Letter from EDMUND BURKE to JAMES BARRY, written 9 July 1774, at London.

Source: Fryer, Works of Barry, i. 231-32; also Burke, Correspondence, iii. 4-5.

Barry had done a portrait of Edmund Burke shortly after returning from Italy in 1771. [img] Now Burke's friend and physician Dr. Richard Brocklesby had commissioned Barry to paint a portrait of Burke. 1 Although Barry much preferred working on historical pictures, he had exhibited portraits at the Royal Academy exhibition in 1773 of Dr. Christopher Nugent (1698-1775), [img] Burke's father-in-law, and of Giuseppe Baretti (1719-89), Italian critic and friend of Burke. [img] Barry had long delayed making a start on this portrait, perhaps, as Fryer suggests, because of 'the extreme intimacy of the Burkes with Sir J. Reynolds, which led him to suppose that those friends overlooked his merits to aggrandize Sir Joshua's' (Fryer, Works of Barry, i. 230); at this time Sir Joshua Reynolds, President of the Royal Academy, was working on a portrait of Burke for Mrs. Hester Thrale.

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Sir,

I ought to apologise to you for the liberty I have presumed to take of troubling you with what I find an unseasonable visit. I humbly beg your pardon for the intrusion. My apology is this: My worthy friend Dr. Brocklesby, who has honoured me so much as to desire my picture, and wished to have it painted by you, complained to me yesterday, that he has been two years desiring it without effect. I should be very insensible of this mark of his attention, and very undeserving of it, if I had not endeavoured, as far as in me lay, to obey his obliging commands. I have therefore several times, almost in every week since he first spoke to me (except about two months when I was wholly in the country, without coming to town at all), presented myself to you, that if you were not better engaged, I might sit to you. You have always been so much employed that you have required a day's previous notice of my intention, and for that reason declined to paint the picture at the times which suited me. It has been very unfortunate to me that my time too is so irregularly occupied, that I can never with certainty tell beforehand when I shall be disengaged.2 No man can be more sensible of the insignificance of my occupations, but to me they are of some importance, and the times of them certainly very irregular. I came to town3 upon very pressing business at four on Thursday evening; yesterday I had some hours upon my hands; I waited upon you; but I found improperly.4 Contrary to my expectation a gentleman who was to go out of town with me this morning, delays till half an hour after four o'clock; this gave me near five hours to dispose of, and which I was willing to give to my friend's wishes. I waited on you exactly at half an hour after eleven, and had the pleasure of finding you at home; but as usual, so employed as not to permit you to undertake this disagreeable business. I have troubled you with this letter, as I think it necessary to make an excuse for so frequent and importunate intrusions. Much as it might flatter my vanity to be painted by so eminent an artist, I assure you that, knowing I had no title to that honour, it was only in compliance with the desire (often repeated) of our common friend, that I have been so troublesome. You, who know the value of friendship, and the duties of it, I dare say, will have the goodness to excuse me on that plea. On no other should I deserve it, for intruding on you at other times than those you should please to order. Nobody, I flatter myself, regards that time more; or pays, and has always paid, a more sincere (though a very unlearned) homage to your great talents and acquirements. I must once more repeat my apology, hoping to obtain your pardon on the usual plea of not committing the same fault again. I am, with the greatest respect and esteem, sir,

Your most obedient,
And most faithful humble servant,

Edmund Burke.

Saturday July 9, 1774.