists letters to Barry from the Secretary of the Society, first Samuel More and later Charles Taylor, as letters, not from these individuals, but from the Society. Although Barry found More a good friend, the letters More wrote were formal, usually on Society business, telling Barry what had been decided by a committee or what a committee expected next from Barry. There is no familiarity about these letters, though the burden of them, especially the later letters into the nineteenth century, stem from a deep respect. The Society elected Barry to be a life member in 1799 and paid tribute to him in their Transactions in 1804. The exception is a short informal letter from Barry to More on 23 January 1799, commiserating with More over his illness and asking him to look over a letter Barry meant to send the Society to thank them for the honour of his life-membership.

7. Barry and the Royal Academy

The few letters between Barry and Sir Joshua Reynolds, President of the Royal Academy from 1768, while Barry was studying in Italy, along with comments in letters from the Burkes, who had introduced Barry to Reynolds in London, show that Reynolds was one of the first to admire and encourage Barry in his painting. The Burkes repeatedly reminded hm of Reynolds' warm feeling towards him. Not least because of Reynolds, Barry was able to exhibit his first picture at the Royal Academy a few months after returning to London The event was captured in the engraving of Richard Earlom that shows Barry's picture of Adam and Eve in a central prominent position [img]; Barry was admitted to the Royal Academy within a year of his return from Italy, elected to full membership four months later in 1773, and appointed Professor of Painting in 1782.

The extant letters between Barry and the Royal Academy, and there are not many of them, are mainly on issues that were contentious or caused unease. We hear of Barry’s lectures being postponed, an incident that annoyed Barry. Yet these letters do not entirely justify the charge so often made against Barry that he was difficult to work with because so irascible and easily roused. The letters have a kind of frankness, the bluntness of a man who writes what he thinks. Where the anger boils over is in letters to other correspondents about the Royal Academy. His letters to the Privy Council, to Lord Liverpool and later to Lord Buchan give a much clearer idea of Barry’s thoughts on the Academy. These letters indicate it would be a mistake to blame him solely for his irascible temper. Yes, he was easily provoked, he was irritable. His colleague Farington’s accounts in his diary about meetings in the Academy give several instances of this. But what these letters also illustrate is that Barry’s anger was fuelled by an uncompromising commitment to what he thought was the best for British art. This included high principled views on education, culture and the responsibility of institutions like the Academy to uphold and foster such principles. That commitment underlies the letter to the Privy Council (31 July 1798); clearly this does not come from the pen of a raving madman, as Farington was wont to think him.50 Barry writes because he senses that the Academy was failing to meet the responsibility asked of it to advise in an informed way on designing a new coinage. To Barry this was a matter of national importance. His complaints about the Academy are interwoven with an extraordinary display of knowledge about coinage, its design and its manufacture. Barry writes as one who knows what he is talking about, and he has no time for those who do not.

From the records of the meetings which the delegation from the Royal Academy, headed by the President Benjamin West, held with the Privy Council, it seems Barry’s criticism was not entirely misplaced. Minutes of the meeting in the Council Chamber, Whitehall, chaired by the Earl of Liverpool on 20 December 1798, show that the Privy Council was somewhat surprised at the way the Royal Academy had approached their request.51 The Committee noticed, for instance, ‘that none of the Drawings or Models now before them had been produced by any of the Gentlemen now present’. West replied, somewhat ingenuously, that as the Academy had requested other artists to submit suggestions for the new coins, the Committee felt ‘restrained from offering any Designs of their own’. At that Liverpool asked the Royal Academy committee to leave the room, perhaps out of surprise or disappointment, so that the Privy Council Committee could discuss how to proceed. He called the Academicians back and told them the Privy Councillors ‘would have been glad to have found among their Drawings and Models, some of the Productions of Men so eminent for their Talents’. Effectively they were told to provide a fresh set of drawings and models. The Minutes convey a distinct sense that the Academy members were attempting to ingratiate themselves; Barry’s arguments on the other hand were ad rem; he wanted the job done properly and by experts.

What the letters to and from the Academy bring to light is a closer view of the major crisis in Barry’s life, his expulsion from the Royal Academy in 1799 and its aftermath. The vote to expel him, taken on 15 April 1799, was the final move in a process that had started in earnest a month and more earlier. A year earlier he had complained to a friend, ‘Good God! when will all this scribbling about the cursed intriguing at the Academy be at an end? But no matter, we are in for it, and must therefore go on with patience’.52 In February 1799 certain members were discussing among themselves how to caution Barry for his comments about the Academy in his Letter to the Dilettanti Society and for reports about his behaviour in lectures. Farington kept a close record of these private discussions and his own part in them: for example on 28 February he writes, ‘Northcote I called on - talked of Barry & proceedings of Council - said unable to propose any mode, but wd. adopt such asreccomended. I told him most for expulsion - I for dismissal from Office - He agreed to this’.53 On 3 March, Farington recounts a meeting of Academicians at which some spoke of the, ‘necessity of putting stop to Barry...much talk there about Barry in consequence of his book...West hinted to them that the Academy to take notice of his conduct’. The President, Benjamin West, told a story that Barry put a note on his door offering ‘5s. to convict persons who had cleaned his door’.54 Farington attended a Council meeting on 4 March at which he said West told him Barry was ‘soothing students’; he said a student had brought him an account of Barry’s lecture ‘& abuse - & of bad effects in Academy young men thinking property theirs - that person got ticket to hear Barry abuse Academicians’. Plans were made at a Council meeting to set up a committee to look into Barry’s conduct.

Barry was not without sympathizers in the Academy, notably Northcote and Opie, who argued that formal charges against Barry would be ‘of the nature of persecution’. But the majority wanted him removed.55 A Council meeting on 12 March agreed a letter be sent to Barry about the charges. Opie wanted the minutes of the meeting sent as well, but this was overruled.56 Barry’s conduct would be formally investigated by a committee and a report given to the Academy Council. Letters extracted from Fryer give much of the story. In addition we have for example the Secretary’s letter to Barry on 12 March 1799 informing him that the charges against him were to be considered by the full Council of the Academy. The cold business-like tone, impersonal and terse, confirmed Barry’s suspicions that faceless people were plotting against him. One of Barry’s most notorious outbursts at a meeting came when the members refused to give him a copy of the charges made against him. Barry was a champion of openness, of frank argument. The letters show the Academy preferred to play their cards very close to the chest. They convey a bleak superficial account of the expulsion. The vote went against Barry; as patron of the Academy, the King was asked to strike Barry’s name from the Academy list and he agreed.

