Letter from DR. SAMUEL JOHNSON to JAMES BARRY, written 12 April 1783, at London

Source: The Letters of Samuel Johnson, ed. Bruce Redford, 5 vols. (Oxford, 1994), iv. 120-21; also printed in Boswell's Life of Johnson, pp.1220-21.

The English critic, lexicographer and man of letters Samuel Johnson (1709-84), a friend of Barry, who included him among the figures in his Distribution of Premiums in the Great Room; the preliminary study for this is in the National Portrait Gallery, London. [img]

Barry called him a 'venerable sage...this great master of morality' and praised his 'generosity in assisting and bringing forward all his competitors of worth and ability, particularly at that period of their reputation, when it was easy for him to have crushed them, if he had been so inclined' (Account of a Series of Pictures (1783) in Fryer, Works of Barry, ii. 339-40). Further on Johnson, see Pat Rogers, 'Johnson, Samuel', DNB [go]

Johnson wrote this letter and another to Sir Joshua Reynolds, President of the Royal Academy, on behalf of the painter Mauritius Lowe (1748-93) whose submission for the Academy exhibition of 1783 had been turned down.

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Mr. Lowe's exclusion from the exhibition1 gives him more trouble than You and the other Gentlemen of the council could imagine or intend. He considers disgrace and ruin as the inevitable consequences of your determination.

He says that some pictures have been received after rejection, and if there be any such precedent, I earnestly entreat that You will use your interest in his favour. Of his work2 I can say nothing; I pretend not to judge of painting, and this picture I never saw;3 but I conceive it extremely hard to shut out any man from the possibility of success, and therefore I repeat my request that you will propose the reconsideration of Mr. Lowe's case; and if there be any among the council with whom my name can have any weight be pleased to communicate to them the desire of, Sir, Your most humble servant,

Sam. Samuel Johnson