August 4th 1799
It should seem, as if I were never more to be permitted the satisfaction, the so much sought for and heart easing enjoyment of sitting down peaceably to my work, to the prosecution and termination of my Milton, 1 which, though so far advanced, has been, notwithstanding, unfortunately turned to the wall, with every melancholy appearance of abandonment and neglect. It is now some years since I had very indiscreetly permitted a considerable part of that matter to be seen, and to take wind, and even some of the etchings of this work to get out of my hands; and although I am not much afraid of being forestalled in the main parts of the sum total of my views, yet it is not without some resentment and indignation, that, whilst the field is left open, and trampled by so many others, I unfortunately have the mortification of feeling myself cruelly bound, tied up from it, and obliged to devote my whole time and attention to the never ending pursuit and detection of the frauds and multiplied impostures, by which, in one shape or other, both my reputation and interest have been continually subverted for so many years. I had hoped, that, after the late publication of the second edition of my letter to the Dilettanti Society, with the Appendix, 2 that no well-meaning person could any longer be duped and deceived respecting me, by the tricking, --.-- of a combination and cabal, which, though so impudent and shameless, and now become so notorious, even by the very (what shall I call it) --- practised upon the King himself, in order to obtain His Royal Signature3 to their own ill-founded, incomplete, disorderly, outrageous act of an unjustifiable, actual --- practised upon me, no less disgraceful in its relation to academical and national art, than ---, unconstitutional, and of the most evil example, as respecting all other Societies in the kingdom. After the publication of that second edition, with the Appendix, I congratulated myself, as thenceforward relieved from all further occasion of scribbling about the cabal, and as now enabled to sit down at ease to my own proper work, protected and reinstated by His Majesty's justice and goodness, and even with some gracious acknowledgment of approbation for my honest, zealous endeavours and perseverance, in struggling through so many vexatious and trying difficulties, in the hope of rendering some service towards the completion of that institution, which His Majesty had established and honoured with his countenance4 and continued protection: service both as to the nutricious nutritious aliment so essentially necessary for the increase and vigour of that establishment, and to the medication and cure of whatever mischievous, infectious tendencies, might disfigure or impede its growth, and bring on that speedy mortality, ruin, and disgrace, which had been so fatal to all preceding similar establishments in the other countries of Europe; and I had no small satisfaction in thinking, that the merits of my poor endeavours would be most graciously considered, more on account of their disinterestedness, almost unusual singularity, and the perilous surrounding circumstances, than on the account of the mere magnitude of whatever little good they have been providentially enabled to effect. With these cheering and seemingly well-founded hopes in prospect, you may judge of my disappointment and chagrin yesterday, on hearing for the third time, and from a quarter which now excludes all doubt, that the --- and --- organised combination and cabal, are still at their dirty work of darkness and deception; and that His Majesty has been persuaded, that the Supplement to Pilkington's Dictionary of Painters was written by me,5 and that I am consequently accountable for what is there said of His Majesty in page 825. Had I known of this sooner, it might have been placed amongst the other impudent lying impostures, of which I had so much reason to complain in that beforementioned Appendix to the second edition of my Letter to the Dilettanti Society; but, however, I am very thankful, and full of gratitude to those, who have been so humane as to have communicated to me even now, as perhaps it is not yet too late to annul an unbecoming act of precipitate disorder; indeed there is no time can be too late for a subject to obtain justice and redress from His Sovereign, and it furnishes occasion for my requesting your kind and friendly advice (of which I well know the great value and weight) respecting some mode which might be speedily adopted for the undeceiving of His Majesty, by humbly informing him that I had no participation, or knowledge whatever, either in the devising or writing any thing contained in that Supplement to Pilkington's Dictionary , until, in common with all His Majesty's other subjects, I saw it after its publication; and when I had so much reason to complain of the unfair manner of their proceeding with me, in witholding the publication of my Letter to the Dilettanti Society, and in the parts garbled, or rather forestalled, from that Letter for the conclusion of the Dictionary, long before they had printed the entire Letter, and consequently long before I had any opportunity of making that use of it for which the Letter had been written. My agreement with the Bookseller was, that the Letter to the Dilettanti Society should be first published, in octavo, in order to bind up with my other writings; and that it should come out a good while before he made any use of any part of it in his Dictionary; and that he was to furnish me with one hundred copies of it, which might be distributed as an original and entire, be sent to the King through the Dilettanti Society, and to whomsoever else might be likely to further the views of that Latter; and that then, and then only, the bookseller should be at liberty to make any use he chose of the whole, or any part of it, in his quarto edition of Pilkington's Dictionary, or in any thing else. This Letter to the Dilettanti Society was, notwithstanding, printed in quarto, and not in octavo, and at their request I was induced to consent to it as a matter, which, besides obliging them, wou'd would also facilitate my views of the more speedy publication and circulating the one hundred copies of the Letter before the Dictionary should appear; but in this also I was disappointed; the Dictionary, with a part of the Letter, inserted as if it had been, the whole, came out on the 1st of January, long before the entire Letter was printed, and which I then thought would never be printed; and accordingly, the 8th of the same month of January, when my first lecture was read in the Academy6 I made use of that occasion to complain of their proceeding with me, and part of what I then read may be found in the note on page 73 7 of the quarto edition of the Letter to the Dilettanti, although, from motives of delicacy to the bookseller that note finishes with the words, 'necessary caustic remedies,' omitting what followed immediately after in the next paragraph, which, however, I shall now insert here, as it stood interwoven with the Lecture, for perspicuity, beginning twelve lines higher than where it terminates in the note. 