Letter from JAMES BARRY to CHARLES JAMES FOX, written 5 October 1800, at Castle Street, London

Source: Fryer, Works of Barry, i. 285-88.

The text is taken from Fryer's edited version of the letter; this shows substantial differences from the MS of a draft of Barry's letter, which is available in Appendix A 2. It is possible that Fryer was working from an original MS which was Barry's revision of that draft, but the revisions are such that this seems unlikely.

Charles James Fox (1749-1806), member of parliament since the age of 19, one of the outstanding orators of his time. He was Secretary of State in the 1780s and headed a coalition Administration with Lord North formed in 1783; he opposed the American War in the 1770s and the war against France in the 1790s. He had been a member of the Dilettanti Society since 1769 (Lionel Cust, History of the Society of Dilettanti (London, 1914), p. 266). See also L. G. Mitchell, ‘Fox, Charles James (1749–1806)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. [go]

Barry apologises to Fox for not asking beforehand for permission to dedicate a new engraving to him which would amplify Barry's conception of his Elysium and Tartarus or the State of Final Retribution in the Great Room at the Adelphi. The engraving was entitled Queen Isabella, Las Casas and Magellan; [img] further on this engraving, see John J. Manning, ' "This Little Slip of Copper": Barry's Engraved Detail of Queen Isabella, Las Casas and Magellan', Cultivating the Human Faculties, ed. Susan Bennett, pp. 110-18. For Fox's reply, see Fox to Barry, post 6 October 1800.

Full display

Sir,

As I have thought it a necessary matter, and of a piece with my whole work at the Adelphi, and the prints which have arisen from it,1 to make use of your name in the inscription2 under the figure of Las Casas, Isabella of Castille, and Magelhaens,3 which you will find in the second strip of the roll of paper, or print, which goes with this letter, and which I pray you to accept, I could not refuse to my own feelings the indulgence of employing your name, although I had no opportunity of obtaining your permission for it, as the distance is too great for my waiting on you at St. Anne's Hill,4 and it would be no less difficult than troublesome sufficiently to explain the matter by letter.

Although I should be sorry to trespass too much on your time, yet I cannot refrain from requesting your acceptance of the second edition of my letter to the Dilettante Society,5 with a hope that you will find the leisure to read it; many matters are agitated there, which, however inadequately handled by me, are yet well deserving your attention, and which are of much more importance to the country, at least to the reputation of it, than they can be now to me, contented as I am with having discharged my duty (however dangerous), by an honest, unreserved, and necessary exposure,6 which was honour sufficient for me, and was all that in fairness the art and the nation were entitled to expect from me; that (I thank God for it) is now done; I am accountable for no more; therefore, whatever remains to be done towards the completion of this matter, so interesting to the national reputation, must be now looked for from others who ought well to consider the reputation that must follow from the liberality of removing, or the illiberally of fostering, giving stability, and even multiplying and skreening those mischievous obstructions that may prevent the employment and the application of the universal language of art to the great ethical and political purposes for which it is so admirably calculated.

Polished Europe, and all its admired writers, native as well as foreign, having so long since fixed their stigma and just reprobation upon our propensity to the low pursuit of mere portraits, and other such matters of inconsequential beggarly imitation, where fine genius and elevated liberal information could have no concern, and having even arraigned the climate and capacity of the country on that account;7 our people have at last entered the lists of superior art, and with no small boasting of patronage, with the exterior and the formalities of a Royal Academy, and so forth, we are now so far engaged and pledged, that it is impossible to go back; we cannot now retreat from the struggle without a more than ordinary disgrace. But why retreat from what it is so much within the power of the national capacity to effect? Let British genius be furnished but with the necessary pabulum8 of that collection of materials which it has been the unremitting object of my endeavours to obtain for it, and there is nothing further to fear; the end will be surely obtained, whether there be any Royal Academy or not, or whether the patronage be well or ill directed; for although patronage may, as has sometimes happened by a kind of invidious sinister politics, be thrown away upon impotent, sycophant servility, and consequently come to nothing, or to what is worse than nothing, yet without patronage, or perhaps struggling against patronage, some noble, generous characters, thus happily furnished with the proper materials for an artist-like education, may be enabled to raise the reputation of the country even in despite of the patronage of it.

I remember, two or three years since, when I saw you at the dinner of the Royal Academy, 9 how much Mr. Townley10 and I regretted your being accidentally so misplaced, so surrounded with some trifling members of the academy, that it was impossible to get at you, and to draw you out into some of those symposiums which might administer to the exalted association of art with intellect and high utility, and would probably be very different from those which remain to us of Zenophon and Plutarch,11 gifted as you are with the accumulated acquisitions of an age very superior to the times in which they lived. It is indeed of the last importance to society, that great statesmen should look deep into art, and to its extensive possible applications. They cannot too sedulously remove themselves from the everyday consideration of mere common things. War and the sinister politics which foment it, cannot last for ever, and sooner or later the efforts of those arts which humanize, will hold their due and distinguished place in the estimation of mankind. But begging your kind and well known indulgence for thus having, with so much forwardness, trespassed on your time, I shall proceed no further than to subscribe myself, which I do very sincerely, your most devoted humble servant,

James Barry.

October 5. 1800.

P. S. As I know that your friendships are eternal, though your enmities are not, the little matter that occurs in page 93, of the Dilettante Letter,12 though very inadequate and short of my affection to the memory of Mr. Edmund Burke and Sir Joshua Reynolds, will, I am sure, induce you to read over the whole letter and appendix, without suffering yourself to be offended by the little technical jargon which occurs at the onset, in the first and second pages, and I believe only there.