The pain of this expulsion stayed with Barry through his remaining years. The evidence is ever present in his writings and letters, He wrote letters of appeal to Liverpool and to Buchan to put in a good word for him with the King. He explained his case in an appendix to a second edition of his Letter to the Dilettanti Society, published in 1799, along with an appendix. Barry regarded this appendix as his apologia; it remains the most comprehensive statement of his case, a vigorous self-defence that includes much primary source evidence including letters. It became for him an important point of reference in so many of his letters, especially to Buchan. The reason for an appendix and not a separate publication lies partly in the fact that the Letter to the Dilettanti Society was itself a statement of his position vis-a vis the Academy. The criticisms it contained of the Academy were evidence, his opponents argued, that he brought the Academy into disrepute. In a sense the Letter itself had been an appeal to an authority other than the Academy for the protection of Britain’s culture, particularly its artistic talents.

The point becomes clearer if we look at the role of the Dilettanti Society. It was founded in the 1730s, initially as a dining club with an interest in the arts:

In the year 1734 some gentlemen who had travelled to Italy, desirous of encouraging at home a taste for those objects which had contributed so much to their entertainment abroad, formed themselves into a society under the name of the Dilettanti, and agreed upon such resolutions as they thought necessary to keep up the spirit of the scheme.57

Within a decade it was supporting research and travel to sites of archaeological and antiquarian interest in the Mediterranean; not long after it was regarded as a major contributor in Britain to the study of the archaeology, architecture, art and sculpture of ancient Greece and Rome. Several people in Barry’s correspondence were or had been members – James 'Athenian' Stuart, whom Barry first worked for in London in 1764-65, was painter to the Society; he was succeeded by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Charles James Fox was a member, as were the Duke of Richmond, Sir William Hamilton in Naples and the London collector and antiquarian Charles Townley. It is to this organization that Barry addressed his letter as if to a kind of court of appeal to check the failings of the Royal Academy. His Letter to the Dilettanti Society called on the Society to share his apprehension for ‘the reputation of the country, of the English School of Art, for the character of the Royal Academy, and for the fate of its poor pupils’.58 The many references in the correspondence to this Letter, especially its appendix, carry the weight of this pained appeal.

What the correspondence also reinforces, especially in the turbulence of events surrounding Barry’s expulsion and its aftermath, is his unwavering commitment to the principles and aims of the Royal Academy. He was ever a determined protagonist for the promotion of serious art in Great Britain. Some critics, as illustrated by the letters from ‘Fresnoy’, dismissed him as a brusque, opinionated, self-serving artist. Against that is the evidence of a student like William Blake who regarded him as one of the few professors in the Academy worth listening to. Ackroyd writes,

Blake listened to his lectures with great attention – we know this because at a later date he reasserted some of Barry’s theories and themes in his own writing. Barry was for him the single most important English painter; there was a time when he planned to write an epic poem in three books entitled simply Barry and he continually deferred to him as an artist unjustly neglected by the contemporary world. 59

In the event Blake did a pencil sketch of Barry and wrote but a few lines of a poem to him.60

8. Barry and Ireland

Like so many Irishmen in the eighteenth century, and indeed since then, Barry left Ireland as a young man in his twenties and never returned. But his Irishness never left him: his looks, his temper, his pride in Ireland, his smarting at its history, his knowledge of its faith, its literature and its people. These underpinned his identity. They also contributed to a particular paradox. They were at times the butt of his critics. Some weeks before ‘Fresnoy’ published his letters to Barry, he had sarcastically warned readers that, having seen Barry’s pictures in the Royal Academy exhibition, he would be paying homage to the painter: ‘I shall…first kneel down (I would need a Milesian bog for a cushion) at the feet of Mr. Barry’.61 Anthony Pasquin, alias John Williams, ridiculed him in his play The Royal Academicians, a Farce (1786) as ‘Jemmy O’Blarney, Esq.’, a violent ruffian who threatens to beat up the other characters – ‘(Lifting up his cane) Silence, you brace of vagabonds! Or by the virtues of my shelela I’ll leather your soul-cases till I can’t see you’.62 Whatever the exaggeration, Barry, like his early patron Burke, was recognised as unmistakably Irish. Yet this supposedly blustering Irishman, dismissed by many in England, was the painter who championed the future of British art, painted the Prince of Wales, and was respected by some of the most influential nobility in the land. He supported the Act of Union (1801), but was also the person who in a letter to Lord Shannon (4 January 1778) accused the British of governing Ireland, 'by every method that ingenuity can devise to despoil, distress and torment the great Majority' of the Irish people. He was an Irishman in England, highly regarded for his achievements, but in many respects always an outsider. The interesting question, as with Goldsmith, Sheridan, the Burkes and other Irishmen in England, is how did this Irishness manifest itself – if at all.

Much attention has rightly been given by Pressly and others to the fact that Barry’s first major work, produced while he was still in Ireland, was of an Irish historical scene, The Baptism of the King of Cashel by St. Patrick (c.1763).63 ‘Such a choice of subject matter,' says Pressly, 'was precocious for this date, when an interest was only beginning to make itself felt in nationalistic themes’. A similar point could be made about Edmund Burke: he was writing his scathing analysis of the Penal Laws, Tracts on the Popery Laws, at just this time while he too was resident in Ireland.64 The importance to both Barry and Burke of these early works, that engaged in different ways with Irish history, was that they were deeply formative. Although neither Irishman developed the themes and issues raised in them in his later career, they were obliquely present in much that each subsequently produced. Scholars like Fintan Cullen and Tom Dunne have recently brought to light the extent to which Barry’s Irish traits are evident in his paintings.65 The point may well have been recognised by Joseph Pollock, whose letter to Barry presumes Barry’s wholehearted support for the cause of Irish nationalism – and that was while Barry was still at work on his paintings for the Great Room in the Society of Arts. As if to confirm the enthusiasm of Pollock, Barry included the patriot William Molyneux, author of Case of Ireland being Bound by Acts of Parliament in England Stated (1698), in his final painting in the series, Elysium and Tartarus or the State of Final Retribution. The image was, writes Barry, of,

