Letter from JAMES BARRY to EARL OF RADNOR, written 26 December 1794, at London

Source: Fryer, Works of Barry, i. 277-80.

Jacob Pleydell-Bouverie (1750–1828), second earl of Radnor, was a Vice-President of the Society of Arts; he had a substantial art collection at his country estate, Longford Castle in Wiltshire, [img] and was a patron of the arts. 1

Recently there had been a break-in at Barry's house and some money had been stolen.

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My Lord,

Your lordship was gone into the country, when I called in Dover-street2 the very evening after you were so good as to honour my cell with a visit. I much wished to return every acknowledgement and thanks for your kind favour of the fifty pound note on your banker, and for your great delicacy in making it payable to the bearer, without any mention of my name. But as it was not agreeable to my wishes, that your lordship's kindness should be concealed, I did not receive it myself, but left it at Messrs. Langston, Amory, and Towgood's bank, 3 where I had about forty pounds remaining of one hundred pounds legacy, which Mr. Timothy Hollis4 left by will to the painter of that work on Human Culture at the Adelphi.5

The next day after the robbery, as I was going to take up ten out of this forty pound, in order to repair the locks and other damages, and for current expenses, I met, near St. Paul's, with Mr. John Hollis,6 the nephew of my valued friend Timothy Hollis, to whom I told my misfortune; and when he could not prevail with me to accept of fifty pounds, by way of repairing some part of my loss, he went to Mr. Hollis Edwards,7 another nephew of old Mr. Hollis, and got from him fifty pounds, which with his own fifty, he left for my use with my friends the bankers in Clements-lane, as I found some days after, when I had occasion to call there.

Any circumstance is welcome that brings that worthy old gentleman Timothy Hollis to my recollection: who, although he neither had shining talents, nor any wish for the reputation of them, nor indeed of any thing likely to catch the public attention: yet he possessed such a high degree of candour, benevolence, and all those amiable qualities which are of so much more frequent and daily use in society, as I do not recollect ever to have seen outdone by any other man. His zeal and ardour for virtue and excellence, living and dead, was very great, and by much the most active part of his character; and amongst my other obligations to him in the course of near twenty years acquaintance, I am his debtor for a good part of my attention to many of the excellent characters found in modern history, with whose portraits his portfolios were furnished, as his memory was with interesting anecdotes of their lives.

I shall never think of Barnevelt and Grotius,8 without remembering those silly, transalpine, greekling prejudices,9 against every thing Dutch, which had kept them so long from my admiration, and which were fortunately laid aside from my collision with the opinions of Mr. Hollis, who had received part of his education in Holland. I remember well that the unambitious and amiable private virtues of this man were full in my view, when I wrote the beginning of the account of that picture of Elysium,10 and nothing but the fear of offending, added to the horror of being thought to flatter him, could have withheld me in that place from indulging my feelings by the mention of his name.

The recollection that there are such good people, and that I have met with some of them, is a grateful necessary counterpoise to prevent the spirits sinking under the oppression and despondency which my loss could not fail to occasion, if it should have disabled me from prosecuting the work in which I was engaged, and which I now hoped to execute with more ease and independence than I had formerly experienced, and with a possibility of presenting it to the public without troubling them with any previous intimation: but on my being robbed of this little matter, which was thus scraped together after so much labour, and by denying myself the greatest part of what others consider as necessary to existence! my next resolution was to sell out seven hundred pounds which I have in the funds, lodge it with a banker, and draw for it according to the occasions necessary for carrying on this work, which I was determined never to abandon. The good providence of God, having already enabled me in one great work deposited with the society,11 to do something of a deeper and more serious reference to the interests of national education in the proper exercise of the human faculties, than the general run of mere amusement productions, to which our art has hitherto been but too much confined. My next hope was to be enabled to make another effort for the public very different, though not less important, by endeavouring to dress Milton12 in a way somewhat adequate to the weight and dignity of his matter, and to the reputation of the country and enlightened age we live in. The work is in good forwardness, and though at present a little interrupted by the consequences of the unlucky visit of the thieves who broke into my house, is nevertheless, with God's blessing, likely to go on, even without touching my little matter in the funds, which your lordship's kind interposition and that of my other friends, makes no longer necessary. It is no small consolation to have such friends as can thus confide to my care a trust of so much money for the public service in the department of art: a man cannot want zeal after such an instance to stimulate him.

If your Lordship should, on your return to town, have any occasion to go to the society, and would be so good as to present them (or any individuals of them, to whom I have the honour of being known) with my respectful compliments and wishes for a place in their recollection, whenever they should have occasion for any matters in my way; the weight and dignity of its coming through such a channel could not fail to give all desirable efficacy: and as I only live for the public, there is no shame in seeking whatever aids may be honestly obtained; that can the better enable me to resist the desperate and virulent attacks of a combination of wretches, who, like the dog in the manger,13 though not able to make use of hay himself, can yet endeavour to keep the ox from it. I am, my Lord, with great respect, your Lordship's much obliged, and very humble servant,

James Barry.

December 26, 1794.