Letter from EDMUND BURKE to JAMES BARRY , written 15 September 1769, at Gregories

Source: MS Don C 56, fol.1099-111v, Bodleian Library, Oxford. Printed: Fryer, Works of Barry, i. 154-57; Burke, Correspondence, ii. 81-83. Addressed: A/ Monsieur/ Monsieur Barry/ au Caffée Angloise/ Roma.

Burke, conscious of his lapse in corresponding with Barry, now writes frankly and with concern to Barry about his quarrels with picture-dealers and artists in Rome that Barry had voiced in his letter of 8 July 1769.

The letter was probably posted along with one by Burke's father-in-law Christopher Nugent (1698-1775).

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MY dear Barry,

I am most exceedingly obliged to your friendship and partiality, which attributed a Silence very blameable on our parts to a favourable Cause: Let me add in some measure to its true Cause; a great deal of occupation of various sorts, and some of them disagreeable enough.1 As to any reports concerning your Conduct and Behaviour, you may be very sure, they could have no kind of influence here; For none of us are of such a make, as to trust to any ones report, of the Character of a person whom we ourselves know. Until very lately, I had never heard any thing of your proceedings from others: and when I did, it was much less than I had known from yourself - that you had been upon ill Terms with the Artists and Virtuosi2 in Rome, without much mention of Cause or consequence. If you have improved these unfortunate Quarrels to your advancement in your Art, you have turned a very disagreeable Circumstance to a very Capital advantage. However you may have succeeded in this uncommon attempt, permit me to suggest to you, with that friendly Liberty which you have always had the goodness to bear from me, that you cannot possibly have always the same success, either with regard to your fortune or your Reputation. Depend upon it, that you will find the same competitions, the same jealousies, the same Arts and Cabals, the emulations of interest and of Fame, and the same Agitations and passions here that you have experienced in Italy; and if they have the same effect on your Temper, they will have just the same Effects on your Interest: and be your merit what it will, you will never be employd employed to paint a picture. It will be the same at London as at Rome; and the same in Paris as in London; for the world is pretty nearly alike in all its parts. Nay though it would perhaps be a little inconvenient to me, I had a thousand times rather you should fix your Residence in Rome than here, as I should not then have the mortification of seeing with my own Eyes, a Genius of the first Rank, lost to the world, himself, and his friends - as I certainly must; if you do not assume a manner of acting and thinking here totally different from what your Letters from Rome have described to me. That you have had just subjects of indignation always, and of anger often, I do no ways doubt; who can live in the world without some trials of his Patience? But believe me, my dear Barry, that the arms with which the ill dispositions of the world are to be combated and the qualitys qualities by which it is to be reconciled to us, and we reconciled to it, are moderation, gentleness, a little indulgence to others, and a great deal of distrust of ourselves; which are not qualities of a mean Spirit, as some may possibly think them; but virtues of a great and noble kind, and such as dignifye dignify our Nature, as much as they contribute to our repose and fortune; for nothing can be so unworthy of a well composed Soul, as to pass away Life in bickerings and Litigations: in snarling, and scuffling with every one about us. Again, and again, Dear Barry, we must be at peace with our Species; if not for their sakes, yet very much for [our] own. Think what my feelings must be, from my unfeigned regard to you, and from my wishes that your Talents might be of use, when I see what the inevitable consequences must be, of your persevering in what has hitherto been your Course ever since I knew you, and which you will permit me to trace out to you beforehand. You will come here; you will observe what the Artists are doing, and you will sometimes speak a disapprobation in plain words, and sometimes in a no less expressive Silence. By degrees you will produce some of your own works. They will be variously criticised; you will defend them; you will abuse those, who have attacked you; Expostulations, discussions, Letters, possibly challenges, will go forward, you will shun your Brethren, they will shun you - In the meantime Gentlemen will avoid your friendship for fear of being engaged in your Quarrels, you will fall into distresses, which will only aggravate your disposition for further quarrels; you will be obliged for maintenance to do any thing for any body, your very Talents will depart for want of hope and encouragement and you will go out of the world fretted, disappointed, and ruined. Nothing but my real regard for you could induce me to set these considerations in this Light before you. Remember we are born to serve, or to adorn our Country and not to contend with our fellow Citizens: and that in particular, your Business is to paint and not to dispute.

What you mention about heads, hands, feet, &c. I think is very right; you cannot to be sure do without them; and you had better purchase them at Rome than here; as usual you will draw for the Charge.3 If you think this a proper time to leave Rome, (a matter which I leave entirely to yourself) I am quite of opinion you ought to go to Venice. Farther I think it right to see Florence, and Bologna, and that you cannot do better than to take that Route to Venice. In short, do every thing that may contribute to your improvement, and I shall rejoice to see you what Providence intended you a very great man. This you were in your Ideas before you quitted this.4 You best know how far you have studied, that is, practised the Mechanic; despised nothing till you had tried it; practised dissections with your own hands;5 painted from Nature as well as from the statues, and pourtrait 6as well as History, and this frequently. If you have done all this as I trust you have you want nothing but a little prudence to fulfil all our Wishes. This let me tell you is no small matter; for it is impossible for you to find any persons any where more truly interested for you; to these dispositions attribute every thing which may be a little harsh in this Letter. We are thank God, all well and all most truly and sincerely yours. I seldom write so long a Letter take this as a sort of proof how much I am Dear Barry

Your faithful friend
and humble Servant

EdmEdmund Burke.

Gregories Septr September15. 1769.

Direct as usual.