1782 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Gilbert West

Anonymous, "A Short Narrative of the late Gilbert West, L.L.D." Annual Register for 1782 (1782) 55-58.



Gilbert West was the son of the Reverend Doctor West. He had the misfortune to be deprived of his father whilst under the age of thirteen years, and just too at the time when a Mitre was expected for the doctor, through the interest of a powerful friend, Lord Orford, who had gained the royal assent to raise him to that dignity. At this early period of his life, he was left to the care of his disconsolate and distressed mother, who had not only her own loss to deplore, but also the blasted hopes of a young family. Gilbert West was sent to Eaton, and compleated his education at Oxford. His mother was the eldest daughter of Sir Richard Temple, and sister to Lord Cobham; a woman not more distinguished for her beauty, than for her exemplary conduct through life. Her marrying a clergyman, though a man of family, of learning, and high character, was so resented by her brother Cobham, who hated (as he declared) the whole cloth, that he excluded her from his honours and estates, and settled them on his second sister's male issue, confining the little marks of his brotherly attentions for his eldest sister, to her son Gilbert West. Lord Cobham presented Mr. West, while at Oxford, with a coronetsy in his own regiment. He was then reading divinity, that being the bent of his inclination, and best adapted to his serious turn of mind. Being thus called into the military line, he was naturally led to make frequent visits from Oxford to Stowe, to gain knowledge of his uncle in his new profession, whom he looked up to with the greatest admiration; his lordship being possessed of brilliant talents, and a perfect knowledge of the world. To his lordship's captivating standard, many of the first genius repaired, which gave rise to animated conversations, and the display of wit on various subjects. Among other topics, revealed religion had its turn for animadversion, and was represented as a work of imposition; which a wise man must reject; and that the whole derived its source from priest-craft. This caught the honest mind of Mr. West; and then not being able to answer the deluding arguments brought in support of those fatal errors, he imbibed this on principle, that there was no real foundation for the great truths set forth in the holy scriptures; but he never was brought to lose sight of the Supreme Being in all his glorious works, to whom he ever paid the devoutest adoration. His love of virtue in its fullest extent, was so great, that his actions throughout were considered by those, who knew him well, to be so upright, as never to border upon vice.

He was one of the students of Christ Church, Oxford, and from thence had his introduction into the Secretary of State's office, being nominated by that university to answer the plan of government in sending such a given number of them to be initiated into the business of the state, in order to qualify them for foreign embassies. Lord Townshend, then Secretary of State, received Mr. West with great marks of friendly regard, and honoured him with confidential business at his own house; and when his lordship attended King George the First to Hanover, Mr. West accompanied him. This gave a fair prospect for Mr. West's advancement, and certainly it must have taken place, had not his uncle Lord Cobham become a violent opposer of the administration. Lord Townshend, in consequence of it, told Mr. West very fairly, that he could no longer give support to his acknowledged merit, as his uncle stood in the way of his promotion, and any favour done to him, would be considered as a servile court paid to Lord Cobham. Mr. Gilbert West seeing that he must fall a sacrifice to his alliance with Lord Cobham, quitted the scene of public business, soon after married, and fixed at Peckham [sic] in Kent; where his tranquil life was rendered truly pleasing, by books, and a chosen few, who frequently came there, and by their rational and unrestrained converse, enjoyed a felicity they could not find in the busy world. His near relation, and long tried valuable friend, George Lyttelton, represented Mr. West in so advantageous a light to Frederick, Prince of Wales, in whose service he then was, that his royal highness, on Mr. Lyttelton's recommendation, authorised him to acquaint Mr. West, that he intended to give him the education of the young prince, his present majesty. This being communicated to Mr. West by Mr. Lyttelton, he took very deeply into consideration the importance of such a charge, and it led him to conclude, that no principles could be binding on the human mind, which had not religion for their basis. He therefore resolved to find out the true one, if possible, to rest his faith upon it, give comfort to his own mind, and qualify himself for the trust expected to be reposed in him. To effect these salutary ends, he determined to read the scriptures with the utmost care, believing, if they were of divine inspiration, all seeming inconsistencies were to be reconciled. These important considerations he offered to his worthy good friend, George Lyttelton, whose warm and excellent heart exulted on the noble and pious ideas thrown out on the occasion; and there ensued between these long loved and esteemed friends, the most interesting and affecting conversation, which the person who writes this had the satisfaction to be witness to, and to their resolutions, at the same time, to undertake their observations on the Resurrection of St. Paul; which were soon after given to the public, in 1747. In the year following, the University of Oxford created Mr. West, Doctor of Laws, by diploma. The approbation given to these performances, put Mr. West upon a more extensive plan, as the cavillers said, all objections were still in force, except the authenticity of the scriptures were proved. He therefore begun upon that great work, but got no farther than the three first chapters of Genesis, it pleasing the all-wise disposer, to remove him to that glorious state, where all he had been meditating upon in his imperfect one, was no doubt opened to his view. It is impossible to describe the heartfelt delight he received in studying the holy scriptures; and his mind was so illumined with these sacred truths, and with holding as he did a constant intercourse with the Divine Nature, that he seemed to be above the injuries of fortune, or pains of sickness, looking forwards to a more permanent condition. His sublime piety, virtue, amiable and and cheerful disposition, made him equally beloved and respected; nor was ever any man more warmly and tenderly attached to his friends than he was. Mr. West had too much dignity of character, to admit of pride or superciliousness; never beholding with scorn the imperfect characters, or imperfect pleasures of other men; he enjoyed with complacency, himself, the innocent pleasures of life, whether presented to him under the form of beautiful nature, or ingenious art.

To an early friendship with the then Duke of Devonshire's son, he owed the being appointed one of the clerks extraordinary of the privy council, the duke being president; and to Mr. Pitt, afterwards Lord Chatham, he was indebted, for his being Treasurer of Chelsea Hospital. But as the advantages flowing from them came to him very late in life, he may be said to have passed almost through it with a narrow income. His mind however being rich with knowledge and content, he might be deemed, notwithstanding his claim to a high situation, a happy man until his lost his only child, a son at man's estate, in whom he had placed much comfort and all his hopes. On receiving the fatal shock of his death, he only emphatically said, "My dear son is taken to a better Father;" and with that pious reflection, he calmed his own sorrows, and those of his afflicted wife and sympathizing friends. He survived his son but one year, and died in 1756, aged about fifty.