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The Life, Studies, And Works Of Benjamin West, Esq. by John Galt

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The Life, Studies, and Works of Benjamin West, Esq.

President of the Royal Academy of London

Composed from Materials Furnished by Himself

By John Galt, Esq.

Author of the Life and Administration of Cardinal Wolsey, &c.


Part I.

Alexander Gordon, Esq.
This little work
Is respectfully inscribed
By the Author.


The professional life of Mr. West constitutes an important part of an
historical work, in which the matter of this volume could only have been
introduced as an episode, and, perhaps, not with much propriety even in
that form. It was my intention, at one time, to have prepared the whole of
his memoirs, separately, for publication; but a careful review of the
manuscript convinced me, that the transactions in which he has been
engaged, subsequently to his arrival in England, are so much of a public
nature, and belong so immediately to the history of the Arts, that such a
separation could not be effected without essentially impairing the
interest and unity of the main design; and that the particular nature of
this portion of his memoirs admitted of being easily detached and arranged
into a whole, complete within itself.

I do not think that there can be two opinions with respect to the utility
of a work of this kind. Mr. West, in relating the circumstances by which
he was led to approximate, without the aid of an instructor, to those
principles and rules of art, which it is the object of schools and
academies to disseminate, has conferred a greater benefit on young Artists
than he could possibly have done by the most ingenious and eloquent
lectures on the theories of his profession; and it was necessary that the
narrative should appear in his own time, in order that the authenticity of
the incidents might not rest on the authority of any biographer.

_April_ 25,1816.

John Galt.


Chap. I.

The Birth and Paternal Ancestry of Mr. West.--His Maternal
Family.--His Father.--The Origin of the Abolition of Slavery by the
Quakers.--The Progress of the Abolition.--The Education of the
Negroes.--The Preaching of Edmund Peckover.--His Admonitory Prediction
to the Father of West.--The first Indication of Benjamin's
Genius.--State of Society in Pennsylvania.--The Indians give West the
Primary Colours.--The Artist's first Pencils.--The Present of a Box of
Colours and Engravings.--His first Painting.

Chap. II.

The Artist visits Philadelphia.--His second Picture.--Williams the
Painter gives him the works of Fresnoy and Richardson.--Anecdote of
the Taylor's Apprentice.--The Drawings of the Schoolboys.--Anecdote
relative to Wayne.--Anecdote relative to Mr. Flower.--Anecdote
relative to Mr. Ross.--Anecdote of Mr. Henry.--The Artist's first
Historical Picture.--Origin of his Acquaintance with Dr. Smith of
Philadelphia.--The friendship of Dr. Smith, and the character of the
early companions of West.--Anecdote of General Washington.

Chap. III.

The course of instruction adopted by Provost Smith.--The Artist led
to the discovery of the Camera.--His Father becomes anxious to place
him in business.--Extraordinary proceedings of the Quakers in
consequence.--The Speech of Williamson the Preacher in defence of the
Fine Arts.--Magnanimous Resolution of the Quakers.--Reflections on
this singular transaction.

Chap. IV.

Reflections on the Eccentricities of Young Men of Genius with respect
to pecuniary matters.--The Death of the Artist's Mother.--The
Embodying of the Pennsylvanian Militia; an Anecdote of General
Wayne.--The Artist elected Commandant of a corps of Volunteer
boys.--The circumstances which occasioned the Search for the Bones of
Bradock's army.--The Search.--The Discovery of the Bones of the
Father and Brother of Sir Peter Halket.--The Artist proposed
afterwards to paint a Picture of the Discovery of the Bones of the
Halkets.--He commences regularly as a Painter.--He copies a St.
Ignatius.--He is induced to attempt Historical Portraiture.--His
Picture of the Trial of Susannah.--Of the merits of that Picture.

Chap. V.

Motives which induced him to visit New York.--State of Society in New
York.--Reflections on the sterility of American
talent.--Considerations on the circumstances which tend to produce
Poetical feelings.--The causes which produced the peculiarities in the
state of Society in New York.--The Accident which led the Artist to
discover the method of colouring Candle-light and Fire effects after
Nature.--- He copies Strange's engraving of Belisarius, by Salvator
Rosa.--The occurrence which hastened his Voyage to Italy, with the
Anecdote of his obligations to Mr. Kelly.--Reflections on Plutarch,
occasioned by reference to the effect which his works had on the mind
of West.--The Artist embarks; occurrence at Gibraltar.--He arrives at
Leghorn.--Journey to Rome.

Chap. VI.

State of the stationary Society of Rome.--Causes which rendered the
City a delightful temporary residence.--Defects of the Academical
methods of study.--His introduction to Mr. Robinson.--Anecdote of
Cardinal Albani.--The Cardinal's method of finding Resemblances, and
curious mistake of the Italians.--The Artist's first visit to the
Works of Art.

Chap. VII.

Anecdote of a famous Improvisatore.--West the subject of one of his
finest effusions.--Anecdote of Cardinal Albani.--West introduced to
Mengs.--Satisfactory result of West's first essay in
Rome.--Consequence of the continual excitement which the Artist's
feelings endured.--He goes to Florence for advice.--He accompanies
Mr. Matthews in a tour.--Singular instance of liberality towards the
Artist from several Gentlemen of Philadelphia.

Chap. VIII.

The result of the Artist's experiment to discover the methods by which
Titian produced his splendid colouring.--He returns to Rome.
--Reflections suggested by inspecting the Egyptian Obelisk.
--Considerations of the Author on the same subject; an anecdote of a
Mohawk Indian who became an Actor at New York.--Anecdote of a Scottish
Fanatic who arrived in Rome to convert the Pope.--Sequel of the
Adventure.--The Artist prepares to visit England.--Having completed
his St. Jerome, after Corregio's famous picture, he is elected an
Honorary Member of the Academy of Parma, and invited to Court.--He
proceeds by the way of Genoa towards France.--Reflections on the Stale
of Italy.--Adventure on reaching the French frontiers.--State of
Taste in France.

The Life and Studies of Benjamin West

Chap. I.

The Birth and Paternal Ancestry of Mr. West.--His Maternal
Family.--His Father.--The Origin of the Abolition of Slavery by the
Quakers.--The Progress of the Abolition.--The Education of the
Negroes.--The Preaching of Edmund Peckover.--His Admonitory Prediction
to the Father of West.--The first Indication of Benjamin's
Genius.--State of Society in Pennsylvania.--The Indians give West the
Primary Colours.--The Artist's first Pencils.--The Present of a Box of
Colours and Engravings.--His first Painting.

Benjamin West, the subject of the following Memoirs, was the youngest son
of John West and Sarah Pearson, and was born near Springfield, in Chester
County, in the State of Pennsylvania, on the 10th of October, 1738.

The branch of the West family, to which he belongs, has been traced in an
unbroken series to the Lord Delawarre, who distinguished himself in the
great wars of King Edward the Third, and particularly at the battle of
Cressy, under the immediate command of the Black Prince. In the reign of
Richard the Second, the ancestors of Mr. West settled at Long Crandon in
Buckinghamshire. About the year 1667 they embraced the tenets of the
Quakers; and Colonel James West, the friend and companion in arms of the
celebrated Hampden, is said to have been the first proselyte of the
family. In 1699 they emigrated to America.

Thomas Pearson, the maternal grandfather of the Artist, was the
confidential friend of William Penn, and accompanied him to America. On
their first landing, the venerable Founder of the State of Pennsylvania
said to him, "Providence has brought us safely hither; thou hast been the
companion of my perils, what wilt thou that I should call this place?" Mr,
Pearson replied, that "since he had honoured him so far as to desire him
to give that part of the country a name, he would, in remembrance of his
native City, call it Chester." The exact spot where these patriarchs of
the new world first landed, is still pointed out with reverence by the
inhabitants. Mr. Pearson built a house and formed a plantation in the
neighbourhood, which he called Springfield, in consequence of discovering
a large spring of water in the first field cleared for cultivation; and it
was near this place that Benjamin West was born.

When the West family emigrated, John, the father of Benjamin, was left to
complete his education at the great school of the Quakers at Uxbridge, and
did not join his relations in America till the year 1714. Soon after his
arrival he married the mother of the Artist; and of the worth and piety of
his character we have a remarkable proof in the following transactions,
which, perhaps, reflect more real glory on his family than the
achievements of all his heroic ancestors.

As a part of the marriage portion of Mrs. West he received a negro slave,
whose diligence and fidelity very soon obtained his full confidence.
Being engaged in trade, he had occasion to make a voyage in the West
Indies, and left this young black to superintend the plantation in his
absence, During his residence in Barbadoes, his feelings were greatly
molested, and his principles shocked, by the cruelties to which he saw the
negroes subjected in that island; and the debasing effects were forcibly
contrasted in his mind with the morals and intelligence of his own slave.
Conversing on this subject with Doctor Gammon, who was then at the head of
the community of Friends in Barbadoes, the Doctor convinced him that it
was contrary to the laws of God and Nature that any man should retain his
fellow-creatures in slavery. This conviction could not rest long inactive
in a character framed like that of Mr. West. On his return to America he
gave the negro his freedom, and retained him as a hired servant.

Not content with doing good himself, he endeavoured to make others follow
his example, and in a short time his arguments had such an effect on his
neighbours, that it was agreed to discuss publicly the general question of
Slavery. This was done accordingly; and, after debating it at many
meetings, it was resolved by a considerable majority THAT IT WAS THE DUTY
discussion was soon afterwards followed by a similar proposal to the head
meeting of the Quakers in the township of Goshen in Chester County; and
the cause of Humanity was again victorious. Finally, about the year 1753,
the same question was agitated in the annual general assembly at
Philadelphia, when it was ultimately established as one of the tenets of
the Quakers, that no person could remain a member of their community who
held a human creature in slavery. This transaction is perhaps the first
example in the history of communities, of a great public sacrifice of
individual interest, not originating from considerations of policy or the
exigences of public danger, but purely from moral and religious

The benevolent work of restoring their natural rights to the unfortunate
Negroes, did not rest even at this great pecuniary sacrifice. The Society
of Friends went farther, and established Schools for the education of
their children; and some of the first characters among themselves
volunteered to superintend the course of instruction.

In the autumn of 1738, Edmund Peckover, a celebrated Orator among the
Quakers, came to the neighbourhood of Springfield, and on the 28th of
September preached in a meeting-house erected by the father of Mrs. West
at the distance of about a mile and a half from his residence. Mrs. West
was then the mother of nine children, and far advanced in her pregnancy
with Benjamin.--Peckover possessed the most essential qualities of an
impressive speaker, and on this occasion the subject of his address was of
extraordinary interest to his auditors. He reviewed the rise and progress
of society in America, and with an enthusiastic eloquence which partook of
the sublimity and vehemence of the prophetic spirit, he predicted the
future greatness of the country. He described the condition of the
European nations, decrepid in their institutions, and corrupt in their
morality, and contrasted them with the young and flourishing
establishments of the New World. He held up to their abhorrence the
licentious manners and atheistical principles of the French, among whom
God was disregarded or forgotten; and, elevated by the importance of his
subject, he described the Almighty as mustering his wrath to descend on
that nation, and disperse it as chaff in a whirlwind. He called on them to
look towards their home of England, and to see with what eager devotion
the inhabitants worshiped the golden image of Commerce, and laid the
tribute of all their thoughts on its altars; believing that with the power
of the idol alone, they should be able to withstand all calamities. "The
day and the hour are, however, hastening on, when the image shall be
shaken from its pedestal by the tempest of Jehovah's descending vengeance,
its altars overturned, and the worshipers terribly convinced that without
the favour of the Almighty God there is no wisdom in man! But," continued
this impassioned orator, "from the woes and the crimes of Europe let us
turn aside our eyes; let us turn from the worshipers of Commerce, clinging
round their idols of gold and silver, and, amidst the wrath, the storm,
and the thunder, endeavouring to hold them up; let us not look at the land
of blasphemies; for in the crashing of engines, the gushing of blood, and
the shrieking of witnesses more to be pitied than the victims, the
activity of God's purifying displeasure will be heard; while turning our
eyes towards the mountains of this New World, the forests shall be seen
fading away, cities rising along the shores, and the terrified nations of
Europe flying out of the smoke and the burning to find refuge here."--All
his auditors were deeply affected, particularly Mrs. West, who was taken
with the pains of labour on the spot. The meeting was broken up; the women
made a circle round her as they carried her home, and such was the
agitation into which she was thrown, that the consequences had nearly
proved fatal both to the mother and the infant, of which she was
prematurely delivered.

