GILBERT WEST, a very estimable writer, was the son of Dr. West, the editor of "Pindar" in 1697, who died in 1716, and his mother was sister to sir Richard Temple, afterwards lord Cobham. His father, purposing to educate him for the church, sent him first to Eton, and afterwards to Oxford; but he was seduced to a more airy mode of life, by a commission in a troop of horse, procured him by his uncle. He continued some time in the army, but probably never lost the love, or neglected the pursuit of learning; and afterwards, finding himself more inclined to civil employment, he laid down his commission, and engaged in business under lord Townshend, then secretary of state, with whom he attended the king to Hanover. His adherence to lord Townshend ended in nothing but a nomination (May 1729) to be clerk-extraordinary of the Privy Council, which produced no immediate profit; for it only placed him in a state of expectation and right of succession, and, it was very long before a vacancy admitted him to profit.
Soon afterwards he married, and settled himself in a very pleasant house at Wickham in Kent, where he devoted himself to learning and to piety. Of his learning his works exhibit evidence, and particularly the dissertations which accompany his version of Pindar. Of his piety the influence has probably been extended far by his "Observations on the Resurrection," published in 1747, for which the university of Oxford created him a doctor of laws by diploma, March 30, 1743, and would doubtless have, reached yet further had he lived to complete what he had for some time meditated, the Evidences of the Truth of the New Testament. Perhaps it may not be without effect to tell, that he read the prayers of the public liturgy, every morning to his family, and that on Sunday evening he called his servants into the parlour, and read to them first a sermon, and then prayers. Crashaw is now not the only maker of verses to whom may be given the two venerable names of poet and saint.
He was very often visited by Lyttelton and Pitt, who when they were weary of faction and debates, used at Wickham to find books and quiet, a decent table, and literary conversation. There is at Wickham a walk made by Pitt; and, what is of far more importance, at Wickham Lyttelton received that conviction which produced his "Dissertation on St. Paul." These two illustrious friends had for a while listened to the blandishments of infidelity; and when West's book was published, it was bought by some who did not know his change of opinion, in expectation of new objections against Christianity; and, as infidels do not want malignity, they revenged the disappointment by calling him a methodist.
West's income was not large; and his friends endeavoured, but without success, to obtain an augmentation. It is reported, that the education of the young prince, now George III. was offered to him, but that he required a more extensive power of superintendance than it was thought proper to allow him. In time, however, his revenue was improved. He lived to have one of the lucrative clerkships of the privy-council in 1752, and Mr. Pitt afterwards made him treasurer of Chelsea hospital. He was now sufficiently rich, but wealth came too late to be long enjoyed, nor could it secure him from the calamities of life. In 1755 he lost his only son; and on March 26, of the year following, a stroke of the palsy brought to the grave, says Dr. Johnson, "one of the few poets to whom the grave might be without its terrors."
Of his poetical works, his version of Pindar, although it discovers many imperfections, appears to be the product of great labour and great abilities. His "Institution of the Garter" is written with sufficient knowledge of the manners that prevailed in the age to which it is referred, and with great elegance of diction; but, for want of a process of events, neither knowledge nor elegance preserve the reader from weariness. His "Imitations of Spenser" are very successfully performed, both with respect to the metre, the language, and the fiction; and being engaged at once by the excellence of the sentiments, and the artifice of the copy, the mind has two amusements together. But such compositions, says Johnson, are not to be reckoned among the great atchievements of intellect, because their effect is local and temporary: they appeal not to reason or passion, but to memory, and presuppose an accidental or artificial state of mind. An imitation of Spenser is nothing to a reader, however acute, by whom Spenser has never been perused. Works of this kind may deserve praise, as proofs of great industry, and great nicety of observation; but the highest praise, the praise of genius, they cannot claim. The noblest beauties of art are those of which the effect is coextended with rational nature, or at least with the whole circle of polished life; what is less than this can be only pretty, the plaything of fashion, and the amusement of a day.
The private character of Mr. West was truly amiable and excellent. In him the Christian, the scholar, and the gentleman were happily united. His private virtues and social qualities were such, as justly endeared him to his friends and acquaintances. In his manner of life he was very regular and exemplary. He corresponded on very intimate and friendly terms with Dr. Doddridge, whose "Family Expositor" was ushered into the world by a recommendation from him; and he also wrote the doctor's epitaph.