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Barry was a close friend of the politician Edmund Burke and shared his hostility to King George III's and his government's repression of the American colonies in their War of Independence (1775-83). Blake felt similarly but never produced, for such wide circulation as Barry did with this print, so direct an attack on the government. Barry makes clear his sympathy for the Americans by including a self-portrait among the mourners for the dead Britannia. She has died because the liberties which once held sway in Britain had now fled to America where, phoenix-like, they are reborn. The seventeenth century poet John Milton, who was an advocate of individual liberty, is also one of the mourners.

August 2004