This occurrence naturally excited much attention, and became the subject
of general conversation. It made a deep impression on the mind of Mr.
West, who could not divest himself of a feeling that it indicated
something extraordinary in the future fortunes of his child; and when
Peckover, soon afterwards, on his leaving that part of the country, paid
him a farewell visit, he took an opportunity of introducing the subject.
The warm imagination of the Preacher eagerly sympathised with the feelings
of his friend. He took him by the hand, and, with emphatic solemnity, said
that a child sent into the world under such remarkable circumstances would
prove no ordinary man; and he charged him to watch over the boy's
character with the utmost degree of paternal solicitude. It will appear in
the sequel, that this singular admonition was not lost on Mr. West.

The first six years of Benjamin's life passed away in calm uniformity;
leaving only the placid remembrance of enjoyment. In the month of June
1745, one of his sisters, who had been married some time before, and who
had a daughter, came with her infant to spend a few days at her father's.
When the child was asleep in the cradle, Mrs. West invited her daughter to
gather flowers in the garden, and committed the infant to the care of
Benjamin during their absence; giving him a fan to flap away the flies
from molesting his little charge. After some time the child happened to
smile in its sleep, and its beauty attracted his attention. He looked at
it with a pleasure which he had never before experienced, and observing
some paper on a table, together with pens and red and black ink, he seized
them with agitation, and endeavoured to delineate a portrait: although at
this period he had never seen an engraving or a picture, and was only in
the seventh year of his age.

Hearing the approach of his mother and sister, he endeavoured to conceal
what he had been doing; but the old lady observing his confusion, enquired
what he was about, and requested him to show her the paper. He obeyed,
entreating her not to be angry. Mrs. West, after looking some time at the
drawing with evident pleasure, said to her daughter, "I declare he has
made a likeness of little Sally," and kissed him with much fondness and
satisfaction. This encouraged him to say, that if it would give her any
pleasure, he would make pictures of the flowers which she held in her
hand; for the instinct of his genius was now awakened, and he felt that he
could imitate the forms of those things which pleased his sight.

This curious incident deserves consideration in two points of view. The
sketch must have had some merit, since the likeness was so obvious,
indicating how early the hand of the young artist possessed the power of
representing the observations of his eye. But it is still more remarkable
as the birth of the fine arts in the New World, and as one of the few
instances in the history of art, in which the first inspiration of genius
can be distinctly traced to a particular circumstance. The drawing was
shown by Mrs. West to her husband, who, remembering the prediction of
Peckover, was delighted with this early indication of talent in his son.
But the fact, though in itself very curious, will appear still more
remarkable, when the state of the country at that period, and the peculiar
manners of the Quakers, are taken into consideration.

The institutions of William Penn had been sacredly preserved by the
descendants of the first settlers, with whom the remembrance of the causes
which had led their ancestors to forsake their native country, was
cherished like the traditions of religion, and became a motive to
themselves, for indulging in the exercise of those blameless principles,
which had been so obnoxious to the arrogant spirit of the Old World. The
associates of the Wests and the Pearsons, considered the patriarchs of
Pennsylvania as having been driven from England, because their endeavours
to regulate their conduct by the example of Jesus Christ, mortified the
temporal pretensions of those who satisfied themselves with attempting to
repeat his doctrines; and they thought that the asylum in America was
chosen, to facilitate the enjoyment of that affectionate intercourse which
their tenets enjoined, free from the military predilections and political
jealousies of Europe. The effect of this opinion tended to produce a state
of society more peaceful and pleasing than the World had ever before
exhibited. When the American Poets shall in future times celebrate the
golden age of their country, they will draw their descriptions from the
authentic history of Pennsylvania in the reign of King George the Second.

From the first emigration in 1681, the colony had continued to thrive with
a rapidity unknown to the other European Settlements. It was blessed in
the maxims upon which it had been founded, and richly exhibited the fruits
of their beneficent operation. At the birth of Benjamin West it had
obtained great wealth, and the population was increasing much more
vigorously than the ordinary reproduction of the human species in any
other part of the world. In the houses of the principal families, the
patricians of the country, unlimited hospitality formed a part of their
regular economy. It was the custom among those who resided near the
highways, after supper and the last religious exercise of the evening, to
make a large fire in the hall, and to set out a table with refreshments
for such travellers as might have occasion to pass during the night; and
when the families assembled in the morning they seldom found that their
tables had been unvisited. This was particularly the case at Springfield.
Poverty was never heard of in the land. The disposition to common charity
having no objects, was blended with the domestic affections, and rendered
the ties of friendship and kindred stronger and dearer. Acts of liberality
were frequently performed to an extent that would have beggared the
munificence of the Old World. With all these delightful indications of a
better order of things, society in Pennsylvania retained, at this time,
many of those respectable prejudices which gave a venerable grace to
manners, and are regarded by the practical philosopher as little inferior
in dignity to the virtues. William Penn was proud of his distinguished
parentage, and many of his friends traced their lineage to the antient
and noble families of England. In their descendants the pride of ancestry
was so tempered with the meekness of their religious tenets, that it lent
a kind of patriarchal dignity to their benevolence.

In beautiful contrast to the systematic morality of the new inhabitants,
was the simplicity of the Indians, who mingled safe and harmless among the
Friends. In the annual visits which they were in the practice of paying to
the Plantations, they raised their huts in the fields and orchards without
asking leave, nor were they ever molested. Voltaire has observed, that the
treaty which was concluded between the Indians and William Penn was the
first public contract which connected the inhabitants of the Old and New
World together, and, though not ratified by oaths, and without invoking
the Trinity, is still the only treaty that has never been broken. It may
be further said, that Pennsylvania is the first country which has not been
subdued by the sword, for the inhabitants were conquered by the force of
Christian benevolence.

When the great founder of the State marked out the site of Philadelphia in
the woods, he allotted a piece of ground for a public library. It was his
opinion, that although the labour of clearing the country would long
employ the settlers, hours of relaxation would still be requisite; and,
with his usual sagacity, he judged that the reading of books was more
conducive to good morals and to the formation of just sentiments, than any
other species of amusement. The different counties afterwards instituted
libraries, which the townships have also imitated: where the population
was insufficient to establish a large collection of books, the
neighbouring families formed themselves into societies for procuring the
popular publications. But in these arrangements for cultivating the powers
of the understanding, no provision was made, during the reign of George
the Second, for improving the faculties of taste. The works of which the
libraries then consisted, treated of useful and practical subjects. It was
the policy of the Quakers to make mankind wiser and better; and they
thought that, as the passions are the springs of all moral evil when in a
state of excitement, whatever tends to awaken them is unfavourable to that
placid tenour of mind which they wished to see diffused throughout the
world. This notion is prudent, perhaps judicious; but works of imagination
may be rendered subservient to the same purpose. Every thing in
Pennsylvania was thus unpropitious to the fine arts. There were no cares
in the bosoms of individuals to require public diversions, nor any
emulation in the expenditure of wealth to encourage the ornamental
manufactures. In the whole Christian world no spot was apparently so
unlikely to produce a painter as Pennsylvania. It might, indeed, be
supposed, according to a popular opinion, that a youth, reared among the
concentrating elements of a new state, in the midst of boundless forests,
tremendous waterfalls, and mountains whose summits were inaccessible to
"the lightest foot and wildest wing," was the most favourable situation
to imbibe the enthusiasm either of poetry or of painting, if scenery and
such accidental circumstances are to be regarded as every thing, and
original character as nothing. But it may reasonably be doubted if ever
natural scenery has any assignable influence on the productions of genius.
The idea has probably arisen from the impression which the magnificence of
nature makes on persons of cultivated minds, who fall into the mistake of
considering the elevated emotions arising in reality from their own
associations, as being naturally connected with the objects that excite
them. Of all the nations of Europe the Swiss are the least poetical, and
yet the scenery of no other country seems so well calculated as that of
Switzerland to awaken the imagination; and Shakespeare, the greatest of
all modern Poets, was brought up in one of the least picturesque districts
of England.

Soon after the occurrence of the incident which has given rise to these
observations, the young Artist was sent to a school in the neighbourhood.
During his hours of leisure he was permitted to draw with pen and ink; for
it did not occur to any of the family to provide him with better
materials. In the course of the summer a party of Indians came to pay
their annual visit to Springfield, and being amused with the sketches of
birds and flowers which Benjamin shewed them, they taught him to prepare
the red and yellow colours with which they painted their ornaments. To
these his mother added blue, by giving him a piece of indigo, so that he
was thus put in possession of the three primary colours. The fancy is
disposed to expatiate on this interesting fact; for the mythologies of
antiquity furnish no allegory more beautiful; and a Painter who would
embody the metaphor of an Artist instructed by Nature, could scarcely
imagine any thing more picturesque than the real incident of the Indians
instructing West to prepare the prismatic colours. The Indians also taught
him to be an expert archer, and he was sometimes in the practice of
shooting birds for models, when he thought that their plumage would look
well in a picture.

His drawings at length attracted the attention of the neighbours; and some
of them happening to regret that the Artist had no pencils, he enquired
what kind of things these were, and they were described to him as small
brushes made of camels' hair fastened in a quill. As there were, however,
no camels in America, he could not think of any substitute, till he
happened to cast his eyes on a black cat, the favourite of his father;
when, in the tapering fur of her tail, he discovered the means of
supplying what he wanted. He immediately armed himself with his mother's
scissors, and, laying hold of Grimalkin with all due caution, and a proper
attention to her feelings, cut off the fur at the end of her tail, and
with this made his first pencil. But the tail only furnished him with one,
which did not last long, and he soon stood in need of a further supply. He
then had recourse to the animal's back, his depredations upon which were
so frequently repeated, that his father observed the altered appearance of
his favourite, and lamented it as the effect of disease. The Artist, with
suitable marks of contrition, informed him of the true cause; and the old
gentleman was so much amused with his ingenuity, that if he rebuked him,
it was certainly not in anger.

Anecdotes of this kind, trifling as they may seem, have an interest
independent of the insight they afford into the character to which they
relate. It will often appear, upon a careful study of authentic biography,
that the means of giving body and effect to their conceptions, are rarely
withheld from men of genius. If the circumstances of Fortune are
unfavourable, Nature instructs them to draw assistance immediately from
herself, by endowing them with the faculty of perceiving a fitness and
correspondence in things which no force of reasoning, founded on the
experience of others, could enable them to discover. This aptness is,
perhaps, the surest indication of the possession of original talent. There
are minds of a high class to which the world, in the latitude of its
expressions, often ascribes genius, but which possess only a superior
capacity for the application of other men's notions, unconnected with any
unusual portion of the inventive faculty.

In the following year Mr. Pennington, a merchant of Philadelphia, who was
related to the West family, came to pay a visit to Mr. West. This
gentleman was also a member of the Society of Friends, and, though
strictly attentive to the peculiar observances of the sect, was a man of
pleasant temper and indulgent dispositions. He noticed the drawings of
birds and flowers round the room, unusual ornaments in the house of a
Quaker; and heard with surprise that they were the work of his little
cousin. Of their merit as pictures he did not pretend to judge, but he
thought them wonderful productions for a boy only entering on his eighth
year, and being told with what imperfect materials they had been executed,
he promised to send the young Artist a box of paints and pencils from the
city. On his return home he fulfilled his engagement, and at the bottom of
the box placed several pieces of canvass prepared for the easel, and six
engravings by Grevling.

