Letter from JAMES BARRY to SOCIETY OF ARTS, written 6 January 1803, at Castle Street, London

Source: MS RSA AD/MA/104/10/403, Royal Society of Arts, London.

The Society of Arts had been waiting for Barry to send revisions and additional notes for a new version of their pamphlet describing his pictures The Progress of Human Culture in their Great Room at the Adelphi. The pamphlet was published later in 1803 as, A Description of a Series of Pictures, painted by James Barry, Esq. and preserved in the Great Room of the Society, instituted at London, for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce. To this is added, A Short Account of Some Other Works of Art, with which the room is ornamented. London: Printed by C. Whittingham, Dean Street, Fetter Lane. 1803.1

The exhibition of Barry's work in the Great Room opened on 28 April. [img]

This letter was considered by a meeting of the Society on 12 January and passed on to the Society's Committee of Polite Arts (AD/MA/100/12/48 f. 67).

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M.r Barry presents his respectful Comp.ts Compliments to the most Noble the President2 Vice Presidents & the rest of the Noblemen & Gentlemen of the Society for the Encouragement of Arts &c. and in Compliance with their desire has added such information respecting the matter of recent introduction into the Pictures in the Great Room, as may be necessary to insert in the Printed account of those pictures. This little Book containing the printed account wch which wch which was drawn up by M.r More3 the late Secretary of the Society, extracted for the most part as he says (in the first vol. of the Societys Society's Transactions) from M.r Barrys Barry's own account, was notwitstanding notwithstanding but feebly drawn up & extracted, in many places it was very inadequate to the matter & Subject & in some absolutely tho though unintentionally mistatingmisstating & at variance - with both the matter & manner. M.r Mores More's abilities tho though great & respectable, happened to lie in other matters very interesting, tho though very wide of that Connoiseurship necessary in the concerns of Virtu.4

As nothing can give M.r Barry more pleasure than complying to the utmost of his power with the wishes of a Society whose manly exemplary publicity he reveres: he would have long since sent these little additions for their Book, had he not been witheldwithheld by his disrelish for unworthy party altercations which for some time passed have unfortunately been mixed in every thing & almost in every place, & wch which he fears may arise in the Society from some part of those additions wch which M.r B.5 might however think it necessary to state, in order to give the Publick6 every becoming information respecting his conduct & his views in the very extensive work in the Great Room wch which is consecrated to their service & entertainment. In one part respecting the Naval Pillar &c.7 M.r B. has shewn his regret at the appearance of inattention or disrespect wch which might result from his not having communicated the Designs for those National objects to the honourable Boards where they were called for. There is another part also, near the end, where M.r B. wishes to insert (as a Note at the bottom, or to follow the conclusion) the Letter wch which he wrote to the Society8 containing his proposal for the removal of the two portraits over the Chimnies, to the Committee Room or to some other part of the house; & to substitute in their places two Designs which would cooperate with the rest of the work round the room & wch which M.r B. was very anxious to bring forward at that time as one of them respecting the Union9 wch which would have come between the pictures of Navigation & that of the Society,10 had a particular & a most happy relation to both & as& as as it is also is also comprehended in a very pictoresque11 & ethical manner those views & incidents wch which were best adapted to give the truest energy & heartfelt graceful cooperation necessary to that act of Union between the Kingdoms of Great Britain & Ireland wch which was at that time established & wch which nothing could dissever & mar whilst the equitable principles held out in that Design should continue in the estimation of the Contracting parties. ‘Tis melancholly to be so well authorized to remark here, that British Statemen & politicians seem & have indeed always seemed to be but poorly accquainted acquainted with the nature & extent of the Fine Arts & their influence upon Social life, they seem to have had hardly any other ideas of these Arts, than from their perversions in gratifying folly, profligacy or malignity; and thus this grand occasion of the Union of the Union has been suffered to slip away in a shamful shameful privacy without any Commemoration or graceful Exemplar wch which might exhibit that […] [gap in transcription ( illegible), words: 1] & those dispositions wch which might best contribute towards the happy attainment of all those benefits wch which ought to be derived from so important an Act. M.r B. however had the doing of this Design so much at heart that, he for the first & only time of his life, solicited & was troublesome to others […] [gap in transcription (illegible), words: 1] under a hope of being enabled to set such a work in the view of that publick of the United Kingdom who were so much & deeply concerned in the use or abuse of the Subject of wch which it treated, & to that end he accordingly wrote two Letters to the Right Hon.blHonourable M.r Pitt, the then Minister,12 one of them enclosing a Petition to Her Most Gracious Majesty the Queen,13 hoping by that means to effect his so much desired purpose. To these Letters M.r B. received no answer, perhaps, owing to their having been sent but a little time before the Minister’s going out of office 14 & when he had his resignation in view. M.r Barry’s next hope was to introduce it into the space over the Chimney in the Societys Society's Great Room where it would so well & gracefully coalesce with the substance matter of the two pictures to wch which it was to form a Centre: & altho although in M.r B.’ B.'s proposal the subject was but darkly hinted to the Society,15 yet their liberal, unanimous vote for carrying it into execution followed immediately & the necessary Canvass &c was in due form ordered to be sent to M.r B. where it still remains. Altho Although it may appear a useless waste of words to observe that M.r B. B.'s Letter & proposal, thus unanimously acceeded acceded to by the Society, could not possibly have contained any thing traiterous,16 seditious or derogatory to the Nobility of the Country, or to any individual of them, it is however absolutely necessary to take notice of & to reprobate here, certain lying reports which were industriously circulated at that time out of the Society & wch which afterwards occasioned so much trouble in it that as to induce M.r B. to request that he might be allowed to withdraw his proposal respecting the two Designs for the spaces over the Chimnies & to assure the Society that he could never be induced to think of that matter again but at the request of the Lords Radnor & Romney,17 the two Noblemen who were said to have taken offence at the proposal for removing these portraits from the spaces over the Chimnies to any other part of the house. There is however reason to believe that if the Societies’ Society's Committe Committee (to whom the removal of these portraits had been referred) had sent M.r B. B.'s Letter & proposal to the Lords Romney & Radnor, they would have concurred most heartily in it, as they would then have been thoroughly satisfied that nothing was further from the thoughts of M.r B. in is his proposal & of the Society in acceeding acceding to it, than to fling any the least coldness or disregard upon the memory of those truly noble because venerable personages whom those portraits depicted.

