Letter from WILLIAM BURKE to JAMES BARRY, written 10 October 1768, at Paris

Source: Fryer, Works of Barry, i. 101-103

William Burke went to Paris with his friend, the renowned painter Joshua Reynolds (1723-92) in late September; he writes to Barry who has moved on to Rome. Reynolds gave his impressions of this visit to Edmund Burke in a letter of [post 25] September 1768 (Letters of Sir Joshua Reynolds, eds. John Ingamells and John Edgcumbe (Yale, 2000), pp. 22-24). William Burke makes plain the ongoing anxiety the Burkes have over Barry's repeated quarrelling with friends and other artists in Rome.

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Paris, Oct.10, 1768.

My Dear Barry,

I have been here on a party of pleasure for about three weeks, and I have really found it so. I had the day before yesterday a very particular pleasure in hearing from Mr.Crofts, who travelled with Lord Fitzwilliam,1 at whose lodgings I met him, that you were well, and that great justice was done to your merit. I wish it had happened that you had been known to Lord Fitzwilliam himself. Both he and Lord Carlisle2 extremely regretted that a countryman of great merit should have escaped them. I find you are particularly in the esteem of Mr. Hamilton;*3 the world does him full justice, as a man of worth and as a connoisseur. Let me intreat4 you by all means, my dear Barry, to cultivate his good opinion. I wish I were near enough to give propriety to advice, but advice from a distance must carry a little air of reproach, which I am sure you will never deserve, and equally sure, that I am very much disinclined to give it to a man, whose worth I love and whose merit I esteem. But without offence, an absent friend may give his wishes, and I do heartily wish, that while you cultivate the esteem of a man of Mr.Hamilton's merit, you would think it beneath you to court the enmity of those of your own profession, whom you cannot esteem.

If they have not a first merit they may have a second, a third rate; and no degree of merit ought to be despised. If they are envious, it is an honour to you to be the object of their envy; but that envy, in any thing of good minds, left to itself, will grow into respect; and it is not wise to stop that growth, by disdain or fierceness; and if the people you fall among, have no kind of merit or worth, sure they are below your resentment. In one word, my dear Barry, the world is made up of little worth and little merit; the greatest worth, and greatest merit, is greatest only by comparison; and if it were the common lot, it would not be remarkable: so that men who fortunately possess a great share, have a sort of obligation to those who have but a small portion, for these last serve like feet and inches, to measure gigantic merit. In short, believe me, it is shewing some respect to a man to quarrel with him, and I know you too well to think you will designedly honour a man you do not regard, with any portion, even the smallest, of your respect: so for God's sake, my dear friend, withdraw this mark of respect from those you do not love, and live in the world with that indifference, which is necessary to carry a man through it with comfort to himself. If I have supposed more than there is ground for, and make a mountain of a mole-hill, believe that I love you, and that nothing that impedes or retards that justice, which I persuade myself the world will one day pay you, nothing of this sort, can to me seem trivial or indifferent.

Ned and Mrs. Burke are in Buckinghamshire.5 They had thoughts of looking at Italy this last summer, but could not compass it. Mr. Reynolds and I make this scamper together, and are both extremely satisfied with our tour: we return in a few days, so that I hope to hear from you when I get home. The collections here are wonderful, and the magnificence of their furniture transcends ours by far. Mr. Reynolds desires much to be remembered to you. Adieu6, and believe me with warm sincerity,

Your friend and humble servant,

William Burke. 7