The arrival of the box was an aera in the history of the Painter and his
art. It was received with feelings of delight which only a similar mind
can justly appreciate. He opened it, and in the colours, the oils, and
the pencils, found all his wants supplied, even beyond his utmost
conceptions. But who can describe the surprise with which he beheld the
engravings; he who had never seen any picture but his own drawings, nor
knew that such an art as the Engraver's existed! He sat over the box with
enamoured eyes; his mind was in a flutter of joy; and he could not refrain
from constantly touching the different articles, to ascertain that they
were real. At night he placed the box on a chair near his bed, and as
often as he was overpowered by sleep, he started suddenly and stretched
out his hand to satisfy himself that the possession of such a treasure was
not merely a pleasing dream. He rose at the dawn of day, and carried the
box to a room in the garret, where he spread a canvass, prepared a pallet,
and immediately began to imitate the figures in the engravings. Enchanted
by his art he forgot the school hours, and joined the family at dinner
without mentioning the employment in which he had been engaged. In the
afternoon he again retired to his study in the garret; and for several
days successively he thus withdrew and devoted himself to painting. The
schoolmaster, observing his absence, sent to ask the cause of it. Mrs.
West, affecting not to take any particular notice of the message,
recollected that she had seen Benjamin going up stairs every morning, and
suspecting that the box occasioned his neglect of the school, went to the
garret, and found him employed on the picture. Her anger was appeased by
the sight of his performance, and changed to a very different feeling. She
saw, not a mere copy, but a composition from two of the engravings. With
no other guide than that delicacy of sight which renders the Painter's
eye, with respect to colours, what the Musician's ear is with respect to
sounds, he had formed a picture as complete, in the scientific arrangement
of the tints, notwithstanding the necessary imperfection of the
pencilling, as the most skilful Artist could have painted, assisted by the
precepts of Newton. She kissed him with transports of affection, and
assured him that she would not only intercede with his father to pardon
him for having absented himself from school, but would go herself to the
master, and beg that he might not be punished. The delightful
encouragement which this well-judged kindness afforded to the young
Painter may be easily imagined; but who will not regret that the mother's
over-anxious admiration would not suffer him to finish the picture, lest
he should spoil what was already in her opinion perfect, even with half
the canvass bare? Sixty-seven years afterwards the writer of these Memoirs
had the gratification to see this piece in the same room with the sublime
painting of "Christ Rejected," on which occasion the Painter declared to
him that there were inventive touches of art in his first and juvenile
essay, which, with all his subsequent knowledge and experience, he had not
been able to surpass.

Chap. II.

The Artist visits Philadelphia.--His second Picture.--Williams the
Painter gives him the works of Fresnoy and Richardson.--Anecdote of
the Taylor's Apprentice.--The Drawings of the Schoolboys.--Anecdote
relative to Wayne.--Anecdote relative to Mr. Flower.--Anecdote
relative to Mr. Ross,--Anecdote of Mr. Henry.--The Artist's first
Historical Picture.--Origin of his Acquaintance with Dr. Smith of
Philadelphia.--The friendship of Dr. Smith, and the character of the
early companions of West.--Anecdote of General Washington.

In the course of a few days after the affair of the painting, Mr.
Pennington paid another visit to Mr. West; and was so highly pleased with
the effect of his present, and the promising talents of his young
relation, that he entreated the old gentleman to allow Benjamin to
accompany him for a few days to Philadelphia. This was cheerfully agreed
to, and the Artist felt himself almost, as much delighted with the journey
as with the box of colours. Every thing in the town filled him with
astonishment; but the view of the shipping, which was entirely new,
particularly attracted his eye, and interested him like the imaginary
spectacles of magic.

When the first emotions of his pleasure and wonder had subsided, he
applied to Mr. Pennington to procure him materials for painting. That
gentleman was desirous of getting possession of the first picture, and had
only resigned what he jocularly alleged were his just claims, in
consideration of the mother's feelings, and on being assured that the next
picture should be purposely painted for him. The materials were procured,
and the Artist composed a landscape, which comprehended a picturesque view
of a river, with vessels on the water, and cattle pasturing on the banks.
While he was engaged in this picture, an incident occurred which, though
trivial in itself, was so much in unison with the other circumstances that
favoured the bent of his genius, that it ought not to be omitted.

Samuel Shoemaker [Footnote: This gentleman was afterwards introduced by
Mr. West to the King, at Windsor, as one of the American Loyalists.], an
intimate friend of Mr. Pennington, one of the principal merchants of
Philadelphia, happened to meet in the street with one Williams, a Painter,
carrying home a picture. Struck by the beauty of the performance, he
enquired if it was intended for sale, and being told that it was already
disposed of, he ordered another to be painted for himself. When the
painting was finished, he requested the Artist to carry it to Mr.
Pennington's house, in order that it might be shewn to young West. It was
very well executed, and the boy was so much astonished at the sight of it,
that his emotion and surprise attracted the attention of Williams, who was
a man of observation, and judged correctly in thinking that such an
uncommon manifestation of sensibility in so young a boy, indicated
something extraordinary in his character. He entered into conversation
with him, and enquired if he had read any books, or the lives of great
men, The little amateur told him that he had read the Bible, and was well
acquainted with the history of Adam, Joseph, David, Solomon, and the other
great and good men whose actions are recorded in the Holy Scriptures.
Williams was much pleased with the simplicity of the answer; and it might
have occurred to him that histories more interesting have never been
written, or written so well. Turning to Mr. Pennington, who was present,
he asked if Benjamin was his son; advising him at the same time to indulge
him in whatever might appear to be the bent of his talents, assuring him
that he was no common boy.

This interview was afterwards much spoken of by Williams, who in the mean
time lent him the works of Fresnoy and Richardson on Painting, and invited
him to see his pictures and drawings. The impression which these books
made on the imagination of West finally decided his destination. He was
allowed to carry them with him into the country; and his father and
mother, soon perceiving a great change in his conversation, were referred
to the books for an explanation of the cause. They read them for the first
time themselves, and treasuring in their minds those anecdotes of the
indications of the early symptoms of talent with which both works abound,
they remembered the prophetic injunction of Edmund Peckover.

The effect of the enthusiasm inspired by Richardson and Fresnoy may be
conceived from the following incident. Soon after the young Artist had
returned to Springfield, one of his schoolfellows, on a Saturday's half
holiday, engaged him to give up a party at trap-ball to ride with him to
one of the neighbouring plantations. At the time appointed the boy came,
with the horse saddled. West enquired how he was to ride; "Behind me,"
said the boy; but Benjamin, full of the dignity of the profession to which
he felt himself destined, answered, that he never would ride behind any
body. "O! very well then," said the good-natured boy, "you may take the
saddle, and I will get up behind you." Thus mounted, they proceeded on
their excursion; and the boy began to inform his companion that his father
intended to send him to be an apprentice. "In what business?" enquired
West; "A taylor," answered the boy. "Surely," said West, "you will never
follow that trade;" animadverting upon its feminine character. The other,
however, was a shrewd, sound-headed lad, and defended the election very
stoutly, saying that his father had made choice of it for him, and that
the person with whom he was to learn the business was much respected by
all his neighbours. "But what do you intend to be, Benjamin?" West
answered, that he had not thought at all on the subject, but he should
like to be a painter. "A painter!" exclaimed the boy, "what sort of a
trade is a painter? I never heard of such a thing." "A painter," said
West, "is a companion for Kings and Emperors." "Surely you are mad,"
replied the boy, "for there are no such people in America." "Very true,"
answered Benjamin, "but there are plenty in other parts of the world." The
other, still more amazed at the apparent absurdity of this speech,
reiterated in a tone of greater surprise, "You are surely quite mad." To
this the enthusiast replied by asking him if he really intended to be a
taylor. "Most certainly," answered the other. "Then you may ride by
yourself, for I will no longer keep your company," said West, and,
alighting, immediately returned home.

The report of this incident, with the affair of the picture, which had
occasioned his absence from school, and visit to Philadelphia, made a
great impression on the boys in the neighbourhood of Springfield. All
their accustomed sports were neglected, and their play-hours devoted to
drawing with chalk and oker. The little president was confessedly the most
expert among them, but he has often since declared, that, according to his
recollection, many of his juvenile companions evinced a degree of taste
and skill in this exercise, that would not have discredited the students
of any regular academy.

Not far from the residence of Mr. West a cabinet-maker had a shop, in
which Benjamin sometimes amused himself with the tools of the workmen. One
day several large and beautiful boards of poplar tree were brought to it;
and he happening to observe that they would answer very well for drawing
on, the owner gave him two or three of them for that purpose, and he drew
figures and compositions on them with ink, chalk, and charcoal. Mr. Wayne,
a gentleman of the neighbourhood, having soon after occasion to call at
his father's, noticed the boards in the room, and was so much pleased with
the drawings, that he begged the young Artist to allow him to take two or
three of them home, which, as but little value was set on them, was
thought no great favour, either by the painter or his father. Next day Mr.
Wayne called again, and after complimenting Benjamin on his taste and
proficiency, gave him a dollar for each of the boards which he had taken
away, and was resolved to preserve. Doctor Jonathan Moris, another
neighbour, soon after, also made him a present of a few dollars to buy
materials to paint with. These were the first public patrons of the
Artist; and it is at his own request that their names are thus
particularly inserted.

About twelve months after the visit to Philadelphia, Mr. Flower, one of
the Justices of the county of Chester, who possessed some taste in
painting, requested Mr, West to allow Benjamin to spend a few weeks at his
house. A short time before, this gentleman had met with a severe domestic
misfortune in the loss of a wife, to whom he was much attached; and he
resolved to shew his respect to her memory by devoting his attention
exclusively to the improvement of his children: for this purpose he had
sent to England for a governess qualified to undertake the education of
his daughters, and he had the good fortune to obtain a lady eminently
fitted for the trust. She arrived a few days only before the young Artist,
and her natural discernment enabled her to appreciate that original bias
of mind which she had heard ascribed to him, and of which she soon
perceived the determination and the strength. Finding him unacquainted
with any other books than the Bible, and the works of Richardson and
Fresnoy, she frequently invited him to sit with her pupils, and, during
the intervals of their tasks, she read to him the most striking and
picturesque passages from translations of the antient historians and
poetry, of which Mr. Flower had a choice and extensive collection. It was
from this intelligent woman that he heard, for the first time, of the
Greeks and Romans; and the impression which the story of those illustrious
nations made on his mind, was answerable to her expectations.

Among the acquaintance of Mr. Flower was a Mr. Ross, a lawyer in the town
of Lancaster, a place at that time remarkable for its wealth, and which
had the reputation of possessing the best and most intelligent society to
be then found in America. It was chiefly inhabited by Germans, who of all
people in the practice of emigrating, carry along with them the greatest
stock of knowledge and accomplishments. The society of Lancaster,
therefore, though it could not boast of any very distinguished character,
yet comprehended many individuals who were capable of appreciating the
merit of essays in art, and of discriminating the rude efforts of real
genius from the more complete productions of mere mechanical skill. It was
exactly in such a place that such a youth as Benjamin West was likely to
meet with that flattering attention which is the best stimulus of juvenile
talent. The wife of Mr. Ross was greatly admired for her beauty, and she
had several children who were so remarkable in this respect as to be
objects of general notice. One day when Mr. Flower was dining with them,
he advised his friend to have their portraits taken; and mentioned that
they would be excellent subjects for young West. Application was in
consequence made to old Mr. West, and permission obtained for the little
Artist to go to Lancaster for the purpose of taking the likenesses of Mrs.
Ross and her family. Such was the success with which he executed this
task, that the sphere of his celebrity was greatly enlarged; and so
numerous were the applications for portraits, that it was with difficulty
he could find time to satisfy the demands of his admirers.

Among those who sent to him in this early stage of his career, was a
person of the name of William Henry. He was an able mechanic, and had
acquired a handsome fortune by his profession of a gunsmith. Henry was,
indeed, in several respects, an extraordinary man, and possessed the power
generally attendant upon genius under all circumstances, that of
interesting the imagination of those with whom he conversed. On examining
the young Artist's performance, he observed to him, that, if he could
paint as well, he would not waste his time on portraits, but would devote
himself to historical subjects; and he mentioned the Death of Socrates as
affording one of the best topics for illustrating the moral effect of the
art of painting. The Painter knew nothing of the history of the
Philosopher; and, upon confessing his ignorance, Mr. Henry went to his
library, and, taking down a volume of the English translation of Plutarch,
read to him the account given by that writer of this affecting story.

The suggestion and description wrought upon the imagination of West, and
induced him to make a drawing, which he shewed to Mr. Henry, who commended
it as a perspicuous delineation of the probable circumstances of the
event, and requested him to paint it. West said that he would he happy to
undertake the task, but, having hitherto painted only faces and men
cloathed, he should be unable to do justice to the figure of the slave who
presented the poison, and which he thought ought to be naked. Henry had
among his workmen a very handsome young man, and, without waiting to
answer the objection, he sent for him into the room. On his entrance he
pointed him out to West, and said, "There is your model." The appearance
of the young man, whose arms and breast were naked, instantaneously
convinced the Artist that he had only to look into nature for the models
which would impart grace and energy to his delineation of forms.

