Letter from JAMES BARRY to EDMUND BURKE, written 11 July 1774, at London

Source: Fryer, Works of Barry, i. 233-34; also Burke, Correspondence, iii. 6.

Edmund Burke's Irish friend and his physician Dr. Richard Brocklesby1 had commissioned Barry to paint a portrait of Edmund Burke. In his letter to Barry of 9 July 1774 Burke apologised for repeatedly calling at Barry's house unannounced. The letter had infuriated Barry.

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It is some time since I have found it necessary to train myself in such dispositions and habits of mind as were in my judgement best calculated to carry me with quiet and ease through a situation every way encompassed with thorns and difficulties: and I did flatter myself with the hopes of being able by this time to meet any attack upon my quiet with a proportionable degree of patience and serenity of mind. But I have been mistaken; for your letter has vexed me, it has exceedingly vexed me. There are passages in it which you perhaps can explain, and which I wish you would; indeed the whole cast and ironical air of it seemed to be meant as an —— but I am not (I thank God for it) in any misfortune, and if I was, it is with difficulty I can bring myself to believe that you would be inclined to add any thing to the weight of it; and yet you tell me, "that knowing you had no title to flatter yourself with the vanity of being painted by so eminent an artist as I am;"2 you mention "my being particularly knowing in the value and duties of friendship," and you talk of "your very sincere, though unlearned homage to my great talents and acquirements."3—What am I to understand from all this? if this? If it is the language of contempt and anger why it is so, and how comes it of all people in the world to be addressed to me? Surely there must be something in your mind; what is it? I should be glad to know it in its full extent, and permit me to say that I ought not to be left in ignorance of any matter that is likely to make a breach between us. As to Dr. Brocklesby's picture, it is a miserable subject to be made the ground of a quarrel with me. I will paint it, as I always was earnestly inclined to do, when I can get a sitting upon the terms that are granted to all other painters; I only begged the notice of a day before-hand, and you well know that much more is required by others, and from the very nature of the thing it must be evident that this business cannot be carried on without it. If this should not be found convenient, I am sorry for it, but there is no reason of complaint on any side, as I am resolved not to spoil what I have done.

I am, sir, with great respect,
Your obliged humble servant,

James Barry.

July 11, 1774.