Letter from DR. JOSEPH FENN SLEIGH to JAMES BARRY , written 31 December 1763, at Cork

Source: Fryer, Works of Barry, i. 11-12.

Dr. Joseph Fenn Sleigh (1733-70), Quaker and art connoisseur, practised as a physician in Cork. He had attended the Quaker school at Ballitore soon after Edmund Burke was a pupil there and later studied medicine in Edinburgh where he knew Oliver Goldsmith (1730-74). He was on the staff of the North Infirmary Hospital, Cork from 1759 until his death. Goldsmith wrote an elegy on him (Tim Cadogan and Jeremiah Falvey, A Biographical Dictionary of Cork (Dublin, 2006), p. 311). He was a life-long acquaintance of Burke.

Barry, now aged 22, was in Dublin attending classes in figure drawing at the Dublin Society's Art School (The Dublin Society Drawing Schools, Students and Award Winners 1746-1876, compiled by Gitta Willemson (Royal Dublin Society, 2000), pp. 4, 248).

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Cork, December 31, 1763

Dear Sir,

It gives me considerable pleasure to find that you have met with that countenance in Dublin, which you in vain merited in your native place.1

I see by your letter that Mr. Burke2 has approved of your performance, and I can therefore assure you, that you have met with an exceeding good friend, and one, who has it much in his power to promote your interest.3 You ought to consider his approbation, as no small encouragement, as he is a man of undoubted good taste. Your intention of going to Rome pleases me much, as that is the place above all others, where you can improve yourself the most; for there you will find among the works of the antients,4 the most perfect forms in the most graceful attitudes, and with the justest impressions: these cannot be obtained, particularly the two last, in drawing from the life alone. You will likewise have an opportunity of seeing there the works of the great painters, and gaining improvement in composition, chiaro-scuro 5 and colouring. Pardon a mere lover of the art talking thus to an artist. When you do set out, which I suppose will be this winter, I should imagine that Cork would be a place where a passage may more readily be obtained in, than Dublin.6

As you will have some time on your hands these long evenings, when you cannot paint, I should be much obliged to you for a few lines now and then, that I may know what works you may have in hand.7

Since I have had the pleasure of knowing you, I have often lamented that you did not pursue your classical studies farther, as you are now deprived of many noble subjects for painting you would otherwise have had. You may remember, that to Homer's description contained in two or three lines, Phidias acknowledged himself indebted for the so much celebrated statue of the Olympian Jupiter. 8

It must indeed be confessed, that there is a large field for the exercise of your art in the descriptions of our three great English Poets, Spenser, Shakespear Shakespeare , and Milton, not to mention the number of excellent subjects in the Scriptures.9

Beg Mr. Burke, to send in my name to counsellor Ridge, for my Spence's Polymetis, and I doubt not but you will find some entertainment there, though the drawings may not be so good as you could wish.10

With the sincerest wishes for your advancement in your profession, and your welfare in general,

I remain,
Your assured friend, and humble servant,

Joseph Fenn Sleigh.