Letter from WILLIAM BURKE to JAMES BARRY, written 7 October 1766, at London

Source: Fryer, Works of Barry, i. 60-62.

Part of this letter may be missing since Fryer places asterisks between the phrases, 'our conduct will be what it should be.' and 'Your friend Macleane is this day...'.

William Burke, now Under-Secretary for State to Frances Seymour Conway, 1st Earl of Hertford (1719-94), writes from London while Edmund Burke and his family are still away in Ireland. Further on William Burke, see George C. McElroy, ‘Burke, William’, DNB [go] .

Barry’s journey to Rome had taken him from Turin through Parma, Bologna and Florence. Having arrived in Rome, he had his mail directed to him at the English Coffee House in the Piazza di Spagna. [img]

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St. James's, Oct. 7, 1766.

Dear Barry,

I should be much mortified that you had gone to the English coffee-house at Rome, before this gets to it, for I know my friend too well not to be sensible of the uneasiness he is sometimes careful to give himself, and I love and esteem him too much to wish to give that occasion of exerting his industry. But the truth is, my idleness and my business conspired to make me catch as an excuse for not writing, that I was waiting for the arrival of your picture,1 which I told myself I was to expect every day, but which did not get from the custom-house till yesterday.2 I am glad to have now no excuse for a shameful delay of writing to a man I love and esteem, and to whom I am sure the distance will give value to a letter from a friend.

Reynolds3 was dining with me when the picture arrived, and I will tell you fairly what he said. He declared the drawing to be perfectly correct, the expression just and noble; Alexander's attention, and the physician's unaffected manner, could not, he said, be better. In regard to the colouring, he said he did not wish it other than it was. That colouring was a knack acquired by habit and experiment; that nothing, however, could be more dangerous to a young painter than to indulge himself in that glare of colour, which catches the eye and imposes on the imperfect judgment. I do not at all suppose that his opinion is, that colouring is an idle or useless part of your art; but if I apprehend him right, I think his opinion is, that to begin with a wish of excelling in colour is to begin at the wrong end of the art.4 As our conversation naturally dwelt on painting, I found that Reynolds's expectations of what would be your great object of attention, were the works of Michael Angelo, whom he considers as the Homer of painting:5 I could find that his own study had been much engrossed by this master, whom he still admires the most. He mentioned, indeed, his having for some months confined himself to the Capella Sistina,6 and begged me to desire you to let us know the effect it has on you, when you give it your attention. By the character Reynolds gives of this master, (for I must not, as you know, pretend to judge myself,) I think he pays you a compliment, in supposing that your own genius will lead you to the admiration and imitation of that great man, and, indeed, I think, from what I know of you, that by your nature and turn of mind, and sentiment, you are more likely to follow this painter than any other, so that his compliment is also a piece of justice to you.

Ned7 will, I am sure, have great satisfaction in the proof your picture gives of your ability. Reynolds really expects every thing of you, and so do we all; nor shall we, I am confident, be disappointed. I do not expect Edmund and Mrs. B. with your friend Dick these four or five weeks,8and whether Ned is employed or not, is no matter of anxiety to us; 9 you will rely readily, that in or out of place, our conduct will be what it should be.10

Your friend Macleane is this day made an under secretary of state,11 so that we are fellow labourers in the same vineyard; and I am to warn you not to go immediately to Florence.12 In a post or two you shall, either from his principal, Lord Shelburne or mine,13 have a letter of recommendation for Sir Horace Mann, which may be useful, and procure you easier admittance to all you will wish to see.

English14 is perfectly well, and much your friend; Barrett is so too, and flattered by your letter.15 Your box has been in the city these five weeks, waiting the departure of a ship for Leghorn, and will be directed to you at the English coffee-house at Rome.16 So do not think we have neglected you, or that we are capable of doing so. The good doctor17 is perfectly well. Our friends, that are in Ireland, do, I am sure, continue to love and esteem you; and we shall be happy to know what studies and amusements engage you. In the latter or the former let me take the liberty to entreat you to be less attentive to little matters of expense. You see it has pleased God to increase our own store, and that by the friendship of another:18 the least retribution we can make is, to be happy if we can be useful to another friend of worth and merit.

I am, my dear Barry,
Most sincerely and warmly,
Your friend and servant,

William Burke