Dr. Nugent's Poem on Three Barry Paintings

Source: Morning Post and Daily Advertiser, Tuesday, September 16, 1777.

Dr. Christopher Nugent (1698-1775),1 father-in-law of Edmund Burke, had been a close friend and admirer of Barry who had painted a portrait of him. [img].

The poem centres on Barry's three paintings exhibited in the Academy in 1772, Medea making her lamentation after the death of her children (stanza 1), Venus rising from the sea (stanza 2) [img], and Education of Achilles (stanza 3) [img].

The writer of the letter to the Morning Post, 'M.', has not been identified.

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THE following verses dropt into my hands, I know not by what accident. They were written by the late excellent and learned Dr. Nugent, (father-in-law to Mr. Burke) in the 64th year of his age.2 A vigour and boldness of thought runs through them more suitable to the subject they celebrate than the advanced years of the writer. I know not what prevented their publication whilst the venerable author lived, and for so considerable a time after his death. Perhaps if we may be allowed to conjecture, that modesty which always accompanies true merit, stifled them in the hands of the ingenious gentleman to whom they are addressed. He was unwilling probably to employ the means which most gentlemen at the heads of professions do not disdain to use, - of climbing, - and wishes to ascend by his real excellency in the art. Hence his unwillingness to send this honourable testimony of his learning, talents, and I may venture to add integrity into the world. But, Sir, in proportion as merit withdraws itself from the notice of the world, honest men should exert themselves in bringing it forward even in despite of itself. This, Sir, I acknowledge to be my motive for sending you Dr. Nugent's verses. The juvenile performances of the ablest artist in England are the sources from which this venerable prophet draws his inspiration, and had Homer himself written an eulogium upon him, the praises of the poet would not transcend the excellency of his subject.


To Mr. Barry, on his Medea in her incantations, after she had murdered her children;3 and some of his other pieces.

THE frantic sorceress spread in dreadful mood,
The furies gorging with her children's blood,
The gory goblet, baleful fires, each rite,
Involved and redding in unhallowed light.
Infernal scene! yet here what beauty glows,
What contrasts, what proportions, what repose!

See new-born Venus once in Greece essayed,
But now by thy creative hand displayed,
Uprising here, triumphant, heavenly frame!
Aetherial, elegant, in charms supreme
As Ida's princely shepherd erst reveal'd
When three contending goddesses appeal'd.

You've shewn her thus. All nature round her plays,
Joyous, elate, and earliest homage pays.
When young Achilles peaceful strikes the lyre,
Can Envy's self behold and not admire;
Or Chiron, scientific, great, serene,
Rough heroes harmonizing into men.

Above low tinsel aids, the art you raise
To its old dignity in Leo's days.
In thy deep lore soft tints and flowing line,
With Angelo and Rafael Titian joins
In happy union. These assert thy claim,
To praise still merited, and long descending fame.