William Molyneux, of the kingdom of Ireland, with the case of his country in his hand. This book, though written with an almost unexampled precision, force, and integrity, was in King William's time (to whom it was addressed) burnt by the hands of the common hang-man, to the great infamy of the faction who then predominated. It must, however, be acknowledged, that the Roman Catholics, in Ireland, had led the way, in the vindication of those rights of their common country; as they had, some years before, prevailed with king James to give his assent to an act entitled, An Act for declaring that the Parliament of England cannot bind Ireland, and against Writs of Errors and Repeals out of Ireland into England. But the happy adjustment of these matters was reserved for a more liberal, philosophic age, when all occasions of disunion, strife, dependence, and desolation should be for ever banished, together with those mischievous horrors of Popery which gave rise to them.66

The run of nouns, ‘strife, dependence, and desolation’ gives the clue to Barry’s feelings about Ireland’s past. Earlier in his life, when travelling down through France in 1766, he made a rare allusion to the same feelings in a letter to Edmund Burke:

the crowds of busy contented people, which cover (as one may say) the whole face of the country, make a strong, but melancholy contrast to a miserable —— which I cannot help thinking of sometimes.—You will not be at any loss to know that I mean Ireland; and that I glance at the extensive, unpeopled wastes where only now and then one is to see some meagre, scared fellow, who has almost a day's journey to drive cattle to a habitation, where his ill-fated family perhaps may make a Christmas dinner upon the offals of these very cattle; very little of which falls to his share out of the market that is made of them for other countries,—but hang them all, I have long since given them up. 67

The final phrase reflects momentary despair rather than fact. When his old friend from Cork days William O’Brien wrote to him in Rome, he responded with delight at the prospect of meeting up with him – and if that was not possible, ‘I shall go over just to shake hands with you all in Ireland’.68

More common in the letters are moments where Ireland provides an historical allusion or is the subject of political concern, as at the time of the debates about the Act of Union in 1800. Barry’s support for the Union is reflected most clearly in his engraving to mark the event. His letter to the Prime Minister William Pitt, allowing for its tone of formal respect, has a note of relief: he tells Pitt, ‘I have made a design for a picture and an engraving on the subject of the happy union of Great Britain and Ireland, which union has been long the desideratum of all well informed and good people’.69

Barry's strong feelings about and for Ireland are beyond question. In a letter to Arthur Young in July 1783, for example, he congratulates Young on his Tour of Ireland, adding,

I have long been sick at heart of the timid, trimming, mistakenly prudent and palliating conduct of those writers who have been hitherto quacking and dabbling with the sores and miseries of that Country.

His anger at the traumas Ireland had been through was based not least on his reading of Irish historians – for example Geoffrey Keating’s Foras Feasa ar Éirinn (The Basis of Knowledge concerning Ireland)(c.1632) and Sylvester O’Halloran’s General History of Ireland (1778).70 An issue that has long taxed scholars is whether this evident concern for Ireland signals republican sympathies. In Pasquin’s farce, one of the characters, Truth, says Barry, 'affects to despise hereditary dignity, merely because the rest of mankind concur in the idea that subordination and respect are necessary to the well-being of society’.71 More seriously Fryer argued that Barry may have expressed republican views at times, but basically he supported the constitution:

From the declamations he has been known to fall into, in favour of civil liberty, and in praise of the ancient Greek Republics respecting the arts, many ran away with the notion, that he was a republican, and disaffected to monarchical institutions. He often declaimed for victory, from occasional love of opposition, or momentary pique and prejudice. Dr. Johnson was known to do the same. But in his cooler moments, he had been heard again and again to assert, that no governments could be worse for a peaceful and virtuous man, than those worthless Greek republics, as he called them.72

Pressly’s case is that Barry was republican but that in his old age, ‘he had perhaps mellowed’.73 David Bindman called Barry ‘a fierce radical’.74 Certainly he had radical friends, among them William Godwin who recorded Barry’s meeting with Arthur O’Connor of the United Irishmen and the English radical Sir Francis Burdett.75

New light on the debate and, more importantly on Barry's views on Ireland, is provided by Barry's letter to Lord Shannon (4 January 1778), published for the first time in this edition. The timing of the letter is worth noting - in 1774 the Quebec Act lifted some restrictions on Catholics in Canada, 1775 saw the outbreak of the war in the American colonies and in 1778 the Irish Volunteer movement started in Belfast and the first Catholic Relief Act was passed in Westminster amidst debates about opening up Irish trade to world markets. Barry chose to write just when Ireland was becoming a significant and sensitive issue in this wider theatre of Britain's concerns. Lord Shannon, though not as forceful a politician as his father, was born into one of Ireland's most influential families, the Boyles. A member of the Protestant Ascendancy, he had been one of the three 'undertakers' of the Administration in Dublin; Barry knew Shannon was a man of considerable influence: 'I am addressing a letter to Lord Shannon and thro through him to the other men of weight and authority in Ireland who meet mete out blessings or curses to the land'. The letter is at once personal and public: personal in that he calls on Shannon as 'you' to act to relieve the Roman Catholics, public in that he addresses Shannon as 'you' the representative of the Administration: 'You have peevishly and wickedly divided the Country'. At other points 'you' is the Irish people whom he tells either to campaign for reforms or emigrate to America. In a sense their future depended on what Lord Shannon and his like would do for them.

Barry's thoughts and feelings on Ireland in this letter are complex. At one point he has to restrain his fury by toning down his language: 'drive them out of the land' is struck out in favour of 'we have not yet made ye experiment of indulgence and Amity'. His moods and his targets keep shifting, a turbulent mix of anger at what Ireland has had to bear from Britain, scorn for the Irish people for their feckless response, affection for them and hope for change: 'O ye men of Ireland, would to God ye were at last arrived at a just sense of your wretched condition, with hands made for defence and feet to change your situation, you lie down in despondency and suffer the image of God which is yet traceable in you to be dishonoured and trampled by wretches no better than yourselves'. And towards the end, these contrary feelings are knitted into an appeal for reconciliation, between English and Irish, between Protestant and Catholic, so that the benefits of true liberty might flow to all the people of Ireland.