‘Tis curious to reflect how much diabolical industry & artifice have been employed at different times (see page 280. Letter to the Dilletanti18) to embroil M.r B. with the Society, more particularly, with the Noble part of it where a disposition to Patronage & to afford protection might be supposed to exist & where M.r Barry might expect to find redress in all cases of oppression & the invidious shameless persecution of his caballing defeated opponents, defeated gloriously & in the true sense of the word. But alass alas, there may be such times, or states of Society where everything is possible with miscreant instruments which may be wrought up to any degree of temperament : forged Letters of abuse, impertinence or to borrow money may be practiced practised in the name of any man, more especially with people of rank, who may have too much of pride, or indolence, or occupation to give themselves the trouble to enquire into the fact, whether it be so, or not. But in the present case, respecting the removal of these portraits, so much strange & unacountable unaccountable mistake and confusion, in matters so plain, simple, obvious & as it should seem, so easily rectified, such a mass of impudence & absurdity is altogether unsufferable & as M.r Barry is fully conscious of never having intentionally given offence to any Noble personage, much less to those two in question, whom he has cause to love & respect, & as it is for the honour of the Society that a matter which they had so unanimouslyly & even enthusiastically acceeded acceded to should be rightly & fairly understood by the Publick & freed from any false impressions which secret, undue influence & fraud might have endeavoured to mix with or fasten upon it. M.r Barry is therefore clearly of opinion that it would be proper to print his said Letter as a note at the bottom of the page he has marked or at the end of the Book,19 for the satisfaction of those who either now or hereafter may wish to know why so desirable a matter had not been suffered to take effect: Howeverhowever, if the Society should not be of the same opinion, & may be inclined to omit the insertion of that Letter & also of the former Note at page 19, or any of the additions in any other place: M.r Barry hopes they will use their pleasure & he will satisfy himself with the disavowal & other matters adverted to in this Letter wch which he has the honour of leaving with the Society.

Castle S.t Jan.y January 6. 1803