Letter from JAMES BARRY to LORD BUCHAN, written 21 December 1804, at Castle Street, London

MS Heinz Archive, National Portrait Gallery, London [img] [img] [img]. Cover: To
The Earl of Buchan
Dryburg Dryburgh Abbey
Edinburg Edinburgh 1

The Scottish antiquary and art collector David Steuart Erskine, earl of Buchan (1742-1829), [img] a great admirer of Barry, had been trying to persuade the Society of Arts to set up a fund to support Barry in his old age.

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My dear Lord

I had no small satisfaction in finding by your Letter to my freind friend M.r Bonomi2 that my calculation was well grounded in supposing that your Lordships Lordship's generous feelings & knowledge of my situation would induce you to make allowance & to excuse my seeming neglect, in not answering the two last Letters3 you honoured me with. On receiving them from my freind friend M.r Cooper4 I entreated him most earnestly to apologize for me & represent to your Lordship the unexampled brutal persecutions5 which were so unceasingly contrived to distract & misoccupy my attention. - Tis 'Tis a great hardship to be obliged to contend with such desperate opponents, who regardless of all honourable pursuit are even dead to ye the sense of shame & infamy & provided they can keep clear of publick detection & legal punishment, would stick at nothing to compass their ends. That this is not said without sufficient foundation is but too apparent (even at the distance in which your Lordship is placed,) to anyone who has seen the morning Chronicle of ye the 18th Inst.6 added to my letter in the monthly Magazine of Septemb.r September 18037 & to page 280 of my Letter to the Dilletante Society.8 8.vo Octavo Edition. Could any one have believed that so singular an example of a man whose exertions in the publick service God had crowned with a success so unique could have been so long left struggling, without any protection from the baneful envy & malignity which such exertions mus must necessarily excite. It was natural to expect that some sheild shield of protection would be held over him at least, by the Noble part of the Society where his work was deposited9 for the publick entertainment & where even Strangers might find something congenial to those feelings they had acquired from the vestiges of high cultivation to which they had been accustomed on the Continent. But unfortunately for me these Noblemen have had their attention other ways occupied & I have never troubled them by any solicitations or complaints & altho although I well know the extreme artifice & fraudulent procedure of my opponents or rivals,10 yet I cannot bring myself to believe that any Noble Personage in or out of the Society can be so far imposed upon as to think he has any reason to be offended with me & I have more than once taken occasion to say so, in the most publick manner. (see page 280. Letter to ye the Dilletante 8.vo Octavo Ed. & also in a letter to the Society for ye the Encouragement Of Arts, dated May 6. 1801. When I was obliged to withdraw my proposal of gratuitously commemorating the Union of the two Kingdoms of Great Britain & Ireland11 by such a picture to be placed over one of the Chimnies Chimneys of the Great Room as would happily cooperate with the National, Ethical & philantrophic philanthropic views of the rest of the work. It would be curious to know by what contrivance such a proposal, so conformable to the wishes of His Majesty’s most Hon.ble Honourable Privy Council as expressed in their Advertizement & so assented to by the almost unanimous vote of the two meetings of the Society,12 could have been whisperingly converted into a Jacobinical levelling intention of degrading the Noble or Aristocratical part of our Government: but my ever active shameless opponents, favoured by the delirium of the time, were notwitstanding notwithstanding well enabled to spread such an Alarum & delusion as to bring down S.r Sir Joseph-Banks,13 S.r Sir W.m William Dolben14 & other Characters (whom I much respected) in order to prevent the motion being carried into execution. Such, my Lord, is the time & situation in which I have been placed, & to wch which I must good humouredly or rather Christianly accommodate myself & I trust in God, without allowance of any departure from principle, continue to goe go on. on, & do, little, or much, according to the Maxim of my poor Da Vinci15 in his Sonnetto Morale, Chi non puo quel che vuol, quel che può voglia, che quel che non si può folle è volere, &c..16 Even in the very return of my Income demanded of me the other day by the Taxgatherer, I was obliged to confess all & to give it under my signature ( wch which I am told will subject me to an additional annual tax of fifteen shillings) That that my Income amounted to sixty pounds a year. 17Viz: fifty from the American Bank & ten pounds from the English five per cent bank stock. That out of this I was obliged to find cloathing clothing & sustenance for my self, to pay forty pounds annual house rent18 with government & parochial Taxes in proportion, & that to the great shame of the Country, my profession was for some time past, rather a matter of loss, than of any gain. Very little indeed, is therefore within my power at present, the large room below, is too cold to be inhabited at this season & besides, ye the windows of it, which are as you know in the roof, are now covered with snow, so as to shut out the light, & as appears by the paragraph in the Morning Chronicle of the 18 Inst. above mentioned, all the windows in the front of my house are so broken that it is impossible to make any use of the rooms in front, so that I am reduced to live in a small room back room on the second floor, where I have not space enough to paint even a half lenght length picture of a design which I much relish as gracefully contrasting with the mischievous beligerent belligerent spirit of the time this time; this design would have come well from the classical, ethical hand of Poussin19 if the matter of it had occurred to him. However, thanks be to God, the time has hitherto not been totally lost: the Pandora20 is finished & also I have just before the cold weather has set in, finished very much to my satisfaction a very large print of it, & a written account of the subject, wch which is also finished, tho though not yet fairly copied out for the press.21 The matter of it is more than classical, is exceedingly interesting & comes home to general education & feelings, even independent of ye the matters from Milton22 wch which I had long since prepared in order to accompany it, as singularly congenial with the Homeric or Grecian Gousto23 & which probably may never see the light if this desperate, brutal rage & malignity is suffered to haunt me in the way it has done. Why are the names of our Nobility held forward to publick view in our Societies of Encouragers of Arts, Dilletante & so forth, if it be not to afford the prospect of protection at least, altho, unlookily ye although unluckily the patronage might be economically reserved for the more interesting pursuits of multitudinous Ambition or - pleasure. - Away then with […] [gap in transcription (illegible), words: 1] […] [gap in transcription (illegible), words: 1] the paltry sycophantic cant respecting that Maladie imaginaire 24 , which has been ascribed to so many ingenious men who were the Glory & the Martyrs of their times. The honest pursuit & development of plain facts, however homespun, will afford the best guide in this species of Criticism; instead of recurring to the visionary region of metaphysic declamation. I have had occasion to touch upon this business before in pages, 98. 122 &c. of my Letter to ye Dilletante25 8.vo Ed. & instead of hinting blame & idly wondering why Great Men had not done more, we ought rather give thanks to Almighty God, whose good providence had mercifully enabled them to do so much.

