1795 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Gilbert West

Robert Anderson, in Works of the British Poets (1795) 9:469-70.



The works of West bear ample testimony of his genius and learning; and his contemporaries are lavish in praise of his piety, probity, and amiable benevolence.

Pope, the most celebrated of his poetical contemporaries, in testimony of his esteem, left him 5 in his will, "to be laid out on a ring, or any other memorial," and 200 "after the decease of Mrs. Blount. "Crashaw," says Dr. Johnson, "is now not the only maker of verses to whom may be given the venerable names of Poet and Saint.

Of his private character, and domestic habits, the following account is given in the Gentleman's Magazine, 1783, from the MSS. of Mr. Jones, once curate to Young at Welwyn, and afterwards Vicar of Hitchin, and well known by the active share he took in the Free and Candid Disquisitions. It will be no disparagement to these particulars, to observe, that they have furnished some useful hints to Dr. Johnson, in the improved edition of his Lives of the Poets.

"Mr. West was a person of great discernment, and of a very quick apprehension, and readily saw into men and things. He was lively and agreeable in conversation, and very much of a gentleman in all his behavior.

"I have heard him say, that in his younger days he had gone over into the quarters of infidelity. His uncle, the late Lord Cobham, did all in his power to instill such principles into his mind, and that of his cousin Lyttleton, when they paid their visits to him. But the latter, he said, happily stood his ground, and made little or no progress in these perverse principles.

"When his Treatise on the Resurrection, &c. was first advertised in the public papers, numbers of those who had conceived an opinion of his continuing a staunch unbeliever, sent for it to his bookseller, hoping to find their own disbelief therein confirmed. But, finding themselves disappointed, some of them were pleased afterwards to rank him in the class even of Methodists, others ranked him among the Socinians. But his true character, to my certain knowledge, was a Christian, a Scholar, and a Gentleman.

"His uncle (even after the publication of his Treatise on the Resurrection) left him a legacy of 1000.

"He was very regular and exemplary in family religion; offered up prayers (those of the public liturgy) every day, when well, at eleven in the morning; and then, when the weather was fair, rode out for his health. On Sundays, he went to church (not to that of his own parish, but to that of St. James's, Dr. Clarke's church) and at evening ordered his servants to come into the parlour, when he read to them the late Dr. Clarke's sermons, and then went to prayers. He read them always himself.

"On thing was somewhat singular; he always said grace himself at his table, though a clergyman was present. He gave me his reasons of his own accord, and I did not disapprove them.

"He bore his last illness in a very exemplary manner, very patient, and entirely resigned to the Divine Will.

"He had formed an excellent design of proving the authenticity of the New Testament, from many observations that had occurred to him from time to time, which he had begun to note down; and I remember he showed me some valuable hints that had been communicated to him by Dr. Doddridge, particularly drawn from the concessions of Celsus, and others, amongst the more early opposers of Christianity. He seemed to delight in that subject, and to be fully resolved to pursue it if God should give him opportunities. I have heard him expatiate upon it in conversation, with great clearness of judgment and strength of argument. What became of his preparatory papers upon it, since his decease, I know not; but have reason to believe, from what I have heard, that they were soon after destroyed, with many others, and perhaps all that he had left remaining upon any topics of theology. Let his memory be ever dear to me, and sacred to the friends of Christianity in all succeeding ages."

His poetical character, as given by Dr. Johnson, is candid and judicious, and may be generally allowed; but with some exceptions in favour of the Choruses in The Institution of the Order of the Garter, unjustly overlooked; and making due allowance for his injurious and degrading estimate of the merit of poetical imitation.