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النشر الإلكتروني

JAMES BARRY.

There is nothing, perhaps, which is loaded with a weight of heavier penalties to the possessor, or one which is oftener quarrelled with in a rage of disappointment by the world, than the endowment of genius. The comparative history of man and the mind of man, will be generally traced at strange contrarieties; and though genius be a light in itself, yet how piteously do its children at times wander in darkness! When the ideas are powerfully engrossed by an object, the man is an indifferent companion; for he desires to hear and to be heard principally on one only subject : long study and deep reflection have thoroughly convinced him of its importance and utility : his temperament is the least obtrusive, and he lives therefore, abstracted and neglected, to develope the mighty conception; and at last expires disregarded, because sufficient time has not justified the merits of his aspirations. But on the other hand, when the pretension is stronger, when the cause is more exciting, and the passion on which it thrives is more vivid, then to challenge support and command imitation become natural and indispensable. Still, however, the same social repugnance to success is in operation; or rather, what was apathy before, now swells into forcible opposition; for as the eye familiar with darkness, retreats from the first glare of day, so is the march of improvement always broken by obstacles. A fatal contest ensues; the enthusiasm of unachieved conquest inspires the one side, and the vigour of indignation upholds the other :---the interval is bitterly fruitful in vicissitudes; the issue is marked with greater violence; and the second martyr falls :this is an epitome of the fortunes of genius. The only true phoenix, it flourishes after death, and flowers in its fruit. Exemplifications of this fact abound in every direction; but the cha

racter of the following memoir is as strikingly decisive of the case, as any other out of the number can be.

James Barry, born in the year 1741, was a native of the city of Cork, in Ireland, where his father pursued the business of a ship-master. To the kindness of the latter, and the liberal institutions of his birth-place, James owed the advantages of a classical education ; after which it was proposed to him to join his father in a mercantile life. To this offer there came a demur upon the force of disinclination; and the functions of a catholic priest were, according to some writers, suggested as somewhat more congenial : but a more natural bias fortunately repressed the choice, and James Barry became a painter. As far as we are told, the first instructions he received in this art were from a master named West, who taught in Dublin; and so mature was his proficiency, that when only nineteen he designed and finished a painting which attracted every eye, and secured the applause of his country. This picture was national and historical in a most interesting degree, having for its subject the first conversion of an Irish monarch to Christianity, upon the mission of St. Patrick. The period of action was chosen with corresponding felicity, and related to a story which has been preserved, to prove the intense feelings of devotion by which the saints of the primitive church and their followers were actuated. The incident is this :The bishop's crosier, as it would seem, was in those days a weapon of defence, as well as an instrument of peace, and as such always terminated in a sharp spear, which struck conveniently into the ground, whenever the hand was required for other offices. Upon the present occasion, when the apostle, preparatory to freeing his arms for the baptismal blessing, pierced the earth with his staff, he accidentally penetrated the monarch's footstep with the blow. Yet are we assured, that the royal penitent never stirred a limb under the pain of the wound, nor even permitted a word to drop, which could be construed into a mental distraction from the holy ceremony; while the good priest, equally unconscious of any harm, continued the sacrament with most impressive unction. Such was the critical moment to which Barry fixed his representation of the scene: while the astonishment of the bye-standers was highest, and a guard, incensed at the indignity offered to his sovereign, swings his battle-axe round in the air to strike the presumptuous bishop to the earth, which design however is restrained by a companion in arms, who points to the unblenched cheek, and unaltered equanimity of the sufferer, and apparently infers that the act is one he would not desire to see avenged.

The last touches were given to the canvas, upon which this exemplary legend was depicted, upon the night preceding an exhibition which had been advertised in the metropolis, for the encouragement of the fine arts. Without any introduction but his picture, Barry proceeded to the place announced, and requested permission to exhibit the first fruit of his labcurs. He obtained an immediate assent; and upon the following morning again repaired to the spot, palpitating with high emotions, and there beheld the general gaze of admiration concentrated upon one object, and that his own production. He moved about among the crowd, drinking in praises with ecstasy, and hearing repeated enquiries after his name, which most persons appeared anxious to learn, and many seemed mortified to be unable to answer. At last Barry advanced and avowed himself the artist--and strange to say, the claim was resisted with a shout of incredulous laughter. His youth, rough features, and unsoftened manners, produced impressions so discordant from the beau ideal of a painter, that after being first heartily ridiculed, he was insulted even to disdain, and rushed from the apartment in an agony of tears and anger.