What gives the letter much of its authority is Barry's learning: he shows an extraordinarily detailed knowledge of the history of England and its relations with Ireland; this in turn reflects an impressive grasp of the complex religious issues that had bedevilled the way the English thought about Ireland. His learning, informed by the liberal philosophical writings of Milton and Locke, is balanced and strongly influenced by what was happening in the colonies in America where he was glad to see their theories of liberty applied in practice. Why not in Ireland? This aspect of the letter has its echo in his engraving Phoenix or the Resurrection of Freedom. [img]

The debate about Barry's republican leanings is partly resolved by this letter. His fierce championing of the liberty of the individual goes hand in hand with a desire for what Whigs like Burke called the old Gothic constitution. The English had betrayed their liberal heritage for reasons of religion and politics; but that does not invalidate a noble legacy, much less Ireland's case for respect and liberty. Corruption must out and the old principles be restored.

Barry's letter to Shannon may seem unusual coming from a painter, and it is. But for Barry art was an instrument for liberty. Barry had a passionate belief in the liberty of people as individuals and as nations. Like Burke, he could descry the abuses of rights in Ireland and support the American colonists without necessarily being a republican. His letter to Charles James Fox, for example, written after his expulsion from the Royal Academy, along with the engraving dedicated to Fox, shows his continuing faith in the power of art to liberate. He regards Fox as a great liberator. Barry’s letter reminds Fox of the implications of what had happened in the Royal Academy, of what was at stake. Barry’s so called persecution, recognised by the Earl of Buchan as such, America’s treatment by the British, Ireland’s history at the hands of England are all facets of the same phenomenon, an overarching battle about liberty, a tussle between good and evil, so dramatically rendered in poetry by John Milton in Paradise Lost.76 Barry’s allusions to Milton in the letters carry this burden of interest. His contribution to that battle was voiced in heated arguments within the Academy, but much more significantly for him through his paintings and engravings: what is important, he writes to Fox, is, ‘the employment and the application of the universal language of art to the great ethical and political purposes for which it is so admirably calculated’.77 That thought underlies his The Baptism of the King of Cashel by St. Patrick and so much of what followed it.

9. Barry's Finances

A matter that has yet to be clarified about Barry, especially in his later years, is what he did for money. A few stray details indicate that, despite his success as a painter, he seemed often short of money. On 4 June 1774 he placed an advertisement for pupils in the Public Advertiser. In 1776 he began to work as an engraver and printmaker, an occupation that was increasingly lucrative in late eighteenth-century London. His expulsion from the Royal Academy left him with no regular income and he writes to Buchan of ‘the serious loss of my little salary’.78 Buchan’s letters show how disturbed he was at the thought of one of Britain’s major painters falling into destitution; he persuaded the Society of Arts to set up a fund for Barry that would bring him in £100 per year and allow him to live in comfort. Barry died before the fund came into effect. The dilapidated state of Barry’s dwelling house, something noted in his letters, was taken by friends as glaring evidence of his indigence. He tells Buchan, 'all the windows in the front of my house are so broken that it is impossible to make any use of the rooms in front, so that I am reduced to live in a small back room on the second floor'.79 No wonder Buchan was concerned.

We know he had a regular income of £30 per year while he was Professor of Painting at the Royal Academy; a professor's stipend was raised to £50 soon after Barry's expulsion. This would need some supplementary income for a gentleman of Barry’s standing, not to mention the expenses entailed in his work as a painter and an engraver. This came mainly from the sale of his work. He benefitted too from generous friends who from time to time made him gifts of money. When the Society of Arts awarded a gold medal in 1799, they also gave him 200 guineas. What Barry’s papers suggest, along with occasional allusions in the letters, is that he was not as poor as was often presumed. Although the precise state of his finances is difficult to ascertain, the following details give an idea of his circumstances. At the time of his death Barry did have money: he was carrying on his person a packet containing two receipts for money 'paid into the Banking House of Messrs Wright & Co. amounting to £163'. That was equivalent to more than three years’ salary for a Professor at the Royal Academy. He also had £41.14s.9d in notes and cash.80 The mention of his bankers leads to another source of funds: after his house had been broken into in 1794, he thought he had been robbed of 'something more than £200' (Barry to Robert Udny, 8 January 1795). He told the Earl of Radnor, ‘my next resolution was to sell out seven hundred pounds which I have in the funds, lodge it with a banker, and draw for it according to the occasions necessary…’ Radnor had sent him £50.81 In a letter to Buchan in 1804, he is quite explicit about his current income and expenses: he had told the ‘taxgatherer’ that ‘my Income amounted to sixty pounds a year. Viz: fifty from the American Bank & ten pounds from the English five per cent bank stock. That out of this I was obliged to find cloathing & sustenance for my self, to pay forty pounds annual house rent with government & parochial Taxes in proportion, & that to the great shame of the Country, my profession was for some time past, rather a matter of loss, than of any gain’.82

So what funds did he hold in the ‘American Bank’? A return of £50 per annum, if based on an interest rate of say 6%, suggests a capital sum of about £800.83 If we add the English ‘bank stock’, a further £200 capital, Barry may well have had about £1000 in investments. Another capital item was the family house in Cork. Since his sister came to London to ask him to transfer the deeds to her daughter, his niece, we can only presume he held the title to the property. All this is to say nothing of any income from his pictures and prints. At the auction of his paintings, prints and effects after his death, the first day realized £891.1.0d and the second £702.3.0d.

The mention to Buchan of ‘cloathing’ raises a further point. There is in the Barry papers at the Lewis Walpole Library an invoice for clothes bought in 1805 from Peter Fisher to an amount of £16.15.6d. The list is as follows:84

  • A 'cloth frock lappd' £3.12.9d
  • Waistcoat and Breeches £2.17.0d
  • A ‘cloth frock Lappelld’ £3.12.9d
  • A double breasted waistcoat £1.8.0d
  • Brown cloth breeches £1.9.6d
  • Cashmere Breeches £1.17.6d
  • 4 pairs of ‘strong cotton’ drawers £1.4.0d
  • 2 pairs flannel drawers 14s.0d

The purchases are not what one expects from a man who is close to destitution.

What Barry also spent money on was books. An inventory of his books taken after his death lists over 500 items, many of them in multiple volumes. It is a strikingly comprehensive library of the Greek and Roman classics, as well as books on antiquities, painting, engraving, religion and history. Several concern Ireland – 'An Essay in Irish', ‘Young’s Irish Tour’, ‘Watkinson’s Philosophical survey of Ireland’, ‘Brooks reliques of Irish Poetry’. Many are in French or Italian, most in English. Rare and valuable items include ‘German Bible with curious old cuts printed at Zurich 1556’ and ‘Operi di Macciavelli 1550’.85 Christie’s sale of these realized £702.3s.