'Speaking to the Students, I have, however, one hope yet remaining from a matter which is now in the press, where I have brought together every thing that occurred to me, as likely to induce His Majesty graciously to extricate the Academy from this vexatious dilemma, which it is in his power to do, with much ease, no expence, and great glory both to himself and the nation. It is a Letter to the Dilettanti Society, respecting the obtention of certain matters essentially necessary for the improvement of public taste, and for accomplishing the original views of the Royal Academy of Great Britain; leaving to the wisdom and direction of the Dilettanti Society the proper mode of forwarding it to the King; and as I had no personal end of interest, and nothing in view but your necessary service and advancement, the representation of the Academy, and the ultimate glory of the King and country, I have allowed myself all the latitude of that manly and free discussion the nature of the case so pressingly required. Adulation could be of no use with either the King or the Public; there has been already but too much of it, by which both have been grievously abused and misled. The friendly Physician, who aims to do good and to save, will, in many cases, feel himself obliged to withold mollients, until they can be safely indulged, after the gangrene has been done away by the necessary caustic remedies. This Letter to the Dilettanti Society ought to have been published some months since , ; what has delayed it in the press I cannot say with absolute certainty; but although (as it concerns others more than myself) I did not think it right, from what I had already experienced, to entrust all the manuscript at once with the Printer; yet the press has never waited for me, as I have punctually fed it sheet by sheet, as the printing went on, and it is now more than a month since they have suspended the printing of the sheet which is in their hands. I shall take occasion, in the subsequent discourses, to read some passages from the Letter, and I have no hesitation to affirm, that when it is seen altogether, and not piecemeal, but that it will be sufficiently apparent, that the sincere, honest discharge of duty to the King and country, to the Academy and the Pupils, has been the sole motive by which I have been actuated.' - This was read in the Academy on Monday, January 8, although, by a mistake of the press, it is set down in the printed note on page 73 of the quarto edition, and page 181 of the octavo edition of that Letter, as read on Jan. 1. A fortnight after, viz. on the 24th of January, the following passage was inserted and read in my third Lecture on Design: 'The impediments which have interrupted the printing of that Letter addressed to the Dilettanti Society, which I hoped would have been published some months since, have, besides other vexatious disappointments, prevented me from making such arrangements in this and some other of my discourses here, as would have been more agreeable to my own wishes, and more calculated to contribute to your satisfaction. However, let us not lose our patience, but endeavour to accommodate ourselves in the best manner we can to the untoward circumstances in which we are placed: accordingly I shall now read to you something respecting Leonardo da Vinci, from that part of the letter which is printed page 43, &c.'
From this simple and true statement, it is very apparent that I had nothing to do, in any way whatever, with thatDictionary of Painters, or its Supplement, which were already printed and published on the 1st of January, and consequently had no participation in any thing which could have been offensive to His Majesty; and I can, and I do now assure His Majesty, and all the world, that I never wrote a line in my life where the character of any great personage, or indeed of any man, great or little, could have been in the least concerned, either directly or by implication, to which I would not set my name at the end, and even at the beginning, if it were required of me. No, no, that base, perfidious, anonymous procedure would ill become me, I leave it for my --- opponents, for that ---- combination that nothing could ---; I leave such procedures for those ---, --- , the convenient tools and instruments of influence for the --- purposes, public or private, who are ready to further the views of any one who will or can countenance and patronise their workshops for the small-ware of art, so happily calculated to engage the attention of whatever giddiness, flippancy and impertinence, male and female, which is continually floating about the metropolis, and which, with a little ingenious contrivance, may be very conveniently hooked in to disseminate any thing. But there has been more than enough of this already; I hope to have now done with it for ever. Let it then suffice to say, once for all, that I never wrote, or intended to write, any thing which ought to give, or which could give offence to His Majesty. My aim, Heaven knows, has been all along quite otherwise; and from the time I first humbly offered myself to his notice, in the Dedication of my Inquiry, or Apology for the Climate and Capacity of our Artists, printed in 1775 8 to this day, I have never lost sight of His Majesty in my little schemes for the advancement of National Art; and had not others unhappily diverted his Royal attention from me, the reputation of the country, in matters of art would perhaps not have been the worse for it at this day. If I might be permitted to say it, there seem to be some circumstances in His Majesty's personal character, and in the capabilities of the time and country, which were happily calculated for great and successful efforts; efforts that might securely stand in the view of our proudest continental neighbours, with all their great advantages; perhaps it may yet not be too late, at least I have never yet despaired. O let us have but a right direction of our forces! Let us, Jupiter,9 have light, you have given to our Ajacidae 10 all the rest.