When the death of Socrates was finished, it attracted much attention, and
led to one of those fortunate acquaintances by which the subsequent career
of the Artist has been so happily facilitated. About this period the
inhabitants of Lancaster had resolved to erect a public grammar-school;
and Dr. Smith, the Provost of the College at Philadelphia, was invited by
them to arrange the course of instruction, and to place the institution in
the way best calculated to answer the intention of the founders. This
gentleman was an excellent classical scholar, and combined with his
knowledge and admiration of the merits of the antients that liberality of
respect for the endeavours of modern talent, with which the same kind of
feeling is but rarely found connected. After seeing the picture and
conversing with the Artist, he offered to undertake to make him to a
certain degree acquainted with classical literature; while at the same
time he would give him such a sketch of the taste and character of the
spirit of antiquity, as would have all the effect of the regular education
requisite to a painter. When this liberal proposal was communicated to old
Mr. West, he readily agreed that Benjamin should go for some time to
Philadelphia, in order to take advantage of the Provost's instructions;
and accordingly, after returning home for a few days, Benjamin went to the
capital, and resided at the house of Mr. Clarkson, his brother-in-law, a
gentleman who had been educated at Leyden, and was much respected for the
intelligence of his conversation, and the propriety of his manners.

Provost Smith introduced West, among other persons, to four young men,
pupils of his own, whom he particularly recommended to his acquaintance,
as possessing endowments of mind greatly superior to the common standard
of mankind. One of these was Francis Hopkins, who afterwards highly
distinguished himself in the early proceedings of the Congress of the
United States. Thomas Godfrey, the second, died after having given the
most promising indications of an elegant genius for pathetic and
descriptive poetry. He was an apprentice to a watchmaker, and had secretly
written a poem, which he published anonymously in the Philadelphia
newspaper, under the title of "The Temple of Fame." The attention which it
attracted, and the encomiums which the Provost in particular bestowed on
it, induced West, who was in the Poet's confidence, to mention to him who
was the author. The information excited the alert benevolence of Smith's
character, and he lost no time until he had procured the release of
Godfrey from his indenture, and a respectable employment for him in the
government of the state; but this he did not live long to enjoy: being
sent on some public business to Carolina, he fell a victim to the climate.

It is pleasant to redeem from oblivion the memory of early talent thus
prematurely withdrawn from the world. Many of Godfrey's verses were
composed under a clump of pines which grew near the upper ferry of the
river Schuylkill, to which spot he sometimes accompanied West and their
mutual friends to angle. In the heat of the day he used to stretch himself
beneath the shade of the trees, and repeat to them his verses as he
composed them. Reid was the name of the other young man, and the same
person who first opposed the British troops in their passing through
Jersey, when the rebellion of the Provinces commenced. Previous to the
revolution, he was bred to the bar, and practised with distinction in the
courts of Philadelphia. He was afterwards elected a Member of Congress,
and is the same person who was appointed to meet Lord Carlisle on his
mission from the British Court.

Provost Smith was himself possessed of a fluent vein of powerful
eloquence, and it happened that many of his pupils who distinguished
themselves in the great struggle of their country, appeared to have
imbibed his talent; but none of them more than Jacob Duchey, another of
the four youths whom he recommended to the Artist. He became a Clergyman,
and was celebrated throughout the whole of the British Provinces in
America as a most pathetic and persuasive preacher. The publicity of his
character in the world was, however, chiefly owing to a letter which he
addressed to General Washington, soon after the appointment of that chief
to the command of the army. The purport of this letter was to persuade the
General to go over to the British cause. It was carried to him by a Mrs.
Ferguson, a daughter of Doctor Graham, a Scottish Physician in
Philadelphia. Washington, with his army, at that time lay at Valley-forge,
and this lady, on the pretext of paying him a visit, as they were
previously acquainted, went to the camp. The General received her in his
tent with much respect, for he greatly admired the masculine vigour of her
mind. When she had delivered the letter he read it attentively, and,
rising from his seat, walked backwards and forwards upwards of an hour,
without speaking. He appeared to be much agitated during the greatest part
of the time; but at length, having decided with himself, he stopped, and
addressed her in nearly the following words: "Madam, I have always
esteemed your character and endowments, and I am fully sensible of the
noble principles by which you are actuated on this occasion; nor has any
man in the whole continent more confidence in the integrity of his friend,
than I have in the honour of Mr. Duchey. But I am here entrusted by the
people of America with sovereign authority. They have placed their lives
and fortunes at my disposal, because they believe me to be an honest man.
Were I, therefore, to desert their cause, and consign them again to the
British, what would be the consequence? to myself perpetual infamy; and to
them endless calamity. The seeds of everlasting division are sown between
the two countries; and, were the British again to become our masters, they
would have to maintain their dominion by force, and would, after all,
retain us in subjection only so long as they could hold their bayonets to
our breasts. No, Madam, the proposal of Mr. Duchey, though conceived with
the best intention, is not framed in wisdom. America and England must be
separate states; but they may have common interests, for they are but one
people. It will, therefore, be the object of my life and ambition to
establish the independence of America in the first place; and in the
second, to arrange such a community of interests between the two nations
as shall indemnify them for the calamities which they now suffer, and form
a new aera in the history of nations. But, Madam, you are aware that I
have many enemies; Congress may hear of your visit, and of this letter,
and I should be suspected were I to conceal it from them. I respect you
truly, as I have said; and I esteem the probity and motives of Mr. Duchey,
and therefore you are free to depart from the camp, but the letter will be
transmitted without delay to Congress."

Mrs. Ferguson herself communicated the circumstances of this interesting
transaction to Mr. West, after she came to England; for she, as well as
Mr. Duchey, were obliged to quit the country. It is painful to add, that
Duchey came to England, and was allowed to pine unnoticed by the
Government, and was heard of no more.

Chap. III.

The course of instruction adopted by Provost Smith.--The Artist led to
the discovery of the Camera.--His Father becomes anxious to place him
in business.--Extraordinary proceedings of the Quakers in
consequence.--The Speech of Williamson the Preacher in defence of the
Fine Arts.--Magnanimous Resolution of the Quakers,--Reflections on
this singular transaction.

There was something so judicious in the plan of study which Provost
Smith had formed for his pupil, that it deserves to be particularly
considered. He regarded him as destined to be a Painter; and on this
account did not impose upon him those grammatical exercises of language
which are usually required from the young student of the classics, but
directed his attention to those incidents which were likely to interest
his fancy, and to furnish him at some future time with subjects for the
easel. He carried him immediately to those passages of antient history
which make the most lasting impression on the imagination of the
regular-bred scholar, and described the picturesque circumstances of the
transactions with a minuteness of detail that would have been
superfluous to a general student.

In the midst of this course of education the Artist happened to be taken
ill of a slight fever, and when it had subsided, he was in so weak a state
as to be obliged to keep his bed, and to have the room darkened. In this
situation he remained several days, with no other light than what was
admitted by the seams and fissures in the window-shutters, which had the
usual effect of expanding the pupil of his eyes to such a degree that he
could distinctly see every object in the room, which to others appeared in
complete obscurity. While he was thus lying in bed, he observed the
apparitional form of a white cow enter at the one side of the roof, and
walking over the bed, gradually vanish at the other. The phenomenon
surprised him exceedingly, and he feared that his mind was impaired by his
disease, which his sister also suspected, when on entering to inquire how
he felt himself, he related to her what he had seen. Without, however,
saying any thing, she went immediately and informed her husband, who
accompanied her back to the apartment; and as they were standing near the
bed, West repeated the story, exclaiming in his discourse that he saw, at
the very moment in which he was then speaking, several little pigs running
along the roof. This confirmed them in the apprehension of his delirium,
and they sent for a physician. But the doctor could discover no symptoms
of fever; the pulse was regular, the skin moist and cool, the thirst was
abated, and indeed every thing about the patient indicated convalescence.
Still the Painter persisted in his story, and assured them that he then
saw the figures of several of their mutual friends passing on the roof,
over the bed; and that he even saw fowls pecking, and the very stones of
the street. All this seemed to them very extraordinary, for their eyes,
not accustomed to the gloom of the chamber, could discern nothing; and the
learned physician himself, in despite of the symptoms, began to suspect
that the convalescent was really delirious. Prescribing, therefore, a
composing mixture, which the Painter submitted to swallow, he took his
fee and leave, requesting Mrs. Clarkson and her husband to come away and
not disturb the patient. After they had retired, curiosity overcame the
influence of the drug, and the Artist got up, determined to find out the
cause of the strange apparitions which had so alarmed them all. In a short
time he discovered a diagonal knot-hole in one of the window-shutters, and
upon placing his hand over it, the visionary paintings on the roof
disappeared. This confirmed him in an opinion that he began to form, that
there must be some simple natural cause for what he had seen; and, having
thus ascertained the way in which it acted, he called his sister and her
husband into the room and explained it to them. When able to go down
stairs, Mr. Clarkson gave him permission to perforate one of the parlour
window-shutters horizontally, in order to obtain a representation on the
wall of the buildings of the opposite side of the street. The effect was
as he expected, but, to his astonishment, the objects appeared inverted.
Without attempting to remedy this with the aid of glasses, as a
mathematical genius would perhaps have done, he was delighted to see in it
the means of studying the pictural appearance of Nature, and he hailed
the discovery as a revelation to promote his improvement in the art of
painting. On his return soon after to his father's, he had a box made with
one of the sides perforated; and, adverting to the reflective power of the
mirror, he contrived, without ever having heard of the instrument, to
invent the _Camera_. Thus furnishing another proof, that although the
faculty which enables a man to excel in any particular art or science is a
natural endowment, it is seldom unaccompanied with a general superiority
of observation. It will, however, not be disputed, that a boy under
sixteen, who had thus, by the guidance of his own unassisted judgment,
found out a method of ascertaining the colour and outline of natural
objects as they should appear in painting, possessed no ordinary mind.
Observations of this nature mark the difference between innate talent and
instructed habits; and, whether in painting, or in poetry, in art, or in
science, constitute the source of that peculiarity of intellect which is
discriminated from the effects of education by the name of original
talent. The self-educated man of genius, when his mind is formed, differs
but little in the method of expressing his notions, from the most
mechanical disciple of the schools; but the process by which he attains
that result, renders his history interesting by its incidents, and
valuable by the hints which it furnishes for the study of human character.
It is, perhaps, also, one great cause of his own distinguishing features
of mind, as the very contrivances to which he has recourse have the effect
of taking, as it were, something extraneous into the matter of his
experiments which tinges the product with curious and singular
effects.--West, on afterwards mentioning his discovery to Williams the
painter, was surprised to find himself anticipated, that Artist having
received a complete Camera some time before from England.

In this favourable state of things he attained his sixteenth year, when
his father became anxious to see him settled in some established business.
For, though reluctant to thwart the bias of a genius at once so decided
and original, and to which the injunction of Peckover had rendered him
favourable and indulgent, the old gentleman was sensible that the
profession of a painter was not only precarious, but regarded by the
religious association to which he belonged, as adverse to their tenets, by
being only ornamental; and he was anxious, on his son's account and on his
own, to avoid those animadversions to which he was exposed by the freedom
he had hitherto granted to the predilections of Benjamin. He, therefore,
consulted several of his neighbours on the subject; and a meeting of the
Society of Friends in the vicinity was called, to consider, publicly, what
ought to be the destiny of his son.

The assembly met in the Meeting-house near Springfield, and after much
debate, approaching to altercation, a man of the name of John Williamson
rose, and delivered a very extraordinary speech upon the subject. He was
much respected by all present, for the purity and integrity of his life,
and enjoyed great influence in his sphere on account of the superiority
of his natural wisdom, and, as a public preacher among the Friends,
possessed an astonishing gift of convincing eloquence. He pointed to old
Mr. West and his wife, and expatiated on the blameless reputation which
they had so long maintained, and merited so well. "They have had," said
he, "ten children, whom they have carefully brought up in the fear of
God, and in the Christian religion; and the youth, whose lot in life we
are now convened to consider, is Benjamin, their youngest child. It is
known to you all that God is pleased, from time to time, to bestow upon
some men extraordinary gifts of mind, and you need not be told by how
wonderful an inspiration their son has been led to cultivate the art of
painting. It is true that our tenets deny the utility of that art to
mankind. But God has bestowed on the youth a genius for the art, and can
we believe that Omniscience bestows His gifts but for great purposes?
What God has given, who shall dare to throw away? Let us not estimate
Almighty wisdom by our notions; let us not presume to arraign His
judgment by our ignorance, but in the evident propensity of the young
man, be assured that we see an impulse of the Divine hand operating
towards some high and beneficent end."

