Letter from WILLIAM BURKE to JAMES BARRY, written 24 April 1770, at London

Source: Fryer, Works of Barry, i.187-89.

Barry had just left Rome and was making his way through northern Italy before travelling back to London. He was accompanied on the first leg of his journey by his friend and fellow student of painting John Francis Rigaud (1742-1810), a native of Turin: they travelled 'in the calash of the regular courier' and arrived at Florence on the 26th of April.1

William Burke (1728-98), Barry's friend and 'kinsman' of Edmund Burke, writes probably from London in response to Barry's letter of [c.February 1770].

Full display

April 24, 1770.

My Dear Barry,

How often have I, and have all of us, resolved to answer your last letter; that prudent and wise man, whose maxim it was to put off nothing till to-morrow that could be done to-day,2 saved himself a world of mortifications, and did his business into the bargain: but it is cheaper to applaud and admire wisdom than to follow it. By our delay too I fear I write to no purpose, and that this will scarcely catch you, and yet it is much wished by Edmund, Sir Joshua3 and all your friends, that you should make some stay at Bologna. I am so ignorant that I will not affect to tell you the object of staying there, nor is it needful, for your own taste and knowledge will much better direct your attention than any thing I could say.

The vessel with your boxes is not yet arrived, so that to our great regret, your appearance at this year's exhibition is impossible:4 whenever it arrives, you may rely upon our attending to your directions.

We are very glad to find that you have employed your pen in your own art;5 as from what you say in your letters upon that subject, we are confident that you will shew a knowledge and judgement that must do credit, as well as do service to the art; nor do I say this in compliment, for your letters when you speak of painting, do manifest much thinking, and much knowledge. You will not do us justice, if you suppose us inclined to upbraid or even to suspect your having neglected your studies or thrown away your time in idle disputes:6 but do you think if Ned's child7 were far distant from us, we should not have a thousand fears and anxieties? Our prejudice and affection would easily persuade us that he was always right, and yet we should fear the world would have their prejudices too, and think him in the wrong. But independent of our regards, do not imagine that we hear nothing but the wrong, justice is done to your merit too, and we do hear of you in terms that makes us proud. Ned is very sensible of the extremely polite manner you speak concerning your Adam and Eve, and you may be sure he will not dispose of it to your dissatisfaction. Continue, my dear Barry, that noble enthusiasm that looks to fame alone, depend upon it too, that it is the truest road to fortune; nor dread poor Hussey's fate.8 Taste as well as art itself is hourly improving, and at all events, please God to preserve them, you have friends that will not leave you to soup and bread, and a coat in a corner.9 As a man, you are loved, as an artist they know your taste, are confident in your industry, and expect, as friends, to participate your fame. We shall be glad to see you, but do not hasten.—I am particularly desired to beg you to stay a time at Bologna. If elsewhere you find reason of delay, stop and take your time, finish your travels and your studies before you leave them. Mrs. B. has been very ill lately, but, thank God, she is now much better.10 We expect almost every day poor Richard to set off for the West Indies.11 Ned's little boy is every thing we could wish, good in his person, excellent in temper and disposition, attentive and diligent in his studies beyond his years. He is turned of twelve about three months; he has read Virgil and Horace,12 and some prose writers. He has gone through about four books of Homer, and is reading Lucian, with really a scientific knowledge of Greek.13 There is a young gentleman14 with him, an excellent scholar, and an excellent man, to whose care we are indebted for the happiness of the child's conduct. We are all most affectionately yours; Sir Joshua, whom we love and admire, is heartily in his regards for you; as almost in every thing, I am my dear Barry, your affectionate friend and servant,

William Burke.

At Turin, be so good as to call at our minister's there, and enquire for Mr. Cooke, my particular friend.15 He will be happy to see you.