The broad picture that emerges of Barry’s finances differs from the accepted version that he was impecunious. From the time of his days in Italy onwards Barry gives the impression of being concerned about money only when he does not have cash in his hand. Although not a spendthrift – he spent rather on what interested him than on what he needed - his savings indicate that he knew he had to save for his old age. After all he had no family to look after him. Yet the list of purchases from Fisher suggests he was an easy spender if he felt like it. As a student on the Continent he was almost embarrassed at how quickly he sometimes spent his allowance. Judging by the money found on his person at his death, he had ready access to money if he wanted it. If Barry did not deliberately play the poor mouth, his carelessness or inconsistency over money gave the impression that he was worse off than he was. The man behind the public image of an unkempt and dishevelled artist was better off than he looked.86

10. Constructing the Edition

How did I go about constructing this digital edition? What were the stages in its development?

Stage one – Much of the early work was similar to what it would be for a hard-back edition. The initial steps were to obtain copies of Fryer’s two volume edition of Barry’s Works (1809) and of Pressly's Life and Art of James Barry (1981). This latter gives not just a comprehensive critique of Barry’s life and work, but an exhaustive list of sources of manuscripts. From these I drew up an initial check-list of the correspondence to and from Barry, supplemented by a list of correspondence between the Burkes and Barry as listed in the Correspondence of Edmund Burke, edited by Thomas Copeland.87 A priority was to get access to original manuscripts where possible and so the question arose as to what had happened to the manuscripts Fryer had worked from. A search of manuscript sources in Britain and Ireland led to but a few more letters. Since the Earl of Buchan was an antiquarian and collector who took a considerable interest in Barry’s welfare before his death, I wrote to the current Earl of Buchan to ask to see the papers of the eleventh earl, thinking that he might well have kept the bulk of Barry’s papers. He replied that those papers had been ‘dispersed’ after the Second World War. However there were two known depositories of Barry manuscripts, one at the Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University, the other at the Royal Society of Arts in London. I subsequently visited both these archives.

Stage two – The task of transcribing the correspondence onto the computer was hampered and delayed by two problems: how to transfer the many letters in Fryer’s edition into a machine readable form, and second, on the advice of my TEXTE colleague, Paul Caton, how to convert texts in a ‘Word’ format into ‘Oxygen’ which was the agreed format for the final corpus to be transferred to the server. I proceeded with transcription and annotation along the usual lines of hard-copy editing. Seven months into the project, in April 2008, the library at the National University of Ireland, Galway purchased a scanner capable of converting the volumes of my copy of Fryer into both a PDF file and into a Rich Text file. I could now download all the correspondence in Fryer that I had not yet copied: the margin of error proved minimal. The second problem was not so easy to resolve. Coming to the task with minimal computing skills, I found the demands of a new language – ‘Oxygen’ – a distraction from and impediment to the usual preoccupations of editing. Over several months I learned how to apply the basic encoding along the lines of the Textual Encoding Initiative (TEI). This was greatly helped by regular meetings of the TEXTE group and personal advice from colleagues. But basically it was a teach-yourself process. The initial task was to convert the forty odd letters I had edited in ‘Word’ into ‘Oxygen’. As I became more adept and my range of skills increased, so I had to go back again and again to sharpen up the encoding of letters I had previously thought completed. It soon became apparent that the time taken to encode letters was outstripping time spent in editing. That fact has major implications for future prospective editors.

A recurring question in the back of my mind throughout this stage was this: what is it that users will want from this edition? Since encoding is designed to capture every significant detail that might be of use in a search of the edition, what exactly should be encoded? That in turn posed the problem, who will the readers be? The question is both easy and difficult to answer: predictable users are people interested in Barry, in art history, in the institutions of art in the eighteenth century, in art. However, this is a digital, not a hard-copy edition; it is to be available on the ‘world-wide web’. There is no saying who might visit the site, nor what their particular expectations might be. My experience of teaching in both Africa and Europe made me aware of the needs of users to whom English was either a foreign or a second language. My encoding and annotation became more attentive to linguistic and cultural factors.

As a result of such questioning, the annotation came to be more expansive than for a hard-copy print edition. A generation or more ago this would not have been possible. In pre-digital times, constraints of finance, page space and the sheer time required to visit libraries in say London, Oxford, Dublin, Paris, New York meant scholars had to be careful about how exhaustive their annotation might be; their card indexes and sheaves of notes had a relatively narrow focus. Furthermore it was assumed that readers had ready access to a good library and that a reference in a foot-note would suffice to give authority and indicate where to go for further reading. Even so it remains a source of wonder that long before the days of the internet, editors like Frederick A. Pottle on Boswell and Thomas Copeland in the Cambridge edition of Edmund Burke were able to achieve so comprehensive a range of informative annotation. The challenge for modern editors with ready access to the web is to sustain that level of scholarship in the overwhelming spaciousness of the new medium. What happens when a digital editor turns to annotation, such as in this edition, is that the old values of economy and focus are menaced by the temptation to provide notes that go beyond the bounds of immediate relevance, in short to be garrulous. Since the space available is endless, so the annotation risks becoming tediously exhaustive or unstructured, or both. A look at the annotation in some of the letters of Mark Twain in the otherwise admirable web site ‘Mark Twain Project' illustrates the pitfalls. [go]

If the digital editor is spoiled for choice, the seeming comprehensive availability of information at the click of a mouse is deceptive. I found that information on some sites simply incorrect; others did not answer the specific needs of the Barry correspondence. Trips to archives and libraries were still necessary. The Public Record Office or National Archives at Kew in England have a resourceful and easy to use site that allows, inter alia, immediate downloading of archival documents. I used this to obtain the will of one of Barry’s correspondents Peter Paul Benezech and was thus able to contextualise his letter to Barry. A more difficult problem occurred with a letter from Redmond to James Barry: this needed a physical visit to the Archives. Although the letter has no year, it mentions Redmond was serving on a ship ‘The Hound’. The PRO site brought up details of ships and of ships’ muster rolls. But these had no mention of Redmond Barry. It was only by going to these archives and looking through these muster rolls that I found that Redmond Barry appeared, not in the muster, but in a document adjoining – ‘An Account of the Amount of Tobacco Issued by Mr Angel Triggs Purser’, dated 1777. Redmond Barry was listed there with his ship's identity number, 147; in the payroll, alongside this same identity number, is ‘Richard’ Barry, and in another record with the same number ‘Denis’ Barry. Clearly the records paid little attention to his first name, though his identity number remained the same. That kind of problem calls for the physical engagement between researcher and the physical documents in the archives. The web has its limitations.

