Letter from EDMUND and WILLIAM BURKE to JAMES BARRY, written ante 19 February 1767 , at London

Source: MS F.W.Hilles, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale. Printed: Fryer, Works of Barry, i. 86-90; Burke, Correspondence, i. 292-95.

Addressed: A Monsieur
Monsieur Barry.
Gentilhomme Anglois
au Caffee Anglois
A Rome

The letter is undated; it was written after William had left his government post in February and before Richard Burke Snr broke his leg on about 20 February, a misfortune the Burkes would probably have mentioned to Barry. The letter is in Edmund Burke's hand, except for the last paragraph which is by William Burke. Fryer gives 'London' as the address at the top of the letter, but this is not in the MS. Edmund Burke mentions this letter when he writes to Barry on 26 April 1767.

Full display

My dear Barry,

I am greatly in arrear to you on account of correspondence; but not, I assure you, on account of regard, Esteem, & most sincere good Wishes. My mind followed you to Paris, through your Alpine Journey, & to Rome. You are an admirable Painter with your Pen, as well as with your Pencil; & Every one to whom I shewd shewed your Letters, felt an interest in your little adventures, as well as a satisfaction in your descriptions; because there is not only a Taste, but a feeling in what you observe; […] [gap in transcription (illegible), words: 1] something that shews shows you have an heart; & I would have you by all means keep it. I thank you for Alexander;1 Reynolds2 sets an high esteem on it; he thinks it admirably drawn,& with great spirit. He had it at his house for some time, & returned it in a very fine frame; & it at present makes a capital ornament of our little Dining Room between the two Doors. At Rome, you are, I suppose, even still so much agitated by the Profusion of fine things on every side of you, that you have hardly had time to sit down to methodical & regular study; when you do, you will certainly select the best parts of the best things, & attach yourself to them wholly. You whose Letter would be the best direction in the world to any young Painter, want none yourself from me, who know little of the matter. But as you were always indulgent enough to bear my humour under the Name of advice,3 you will permit me now, my dr Barry, once more to wish you, for the presentin the beginningin the beginning at least, to contract the circle of your Studies; The extent & rapidity of your mind carries you to too great a diversity of things; & to the completion of a whole, before you are quite master of the parts in a degree equal to the Dignity of your Ideas. This disposition arises from a generous impatience, which is a fault almost Characteristic of great Genius.4 But it is a fault nevertheless; & one which I am sure you will correct, when you consider, that there is a great deal of mechanic in your Profession, in which however the distinctive part of the Art consists, & without which the finest Ideas can only make a good Critic, not a painter. I confess I am not much desirous of your composing many pieces, for some time at least. Composition (though by some people placed formost foremost in the list of the ingredients of an Artist,) I do not value near so highly. I know none, who attempts, that does not succeed tolerably in that part. but But that exquisite masterly drawing,5 which is the glory of the great school where you are, has fallen to the lot of very few; Perhaps perhaps to none of the present age in its highest perfection. If I were to indulge a conjecture, I should attribute all that is called greatness of stile style & manner in drawing, to this exact knowlege 6 of the parts of the human body, of Anatomy, & perspective. For by knowing exactly & habitually, without the Labour of particular & occasional thinking, what was to be done in every figure they designed, they naturally attained a freedom & spirit of outline; because they could be daring without being absurd. Whereas ignorance, if it be cautious, is poor & timid. if If bold, it is only blindly presumptuous. This minute & thorough knowlege of Anatomy & practical as well as theoretical perspective, by which I mean to include foreshortening,7 is all the Effect of Labour & use in particular Studies, & not in general compositions. Notwithstanding your natural repugnance to handling of Carcasses, you ought to make the knife go with the pencil, & study Anatomy in real, &, if you can, in frequent dissections. You know that a man, who despises as you do, the minutiae of the Art, is bound to be quite perfect in the noblest part of all; or he is nothing.8 Mediocrity is tolerable in middling things; not at all in the great. In the Course of the studies I speak of, it would be not amiss to paint pourtraits portraits often & diligently; This this I do not say, as wishing you to turn your Studies to Pourtrait Painting.9 quite Quite otherwise; but because many things in the human face will certainly escape you witht without some intermixture of that kind of Study.10 Well! I think I have said enough, to try your humility on this Subject. But I am thus troublesome, from a sincere anxiety for your success. I think you a man of honour; & of Genius; & I would not have […] [gap in transcription (illegible), words: 1] your Talentsyour Talents lost to yourself, your friends, or your Country, by any means. You will then attribute my freedom to my sollicitude11 about you; & my sollicitude to my friendship. Be so good to continue your Letters & observations as usual. They are exceedingly grateful to us all; & we keep them by us. Since I saw you, I spent three months in Ireland. I had the pleasure of seeing Sleigh12 but for a day or two. We talked a deal about you, & he loves & esteems you extremely. I saw nothing, in the way of your Art, there, which promised much. Those who seemed most forward in Dublin, when we were there, are not at all advanced, & seem to have little ambition.13 Here they are as you left them; Reynolds, every now & then striking out some wonder. Barrett.14 is fallen into the painting of Views; It it is the most called for & the most lucrative part of his Business. He is a wonderful observor15 of the accidents of Nature, & produces every day something new from that Scource source & indeed is on the whole a delightful Painter, & possessed of great rescourses resources . But I do not think he gets forward as much as his Genius would entitle him to; as he is so far from studying, that he does not even look at the Pictures of any of the great masters, either Italians or Dutch.16 A man never can have any point of pride that is not pernicious to him. He loves you & always enquires for you. He is now on a Night Piece, which is indeed noble in the conception & in the execution of the very first merit.17 When I say he does not improve, I do not mean to say that he is not the first we have in that way; but that his Capacity ought to have carried him to equal any that ever painted Landscape.

I have given you some account of your friends among the Painters here. now Now I will say a word of ourselves. The Change of the ministry18 you know was pleasing to none of our houshold19. Their measures since pursued both with regard to men & things have been so additionally disagreeable, that I did not think myself free to accept any thing under this administration nor did your friend Will20 think it proper to hold even the place he had. He has therefore, with the Spirit you know to belong to him, resigned his Employment. But I thank God, we want, in our New situation, neither friends, nor a reasonable Share of Credit. It will be a pleasure to you to hear, that, if we are out of play, others of your friends are in. Macleane21 is under-Secretary in Lord Shelburnes Office; & there is no Doubt but he will be, as he deserves, well patronised there.

I have22 my dear Barry little to add, I am willing enough to subscribe to Ned23 at most times, I never can do it more to my hearts content than in his regards for you. I know your regards for him will prevent your being offended at the Liberty he has taken of advising you in your own art, the sanguine wishes for your excelling have drove him to it, and there is to a man totally unskilled such apparent good Sense that I cannot persuade myself that the man of real knowledge can be offended with them. As to our private affairs Ned has told you that I am no longer in Office, it so happened, that consistent with proprietys I could not continue, and I thank God that my affairs24 are in that situation that I had no temptation from fear, to be backward in doing what I ought, I just mention this lest your friendship might induce you to be alarmed unnecessarily. Mrs B the Dicks & the doctor25 are all well let well. Let us hear from you soon

ADieu26