I have not as yet had time to leave for my Lord the Marquis of Lansdown 11 the last edition of my Letter to the Dilettanti; 'tis a hard matter to be obliged to do, or at least to be in a habit of doing, every thing one's self, even to the carrying of a book; but I know it will give pleasure to a man of the Marquis's clear and comprehensive mind, to reflect a little upon that extract in the Appendix, quoted from my Lecture on Chiaro Scuro, respecting the absurd, mischievous and disgraceful interference of our Architects, in matters which ought to be left to the graceful, more intellectual, really interesting management of a higher sphere of Artists.12 The Marquis's great weight and consideration in the country might be a happy means of discrediting and arresting the further progress of this worse than Barbarian usage; the wise example he has shewn in stopping, after the first and very expensive essay of it in one of the rooms in his own house, ought to be a serviceable warning to others, and does great honour to his Lordship's judgment and taste. Nothing can exceed the giddiness and absurdity of endeavouring to renovate, or to introduce here, this quintessence of the declining bad taste of Rome under the Emperors, and which was so heartily reprobated by Vitruvius13 on its first appearance. We must be equally shocked at such a want of every graceful consideration, whether we reflect upon the great sums expended in bedizening our walls and ceilings with this impertinent frippery, or whether we reflect upon the real and important satisfaction we are deprived of by the misuse and loss of so much space, in situations so very domestic, and consequently the least portion of which is so very interesting. Good God! what utility or pleasure can be derived; what hints or direction, either to reflection or conversation, can result either to ourselves, our families, or our guests, from these chaotified spaces which surround us, multifariously perplexed and disfigured as they are; just as if so many wretched slugs had crawled out of different pots of the several colours, and smutted and sullied all by their confounded traverses in every direction?
As the usage of sound and good taste in matters of art can have no manner of concern with party politics, but is equally interesting and important to wise men of every description, I hope it may, without offence, be permitted me to recommend the consideration and reconsideration of these matters respecting the internal decorations of public buildings to the Hon. Honourable Committees who may be appointed to supervise them; and whether it would not be for the general advantage, both as to the saving of expence and reputation, to pay, and to get rid of the architect as soon as he has completed his part, and to employ such painters as may be adequate to the occasion, not only for the fine subject matter which might be employed at the India House,14 in the City of London, and in those very extensive as well as expensive public buildings lately erected in the capital of a sister kingdom, 15 and indeed in every other place where the empire might and ought to derive all possible credit and eclat from what is done. Alas! these occasions and situations were formerly well disposed of; and to judge by the celebrity derived from the manly efforts of great artists on the Continent during the three last centuries, and at so small an expence, what might not be expected with the superior, more pertinent information of the 18th and 19th centuries, amongst an opulent people, and in the hands of a great artist who is able to wield it? and as for any other, any servile minion, whom insidious patronage might thrust forward on such occasions, the inglorious consequences may easily be foreseen. But as this letter is getting too long, and may trespass too much on the time of ---, I shall here conclude it by, I fear, another trespass, equally if not more inexcusable, by a very ardent wish, that he would take some trouble, by one mode of application or other, to fling in the way of those Hon. Honourable Committees some of his own truly elegant and cultivated ideas, blended with, or rather completed as they are, by that wise, statesman-like reference and subserviency to the most expansive public utility and true glory; really and conscientiously, it is a duty which is, I think, incumbent on him; else to what purpose all this admirable cultivation of his faculties, and the long and sure experience he has acquired of what may or may not be successfully done in those elevated stations where men are furnished with the occasions of becoming arbiters with respect to the direction of the public mind? With my respectful compliments to Lady ---, I have the honour to subscribe myself your long obliged and most affectionate humble servant,