That said I found the search service available at the Bibliothèque nationale de France saved further visits to that library. The ‘SINBAD’ service allows users to put a research question to one of the librarians and a reply comes within a couple of days. Since Barry spent the best part of a year in Paris and the letters of 1765-66 contain many an allusion to places, events and people of the time, this proved a useful link. However, there is one problem outstanding which is crucial to providing an exact date for a letter Barry wrote to Burke from Paris: Barry writes, ‘The Seine was frozen over in about two days, for the second time this winter’. Searches by myself along with Library staff were unable to provide a record of the event; hence the letter cannot be dated more exactly and remains with but a notional date of c. 11 February 1766.

While annotation was an ongoing task, there were several sessions with colleagues in the TEXTE group given to discussion about the design of a navigation map for the edition. The leader of these discussions, Malte Rehbein, took me back to questions about the purpose of the edition, its presumed users and the structure of the site. That structure, it seemed to me, the way in which the edition appeared on the web – from its home page inwards - should reflect my own critical priorities. These included the principle that users should access whatever they were interested in, be it a person, a painting, or a detail about the Royal Academy, through a particular letter. The correspondence was to be the focal point of entry to any other material. At this stage of the project, the design of the site was not a pressing issue, but it did influence the kind of encoding that would be necessary.

Stage three – Work in the Moore Institute in Galway was frequently interspersed with visits to seminars and conferences with a view to learning more about Barry and more about how other editors were coping with projects similar to mine. Notable were visits to conferences of the American Society of Textual Scholarship in Boston in 2008 and New York in 2009. The 2008 conference was prefaced by a visit to the Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University, in Farmington to go through the Barry Papers held there. The staff could not have been more helpful and have continued to be very supportive of the project. The Boston conference brought me face to face with other editors of digital editions. From the range of papers and skills discussed, I realised more and more that while there is a great deal of imaginative and substantial work in progress, there are very few points of agreement as to how to proceed; indeed, contrary to hard-copy editing, there seems little concern about conformity of approach. My initial expectations of scholarly guidelines, or style-sheets, were not shared by others. Digital editing takes its impetus and variety from the ever increasing capabilities and potentialities of the medium. Even issues such as the aesthetics of the visual medium, be it font size or page design, are subsidiary to technical problems. The ‘how’ appears more importunate than the ‘what’. A conference of the Council for Textual Encoding Initiative (TEI) at Galway brought certain problems more clearly into focus. Despite the TEI Guidelines, the way an editor chooses to encode and what he chooses to encode are matters for each editor to decide. There was talk of producing examples of comprehensively marked-up documents in order to show would-be editors what was possible, but this was a task for the future. How to encode a text for a scholarly edition was still debatable.

Before going to the STS conference in New York in 2009, I drafted my thoughts on another nagging issue that affected much of this edition. I was conscious from the start that what I was editing was the product of a very particular culture and was rooted in a specific time in British cultural history. What cognisance should an editor give to this, particularly in the annotation? So I produced a paper, ‘Editing for the Third-World’. The brunt of the argument was that any edition of a text on the world- wide web ought to be sensitive to the expectations of users outside the ambit of western culture. Among such considerations are, first, the fact that English is not the mother-tongue of the majority of web users; second, cultural allusions to, say, the Bible, to Christianity, to historical events and debates can be lost on non-Western users. The problem for the editor is to keep a balance between elucidating such allusions and being patronising. As a result of that paper, I decided to provide two levels of annotation – one that conveyed information that any user, no matter what the cultural and educational background, could not be presumed to know; for example, Barry refers to a ‘cavōbed’ in his discussion about coins: not many users would be familiar with the term, meaning the concave or ‘cove’ bed into which the design of a coin is sunk. The second level is designed for users who might not recognise, for example, Sir Joshua Reynolds or Job or a word like ‘connoisseur’, who might understandably presume that the spelling ‘compleat’ is a mistake, not an accepted variation of ‘complete’ in the eighteenth century. Users therefore have a choice whether to have both levels of annotation visible on the screen all the time, or just the level one notes.

Stage four – While I continued to encode, I also made a concerted attempt to obtain copies of correspondence in the archives of the Royal Society of Arts and the Royal Academy. Much of this material could not be photocopied, so I took digital photographs of manuscripts and letters in the Minutes and returned to Galway to transcribe them. Some of these images are provided in the edition so as to give the user the opportunity to consider the manuscript against the transcription. As a result of these endeavours I had completed a draft version of 130 letters by the end of the first year of the project.

As I progressed I also gathered materials peripheral to the correspondence, but informative of it. I started to devise a number of appendices, one for early drafts of letters in the main body of the edition, one for documents pertaining to Barry’s house, one for letters to and from other people that had a direct bearing on matters raised in the correspondence and one for critical essays. The facility provides a useful supplement to the main focus of the edition, an opportunity for the editor to enlarge on issues raised in the correspondence. For example, since Buchan’s letter to the Society of Arts about setting up a fund for Barry is alluded to time and again in the correspondence, but is not part of Barry’s correspondence, it was thought useful to include it in an appendix. 88

Two problems hampered progress: although I had digital images of the longer letters, for reasons of time I needed help in getting them typed up into a format that I could easily transfer into ‘Oxygen’. Cindy Caton did this for me, so I could then proof-read her version against the manuscript and then do the necessary encoding. This task raised further questions about the encoding, notably about how to encode a post-script. I joined a special interest group of the TEI that was concerned with the issue, only to find again there was no consensus: it was up to each editor to follow his own inclinations.

Throughout the initial year of editing I collected images of paintings and other work referred to in the correspondence. These came mainly from the web, in particular from Wikipedia whose images are already in the public domain, and therefore not subject to copyright. Where copyright was an issue, I either wrote and obtained permission from the respective gallery or library, or I encoded the web site to take the user to the image. Images of Barry’s most celebrated work, the paintings in the Society of Arts Great Room, were kindly provided by the Royal Society of Arts.

