Barry's memorandum on Royal Academy meeting of 19 March 1799

Source: Letter to the Dilettanti Society, 2nd edn.(1799) in Fryer, Works of Barry, ii. 628-29.

Barry's account of what happened at the Royal Academy meeting on the evening of 19 March 1799 at which charges were laid against him for misconduct. He wrote the following memorandum on his return home that night.

The Minutes of the meeting record that John Wilton read out a letter of the charges against James Barry; he claimed Barry 'had in the Course of his Lectures to the Students, made improper Digressions. And he recommended to the Council, to investigate the same, - & on investigation, the Council referred that Letter, with the Evidence thereon, to a General Meeting of the Academicians; - And likewise the Letter "AdressedAddressed by James Barry Esq.r, Professor of Painting to the Royal Academy, to the Society of Dilettanti"' (RA GA 1797-1805f. 45-49).

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Memorandum, March 19, 1799. The letter of charges (or to use the writer's own phrase) Denunciation, was written by Mr. Wilton.1 The personal information was given by Messrs. Dance, Smirke, and Daniel;2 and Mr. Farrington Farington 3 produced the charges from the Letter to the Dilettanti Society. Mr. Wilton's charges were specified to be the professor's departure from the line of his duty, by making digressions, in which he abused some members of the Academy, both living and dead, and taught the students and encouraged them to a licentious disorderly behaviour (though without citing any instance as proof), very insubordinate and troublesome to him; and that the professor further charged the Academy with voting away, in pensions to themselves, a fund of sixteen thousand pounds, which should have been laid out for the students. Mr.Dance mentioned an abuse of the president (though without specifying what;) the others were general confirmations, except Mr. Farrington Farington , who descended to particulars, by producing the Letter to the Dilettanti Society. When I moved for a copy of the paper that had been read, containing the charges, Mr. Wyatt4 objected, on the pretence that it could not be copied out, that I ought not to expect the secretary5 to copy the whole Letter to the Dilettanti Society. I told him he ought, on an occasion like the present, to be ashamed of such chicanery, that I only required a copy of that paper of charges which had been just now read to the General Meeting, and that as no more was mentioned in that paper, than the mere words, the letter to the Dilettanti Society, so, no more could be required in the copy, and that even to save the secretary the trouble, I would instantly copy the whole paper out myself at another table, without interrrupting them, whilst they might proceed to terminate the matter in whatever way they chose; that I neither asked nor wished any favour or indulgence from them. Mr. Banks6 some little time after observed, with other matter, ridiculously malignant, that as I had said I would ask no favour from the meeting, so it was not necessary to give me any copy of that paper, and that the heads of it might be sufficient, if sent me at some future time. I told him the copy was not asked as a favour, but insisted upon as a right; that waving every thing else, I had claimed it as a British subject; and that if my opponents, my impudent accusers, would suffer me to be in possession of that paper, I would soon put an end to the business, by annexing to those charges, a complete copy of those passages in the lectures upon which the charges were grounded; and thereby save the Academy much trouble: but that to please him I would alter my manner, and now supplicate and entreat for the copy of this paper as a great favour done me, by furnishing the means of my extricating the character of the Academy from this business—to which I would not then give a name; that the Academy had formerly been in the habit of acting honourably, and that I hoped to see the day when it would do so again; and that I had a great personal respect for many of its members; however they might be influenced or intimidated by a combination.— Many of the members observed, that I ought to be allowed this copy; but Messrs.West,7 Wyatt, Burch,8 Farrington Farington , and others, insisted upon passing Mr. West's motion first, which was for the appointment of a committee of, I believe, eleven academicians to examine this business; and they accordingly proceeded to mark, and give in each, a list to that end; I was desired by the president and others, to make out a list, and give it in also, which I absolutely refused doing, telling them at the same time, that it was a matter of perfect indifference to me of whom the committee was composed, and that the Academy and not the Committee, should be attended to by me.—After the committee was appointed, I retired to the other table, where I wrote down the following motion, which I then read to them, viz.

The motion of Mr. Barry made in the beginning of the evening, and which was seconded by Mr. Russell,9 he now makes again, viz.—That the papers which were read, containing the charges, &c. against the Professor of Painting, be ordered to be copied out by the secretary, or that Mr. Barry be permitted to copy them himself, for the use of the professor, who may thereby be furnished with a just opportunity of refuting or admitting them. But this was again refused me, and Mr. Russell said, he would not now second any motion for my obtaining any more than the heads of the charges, which might be sent to me at any time, (garbled I suppose, as the committee should find convenient). I then, as it was past eleven, wished them a good night, telling them, that it was not a little astonishing, that the cabal, after so many weeks plotting, and preparation of those charges, should require any more consultation, and be still afraid of their being brought into day-light, by suffering them to come into my hands, and that there was something very sinister, clandestine, and ungentlemanly in agitating the matter for so long a time, without making me acquainted with a single iota of the particulars, until I had heard them at the meeting on that night. I then left them sitting.