The effect of this argument, and the lofty commanding manner in which it
was delivered, induced the assembly to agree that the Artist should be
allowed to indulge the predilections of his genius; and a private
meeting of the Friends was appointed to be holden at his father's house,
at which the youth himself was requested to be present, in order to
receive, in form, the assent and blessing of the Society. On the day of
meeting, the great room was put in order, and a numerous company of both
sexes assembled. Benjamin was placed by his father, and the men and
women took their respective forms on each side. After sitting some time
in silence, one of the women rose and addressed the meeting on the
wisdom of God, and the various occasions on which He selected from among
His creatures the agents of His goodness. When she had concluded her
exhortation, John Williamson also rose, and in a speech than which,
perhaps, the porticos of Athens never resounded with a more impressive
oratory, he resumed the topic which had been the subject of his former
address. He began by observing that it was fixed as one of their
indisputable maxims, that things merely ornamental were not necessary to
the well-being of man, and that all superfluous things should be
excluded from the usages and manners of their society. "In this
proscription, we have included," said he, "the study of the fine arts,
for we see them applied only to embellish pleasures, and to strengthen
our inducements to gratify the senses at the expense of our immortal
claims. But, because we have seen painting put to this derogatory use,
and have, in consequence, prohibited the cultivation of it among us, are
we sure that it is not one of those gracious gifts which God has
bestowed on the world, not to add to the sensual pleasures of man, but
to facilitate his improvement as a social and a moral being? The fine
arts are called the offspring and the emblems of peace. The Christian
religion itself is the doctrine of good will to man. Can those things
which only prosper in peace be contrary to the Christian religion? But,
it is said, that the fine arts soften and emasculate the mind. In what
way? is it by withdrawing those who study them from the robust exercises
which enable nations and people to make war with success? Is it by
lessening the disposition of mankind to destroy one another, and by
taming the audacity of their animal fierceness? Is it for such a reason
as this, that we who profess to live in unison and friendship, not only
among ourselves, but with all the world that we should object to the
cultivation of the fine arts, of those arts which disarm the natural
ferocity of man? We may as well be told that the doctrine of peace and
life ought to be proscribed in the world because it is pernicious to the
practice of war and slaughter, as that the arts which call on man to
exercise his intellectual powers more than his physical strength, can be
contrary to Christianity, and adverse to the benevolence of the Deity. I
speak not, however, of the fine arts as the means of amusement, nor the
study of them as pastime to fill up the vacant hours of business, though
even as such, the taste for them deserves to be regarded as a
manifestation of Divine favour, in as much as they dispose the heart to
kind and gentle inclinations. For, I think them ordained by God for some
great and holy purpose. Do we not know that the professors of the fine
arts are commonly men greatly distinguished by special gifts of a
creative and discerning spirit? If there be any thing in the usual
course of human affairs which exhibits the immediate interposition of
the Deity, it is in the progress of the fine arts, in which it would
appear he often raises up those great characters, the spirit of whose
imaginations have an interminable influence on posterity, and who are
themselves separated and elevated among the generality of mankind, by
the name of men of genius. Can we believe that all this is not for some
useful purpose? What that purpose is, ought we to pretend to
investigate? Let us rather reflect that the Almighty God has been
pleased among us, and in this remote wilderness, to endow, with the rich
gifts of a peculiar spirit, that youth who has now our common consent to
cultivate his talents for an art, which, according to our humble and
human judgment, was previously thought an unnecessary ministration to
the sensual propensities of our nature. May it be demonstrated by the
life and works of the Artist, that the gift of God has not been bestowed
on him in vain, nor the motives of the beneficent inspiration which
induces us to suspend our particular tenets, prove barren of religious
or moral effect. On the contrary, let us confidently hope that this
occurrence has been for good, and that the consequences which may arise
in the society of this new world, from the example which Benjamin West
will be enabled to give, will be such a love of the arts of peace as
shall tend to draw the ties of affection closer, and diffuse over a
wider extent of community the interests and blessing of fraternal love."

At the conclusion of this address, the women rose and kissed the young
Artist, and the men, one by one, laid their hands on his head and prayed
that the Lord might verify in his life the value of the gift which had
induced them, in despite of their religious tenets, to allow him to
cultivate the faculties of his genius.

The history of no other individual affords an incident so extraordinary.
This could not be called a presentiment, but the result of a clear
expectation, that some important consequence would ensue. It may be added
that a more beautiful instance of liberality is not to be found in the
records of any religious society. Hitherto, all sects, even of Christians,
were disposed to regard, with jealousy and hatred, all those members who
embraced any pursuit that might tend to alienate them from their
particular modes of discipline. The Quakers have, therefore, the honour of
having been the first to allow, by a public act, that their conception of
the religious duties of man was liable to the errors of the human
judgment, and was not to be maintained on the presumption of being
actually according to the will of God. There is something at once simple
and venerable in the humility with which they regarded their own peculiar
principles, especially contrasted with the sublime view they appeared to
take of the wisdom and providence of the Deity. But, with whatever
delightful feelings strangers and posterity may contemplate this beautiful
example of Christian magnanimity, it would be impossible to convey any
idea of the sentiments with which it affected the youth who was the object
of its exercise. He must have been less than man had he not endeavoured,
without ceasing, to attain an honourable eminence in his profession; or,
had he forgotten, in the honours which he has since received from all
polished nations, that he was authorized by his friends and his religion,
to cultivate the art by which he obtained such distinctions, not for his
own sake, but as an instrument chosen by Providence to disseminate the
arts of peace in the world.

Chap. IV.

Reflections on the Eccentricities of Young Men of Genius with respect
to pecuniary matters.--The Death of the Artist's Mother.--The
Embodying of the Pennsylvanian Militia; an Anecdote of General
Wayne.--The Artist elected Commandant of a corps of Volunteer
boys.--The circumstances which occasioned the Search for the Bones of
Bradock's army.--The Search.--The Discovery of the Bones of the
Father and Brother of Sir Peter Halket.--The Artist proposed
afterwards to paint a Picture of the Discovery of the Bones of the
Halkets.--He commences regularly as a Painter.--He copies a St.
Ignatius.--He is induced to attempt Historical Portraiture.--His
Picture of the Trial of Susannah.--Of the merits of that Picture.

There is a regardless independence about minds of superior endowment,
which, in similar characters, manifests itself differently according to
the circumstances in which they happen to be placed. Devoted to the
contemplation of the means of future celebrity, the man of genius
frequently finds himself little disposed to set a proper value on the
common interests of of life. When bred in affluence, and exempted from
the necessity of considering the importance of money to the attainment of
his object, he is often found, to a blameful degree, negligent of
pecuniary concerns; and, on the contrary, when his situation is such that
he may only hope for distinction by the practice of the most parsimonious
frugality, he will as often appear in the social and propelling season of
youth enduring voluntary privations with an equanimity which the
ostentatious fanatic or contrite penitent would in vain attempt to
surpass. This peculiar feature of the self-sustained mind of genius has
often been misunderstood, and seldom valued as it ought to be. The
presumptuous weak who mistake the wish of distinction for the workings of
talent, admire the eccentricities of the gifted youth who is reared in
opulence, and, mistaking the prodigality which is only the effect of his
fortune, for the attributes of his talents, imitate his errors, and
imagine that, by copying the blemishes of his conduct, they possess what
is illustrious in his mind. Such men are incapable of appreciating the
self-denial which Benjamin West made it a duty to impose upon himself on
entering the world; but to those who are truly conscious of possessing
the means of attracting the admiration of their contemporaries and
posterity, the voluntary abstinence of a youth of genius will afford them
delight in the contemplation, even though they may be happily free from
the obligation of practising it themselves.

When it was determined among the Friends that Benjamin West should be
allowed to cultivate the art of Painting, he went to Lancaster, but he was
hastily recalled by a severe domestic misfortune. His mother was seized by
a dangerous illness, and being conscious that she could not live long, she
requested that he might be sent for home. Benjamin hastily obeyed the
summons, but, before he reached the house, her strength was exhausted, and
she was only able to express by her look the satisfaction with which she
saw him approach the bed, before she expired. Her funeral, and the
distress which the event naturally occasioned to her family, by all of
whom she was very tenderly beloved, detained the young Artist some time at
his father's. About the end of August, in 1756, however, he took his
final departure, and went to Philadelphia. But, before proceeding with
the narrative of his professional career, it is necessary to advert to
some of the public transactions of that period, by which his sensibility
was powerfully excited. Indeed it will appear throughout the whole of
these singular memoirs, that the subject of them was, perhaps, more
immediately affected by the developement of national events, than usually
falls to the lot of any individual so little connected with public men,
and so far remote from the great thoroughfare of political occurrences.

After the destruction of General Bradock's army, the Pennsylvanians being
alarmed at the defenceless state in which they were placed by that
calamity, the Assembly of the Province resolved to embody a militia force;
and Mr, Wayne, who has been already mentioned, was appointed Colonel of
the Regiment raised in Chester County. This defensive measure announced
that the golden age of the country was past, and the change felt by the
peaceful Quakers indicated an alteration in their harmless manners. West,
among others, went to view the first muster of the troops under the
command of Colonel Wayne, and the sight of men in arms, their purpose and
array, warmed his lively imagination with military enthusiasm. In
conjunction with a son of the Colonel, a boy of his own age, with whom he
had become acquainted, he procured a gun, and determined also to be a
soldier. Young Wayne was drilled by the diciplinarians of his father's
corps, and he, in turn, exercised West, who, being more alert and active,
soon obtained a decided superiority; but what different destinies were
attached to them! West has attained, in the intellectual discipline of the
arts of peace, an enviable reputation; and Wayne, who was inferior to him
in the manual of the soldier, became an illustrious commander, and
partook, as the companion in arms of Washington, of the glory of having
established the independence of America.

The martial preparations inspired all the youths of Pennsylvania with the
love of arms, and diffused the principles of that military spirit which
was afterwards exerted with so much effect against the erroneous policy
of the mother country. West, soon after his drilling under young Wayne,
visited Lancaster; and the boys of that town having formed themselves
into a little corps, made choice of him for their commandant. Among
others who caught the spirit of the time, was his brother Samuel, who
possessed a bold character and an enterprising disposition. He was about
six years older than the Artist, and, being appointed a Captain in
Colonel Wayne's regiment, joined the troops under the command of General
Forbes, who was sent to repair the disasters which had happened to the
unfortunate Bradock.

After the taking of Fort Duane, to which the new name of Pittsburgh was
given, in compliment to the minister of the day, General Forbes resolved
to search for the relics of Bradock's army. As the European soldiers were
not so well qualified to explore the forests, Captain West was appointed,
with his company of American sharpshooters, to assist in the execution of
this duty; and a party of Indian warriors, who had returned to the British
interests, were requested to conduct him to the places where the bones of
the slain were likely to be found. In this solemn and affecting duty
several officers belonging to the 42d regiment accompanied the detachment,
and with them Major Sir Peter Halket, who had lost his father and a
brother in the fatal destruction of the army. It might have been thought a
hopeless task that he should be able to discriminate their remains from
the common relics of the other soldiers; but he was induced to think
otherwise, as one of the Indian warriors assured him that he had seen an
officer fall near a remarkable tree, which he thought he could still
discover; informing him at the same time, that the incident was impressed
on his memory by observing a young subaltern, who, in running to the
officer's assistance, was also shot dead on his reaching the spot, and
fell across the other's body. The Major had a mournful conviction in his
own mind that the two officers were his father and brother, and, indeed,
it was chiefly owing to his anxiety on the subject, that this pious
expedition, the second of the kind that History records, was undertaken.

Captain West and his companions proceeded through the woods and along the
banks of the river towards the scene of the battle. The Indians regarded
the expedition as a religious service, and guided the troops with awe, and
in profound silence. The soldiers were affected with sentiments not less
serious; and as they explored the bewildering labyrinths of those vast
forests, their hearts were often melted with inexpressible sorrow; for
they frequently found skeletons lying across the trunks of fallen trees, a
mournful proof to their imaginations that the men who sat there, had
perished of hunger, in vainly attempting to find their way to the
plantations. Sometimes their feelings were raised to the utmost pitch of
horror by the sight of sculls and bones scattered on the ground--a certain
indication that the bodies had been devoured by wild beasts; and in other
places they saw the blackness of ashes amidst the relics,--the tremendous
evidence of atrocious rites.

