The incidents recorded of this amiable young gentle man, who was the friend and schoolfellow of Gray, are few and melancholy; and his writings, though exquisite, would not fill a single sheet.
Richard West was born in 1716. His father, of the same name, was Lord Chancellor of Ireland, and his maternal grandfather was the celebrated Bishop Burnet.
West was educated at Eton school, from whence he removed to Christ-church, Oxford, about the same time that Gray was entered of Cambridge. A correspondence, however, was kept up between them, and it is from this, as published by Mason, that we learn the brief history of this ingenious youth, whose classical attainments were of the first order, as is evident from his Latin verses; and who, had he lived, would have done honour to his country.
In 1737, he addressed his beautiful elegiac epistle, Ad Amicos, to Gray, and his other friends at Cambridge. It is written in the genuine spirit of Tibullus, and we have only to regret, that he who could write so well, did not write more on the same model.
In 1738, West became a student of the Inner Temple; but the delicacy of his taste, as well as the delicate state of his health, appear to have disqualified him from studying with effect the sages of the law. After two years, he quitted the Temple; and under the pressure of sickness, and a load of family misfortunes, was visited by his friend Gray, who had just returned from the continent. Gray exerted himself with the most cordial affection to alleviate his sufferings; but a constitution naturally weak, gave way to anxiety and distress of mind; and about twenty days after he had written his charming Ode to May, he fell a martyr to consumption, June 1, 1742, in the twenty-sixth year of his age.
On the character of West, it is unnecessary to enlarge. In every respect it appears to have been truly amiable and irreproachable; and it will be sufficient praise, that as a poet, the blossoms of his genius were thought worthy of being associated with the immortal productions of Gray.
Mr. Anderson has observed, with his wonted accuracy, that West resembles Gray in many instances. Among others, they were both deeply enamoured with the excellences of ancient literature, and strongly attached to the cultivation of Latin poetry. West, in his poetry, discovers taste and delicacy of sentiment, joined to a great share of poetical imagination. His images are pleasing, his language chaste and elegant, and his versification correct and harmonious
The Ode to May has not received from Gray more praise than it deserves. It is an extraordinary effort of fancy, expression, and versification. It is characterised by energy and melody in the highest degree, and may be justly considered as the choicest specimen of classical composition that English poetry can produce.