1824 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Gilbert West

Anonymous, "Observations on Gilbert West, Author of a celebrated Treatise on the Resurrection of Christ" Imperial Magazine 6 (March 1824) 240-42.



It is a pity that we have not the particulars of this excellent writer's conversion, which, by his own account, was somewhat extraordinary. In a letter to Dr. Doddridge, he says, — "One lesson I cannot help taking notice of to you, upon this occasion, viz. your remarks upon the advantage of an early education in the principles of religion, because I have myself most happily experienced it. Since I owe to the care of a most excellent woman, my mother, that bent and bias to religion, which, with the co-operating grace of God, hath at length brought me back to those paths of peace, from whence I might have otherwise been in danger of deviating for ever. The parallel betwixt me and Colonel Gardiner was, in this instance, too striking not to affect me exceedingly."

When Mr. West began to think seriously upon religion, but yet remained unsettled in the principles of revelation, his friend Lyttelton was in a similar state, and they agreed to investigate the question to the bottom. At this time it happened that the apparent dissonance in the evangelical account of the resurrection of Jesus, was much dwelt upon by the infidels; and several tracts were published upon the subject. The doctrine of miracles was another point, to which the sceptical artillery was powerfully directed. The two friends, therefore, resolved to examine, each for himself, these fundamental pillars of the faith; the result of which proved satisfactory to the inquirers, and beneficial to the world, in the publication of the "Observations on the Resurrection," by Mr. West; and the "Observations on the Conversion of St. Paul," by Mr. Lyttelton; the former with, and the other without, the name of the author.

Mr. West told a friend of his, that his piece was written down only for his own satisfaction; that he had no thoughts of making a book of it, and thought it would have been only a sheet or two.

The impression on the public mind by the two works was powerful, and Dr. Thomas Shaw of Oxford, the celebrated traveller, wrote to Mr. Lyttelton to let him know that the university had an intention to confer upon him and his friend Mr. West the doctorate. Mr. Lyttelton, in his reply, declined the honour, as his name was not to his book; but Mr. West not having the same excuse, accepted the diploma, which was bestowed in the handsomest manner.

Mr. West was upon terms of intimacy and correspondence with Dr. Doddridge, who; writing to a dissenting minister in London soon after the appearance of this important treatise, says: — "I cannot forbear mentioning the pleasure I have just now received from Mr. West's book on the Resurrection of Christ, and which gives an account of the thing incomparably more satisfactory than I have ever before met with; which supposes two companies of women to have come to the sepulchre, and Peter to have visited it twice. Inmost other particulars it agrees with my Harmony, where there are some of the same observations, and some of the versions he would recommend. I look upon it as a very considerable piece of service done to Christianity, and thank God he has put it into the mind of one, who, not being a minister, may be heard with less prejudice; and who, I believe, himself was once rather disposed to oppose Christianity than to defend it."

Mr. West died of a stroke of the palsy in 1756, "being, (says Johnson,) one of the few poets to whom the grave had no terrors."