At length they reached a turn of the river not far from the principal
scene of destruction, and the Indian who remembered the death of the two
officers, stopped; the detachment also halted. He then looked around in
quest of some object which might recall, distinctly, his recollection of
the ground, and suddenly darted into the wood. The soldiers rested their
arms without speaking. A shrill cry was soon after heard; and the other
guides made signs for the troops to follow them towards the spot from
which it came. In the course of a short time they reached the Indian
warrior, who, by his cry, had announced to his companions that he had
found the place where he was posted on the day of battle. As the troops
approached, he pointed to the tree under which the officers had fallen.
Captain West halted his men round the spot, and with Sir Peter Halket and
the other officers, formed a circle, while the Indians removed the leaves
which thickly covered the ground. The skeletons were found, as the Indian
expected, lying across each other. The officers having looked at them some
time, the Major said, that as his father had an artificial tooth, he
thought he might be able to ascertain if they were indeed his bones and
those of his brother. The Indians were, therefore, ordered to remove the
skeleton of the youth, and to bring to view that of the old officer. This
was immediately done, and after a short examination, Major Halket
exclaimed, "It is my father!" and fell back into the arms of his
companions. The pioneers then dug a grave, and the bones being laid in it
together, a highland plaid was spread over them, and they were interred
with the customary honours.

When Lord Grosvenor bought the picture of the death of Wolfe, Mr. West
mentioned to him the finding of the bones of Bradock's army as a pictorial
subject capable of being managed with great effect. The gloom of the vast
forest, the naked and simple Indians supporting the skeletons, the grief
of the son on recognizing the relics of his father, the subdued melancholy
of the spectators, and the picturesque garb of the Pennsylvanian
sharpshooters, undoubtedly furnished topics capable of every effect which
the pencil could bestow, or the imagination require in the treatment of so
sublime a scene. His Lordship admitted, that in possessing so affecting an
incident as the discovery of the bones of the Halkets, it was superior
even to that of the search for the remains of the army of Varus; the
transaction, however, being little known, and not recorded by any
historian, he thought it would not be interesting to the public. Other
engagements have since prevented Mr. West from attempting it on his own
account. But it is necessary that the regular narrative should be resumed;
for the military history of the Artist terminated when he was recalled
home by the last illness of his mother, although the excitement which the
events that led to it occasioned never lost its influence on his mind,
especially that of the incident which has been described, and which has
ever been present to his imagination as one of the most affecting
occurrences, whether considered with respect to the feelings of the
gentlemen most immediately interested in it, or with respect to the wild
and solemn circumstances under which the service was performed.

On his return to Philadelphia, he again resided with Mr. Clarkson, his
brother-in-law; and Provost Smith, in the evenings, continued to direct
his attention to those topics of literature which were most suitable to
cherish the expansion of his mind, and to enrich his imagination with
ideas useful to his profession. While his leisure hours were thus
profitably employed, his reputation as a portrait painter was rapidly
extended. His youth, and the peculiar incidents of his history, attracted
many sitters, and his merits verified the recommendations of his friends.
This constancy of employment, no doubt materially tended to his
improvement in the manipulation of his art; for whatever may be the native
force of talent, it is impossible that the possessor can attain excellence
by any other means than practice. Facility to express the conceptions of
the mind must be acquired before the pen or the pencil can embody them
appropriately, and the author who does not execute much, however little he
may exhibit, can never expect to do justice to the truth and beauty of his
own ideas. West was very soon duly impressed with the justness of this
observation; and, while in the execution of his portraits, he was
assiduous to acquire a ready knowledge of those characteristic traits
which have since enabled him to throw so much variety into his
compositions; he felt conscious that, without seeing better pictures than
his own, he could neither hope to attain distinction, nor to appreciate
his own peculiar powers. It was this consideration that induced him to
adopt a most rigid system of frugality. He looked forward to a period when
he might be enabled, by the fruits of his own industry, to visit the great
scenes of the fine arts in Europe; and the care with which he treasured
the money that he received for his portraits was rewarded even at the time
with the assurance of realizing his expectations. The prices which he
first fixed for his portraits, were two guineas and a half for a head, and
five guineas for a half length.

After what has already been mentioned of the state of Society in
Pennsylvania, it is needless to say that at the period to which these
memoirs refer, there were but few pictures in the British Plantations;
indeed, without any other explanation, all that should be contended for by
any person who might imagine it necessary to advocate the pretensions of
Benjamin West to be placed in the list of original and self-instructed
artists, would be readily granted, upon stating the single fact, that he
was born in Pennsylvania, and did not leave America till the year 1760. At
the same time, it might be construed into an injudicious concealment, if
it were not mentioned that Governor Hamilton, who at that period presided
with so much popularity over the affairs of the province, possessed a few
pictures, consisting, however, chiefly of family portraits. Among them was
a St. Ignatius, which was found in the course of the preceding war on
board a Spanish prize, and which Mr. Pennington obtained leave for West to
copy. The Artist had made choice of it himself, without being aware of its
merits as a work of art, for it was not until several years after that he
discovered it to be a fine piece of the Morillo school, and in the best
style of the master.

This copy was greatly admired by all who saw it, and by none more than his
valuable friend Provost Smith, to whom it suggested the notion that
portrait-painting might be raised to something greatly above the
exhibition of a mere physical likeness; and he in consequence endeavoured
to impress upon the mind of his pupil, that characteristic painting opened
a new line in the art, only inferior in dignity to that of history, but
requiring, perhaps, a nicer discriminative tact of mind. This judicious
reflection of Dr. Smith was however anticipated by Sir Joshua Reynolds,
who had already made the discovery, and was carrying it into effect with
admirable success. The Provost, however, was unacquainted with that
circumstance, and induced West to make an experiment by drawing his
portrait in the style and attitude of the St. Ignatius.

While he was thus employed on portraits, a gentleman of the name of Cox
called on him to agree for a likeness of his daughter; and the picture of
Dr. Smith attracted his attention. It indeed appeared to him to evince
such a capacity for historical composition, that, instead of then
determining any thing respecting his daughter's portrait, he gave an order
for an historical picture, allowing the Artist himself to choose the
subject. This task had peculiar charms; for the Painter in the course of
reading the Bible to his mother some time before, had been led to think
that the Trial of Susannah was a fine subject, and he was thus enabled, by
the liberality of Mr. Cox, to embody the conceptions of his imagination
while they were yet in all the freshness and vigour of original
formation. He made his canvas about the size of a half length portrait, on
which he introduced not fewer than forty figures. In the execution he
followed the rule which he had adopted in painting the Death of Socrates,
and drew the principal figures from living models.--It is not known what
has become of the Trial of Susannah. In the rebellion of the Colonies, Mr.
Cox adhered to the British interest; and his daughter, the last person
into whose possession the picture has been traced, having married a
British officer, came to England during the war, and the Artist has not
heard where she has since resided.

In point of composition, Mr. West is of opinion that the Trial of Susannah
was superior to the Death of Socrates. In this he is probably correct; for
during the interval between the execution of the one and the other, his
mind had been enlarged in knowledge by reading, his eye improved by the
study of pictorial outline and perspective in the _Camera_, and his touch
softened by the portraits which he painted, and particularly by his
careful copy of the St. Ignatius. In point of drawing, both pictures were
no doubt greatly inferior to many of his subsequent works; but his son,
long after he had acquired much celebrity, saw the picture of the Death of
Socrates; and was of opinion that it was not surpassed by any of them in
variety of composition, and in that perspicuity of narrative which is the
grand characteristic of the Artist's genius.

Chap. V.

Motives which induced him to visit New York.--State of Society in New
York.--Reflections on the sterility of American
talent.--Considerations on the circumstances which tend to produce
Poetical feelings.--The causes which produced the peculiarities in the
state of Society in New York.--The Accident which led the Artist to
discover the method of colouring Candle-light and Fire effects after
Nature.--He copies Strange's engraving of Belisarius, by Salvador
Rosa.--The occurrence which hastened his Voyage to Italy, with the
Anecdote of his obligations to Mr. Kelly.--Reflections on Plutarch,
occasioned by reference to the effect which his works had on the mind
of West.--The Artist embarks; occurrence at Gibraltar.--He arrives at
Leghorn.--Journey to Rome.

But although West found himself in possession of abundant employment in
Philadelphia, he was sensible that he could not expect to increase his
prices with effect, if he continued constantly in the same place. He also
became sensible that to view life in various lights was as necessary to
his improvement as to exercise his pencil on different subjects. And,
beyond all, he was profoundly sensible, by this time, that he could not
hope to attain eminence in his profession, without inspecting the great
master-pieces of art in Europe, and comparing them with his own works in
order to ascertain the extent of his powers. This philosophical view of
his situation was doubtless partly owing to the excellent precepts of
Provost Smith, but mainly to his own just perception of what was necessary
to the successful career of an Artist: indeed the principle upon which the
notion was formed is universal, and applies to all intellectual pursuits.
Accordingly, impressed with these considerations, he frugally treasured
the earnings of his pencil, that he might undertake, in the first place, a
professional journey from Philadelphia, as preparatory to acquiring the
means of afterwards visiting Europe, and particularly Rome. When he found
that the state of his funds enabled him to undertake the journey, he went
to New York.

The Society of New York was much less intelligent in matters of taste and
knowledge than that of Philadelphia. In the latter city the institutions
of the college and library, and the strict moral and political
respectability of the first settlers, had contributed to form a community,
which, though inferior in the elegancies of living, and the etiquettes of
intercourse, to what is commonly found in the European capitals, was
little behind them in point of practical and historical information. Dr.
Smith, the Provost of the college, had largely contributed to elevate the
taste, the sentiment and the topics of conversation in Philadelphia. He
was full of the best spirit of antiquity, and there was a classical purity
of mind and splendour of imagination sometimes met with in the families
which he frequented, that would have done honour to the best periods of
polished society.

It would be difficult to assign any reason why it has so happened that no
literary author of any general celebrity, with the exception of Franklin,
has yet arisen in America. That men of learning and extensive reading,
capable of vying with the same description of persons in Europe, are to
be found in the United States, particularly in Philadelphia, is not to be
denied; but of that class, whose talents tend to augment the stock of
intellectual enjoyment in the world, no one, with the single exception
already alluded to, has yet appeared.

Poetry is the art of connecting ideas of sensible objects with moral
sentiments; and without the previous existence of local feelings, there
can be no poetry. America to the first European settlers had no objects
interesting to the imagination, at least of the description thus strictly
considered as poetical; for although the vigour and stupendous appearances
of Nature were calculated to fill the mind with awe, and to exalt the
contemplations of enthusiasm, there was nothing connected with the
circumstances of the scene susceptible of that colouring from the memory,
which gives to the ideas of local resemblance the peculiar qualities of
poetry. The forests, though interminable, were but composed of trees; the
mountains and rivers, though on a larger scale, were not associated in the
mind with the exertions of patriotic valour, and the achievements of
individual enterprize, like the Alps or the Danube, the Grampians or the
Tweed. It is impossible to tread the depopulated and exhausted soil of
Greece without meeting with innumerable relics and objects, which, like
magical talismans, call up the genius of departed ages with the
long-enriched roll of those great transactions, that, in their moral
effect, have raised the nature of man, occasioning trains of reflection
which want only the rythm of language to be poetry. But in the
unstoried solitudes of America, the traveller meets with nothing to awaken
the sympathy of his recollective feelings. Even the very character of the
trees, though interesting to scientific research, chills, beneath the
spaciousness of their shade, every poetical disposition. They bear little
resemblance to those which the stranger has left behind in his native
country. To the descendants of the first settlers, they wanted even the
charm of those accidental associations which their appearance might have
recalled to the minds of their fathers. Poetry is, doubtless, the first of
the intellectual arts which mankind cultivate. In its earliest form it is
the mode of expressing affection and admiration; but, before it can be
invented, there must be objects beloved and admired, associated with
things in nature endowed with a local habitation and a name. In America,
therefore, although there has been no lack of clever versifiers, nor of
men who have respectably echoed the ideas current in the old world, the
country has produced nothing of any value descriptive of the peculiar
associations connected with its scenery. Among some of the Indian tribes a
vein of original poetry has, indeed, been discovered; but the riches of
the mine are unexplored, and the charge of sterility of fancy, which is
made by the Europeans against the citizens of the United States, still
remains unrefuted. Since the period, however, to which these memoirs
chiefly refer, events of great importance have occurred, and the
recollections connected with them, no doubt, tend to imbue the American
climate with the elements of poetical thought; but they are of too recent
occurrence for the purposes either of the epic or the tragic muse. The
facts of history in America are still seen too much in detail for the
imagination to combine them with her own creation. The fields of battle
are almost too fresh for the farmer to break the surface; and years must
elapse before the ploughshare shall turn up those eroded arms of which the
sight will call into poetical existence the sad and dreadful incidents of
the civil war.

