Letter from EDMUND BURKE to JAMES BARRY, written 15 January 1775, at Broad Sanctuary, London

Source: Fitzwilliam MS, Wentworth Woodhouse Manuscripts, Sheffield City Libraries. Printed: Fryer, Works of Barry, i. 249-50; Burke, Correspondence, iii. 99-100.

The editor of the Burke, Correspondence prefers Fryer's text to the MS as "more authoritative'. Although the MS is not in Burke's hand, which suggests it is a copy or the result of dictation, it corresponds so closely to Fryer's version that it is probably the MS he worked from.

The MS text is preferred for the present edition because Fryer's text shows minor changes to punctuation, capitals and spelling. Changes to the wording are neither numerous nor substantial, serving only to improve the expression. These changes by Fryer are recorded in the notes.

Barry had sent Burke an advance copy of his An Inquiry into the Real and Imaginary Obstructions to the Acquisition of the Arts in England; the book was published on 19 January 1775. Fryer gives the text in Works of Barry, ii. 167-299.

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Mr Burke presents his Comp: Compliments to Mr Barry & is extremely obliged to him for the honour he has done him in his early communication of his most ingenious performance on painting; from several parts of which he has received no small pleasure and instruction. There are throughout the whole many fine thoughts and observations, very well conceived and very powerfully & elegantly expressed, they would however have appeared with still greater advantage if Mr Barry had attended to the Methodical distribution of his subject, & to the rules of composition with the same care with which he has studied and finish'd several of the particular Members of his work.1

According to the natural order it is evident that what is now the 13th chapter ought to follow immediately after the 8th2 & the 9th to succeed to what is now the 18.3 The Subject of religion wh which is resumed in the 19th Chapter ought more naturally to follow or to make a part of the ninth where indeed it is far better (indeed perfectly well) handled;4 & where in Mr Burkes poor opinion as much as is said upon y e the subject as it could reasonably bear. The matter in that last Chapter is not quitequite so well digested, nor quite so temperately handled as in the former & Mr Burke fears will not give the satisfaction, to whichwhich the Public will receive from the rest. There are a few parts which Mr Burke could not have understood, if he had not been previously acquainted by some Gentlemen to whom Mr Barry had previously explained them, that they are allusions to certain matters agitated among artists, & satires upon some of them. With regard to the justice or injustice of these strictures (of which there are several 5) Mr Burke can form no opinion, as he has little or no knowledge of the art he can be no judge of yeye emulations and disputtes disputes of its professors;6 these parts may therefore be very useful for aught he knows bebe very grateful & possibly useful to the several parties which subsist (if any do subsist) among themselves; but he apprehends they will not be equally pleasing to the world at large which desires to be rather entertaind entertained by their works7 than troubled with their contentions. Whatever merit there may be in these8 reflections the style of that part which most abounds with them is by no means so lively, elegant, clear or liberal as the rest.

Mr Burke hopes for Mr Barry's obliging & friendly indulgence for his apology for the liberty he has taken in laying before him what seem'd to him less perfect in a work which in general he admires & is persuaded the world will admire very highly.9 Mr Barry knows that objections even from the meanest judges may sometimes be of use to the best writers10 & certainly such little criticisms may be of service in11 future occasions, if Mr Barry should continue to oblige the public12 with further publications on this or any other subject (as there are few to which he is notnot very equal) & should turn his talents from the practice to the theory, and controverted questions of this pleasing art. -

Broad Sanctuary Sunday 13 Jan.r January 15 1775.