Letter from JAMES BARRY to EDMUND BURKE, written 20 November 1770, at Bologna

Source: Fryer, Works of Barry, i. 197-99.

Fryer says this letter has 'no date', yet Barry says in the letter, 'It is now the 20th of November'.

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My Dear Sirs,


Yesterday Signor Vergani came to my lodging with an account of the bill's having been paid:2 it has delivered me from much shame, and from ten thousand distresses which you cannot conceive, and which it would answer no purpose at present for me to describe to you. From the letters I wrote to you without receiving any answer, and from the accident that has happened regarding that bill, I had argued myself firmly into the persuasion that both you and Mr. William were in the country some where or other, or were come abroad to see Italy, as you often mentioned:3 which of these was matter of doubt and speculation, the only thing certain with me was that my letters had not reached you. In the confusion I was in, many schemes offered themselves to me, one was to forward a letter to you through the hands of your friend Sir Joshua Reynolds which I did last post.4 However this would have answered no purpose, as I could not have been able to stay in Bologna until even the arrival of the answer. Another scheme was the running naked out of my lodging and turning friar, when I imagined that by the means of my art I should meet with a sort of reception—but this was a remedy that I thought much worse than the disease. What I had at last agreed upon was, by the means of pawning what I had with some body or other, to raise as much money as would carry me to Turin, where I intended applying to Mr.Coke,5 your friend. But I am delivered from the disorder occasioned by the delay of the bill, without the application of any of those caustics,6 by the same hands through which all my emollients7 come.

It is now the 20th of November, and as I have not as yet seen Parma, it is a matter of doubt with me, whether I shall be able to get out of Italy this winter, however this will depend entirely upon the letter I hope to receive from you at Parma.

The great and essential parts of the art are not to be learned at Bologna, as the three Carraches,8 who are the noblest characters that this place ever produced, are in the leading articles of design and colouring, far short of the degree of perfection we find in Michael Angelo, Raffael, and Titian.9 The Carraches are not to be disesteemed for this, as there is a happy aggregate of all the parts of the art, which is not to be found in the others; and though a man might not make the Carraches, Guercino,10 &c. his model in great matters, yet there is much of the art to be learned from them, and if I do not profit myself exceedingly from what I have seen of theirs, it is more my fault than theirs. It is a matter of doubt perhaps, whether some of their pictures, taken in the lump and balancing one thing with another, are not of the first class of pictures. I am here tempted to say something upon the different characters of merit of the three Carraches, of Guercino, Guido,11 &c. but I find it a little puzzling; as Annibal is a Proteus, and admirable in all shapes,12 Ludovico is different in his styles, and always proper and adapted to his subject, and Agostino has left but few pictures behind him, in which are some particulars even superior to the capacity of either Ludovico or Annibal; though upon the whole, Agostino seems the least formed in the practice of a picture of the three, and yet he seems to have had an amazing and graceful practice in his drawing.

Dear sirs,
I am and ever shall be,
Yours and the family's,

J.B.James Barry

If Parma does not answer my expectation, and that the weather permits, and that I have no orders from you to the contrary, I shall go on directly for England.