Letter from WILLIAM BURKE to JAMES BARRY, written 23 March 1766, at London

Source: Fryer, Works of Barry, i. 41-43; also printed in part: Burke, Correspondence, 245-46 (see note 10 below).

Burke's 'kinsman' William Burke (1728-98) writes from Burke's house in Queen Anne Street, bought in 1762, part of a new development off Cavendish Square (Lock, Edmund Burke, i. 195). Apart from Burke's immediate family, the household often included Burke's brother Richard Burke Snr. (1733-94) who was unmarried, his father-in-law Dr. Christopher Nugent (1698-1775) and William Burke.

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London, March 23, 1766

Dear Barry,

I have received your several letters, and I do not alone receive pleasure in them, for all your friends of Queen Ann-Street are, and always will be, interested in what concerns you. I join seriously in your mortification at not getting admittance to copy the picture.1 It looks like ill nature, and yet I have none of that nature towards you, and yet I can't help suspecting that your disappointment is in some degree owing to your own nature, and yet I might as well spare my remark, for as it is your nature it always will be so, and yet from my heartiest regard I could wish that a little conformity to the nonsense of the world made you less unfit to bustle in that world, where folly is too predominant for the good sense of individuals to oppose it. It is kicking against the pricks:2 my dear Barry, in the beginning of life, peculiarities will not do; they hurt ourselves, not the world, who will go their own way in spite of us; you will find them impediments in your road to wealth; or if you despise wealth, you do not, I am sure, despise honest fame, and you will find any indulgence of whim and peculiarity a grand obstacle in your way, by robbing you of the opportunity of proper studies, and consequently impede at least your perfecting yourself in your art, which is, you know, the only means to insure a great name in the art.

I really beg your pardon for this sort of lecture, for which I have no apparent cause, and yet I have some cause too in your conduct and reason, and have great in my own sincere regards. We had one letter treating of the art, which makes me wish now and then for your further observations 3 on what you may find curious in your travels. Ned,4 who was the best judge of the subject, was delighted with it. You have heard that his success has exceeded our most sanguine hopes, all at once he has darted into fame;5 I think he is acknowledgedly one of the first men in the commons Commons . I speak to you without disguise; to flatter him to you would be ridiculous, for you cannot love him more than you do,—to conceal the extent of his fame from you would be an unfair return for the love you bear him. The administration seems to be on a rock:6 not but rocks are liable to earthquakes too: if, however, Mr. Pitt7 should accede to them, which he is expected to do, it would so fill all chasms, that air, or whatever it is that causes those tremblemens,8 would find no cavity to lurk in, and make its mischief from.9

As for ourselves, Richard eats, drinks, sleeps, and, laughs his fill10—Ned is full of real business, intent upon doing real good to his country, as much as if he was to receive twenty per cent. from the commerce of the whole empire, which he labours to improve and extend. As for me, I am as you left me, with much to do in what is called business, which is mostly attendance, with this satisfaction in it still, that the modest nature and real worth of the man I do attend,11 makes every thing pleasing. The Doctor goes his rounds, and is in pretty good health,12 as I should say we all were, had not poor Mrs. Burke been visited by a most severe cold;13 the delicacy of her frame, and that infinity of intrinsic worth that makes her dear to us, raised some anxious apprehensions, but, thank God! she is so much better that our fears are no more: the little boy14 who was at home a few days ago, is perfectly well. Our friend, Mr. Macleane,15 is Lieutenant Governor of St. Vincent, the profit small, but, as he must go there, it is a satisfaction to be the first man. I hope too, by the mediation of Lord Cardigan16, he will be made a commissioner for the sale of lands, which will gild the plume the other gives. Remember us all very heartily to Mr. Drumgold.17 I don't trouble him with a letter, but in this tell him from us all, that if in spite of you he does not obtain the immediate permission of your admittance to make the copy, we shall be sincerely disappointed. It is impossible but he can do it and if he knew how much we interest ourselves in it, it is impossible we flatter ourselves, but he would do it. Adieu, 18 my dear friend, all prosperity be with you.—I as secretary in the name of all, declare our earnest regards.

William Burke.