As to that very desirable & useful discovery of taking multiplied impressions from drawings made on stone, the observations that occur in your very kind letter of April 19. 1803.26 are every way worthy your Lordships Lordship's fine relish & extensive information. M.r Andre,27 who had this matter in his hands, is I am told ruined & gone away & the business dropt dropped either from publick neglect or some other cause; There there appears however no good reason why it might not be taken up again by some person more independent in his circumstances – perhaps it might be successfully practiced practised on a metallic surface, such as prepared or unprepared, lead, pewter, tin, Copper &c. which may be had of any size, in thin & cheap plates & attached to wooden blocks or planks, as is done with printers printer's Metal on the head & tail pieces of books, - or perhaps stone of any size from a fluid state might be bedded in a box sufficiently secured from all incumbent pressure, as is ye the case of the Sulphur molds moulds from wch which they cast or rather press out the ornaments for Chimney pieces &c.: Tis 'tis very much to be regretted if such a matter should be suffered to drop without further prosecution. If I had the honour of being accquainted acquainted with Lord Stanhope28 who is said to be very much turned towards things of utility & publick interest, & who has certainly much knowledge to further & but little vice to obstruct the pursuit of whatever he may be inclined to follow up, I should hope soon to see the removal of all the difficulties in that very interesting business.

The Society for the Encouragement of Arts have done me the honour of employing M.r Heath29 to make an Engraving of my portrait, taken from the original picture which I had many years since painted & copied into the picture of the Olympic Victors30. This Print, wch which is exceedingly well executed, is intended to be placed at the head of the Vol. of the Societys Society's Transactions to be published this year & will I suppose according to usual custom be accompanied by something said of me;31 so that a very happy opportunity offers on this occasion for carrying into execution that plan of redress respecting me, wch which forms the subject of your Lordship’s Letter to the Presidency32 & other Members of the Society. It were to be wished that some communication might happily take place between your Lordship & the Society or with some person who might communicate with the Society on this occasion.

I am my Lord with the most sincere recognition
of your Lordships Lordship's great Kindness & indulgence to me
Your Lordship’s much obliged & very humble servt servant

Jam.s James Barry

P.S. I should be happy to have your Lordship’s consent to the printing of this Letter in the News papers, or in some other way that might bring it well under the notice of the Publick: The the few real freinds friends on whom I can rely & who best know how I am situated, think something of this kind absolutely necessary for my safety.

Castle S.t Oxford Market Dec. December 21. 1804.

To the Honb.l Honourable The Earl of Buchan