Letter from JAMES BARRY to R.J.L., written 11 May 1783, at London

Source: Fryer, Works of Barry, i. 268-70.

Barry here replies to a letter he received from a critic who had visited his paintings in the Great Room of the Society of Arts and who had signed himself R.J.L. (R.J.L. to Barry, ante 11 May 1783): the person has not been identified.

Fryer heads this letter, 'For R.J.L. at the Cocoa-Tree, Pall-Mall'.1

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London May 11, 1783.


I think myself much honoured by the attention you have bestowed on my opinions and works in the long and very ingenious letter I received last night; and if my opinion of it be of any consequence with you, I will frankly confess, as a piece of general reasoning, it is on the whole skilfully and ingeniously managed; though perhaps it is not very happily calculated to answer the particular purposes it professes to intend. My opinion of the several members or parts of it is various; some I like very much, some very little. In the introduction I have to thank you for some civilities,2 and in your third and fourth pages, it gave me no small pleasure to see opinions which I have so long entertained, so very accurately and forcibly expressed, though I was much to seek3 for any direct reasons, why they should have been stated with so much formality to me; and I am fully persuaded it would be found necessary to state them very differently, if it was your intention to set your name at the bottom instead of the anonymous signature of R. J. L. In some of the subsequent pages I think you are much mistaken, and in others, (permit me to say without offence) you appear to want candour, or at least to lie under some unhappy prepossessions and prejudices, which warp and mislead your judgement to a very great degree.

There are many reasons which at present induce me to decline stating the particulars I wish to discuss with you: one is, that it would take up too much time, and I do not love writing, especially to an anonymous correspondent. But whoever you are,4 if you will favour me with a meeting, I shall take it kindly, and we will talk over these matters to what extent you please. Do not deny me this pleasure; there is something about you that might be of much advantage to me, and which amicable conversation only could extract. My great and indeed only object is, to weed out whatever faults, and to possess whatever excellence I can. I see plainly you might assist me in it, and therefore you ought to do it; and if I shall not be able to make you any suitable returns for your attention and trouble, it will not be from the want of inclination and endeavours to attempt it. But if unhappily you should refuse me the pleasure of conversing with you, yet at least continue your observations, as well on my pictures as on my opinions;*5 throw aside all intention of unnecessary controversy, and endeavour to make your remarks more immediately pertinent and adapted to supply the deficiencies of my performance. I shall adopt whatever brings conviction with it; and though I may make no use of the rest, yet from the specimen you have already given, I propose to myself no small pleasure in the perusal.

James Barry