To standardise the encoding and make it effective was an ongoing challenge. It took some weeks to link the images I had collected to the appropriate points of reference in particular letters. In the process I realised that the use of the tag ‘name type=”person” was not as adequate a search tool as it might be. Given this was an edition of a painter’s correspondence, I decided it would be more useful to break down the ‘name’ category into ‘person’, ’artist’ and ‘writer’. Such discrimination would help those users who were looking for people within those more specific categories. While doing this, I noted an alarming number of my own typing errors.

The need to proof read the work done so far became pressing. The physical difference between tangible, sortable page-proofs and a draft edition on a computer screen makes for a considerable difference of effort and time in proof-reading. Whether this is to do with the size of the print on the screen, or the fact that one cannot compare and contrast pages as easily, or other factors of accessibility, the result is that an inordinate amount of time is required for proof-reading a digital edition. However careful the scrutiny, mistakes continue to surface. After three months of checking I was still conscious that errors were lurking – something a hard-back editor could remedy in a few days. I had also established which web sites that I had originally marked-up as relevant links for the edition had disappeared or had changed.

Stage five – Three-quarters of the way through the project I was satisfied that the main corpus of letters was as complete as was possible in the time given, and that the appendices were of a sufficient variety and pertinence as to indicate what this area of such an edition could achieve. The next stage was to give all those files to my colleague Paul Caton who prepared them for the web site. His contribution to the edition has not only been essential, but has greatly enhanced the quality of its presentation. Meanwhile I thought of how otherwise to test the possibilities of the medium. One idea was to include a time-line. This could provide an overview of Barry’s life and career, or of his paintings, drawings and engravings. This latter would reinforce the notion that this was the correspondence of a painter and engraver. I asked my colleague Milena Dobreva about the feasibility of such an addition. We decided after some time that this dimension of the edition could be added later. The TEXTE group was then called upon to assess and discuss the first version of the site, to review the architecture from its home page through to details of its navigation.

What quickly became apparent on first sight of the trial version was how many errors remained undetected - spelling, punctuation, spacing. What was strange for an editor accustomed to paper-copy editing was that only now did he have a view of what the edition looked like. The experience was akin to having the page-proofs published before final corrections. These took another month or so.

It took another three months to check and test the entire site. In this I had the invaluable help of my Galway colleague, Pádraic Moran, whose suggestions and know-how brought a sharpness and objectivity to the site for which I am grateful. What errors or disfunctions remain are entirely of my own doing.

11. Images - Copyright and the Web

This digital edition has raised several other problems to do with editing letters, largely a result of the electronic medium. Given that this is an edition of the correspondence of a painter and that digital technology can easily incorporate images, this seemed a good opportunity to include images of paintings, drawings, engravings wherever they were referred to in the letters. Barry's correspondence, it was thought, would be a kind of test case of the capabilities of a digital edition in the Humanities because the digital medium offers a new opportunity for marrying image and text with far greater frequency, flexibility and ease than publishers of hard-back books have ever had. This edition could in theory give users several hundred images of art work so that each and every allusion to art in the correspondence is illustrated. An example of what can be achieved, albeit with a large team of researchers, is seen in the new site of Vincent Van Gogh's letters (2009).[go] What soon became apparent however was that art galleries and public institutions on both sides of the Atlantic had widely diverging views and policies on copyright of these images. Web sites of several galleries make it impossible to download images. Several web sites of paintings carry the caveat 'Image may be subject to copyright'. Copyright of an image becomes even more opaque when the particular image has been reproduced several times on the web by different sites: the problem for the editor shifts from the artifact, the primary concern, to questions of provenance, of who owns the image. For this edition the policy has been to indicate the site from which the image has been taken.

Many images are available only through art sites that sell the images. Certain galleries in Europe made a charge to this project of £70 to £109 per image; others made no charge at all. Images of paintings on Wikipedia, on the site for Raphael for example, can be downloaded without charge because they are in the public domain. Clearly the absence of a European, let alone a transnational agreement on copyright of art images makes digital editing of the writings of an artist less scholarly and less informative to the user than it might be.

Allied to this is the problem posed by certain internet links. On many occasions in this edition it seems to be good scholarly practice to point the user to an internet link that would enlarge on a particular allusion in the correspondence or an idea raised in the annotation. One function of the world-wide web is precisely to facilitate this kind of cross-reference and thus strengthen the texture of the scholarship. The world-wide web, if the tag is to be true to its name, should provide an accessible and well-maintained world-wide archive of knowledge. But the facility is as yet unreliable. Barry's reference to Hadrian's villa for instance can be enlarged on by pointing the user to a web site that gives a comprehensive range of images together with a bibliography that are way beyond the immediate needs of this edition at [go]. But other sites selected for this edition in 2008 had fallen out of use or had disappeared by 2009. This instability affects the quality of any edition that means to have a life of several years, and immediately curtails an editor's trust in his secondary sources. Unlike a reference to a printed source which can be relied on to be physically available in some library somewhere, the internet link may be ephemeral. If an editor cannot be sure the reference will be available to users in a year or two, what point is there in including it? There seems no saying which links will still be there in a few years' time. This instability is a hazard for editors attempting to be scholarly. The result for this edition was to prune such links, to be cautious, indeed sceptical.

12. Outcomes and Conclusions

What has been learned or achieved by working on this digital edition? The end result is a more comprehensive edition of Barry’s correspondence than has previously been published. In the process a number of positive ideas for the future of scholarly editing have emerged. Some of them are not particular to this edition, but bear repeating. The facility of the internet changes the very modus vivendi of the researcher. It brings a vast range of research material to the desk of the scholar who now needs to spend much less time browsing libraries, toiling through newspapers, thumbing through dictionaries and encyclopedias. The card index has gone. The tedious business of correcting typed sheets that was so much a part of research production a few decades ago has gone. Instead the researcher can call up, and at the click of a mouse, if not all the necessary primary materials – though that time may not be far off – at least a range of secondary and reference materials that was simply not available to the editor a generation or two ago. This means editing of texts can be more comprehensive and more expansive than was the case in the past. Furthermore, a digital edition can point the user to a much wider range of information than that contained within the particular edition. The shift is from a book, bound between covers, to a site that is open-ended.

