Letter from JAMES BARRY to EDMUND BURKE, written c. 11 February 1766 , at Paris

Source: Fryer, Works of Barry, i. 46-48.

This letter, written after Edmund Burke's brother, Richard Burke Snr.(1733-94) had left Paris for London following his visit to Barry, crossed with one from Richard Burke to Barry dated 11 February.

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Dear Sirs,1

Doubtless Mr. Richard Burke has got home by this time, he must have had a disagreeable journey of it, for the weather has been much colder since his setting out on the road than it was since I came to France. The Seine was frozen over in about two days, for the second time this winter.2 The academies are all shut up on account of the extreme cold, and probably I shall be shut out for some time from copying at the palais-royal for the same reason, as they won't permit it till the weather is a little warm, so as to do without fire.3 Though I know you all to be very busy at this time, about important matters, yet I shall not insult you so far as to think of making an apology for mentioning small ones. I am conscious there are heads in the world pregnant with everything that is deep and weighty, and yet find no distraction by an attention to trifles, and it is enough for me that I know whom I write to. After this proem4 I shall begin by telling you that I don't like an academy;5 it is a thing which, wherever it is founded will, I think, bring the arts into contempt, and consequently to destruction. We have two of them here, the academy of St. Luke and the Royal Academy:6 there are such mobs of blackguards go every night to acquire a trade there, as is enough to shock any one who has the least regard for the art. People send their children to make them painters and statuaries7 (without learning, genius, or indeed any thing else) only because it is less expensive than making them perukiers or shoemakers. I need not observe to you how much these fellows must befoul every thing they lay their hands upon, and how much more than probable it is, that the contempt they must naturally bring upon the art, will be succeeded by the destruction and annihilation of it. To be sure it is very true, that drawing and modelling after nature in the academy, with the assistance of a master, is not likely to mislead any one, and must be useful to a man of real genius, who has all the requisites which are so essential in art, the most complex of all things; but how unlikely is it, when after some time these locusts are spread far and near over every thing, that any man will apply to an art, or rather that any man will be at the expense and pains of acquiring such essentials in an art, that is not only without reputation (the great stimulus) but that is sunk into contempt and nothingness. It is with great pleasure that I recollect your dislike to the founding of an academy in England. The truth of a remark of yours was not as evident to me then as it is now, how that without an academy the English were making great strides after perfection, whilst others, with one, were every day more and more losing sight of it, that our people will go on still farther I have no doubt, and that it will be without an academy, I wish most ardently. There are many advantages here, which the coldness of the season will not suffer me to enjoy, in the mean time I have hired out some busts and casts of the antique,8 which I study in my own room. Mr. Richard Burke will be angry with me when I tell him, I have not been to make any of the visits he recommended to me since his departure.

I am, dear sirs,
Yours always,

J.B.James Barry.