This distress, however, was fleeting; his pretensions were easily established before the public, and he enjoyed a full recompense for his sorrows in collecting the general opinion; by which it appeared certain, that the powerful resignation of the monarch, the intense abstraction of the saint, and the mixed attitude and expression natural to the varied characters introduced, were comprehended by him with a force, and distinguished with a truth, which gave the happiest assurance of decided genius. Reward more palpable and honour more conspicuous were still in reserve; for the subscribers to the society holding the exhibition presented him with 201., although no prize had been advertised for the best performance;-and some gentlemen of the Irish Parliament bought the picture and presented it to the House of Commons, where it was honourably fixed, a monument of native talent displayed under circumstances of unusual interest. Few are the instances upon record of any first performance so characteristically engaging in its

history, and so immediately signalised in its fortune, as was Barry's maiden picture. Inconstancy, however, is the assay-master of Fortune; and this firstling was destined to a reverse as sudden and extreme as could have supervened. The Irish House of Commons a few years after took fire, and was burnt to the ground; the Conversion shared the flames : and the fate of the painting has by some been remarked on as a type of the artist's career

A few days after the exhibition of this painting, Barry had the good fortune to make an acquaintance, which in its consequence proved most advantageous to his professional advancement. This was with the celebrated Edmund Burke, who travelling up from Cork just as Barry's reputation was winning its first praises, came loaded with letters of congratulation and introduction for him; and was himself so engaged by the enthusiasm of opening genius, that he yielded to the cultivation of a friendship which a mutual respect and admiration preserved sacred for years. It may be here mentioned as a proof of the judgment with which Barry pursued his studies, and the constitutional ardour with which he seized every means of improvement, that meeting with a copy of Burke's Treatise on the Beautiful and Sublime, while the work stood as yet anonymously before the world, and he was unconscious that his friend was the author, he had the penetration to discover its merits, and in order to possess himself thoroughly of its precepts, copied the contents out into manuscript with his own hand. This labour had another credit; it led the author to avow his name:—for disputing with Barry upon some subject of taste, the manuscript was produced for a reference, and Burke made a first confession of having written the book. Upon such an occasion, it is truly enviable to think of the grateful feelings with which two such men must have looked back upon their lucubrations.

This intimacy once cemented, Barry continued to derive the most essential service from the superior counsel of Burke. By the latter he was strongly confirmed in the design of compassing the manner of a visit to London, and afterwards a journey to Rome; and it is probable that, but for the importunity and exertions of Burke, both these objects might have been deferred to a fatal extremity. Stern in principle, and impatient of dependance, Barry only thought of travelling when the reward of his labours should have smoothed the way before him ; while Burke, too seriously convinced of the importance of prompt and timely movements, struggled hard and repeatedly with the stubbornness of his friend, and at last succeeded. Barry consented to pass over into England, with Mr. Richard Burke, whose mercantile connection promised many advantages to the stranger in London. The principal introduction now obtained by the artist was one the most consequential to his profession: it was to Sir Joshua Reynolds, who, captivated by the strong originality of mind and manner in the young Irishman, extended to him with liberal feelings every benefit which hospitality at home and recommendation abroad could bestow. Other opportunities of forming acquaintances, the most influential in developing a knowledge of life, moulding a decided character, and fostering the rectitude of his ambition, presented themselves in succession; and by degrees he grew to associate with men of such celebrity as Johnson, Goldsmith, and Garrick ; while the fruits of his assiduity left him competence to enjoy his leisure moments without a repentant thought. This, without comparison, was the happiest period of Barry's existence: invigorated by success, and excited not only by the example of intelligence of the finest order, but also by direct contact with it, he was free to let loose his imagination in that search after perfection, which it afterwards proved the greatest defect of his life, that he could so ardently pursue, but so faintly approach. Burke, his friend and patron, now a student at the Temple, was restored to his society; months and even years glided away unnumbered and undeplored; and the schools of classical Italy seemed forgotten.

Burke, however, was constant in his regard and exhortation; and in the year 1766 proposed a plan for enabling Barry to travel and complete the education of an artist, which the cooperation of Reynolds forced into effect. Of this measure, so highly honourable to all the parties concerned in it, the chief merit was due to Burke ; and it should never be forgotten, how often during Barry's absence he pinched his own limited income, in order to supply his friend with means to proceed and prosper. After spending four years in visiting the principal emporiums of art abroad, and receiving the distinetion of being made a fellow of

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