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Barré, Isaac (DNB00)


BARRÉ, ISAAC (1726–1802), colonel and politician, the son of Peter Barré, a French refugee from Rochelle, who rose by slow degrees to a position of eminence in Dublin commerce, was born at Dublin in 1726. He was entered at Trinity College, Dublin, as a pensioner 19 Nov. 1740, became a scholar in 1744, and took his degree in the following year. His parents intended him to have become an attorney, but his instincts were for fighting, and he was gazetted as an ensign in 1746. Not until he applied for a place in Wolfe's regiment, in the ill-fated expedition against Rochefort in 1757, did he attract the attention of his superior officers; but his services on that occasion introduced him both to the commander of his regiment and to his future patron, Lord Shelburne. He was by Wolfe's side when his brave leader fell at Quebec, and was permanently disfigured by a wound in the cheek. He is among the officers represented in West's picture. After fourteen years of service Barré thought himself justified in applying to Pitt for advancement (28 April 1760); but his request was refused, on the ground that ‘senior officers would be injured by his promotion.’ He was lieutenant-colonel commandant of 106th foot from 1761 until he was deprived in 1763. Through Lord Shelburne's influence he sat in parliament for Chipping Wycombe from 5 Dec. 1761 to 1774, and for Calne from that year to 1790, when, in consequence of a disagreement with his patron, he no longer sought re-election. Five days after his first election he attacked Pitt with great fierceness of language; and the effect of his speech was heightened by his massive and swarthy figure, as well as by the bullet which had lodged loosely in his cheek, and given ‘a savage glare’ to his eye. Early in 1763 Barré was created, under Lord Bute's ministry, adjutant-general and governor of Stirling, a post worth 4,000l. a year, but in the following September was dismissed by the Grenville ministry from his place and from the army. A reconciliation was effected between him and Pitt in February 1764, and their political attachment only ceased with Pitt's death. Barré strenuously opposed the taxation of America as inexpedient, but, together with Lord Shelburne, committed the mistake of refusing to join the Rockingham ministry. In Pitt's administration he was restored to his rank in the army, and became vice-treasurer of Ireland, as well as a privy councillor, holding that office until the break-up of the ministry in October 1768. The king's hatred of Barré, a dislike second only to that felt for Wilkes, blocked Barré's promotion in the army, and led to his retirement from the service in February 1773. When the Rockingham ministry was formed in the spring of 1782, he was appointed treasurer of the navy, and received a pension of 3,200l. a year, to take effect ‘whenever he should quit his then office,’ a proceeding which made the ministry unpopular, and enabled the younger Pitt some time later to gain applause by granting to Barré the clerkship of the Pells in lieu of the pension. In a few months the Rockingham administration was dissolved by the death of its head, and a new cabinet, in which Barré became paymaster-general, was formed by Lord Shelburne. This was his last official position, and all prospect of further advancement was a year or two later shut out by blindness. Cut off from all active pursuits, and harassed by declining health, he died at Stanhope Street, May Fair, 20 July 1802. As an opposition orator Barré was almost without rival. The terrors of his invective paralysed Charles Townshend and dismayed Wedderburn. Among the opponents of Lord North's ministry none took a more prominent place than Barré In defence he was less happy, and in society he was vulgar. It is perhaps worthy of notice that John Britton wrote in 1848 a volume to prove that Barré was the author of the ‘Letters of Junius.’

[Memoir in Britton's Authorship of Junius elucidated; Albemarle's Rockingham, i. 79–84; Walpole's George III and Letters, passim; Correspondence of George III with Lord North, ii. 21; Wraxall's Hist. Memoirs, ii. 134–7; Leslie and Taylor's Reynolds, i. 257–8; Grenville Correspondence, i. 326, ii. 229–36; Correspondence of Lord Chatham, passim; Fitzmaurice's Shelburne; Macmillan's Magazine, xxxv. 109 (1877); Gent. Mag. 1802 pt. ii. 694, 1817 pt. ii. 131.]

W. P. C.