In New York Mr. West found the society wholly devoted to mercantile
pursuits. A disposition to estimate the value of things, not by their
utility, or by their beauty, but by the price which they would bring in
the market, almost universally prevailed. Mercantile men are habituated by
the nature of their transactions to overlook the intrinsic qualities of
the very commodities in which they deal; and though of all the community
they are the most liberal and the most munificent, they set the least
value on intellectual productions. The population of New York was formed
of adventurers from all parts of Europe, who had come thither for the
express purpose of making money, in order, afterwards, to appear with
distinction at home. Although West, therefore, found in that city much
employment in taking likenesses destined to be transmitted to relations
and friends, he met with but few in whom he found any disposition
congenial to his own; and the eleven months which he passed there, in
consequence, contributed less to the improvement of his mind than might
have been expected from a city so flourishing. Still, the time was not
altogether barren of occurrences which tended to advance his progress in
his art, independent of the advantage arising from constant practice.

He happened, during his residence there, to see a beautiful Flemish
picture of a hermit praying before a lamp, and he was resolved to paint a
companion to it, of a man reading by candle-light. But before he
discovered a method of producing, in day-light, an effect on his model
similar to what he wished to imitate, he was frequently baffled in his
attempts. At length, he hit on the expedient of persuading his landlord to
sit with an open book before a candle in a dark closet; and he found that,
by looking in upon him from his study, the appearance was exactly what he
wished for. In the schools and academies of Europe, tradition has
preserved the methods by which all the magical effects of light and
shadow have been produced, with the exception, however, of Rembrandt's
method, and which the author of these sketches ventures to suggest was
attained, in general, by observing the effect of sunshine passing through
chinks into a dark room. But the American Artist was as yet unacquainted
with any of them, and had no other guides to the essential principles of
his art but the delicacy of his sight, and that ingenious observation of
Nature to which allusion has been already so often made.

The picture of the Student, or man reading by candle-light, was bought by
a Mr. Myers, who, in the revolution, continued to adhere to the English
cause. The same gentleman also bought a copy which West made about the
same time of Belisarius, from the engraving by Strange, of Salvator Rosa's
painting. It is not known what has now become of these pictures; but when
the Artist long afterwards saw the original of Salvator Rosa, he was
gratified to observe that he had instinctively coloured his copy almost as
faithfully as if it had been painted from the picture instead of the

In the year 1759 the harvest in Italy fell far short of what was
requisite for the ordinary consumption of the population, and a great
dearth being foreseen, Messrs. Rutherford and Jackson, of Leghorn, a house
of the first consequence then in the Mediterranean trade, and well known
to all travellers for the hospitality of the partners, wrote to their
correspondent Mr. Allen, at Philadelphia, to send them a cargo of wheat
and flour. Mr. Allen was anxious that his son, before finally embarking in
business, should see something of the world; and Provost Smith, hearing
his intention of sending him to Leghorn with the vessel, immediately
waited on the old gentleman, and begged him to allow West to accompany
him, which was cheerfully acceded to, and the Provost immediately wrote to
his pupil at New York on the subject. In the mean time, West had heard
that there was a vessel at Philadelphia loading for Italy, and had
expressed to Mr. William Kelly, a merchant, who was then sitting to him
for his portrait, a strong desire to avail himself of this opportunity to
visit the fountain-head of the arts. Before this period, he had raised his
terms for a half-length to ten guineas, by which he acquired a sum of
money adequate to the expenses of a short excursion to Italy. When he had
finished Mr. Kelly's portrait, that gentleman, in paying him, requested
that he would take charge of a letter to his agents in Philadelphia, and
deliver it to them himself on his return to that city, which he was
induced to do immediately, on receiving Dr. Smith's letter, informing him
of the arrangement made with Mr. Allen. When this letter was opened, an
instance of delicate munificence appeared on the part of Mr. Kelly, which
cannot be too highly applauded. It stated to the concern to which it was
addressed, that it would be delivered by an ingenious young gentleman,
who, he understood, intended to visit Rome for the purpose of studying the
fine arts, and ordered them to pay him fifty guineas as a present from him
towards furnishing his stores for the voyage.

While waiting till the vessel was clear to sail, West had the
gratification to see, in Philadelphia, his old friend Mr. Henry, for whom
he had painted the Death of Socrates. Towards him he always cherished the
most grateful affection. He was the first who urged him to attempt
historical composition; and, above all, he was the first who had made him
acquainted with the magnanimous tales of Plutarch; perhaps, the greatest
favour which could be conferred on a youthful mind, susceptible of
impressions from the sublime and beautiful of human actions, which no
author has better illustrated than that celebrated Biographer, who may
indeed be regarded, almost without hyperbole, as the recorder of
antient worth, and the tutor of modern genius. In his peculiar class,
Plutarch still stands alone, at least no author in any of the living
languages appears to be yet truly sensible of the secret cause by which
his sketches give that direct impulse to the elements of genius, by which
the vague and wandering feelings of unappropriated strength are converted
into an uniform energy, endowed with productive action. Plutarch, like the
sculptors of antiquity, has selected only the great and elegant traits of
character; and hence his lives, like those statues which are the models of
art, possess, with all that is graceful and noble in human nature, the
particular features of individuals. He had no taste for the blemishes of
mankind. His mind delighted in the contemplation of moral vigour; and he
seems justly to have thought that it was nearly allied to virtue: hence
many of those characters whose portraitures in his works furnish the
youthful mind with inspiring examples of true greatness, more authentic
historians represent in a light far different. It is the aim of all
dignified art to exalt the mind by exciting the feelings as well as the
judgment; and the immortal lessons of Plutarch would never have awakened
the first stirrings of ambition in the innumerable great men who date
their career from reading his pages, had he been actuated by the minute
and invidious spirit of modern biography. These reflections have occurred
the more forcibly at this juncture, as the subject of this narrative was
on the point of leaving a country in which were men destined to acquire
glory in such achievements as Plutarch would have delighted to record; and
of parting from early associates who afterwards attained a degree of
eminence in the public service that places them high in the roll of those
who have emulated the exploits and virtues of the Heroes of that great

The Artist having embarked with young Allen had a speedy and pleasant
passage to Gibraltar; where, in consequence of the war then raging, the
ship stopped for convoy. As soon as they came to anchor, Commodore Carney
and another officer came on board to examine the vessel's papers. It
happened that some time before, the British Government had, on account of
political circumstances, prohibited the carrying of provisions into Italy,
by which prohibition the ship and cargo would have been forfeited had she
been arrested in attempting to enter an Italian port, or, indeed, in
proceeding with such an intention. But Captain Carney had scarcely taken
his pen to write the replies to the questions which he put to the Master,
as to the owners of the vessel and her destination, when he again threw it
down, and, looking the other officer full in the face, said, "I am much
affected by the situation in which I am now placed. This valuable ship is
the property of some of my nearest relations, and the best friends that I
have ever had in the world!" and he refrained from asking any more
questions. There was, undoubtedly, much generosity in this conduct, for
by the indulgence of the crown, all prizes taken in war become the
property of the captors; and Captain Carney, rather than enrich himself at
the expence of his friends, chose to run the hazard of having his own
conduct called in question for the non-performance of his official duty.
It perhaps deserves also to be considered as affording a favourable
example of that manly confidence in the gentlemanly honour of each other
which has so long distinguished the British officers. On the mind of West
it tended to confirm that agreeable impression by which so many previous
incidents had made him cherish a liberal opinion of mankind. In other
respects, Captain Carney happening to be the officer who came on board,
was a fortunate circumstance; for on learning that young Allen was in the
ship, he invited the passengers to dine on board his frigate; and the
company, consisting of the Governor, his staff, and principal officers in
the garrison, tended to raise the consideration of the Artist, and his
companion in the estimation of the fleet with which their vessel was to
proceed to Leghorn. Indeed, throughout his whole life, Mr. West was, in
this respect, singularly fortunate; for although the condescensions of
rank do not in themselves confer any power on talent, they have the effect
of producing that complacency of mind in those who are the objects of
them, which is at once the reward and the solace of intellectual exertion,
at the same time that they tend to mollify the spirit of contemporary
invidiousness. The day after, the fleet sailed; and when they had passed
the rock, the captains of the two men of war [Footnote: The two
frigates, the Shannon, Captain Meadow, since Lord Manvers, whose intimacy
still continues with Mr. West, and the Favourite sloop of war, Captain
Pownell.] who had charge of the convoy, came on board the American, and
invited Mr. Allen and Mr. West to take their passage in one of the
frigates; this, however, they declined, but every day, when the weather
was favourable, they were taken on board the one ship or the other, to
dine; and when the weather did not permit this to be done with pleasure to
the strangers, the officers sent them presents from their stock.

After touching at several parts of the coast of Spain, the ship arrived
safely at Leghorn, where mercantile enquiries detained Mr. Allen some
time, and West being impatient to proceed to Rome, bade him adieu. Prior
to his departure from Philadelphia, he had paid into the hands of old Mr.
Allen the money which he thought would be requisite for his expenses in
Italy, and had received from him a letter of credit on Messrs. Jackson and
Rutherford. When they were made acquainted with the object of his voyage,
and heard his history, they showed him a degree of attention beyond even
their general great hospitality, and presented him with letters to
Cardinal Albani, and several of the most distinguished characters for
erudition and taste in Rome; and as he was unacquainted with French or
Italian, they recommended him to the care of a French Courier, who had
occasion to pass that way.

When the travellers had reached the last stage of their journey, while
their horses were baiting, West walked on alone. It was a beautiful
morning; the air was perfectly placid, not a speck of vapour in the sky,
and a profound tranquillity seemed almost sensibly diffused over the
landscape. The appearance of Nature was calculated to lighten and elevate
the spirits; but the general silence and nakedness of the scene touched
the feelings with solemnity approaching to awe. Filled with the idea of
the metropolitan city, the Artist hastened forward till he reached an
elevated part of the high road, which afforded him a view of a spacious
champaign country, bounded by hills, and in the midst of it the sublime
dome of St. Peter's. The magnificence of this view of the Campagna
excited, in his imagination, an agitated train of reflections that partook
more of the nature of feeling than of thought. He looked for a spot to
rest on, that he might contemplate at leisure a scene at once so noble and
so interesting; and, near a pile of ruins fringed and trellissed with ivy,
he saw a stone that appeared to be part of a column. On going towards it,
he perceived that it was a mile-stone, and that he was then only eight
miles from the Capitol. In looking before him, where every object seemed
by the transparency of the Italian atmosphere to be brought nearer than it
was in reality, he could not but reflect on the contrast between the
circumstances of that view and the scenery of America; and his thoughts
naturally adverted to the progress of civilization. The sun seemed, to
his fancy, the image of truth and knowledge, arising in the East,
continuing to illuminate and adorn the whole earth, and withdrawing from
the eyes of the old world to enlighten the uncultivated regions of the
new. He thought of that remote antiquity when the site of Rome itself was
covered with unexplored forests; and passing with a rapid reminiscence
over her eventful story, he was touched with sorrow at the solitude of
decay with which she appeared to be environed, till he adverted to the
condition of his native country, and was cheered by the thought of the
greatness which even the fate of Rome seemed to assure to America. For he
reflected that, although the progress of knowledge appeared to intimate
that there was some great cycle in human affairs, and that the procession
of the arts and sciences from the East to the West demonstrated their
course to be neither stationary nor retrograde; he could not but rejoice,
in contemplating the skeleton of the mighty capital before him, that they
had improved as they advanced, and that the splendour which would precede
their setting on the shores of Europe, would be the gorgeous omen of the
glory which they would attain in their passage over America.

While he was rapt in these reflections, he heard the drowsy tinkle of a
pastoral bell behind him, and on turning round, he saw a peasant dressed
in shaggy skins, driving a few goats from the ruins. The appearance and
physiognomy of this peasant struck him as something more wild and
ferocious than any thing about the Indians; and, perhaps, the observation
was correctly philosophical. In the Indian, Nature is seen in that
primitive vigour and simplicity, in which the actions are regulated by
those feelings that are the elements of the virtues; but in the Italian
bandit, for such he had reason afterwards to think was the real character
of the goat-herd, he saw man in that second state of barbarity, in which
his actions are instigated by wants that have often a vicious origin.

