Letter from JAMES BARRY to COOPER PENROSE , written 13 July 1803, at Woodhill, near Cork

Source: Monthly Magazine, 1 September 1803, pp. 105-7; also, Fryer, Works of Barry, ii. 662-70.

The text is taken from the Monthly Magazine, not from Fryer. Fryer's text shows a number of differences in the punctuation and phrasing, and Fryer adds his own notes. These differences, apart from the punctuation, many of them attempting to improve Barry's wording, are recorded in the notes.

Irritated by the number of requests to explain his prints as well as the changes to his pictures, The Progress of Human Culture in the Great Room at the Adelphi, Barry sent a copy of this letter, written to Penrose on 13 July, to the Monthly Magazine asking the editor to print it so as to forestall any further questions.

Cooper Penrose (1736-1815), of Quaker background, a substantial landowner and an art collector in Cork; he bought some of Barry's paintings after his death (see the Cooper Penrose Collection, Cork ( [go] ). He appears to have been a friend of the Barry family: Barry's sister referred to him as 'my much esteemed friend' (Bulkley to Barry, 11 April 1804).

He is reputed to have given refuge to the young Irish nationalist Lord Edward Fitzgerald (1763-98) at his house at Woodhill, which resulted in its being sacked by British soldiers; see the Cooper Penrose Collection, Cork ( [go] ).

Barry here gives a detailed description of the figures in his prints from his Progress of Human Culture, much of which he had written in previous publications and letters. Barry did three engravings of different groups of figures from the original painting Elysium and Tartarus or the State of Final Retribution: he discusses the engravings in this letter. [img] [img] [img]

Penrose may well have bought a set of these prints on a visit to London.

Full display

My Dear Sir,

In the little Account of the Pictures which the Society of Arts, &c. has lately printed, they have unluckily omitted1 whatever I had sent them as illustrative of the prints, and consequently as illustrative of the subject itself, particularly that part, the Elysium, 2 where the improvements and additions were lately made, and which, for the most part, were only to be found in the suite of large prints of the groups which form the lower and most important range of the figures in that subject. [img] The other omission also, respecting my proposal, and the unanimous vote of the Society for filling up the spaces over the chimnies,3 was not less unlucky. - Such a matter as that most certainly ought not to have been withheld from the public; as the recent Act of Union of Great Britain and Ireland, 4 which made the subject for one of those spaces, was in that design treated in the manner most exemplarily, and best calculated to derive every possible stability, vigour, improvement, and mutual equal satisfaction and happiness from that Act, which united the two kingdoms into one, and consequently would at least have exhibited the true mode of effecting it, and doing away all vexatious differences, whilst those broad, equal, and equitable principles should continue to be respected. As the whole of these matters is comprehended in three or four letters, which I had at different times occasion to write to the Society, and which would have been found incorporated with their little book, had it been printed in the state in which they received it from me, there is now no other remedy, but to print the omitted matter as an Appendix, which those who chuse choose may add to the book, and which it was and is my intention to do, whenever it may be convenient for me to go to that expence expense . There has always been, there is, and there will be, a sufficient number of people who find amusement and satisfaction in the letters of artists, respecting the improvement, various views, and desiderata ,5 regarding their several arts, which Lord Bacon 6 considers of great importance when such information can be obtained, and to which indeed may be traced all the information that is of any use, however it may be decorated afterwards by other people. Matters of this kind are not without importance enough to be sought after, more especially when they concern any work where the public have taken an interest, and in the forming of appreciations where it is of importance to that public to judge rightly. Such an Appendix will be even necessary for the information