One clear advantage of the digital medium is space. The editor here finds a freedom to provide not just the primary source letter, but an earlier draft or version;89 the annotation can be as thorough and at such length as the editor thinks best elucidates the letter in question. The site can be so designed as to hide annotation, to make its presence a matter of choice for the user, so as not to clutter the page. The freedom is to use the space without having to worry about the constraints of the publisher’s financial or in-house conventions.

The search facility should be regarded as a significant advantage in that it puts pressure on the editor to be more comprehensive in his research, and hence produce a better quality edition. What often happens in hard-back paper editions is that there is a tacit acceptance that annotation should be clinically terse. That may be because the editor has a good idea of the reader in mind. The digital editor is in a slightly different relationship vis-à-vis the user. The profile of the user is less clearly defined. Secondly, the user may not want to read through the edition but to ‘search’ it for reasons that are unknown and unpredictable to the editor. For example, the user of this edition may be less curious about Barry than about travel in France in the 1760s. Furthermore in an edition for the world-wide-web the research needs to be presented on the understanding that the cultural and educational norms usually applied to a print edition need to be opened up. This is an edition for the world-wide user, whoever he or she might be. The annotation in this edition has been geared to account for issues of language and cultural allusion that may be strange to users from other cultures.

A substantial advantage of the new medium is that there are relatively few constraints on the bringing together of texts and images – images of manuscripts, images of paintings, engravings, drawings. This is a considerable benefit to Barry’s correspondence since so much of the material concerns visual images. The medium allows that where he talks about his own paintings or a fresco he visited in the Vatican or an engraving he has done, the user can call up the image.

One of the curious characteristics of a digital edition such as this is that, although this particular editor may think the edition is as complete as he can make it, in fact it remains open for other scholars and interested users to work on. It may never be finished. There are no back covers. The technology allows the editor(s) to add new-found material (new Barry letters for example), to correct errors or oversights, to revise the introduction in the light of new research. A digital edition is sui generis ‘work in progress’.

Work on this edition has also thrown up difficulties and problems. Principal among these is not just that a literary editor, used to the practices of hard-back print editing, has to assimilate the digital culture, but he needs to convert old style editing practices into the digital medium. This is more than a technical challenge; it asks a change of mind-set, a shift of critical imagination. The move is from the security of well-established conventions to a discipline that is still finding its way. This does not impinge on the research and its materials so much as on the presentation of them. The substantial progress made through TEI, while helpful to the business of encoding, is accompanied by a sense of open-endedness. Final choices of presentation are left to individual editors. This could be regarded positively as a provocation to inventiveness. On the other hand, it can be unsettling. The open-endedness of editorial practices and encoding is part of what can be seen as either an evolving or an unstable discipline. The digital editor soon realises that, unlike Horace's works, this edition is no 'monument more lasting than bronze'.90

There is a lurking danger in the digital edition, as mentioned above, that proof-reading will not be as efficient as for hard-back paper editions. It is difficult to establish reasons for this, yet experience amply bears out the point that proof-reading is here much more exacting and time-consuming. Part of the problem is that one needs to proof-read both the text and the encoding. The issue of consistency is particularly taxing. Speaking with editors of much larger digital projects, such as the Walt Whitman archive, I discovered that material passes through several readers at the proof stage.

What was particularly laborious about this digital edition was the business of encoding: this took a tedious amount of time that far exceeded expectations, and proved a serious distraction from and threatened the quality of research. This was partly, but not entirely due to the inexperience of the editor. The technology behind encoding needs to reduce this time-load considerably if more scholars are to be encouraged to move into digital editing. The time has yet to come when scholars trained in critical literary skills or historical research can be expected to be at ease with the complexities and potentialities of digital technology. Researchers in the digital humanities are themselves still looking for ways to meet the demands of scholarly editions. The obvious need for such projects is team-work: two or more researchers, each with complimentary skills, working together, informing one another of the demands of both scholarship and technology.

One of the barriers to this kind of progress lies in the academic traditions of the Humanities. A long-standing assumption has been that a doctoral student, for instance, will work, not in a team as in some branches of Science, but as a single researcher: the finished dissertation will be the work of a single person. But in an age when both the resources and technology of research are changing fast, it seems proper to admit that projects in textual studies require a shift in such thinking. The way forward appears to be either to encourage undergraduate courses that combine literary and computing skills, or to encourage projects that allow persons with computing skills to team up with literary graduates so that the two disciplines can work and develop together. In the event of an examination, it would not be difficult to assess the contribution of each researcher to the final product.

One other caveat arises from this edition. Given the many possible ways of presenting this kind of research, it has been frustrating not to have a clearer idea of how the edition might be used. Relatively little work has been done on how the user approaches a textual edition on-line. Research such as that carried out at University College, London on online resources in the Arts and Humanities is but a beginning: ‘No systematic survey of digital resource usage in the humanities has ever been undertaken – and the factors for use and non-use of digital resources are unknown,’ say the researchers.91 So much energy and imagination goes into predicating user needs, yet so little research into outcomes. A better understanding of these seems imperative to both designers and editors. To realise the far-reaching educational implications of this point, one has only to look for example at a recent story in the The Economist : Rwanda's Education Ministry says that by 2012 it wants, 'every child in the country between the ages of nine and 12, 1.3m children in all, to have a laptop, each with an internet or intranet connection to download free educational software and electronic books'.92 A generation is emerging world-wide that presumes it will be well-served by scholarship on the web. Digital editors can't afford not to be aware of this responsibility.

To be particular about this edition, questions such as the following need answers: what are the user’s expectations for a site of a person’s correspondence? Do users read the letters through? How often or for what reason do they consult the annotation? Are the appendices useful? What does the user find perplexing or difficult in the texts? Would it be better to give links to other web sites than to provide so much annotation? Such questions pose a chicken and egg problem for the editor. It would be helpful to have answers to such questions before he starts, and yet he cannot ask the users until he has a site to test them on. Even so, more research on the user’s approach to such sites would greatly enhance the design and the kind of supplementary material provided. In the case of this edition it would bring scholarship closer to those interested and help place James Barry more directly in the multi-cultural context of the modern world.


I wish to acknowledge support from the Marie Curie Foundation for a Fellowship under the FP6 Marie Curie Transfer of Knowledge Development Scheme that made this research possible and to the Moore Institute for Research in the Humanities and Social Studies at the National University of Ireland in Galway which provided the necessary infrastructural support and intellectual environment where it could be brought to successful completion.

Université Paul Valéry, Montpellier