Chap. VI.

State of the stationary Society of Rome.--Causes which rendered the
City a delightful temporary residence.--Defects of the Academical
methods of study.--His introduction to Mr. Robinson.--Anecdote of
Cardinal Albani.--The Cardinal's method of finding Resemblances, and
curious mistake of the Italians.--The Artist's first visit to the
Works of Art.

During the pontificate of Pope Rezzonico, the society of Rome had attained
a pitch of elegance and a liberality of sentiment superior to that of any
other city of Christendom. The theocratic nature of the government induced
an exterior decorum in the public form of politeness, which, to strangers
who took no interest in the abuses of the state, was so highly agreeable,
that it tended even to appease their indignation against the laxity of
private morals. If the traveller would forget that the name of
Christianity was employed in supporting a baneful administration to the
vices, or could withdraw his thoughts from the penury and suffering which
such an administration necessarily entailed on the people, he had
opportunities of access at Rome to the most various and delightful
exercises of the faculties of memory, taste, and judgment, in the company
of persons distinguished for their knowledge and genius. For, with all the
social intercourse for which Paris was celebrated in the reign of Louis
XV. the local objects at Rome gave a higher and richer tone to
conversation there; even the living vices were there less offensive than
at Paris, the rumours of them being almost lost in the remembrance of
departed virtue, constantly kept awake by the sight of its monuments and
vouchers. Tyranny in Rome was exercised more intellectually than in the
French Capital. Injustice and oppression were used more in the form of
persuasion; and though the crosier was not less pernicious than the
bayonet, it inflicted a less irritating injury. The virtuous endured with
patience the wrongs that their misguided judgment led them to believe were
salutary to their eternal welfare. But it ought to be observed, that the
immorality of the Romans was greatly exaggerated. Individuals redeemed by
their merits the reproach of universal profligacy; and strangers, by being
on their guard against the moral contagion, suffered a less dangerous
taint than in the Atheistical coteries of Paris. Many, in consequence, who
came prepared to be disgusted with the degenerated Romans, often bade them
adieu with sentiments of respect, and remembered their urbanity and
accomplishments with delightful satisfaction.

It was not, however, the native inhabitants of Rome who constituted the
chief attractions of society there, but the number of accomplished
strangers of all countries and religions, who, in constant succession,
came in pilgrimage to the shrine of antiquity; and who, by the
contemplation of the merits and glories of departed worth, often felt
themselves, as it were, miraculously endowed with new qualities. The
collision of minds fraught with learning, in that high state of excitement
which the genius of the place produced on the coldest imaginations,
together with those innumerable brilliant and transitory topics which were
never elicited in any other city, made the Roman conversations a
continual exercise of the understanding. The details of political
intrigue, and the follies of individuals, excited but little interest
among the strangers in Rome. It seemed as if by an universal tacit
resolution, national and personal peculiarities and prejudices were
forgotten, and that all strangers simultaneously turned their attention to
the transactions and affairs of former ages, and of statesmen and authors
now no more. Their mornings were spent in surveying the monuments raised
to public virtue, and in giving local features in their minds to the
knowledge which they had acquired by the perusal of those works that have
perpetuated the dignity of the Roman character. Their evenings were often
allotted to the comparison of their respective conjectures, and to
ascertain the authenticity and history of the relics which they had
collected of ancient art. Sometimes the day was consumed in the study of
those inestimable ornaments of religion, by which the fraudulent
disposition of the priesthood had, in the decay of its power, rendered
itself venerable to the most enlightened minds; and the night was devoted
to the consideration of the causes which contribute to the developement
of genius, or of the events which tend to stifle and overwhelm its powers.
Every recreation of the stranger in Rome was an effort of the memory, of
abstraction, and of fancy.--Society, in this elevated state of enjoyment,
surrounded by the greatest works of human creation, and placed amidst the
monuments of the most illustrious of mankind,--and that of the Quakers of
Pennsylvania, employed in the mechanical industry of felling timber, and
amid the sobriety of rural and commercial oeconomy, were like the extremes
of a long series of events, in which, though the former is the necessary
consequence of the latter, no resemblance can be traced in their
respective characteristics. In America all was young, vigorous, and
growing,--the spring of a nation, frugal, active, and simple. In Rome all
was old, infirm, and decaying,--the autumn of a people who had gathered
their glory, and were sinking into sleep under the disgraceful excesses of
the vintage. On the most inert mind, passing from the one continent to the
other, the contrast was sufficient to excite great emotion; on such a
character as that of Mr. West, who was naturally disposed to the
contemplation of the sublime and beautiful, both as to their moral and
visible effect, it made a deep and indelible impression. It confirmed him
in the wisdom of those strict religious principles which denied the
utility of art when solely employed as the medium of amusement; and
impelled him to attempt what could be done to approximate the uses of the
pencil to those of the pen, in order to render Painting, indeed, the
sister of Eloquence and Poetry.

But the course of study in the Roman schools was not calculated to enable
him to carry this grand purpose into effect; for the principles by which
Michael Angelo and Raphael had attained their excellence, were no longer
regarded. The study of Nature was deserted for that of the antique; and
pictures were composed according to rules derived from other paintings,
without respect to what the subject required, or what the circumstances of
the scene probably appeared to be. It was, therefore, not one of the least
happy occurrences in his life that he went to Rome when society was not
only in the most favourable state for the improvement of his mind, and for
convincing him of the deleterious influence of the arts when employed as
the embellishments of voluptuousness and luxury; but also when the state
of the arts was so mean, that the full effect of studying the antique
only, and of grouping characters by academical rules, should appear so
striking as to satisfy him that he could never hope for any eminence, if
he did not attend more to the phenomena of Nature, than to the productions
of the greatest genius. The perusal of the works of other painters, he was
sensible, would improve his taste; but he was convinced, that the design
which he had formed for establishing his own fame, could not be realised,
if, for a single moment, he forgot that their works, however exquisite,
were but the imitations and forms of those eternal models to which he had
been instinctively directed.

It was on the 10th of July, 1760, that he arrived at Rome. The French
Courier conducted him to a hotel, and, having mentioned in the house that
he was an American, and a Quaker, come to study the fine arts, the
circumstance seemed so extraordinary, that it reached the ears of Mr.
Robinson, afterwards Lord Grantham, who immediately found himself
possessed by an irresistible desire to see him; and who, before he had
time to dress or refresh himself, paid him a visit, and insisted that he
should dine with him. In the course of dinner, that gentleman inquired
what letters of introduction the Artist had brought with him; and West
having informed him, he observed it was somewhat remarkable that the whole
of them should be addressed to his most particular friends, adding, that
as he was engaged to meet them at a party in the evening, he expected West
would accompany him. This attention and frankness was acknowledged as it
deserved to be, and is remembered by the Artist among those fortunate
incidents which have rendered the recollection of his past life so
pleasant, as scarcely to leave a wish for any part of it to have been
spent otherwise than it was. At the hour appointed, Mr. Robinson conducted
him to the house of Mr. Crispigne, an English gentleman who had long
resided at Rome, where the evening party was held.

Among the distinguished persons whom Mr. West found in the company, was
the celebrated Cardinal Albani. His eminence, although quite blind, had
acquired, by the exquisite delicacy of his touch, and the combining powers
of his mind, such a sense of antient beauty, that he excelled all the
virtuosi then in Rome, in the correctness of his knowledge of the verity
and peculiarities of the smallest medals and intaglios. Mr. Robinson
conducted the Artist to the inner apartment, where the Cardinal was
sitting, and said, "I have the honour to present a young American, who has
a letter of introduction to your eminence, and who has come to Italy for
the purpose of studying the fine arts." The Cardinal fancying that the
American must be an Indian, exclaimed, "Is he black or white?" and on
being told that he was very fair, "What as fair as I am?" cried the
Cardinal still more surprised. This latter expression excited a good deal
of mirth at the Cardinal's expence, for his complexion was of the darkest
Italian olive, and West's was even of more than the usual degree of
English fairness. For some time after, if it be not still in use, the
expression of "as fair as the Cardinal" acquired proverbial currency in
the Roman conversations, applied to persons who had any inordinate conceit
of their own beauty.

The Cardinal, after some other short questions, invited West to come near
him, and running his hands over his features, still more attracted the
attention of the company to the stranger, by the admiration which he
expressed at the form of his head. This occasioned inquiries respecting
the youth; and the Italians concluding that, as he was an American, he
must, of course, have received the education of a savage, became curious
to witness the effect which the works of Art in the Belvidere and Vatican
would produce on him. The whole company, which consisted of the principal
Roman nobility, and strangers of distinction then in Rome, were interested
in the event; and it was arranged in the course of the evening that on the
following morning they should accompany Mr. Robinson and his protege to
the palaces.

At the hour appointed, the company assembled; and a procession, consisting
of upwards of thirty of the most magnificent equipages in the capital of
Christendom, and filled with some of the most erudite characters in
Europe, conducted the young Quaker to view the master-pieces of art. It
was agreed that the Apollo should be first submitted to his view, because
it was the most perfect work among all the ornaments of Rome, and,
consequently, the best calculated to produce that effect which the company
were anxious to witness. The statue then stood in a case, enclosed with
doors, which could be so opened as to disclose it at once to full view.
West was placed in the situation where it was seen to the most advantage,
and the spectators arranged themselves on each side. When the keeper threw
open the doors, the Artist felt himself surprised with a sudden
recollection altogether different from the gratification which he had
expected; and without being aware of the force of what he said, exclaimed,
"My God, how like it is to a young Mohawk warrior." The Italians,
observing his surprise, and hearing the exclamation, requested Mr.
Robinson to translate to them what he said; and they were excessively
mortified to find that the god of their idolatry was compared to a
savage. Mr. Robinson mentioned to West their chagrin, and asked him to
give some more distinct explanation, by informing him what sort of people
the Mohawk Indians were. He described to him their education; their
dexterity with the bow and arrow; the admirable elasticity of their limbs;
and how much their active life expands the chest, while the quick
breathing of their speed in the chace, dilates the nostrils with that
apparent consciousness of vigour which is so nobly depicted in the Apollo.
"I have seen them often," added he, "standing in that very attitude, and
pursuing, with an intense eye, the arrow which they had just discharged
from the bow." This descriptive explanation did not lose by Mr. Robinson's
translation. The Italians were delighted, and allowed that a better
criticism had rarely been pronounced on the merits of the statue. The view
of the other great works did not awaken the same vivid feelings. Those of
Raphael, in the Vatican, did not at first particularly interest him; nor
was it until he had often visited them alone, and studied them by himself,
that he could appreciate the fulness of their excellence. His first view
of the works of Michael Angelo, was still less satisfactory: indeed, he
continued always to think, that, with the single exception of the Moses,
that Artist had not succeeded in giving a probable character to any of his
subjects, notwithstanding the masterly hand and mind which pervade the
weakest of his productions.

Among the first objects which particularly interested Mr. West, and which
he never ceased to re-visit day after day with increasing pleasure, were
the celebrated statues ascribed to Phidias, on the Monte Cavallo. The
action of the human figure appeared to him so majestic, that it seemed to
throw, as it were, a visible kind of awe into the very atmosphere, and
over all the surrounding buildings. But the smallness of the horse struck
him as exceedingly preposterous. He had often examined it before the idea
occurred to him that it was probably reduced according to some unknown
principle of antient art; and in this notion he was confirmed, by
observing something of the same kind in the relative proportion of human
figures and animals, on the different gems and bas-reliefs to which his
attention was subsequently directed. The antient sculptors uniformly
seemed to consider the human figure as the chief object, and sacrificed,
to give it effect, the proportions of inferior parts. The author of the
group on the Monte Cavallo, in the opinion of Mr. West, represented the
horse smaller than the natural size, in order to augment the grandeur of
the man. How far this notion, as the principle of a rule, may be sound, it
would be unnecessary, perhaps impertinent, to inquire here; but its
justness as applicable to the sculptures of antiquity, is abundantly
verified by the bas-reliefs brought from the Parthenon of Athens. It is,
indeed, so admitted a feature of antient art, as to be regarded by some
critics as having for its object the same effect in sculpture, which is
attained by light and shadow in painting.--In a picture, the Artist, by a
judicious obscurity, so veils the magnitude of the car in which he places
a victor, that notwithstanding its size, it may not appear the principal

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