of the Society itself, as the greatest number of those who compose it, and of the first rank, consequence, and information, come but seldom lo the Society, sometimes can know but little of what is passing in its committees, and who are very likely to have known nothing at all of those letters of mine7 respecting the additions to the pictures in their great room, or those prints of the large groups which with so great additional labour were made in order to improve and compleat8 the subject; and it is reasonable to suppose that those personages can have as little interest or inclination as I can have in withholding such information from the public, or suppressing or overlooking it in mere committees of a few people, who may be sometimes, not perhaps what we should have wished them, even independent of any possible imagined influence of cabal or combination.9 In the mean time, until this appendix is printed, and to prevent your being totally10 disappointed, I shall proceed here to mark out the arrangement in the prints of the large groups, beginning with the first, that of Reserved Knowledge. 11 The first figure, sitting with the scroll on his lap, appears (by the doctrine of eclipses, the tropical and polar divisions, and the mode of calculating altitudes by the lengths of proportionate shadows inscribed on it) to be Thales,12 who is said to have first disseminated this knowledge in Greece, and who is looking at13 a demonstration of more improved geometry, pointed out by Des Cartes,14 on which also Archimedes15 is looking with great attention. —The figure sitting below is the admirable Friar Bacon,16 just opening his Opus Majus , and in deep conversation with Bishop Grouthead,17 who seems pointing or referring to something in that work. Even independent of Grouthead's commendable zeal for melioration and the removal of abuses, which occasioned him so much contest, there was reason enough to entitle him to a place in Elysium as the friend of Bacon, whose patronage followed him in all fortunes: it is indeed an argument of no small virtue in the great to be able to suppress those selfish vanities and dispositions which but too often accompany and enfeeble their friendships for men of great talents - The figures above Thales are Lord Bacon, Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton,18 who, notwithstanding all their knowledge here below, behold now with admiration and astonishment what is discovered and pointed out by the angelic or superior intelligence on unveiling the real system of things. On the small slip which unites this with the next print, the two19 truly-Christian works under the elbow of the ever-admirable Las Casas,20 and the bandage or instrument of acknowledgment for the pawn of the jewels which so21 worthily binds on and is suspended from the crown of Isabella of Castille,22 who appears talking with Columbus23 in the next print: near her is Magellan,24 the first circumnavigator, holding the chart of his voyage. The figure next to Columbus in the next print is Epaminondas,25 with the famous oblique movement inscribed on his shield, by which intellectual skill became superior to mere bodily force in the memorable battle of Leuctra,26 where the ferocious power of the Spartans (so often unjustly, and ill-exercised) was so27 happily humbled. Next to this heroic Theban commander, (so eminent for soldiership, philosophy, patriotism, and all the endearing, interesting virtues that adorn private life,) Socrates,28 in his own gracefully-familiar, cogent way, is explaining something to J. Brutus, M. Cato, Sir Thomas More, and M. Brutus,29 which last holds in his lap30 the Treatise he wrote on31 the sufficiency of virtue.32 It does honour to the head and heart of Swift, in his account of Glubdubdribb,33 where he mentions this Sextumvirate, to distinguish as he has done between the younger and the elder Cato.34 From the one letter of this younger Cato, which is happily preserved in the Collection of Cicero's,35 and the interview with him in Lucullus's library, mentioned in the Tusculan Disputations,36 even from these we see enough to enamour us with the sweet and graceful assemblage of virtues in the character of this illustrious Roman; one cannot without the most heartfelt satisfaction,37 see the extreme politeness and delicacy which he employs even in the exercise of the highest and most essential virtues; how truly would Dryden's triplet apply here:

" Firm Doric pillars form his manly base,
The fair Corinthian fills the higher space;
Thus all below is strength, and all above is grace."

I cannot, will not, deny myself the pleasure of the reflections which occur in running over the arrangement of such characters, however the mere narration might be interrupted by it; such interruption is one of the grand advantages resulting from the employment of such matter, I shall therefore allow myself further to advert also to the medals which he caused to be struck on different occasions, consecrated to Rome, to Minerva, to Jupiter,39 where the absence of his own portrait on40 any of them, exhibits him so completely to our view, as to leave nothing for regret, except the fatal imperfection of the philosophy he followed, which, by its forgetfulness of the necessary resignation and dependence of the creature upon the divine will of its Creator, rashly presumed to open the door, and to go out of existence before the grand business of the completion of virtue was exhibited in all its possible exemplary views. Stoical pride apart,41 what had Cato to fear from even a worse man than Caesar, 42 armed with the whole power of the world? With the happy advantage43 of Christian principles, which would comport so admirably with all Cato's other virtues, what could have prevented his acting and suffering in the manner becoming himself, whilst God Almighty chused 44 to preserve and hold him out as an example profitable in all situations? If we should suppose that something like this imperfection of stoicism was the subject on which Socrates was discoursing, which his own patient example would well warrant, there can be no doubt but his hearers would now most heartily assent to it. Shaftesbury, John Locke, and Zeno,45 with two Vestals, are in the range above this Sextumvirate.- The next is Aristotle,46 looking at the group of the more perfect legislators in the next print, to which Plato47 is pointing. Dr. Harvey and Hippocrates48 come next. Overhead Angels are incensing, and as it were, interceding and supplying49 the deficiency in50 the more imperfect legislators, Bramha, Confucius, Mango Capac,51 &c. whom they are presenting, and they make part of a group which extends into the next print, consisting of Grotius, Barneveldt,52 Bishop Berkeley,53 Benjamin Franklin,54 Father Paul of Venice, Cardinal Pole, Mariana, Bishop Chichle, and Pope Adrian,55 of which something is said in page 57 of my Letter to the Society of Arts printed in 1793.56 Below Pope Adrian, Lycurgus and Numa57 are looking at the perfect and proper Code of Laws for a mixt people, the first example of which was gloriously shewn by Lord Baltimore58 and his Roman Catholics in Maryland in America; 'tis to be regretted, 'tis even scandalous, that such a fact should have been either wilfully or negligently overlooked by Raynal, Montesquieu, and others.59 On one side of Baltimore is William Penn,60 with his PensylvanianPennsylvanian code, which was a worthy copy of that61 of Maryland; and on the other side is M. Aurelius and King Alfred,62 who is affectionately leaning on63 the shoulder of Baltimore. William Molyneux,64 with his celebrated Case of Ireland in his hand, is sitting low behind Lycurgus and Numa, and anxiously looking up towards Lord Baltimore and his Maryland Code, which would have been so effectual a remedy for the almost unexampled miseries and distractions of his ill-fated country. Over Molyneux is the Hon. Honourable Robert Boyle.65 Just behind Alfred, and in the next print, is the excellent and so justly celebrated St. Charles Borromeo,66 Cardinal and Archbishop of Milan, Trajan, Titus, Peter the Great of Russia, Henry IV. of France,67 Andrea Doria,68 the Great Scipio69, the Pater Patriae , Old Cosmo de Medicis,70 Alexander of Macedon,71 (see Let. to the Dilettante,72 104, 8vo. ed.) Lewis73 XIV. and Julius II. Bossuet, bishop of Meaux,74 in the group below, with one hand leaning over the shoulder of Origen,75 and the other stretching to bishop Butler,76 between whom are Paschal and Antony Arnauld,77 is as it were, embracing and sanctioning the whole, as consistent with the Catholic exposition in his hand. Of the Angel who is elucidating something to them, and that below, weighing good and evil, and the lesser, or guardian angel, who with clasped hands is regretting the perdition of his ward, nothing need be said; nor of those angelic guards in the next print who so sublimely group with them, and oversee what is done in the entrance from the world below. - Charles I. Colbert, and Francis I.78 and the illustrious Roman, M. Agrippa,.79 range with and appear part of the group of the patrons of art, Julius, Lewis, Alexander, &c. in the former print. In the opening between Colbert and Francis I. appear Cassiodorus80 and another monk inspecting the plan for the convent of Viviers, (See Lett. to the Dilettante,81 p. 287, 8vo. ed.) Overhead are Sir J. Reynolds, Giles Hussey, Ann. Carrache, Dominichino,82 &c.

Farewell, my dear Sir, and be sure to remember me kindly to your good family, and to all friends. Nothing has been done to the portrait since Mr. Edward83 saw it, so that you cannot have an impression, and as to the letter of Lord Buchan to the Society of Arts respecting me,84 I believe nothing has been done in it, at least as far as I know. It was a matter not proper for me to enquire after, or to say much about; but it is very possible, that if it produces no good, it may however be very effectual in working the contrary, for I find by daily experience that the increasing celebrity which illustrious strangers (as well as the daily visitants of this town from the country) so generously bestow on my works, and sometimes on myself, does but add new rancour and fuel to the raging, diabolical, shameless persecution of the concealed, though ever active miscreant emissaries of the cabal. But let me have done with useless complainings! There is hardly a morning that I go down to open the windows, that does not discover some new piece of rascality, that85 had been practised under the cover of nocturnal darkness,86 in order to give the house such an appearance as will make one's acquaintance (or those whose curiosity might be excited from public fame, which is so generously circulated in the London and other useful publications, which spread and generalize information) ashamed to stop and knock at the door. Every thing is to be apprehended in the case of a man so insulated, in a neighbourhood of poor necessitous people, and who, from the fear of corruption, dares not keep a servant, even if he was able to afford the expense of it, which cannot now be the case, with increased taxes, and after the loss of the annual professional salary of 301. now 50l.87 which he had so laboriously earned, and with a powerful extensive combination, animated by a zeal and industry which far outgoes88 the efforts of cold or convenient friendships, and always ready to prevent him in any little professional emoluments. However, whilst God Almighty permits it, duty requires our resignation and chearful cheerful acquiescence. I shall, therefore, to the utmost of my ability, go on with the ardent endeavours of producing new matter for the entertainment of the public, if not to the extent of my wishes, yet to the extent of my power. Again farewell.

Your's assuredly,

JAMES BARRY. July 13, 1803

P. S. Miss Jouille,89 from the school of David,90 has called on me. I am much pleased with some portraits she has begun. The heads, the only finished parts, are admirable. If she will labour, she is calculated to do honour to her master, and to every one concerned about her. I should be happy to see an Irish Angelica,91 who might be able to give lustre to some of those empty spaces in the churches, town-halls, and other public buildings, which have been, if not brutally, yet at least giddily, unthinkingly, unfeelingly, and perhaps foolishly, withheld from me. Hellish92 influence! what mischiefs have you not been the occasion of effecting!

Cooper Penrose, Esq. Woodhill, near Cork.