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

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object; but this artifice is denied to the sculptor, who is necessitated
to diminish the size of those things which are of least importance, in
order to give dignity to the predominant figures. Raphael, in making the
boat so small in the miraculous draught of fishes, is thought to have
injudiciously applied this rule of antient sculpture; for he ought to have
accomplished, by foreshortening, the same effect which he meant to produce
by diminishing the size. It should, however, be observed, that great
doubts are entertained if the statues on the Monte Cavallo were originally
integral parts of the same group; but although this doubt may be well
founded, it will not invalidate the supposed general principle of the
antient sculptors, corroborated, as it is, by innumerable examples.

In the evening, after visiting the palaces, Mr. Robinson carried Mr. West
to see a grand religious ceremony in one of the churches. Hitherto he was
acquainted only with the simple worship of the Quakers. The pomp of the
papal ceremonies was as much beyond his comprehension, as the overpowering
excellence of the music surpassed his utmost expectations. Undoubtedly, in
all the spectacles and amusements of Rome, he possessed a keener sense of
enjoyment, arising from the simplicity of his education, than most other
travellers. That same sensibility to the beauty of forms and colours which
had awakened his genius for painting, was, probably, accompanied with a
general superior susceptibility of the other organs as well as the sight;
for it is observed that a taste for any one of the fine arts is connected
with a general predilection for them all. But neither the Apollo, the
Vatican, nor the pomp of the Catholic ritual, excited his feelings to so
great a degree as the spectacle which presented itself to his view around
the portico of the church. Bred in the universal prosperity of
Pennsylvania, where the benevolence of the human bosom was only employed
in acts of hospitality and mutual kindness, he had never witnessed any
spectacle of beggary, nor had he ever heard the name of God uttered to
second an entreaty for alms. Here, however, all the lazars and the
wretched in Rome were collected together; hundreds of young and old in
that extreme of squalor, nakedness, and disease which affrights the
English traveller in Italy, were seen on all sides; and their
importunities and cries, for the love of God, and the mercy of Christ, to
relieve them, thrilled in his ears, and smote upon his heart to such a
degree, that his joints became as it were loosened, and his legs scarcely
able to support him. Many of the beggars knew Mr. Robinson, and seeing him
accompanied by a stranger, an Englishman, as they concluded the Artist to
be from his appearance, surrounded them with confidence and clamours.

* * * * *

As they returned from the church, a woman somewhat advanced in life, and
of a better appearance than the generality of the beggars, followed them,
and Mr. West gave her a small piece of copper money, the first Roman coin
which he had received in change, the relative value of which to the other
coins of the country was unknown to him. Shortly afterwards they were
joined by some of the Italians, whom they had seen in the morning, and
while they were conversing together, he felt some one pull his coat, and
turned round. It was the poor woman to whom he had given the piece of
copper money. She held out in her hand several smaller pieces, and as he
did not understand her language, he concluded that she was chiding him for
having given her such a trifle, and coloured deeply with the idea. His
English friend, observing his confusion, inquired what he had given her,
and he answered that he did not know, but it was a piece of money which he
had received in change. Robinson, after a short conversation with the
beggar, told Mr. West that she had asked him to give her a farthing. "But
as you gave her a two-penny piece," said he, "she has brought you the
change." This instance of humble honesty, contrasted with the awful mass
of misery with which it was united, gave him a favourable idea of the
latent sentiments of the Italians. How much, indeed, is the character of
that people traduced by the rest of Europe! How often is the traveller in
Italy, when he dreads the approach of robbers, and prepares against
murder, surprised at the bountiful disposition of the common Italians, and
made to blush at having applied the charges against a few criminals to the
character of a whole people--without reflecting that the nation is only
weak because it is subdivided.

Chap. VII.

Anecdote of a famous Impoverisatore.--West the subject of one of his
finest effusions.--Anecdote of Cardinal Albani.--West introduced to
Mengs.--Satisfactory result of Wests's first essay in
Rome.--Consequences 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.

It was not, however, the novelty, variety, and magnificence of the works
of art and antiquity in Rome, that kept Mr. West in a constant state of
high excitement; the vast difference in the manners of the people from
those of the inhabitants of America, acted also as an incessant stimulus
on his feelings and imagination: even that difference, great as it
happened to be, was rendered particularly interesting to him by incidents
arising out of his own peculiar situation. One night, soon after his
arrival in Rome, Mr. Gavin Hamilton, the painter, to whom he had been
introduced by Mr. Robinson, took him to a coffee-house, the usual resort
of the British travellers. While they were sitting at one of the tables,
a venerable old man, with a guitar suspended from his shoulder, entered
the room, and coming immediately to their table, Mr. Hamilton addressed
him by the name of Homer.--He was the most celebrated Improvisatore in
all Italy, and the richness of expression, and nobleness of conception
which he displayed in his effusions, had obtained for him that
distinguished name. Those who once heard his poetry, never ceased to
lament that it was lost in the same moment, affirming, that it often was
so regular and dignified, as to equal the finest compositions of Tasso
and Ariosto.--It will, perhaps, afford some gratification to the admirers
of native genius to learn, that this old man, though led by the fine
frenzy of his imagination to prefer a wild and wandering life to the
offer of a settled independence, which had been often made to him in his
youth, enjoyed in his old age, by the liberality of several Englishmen,
who had raised a subscription for the purpose, a small pension,
sufficient to keep him comfortable in his own way, when he became
incapable of amusing the public.

After some conversation, Homer requested Mr. Hamilton to give him a
subject for a poem. In the mean time, a number of Italians had gathered
round them to look at Mr. West, who they had heard was an American, and
whom, like Cardinal Albani, they imagined to be an Indian. Some of them,
on hearing Homer's request, observed, that he had exhausted his vein, and
had already said and sung every subject over and over. Mr. Hamilton,
however, remarked that he thought he could propose something new to the
bard, and pointing to Mr. West, said, that he was an American come to
study the fine arts in Rome; and that such an event furnished a new and
magnificent theme. Homer took possession of the thought with the ardour of
inspiration. He immediately unslung his guitar, and began to draw his
fingers rapidly over the strings, swinging his body from side to side, and
striking fine and impressive chords. When he had thus brought his motions
and his feelings into unison with the instrument, he began an
extemporaneous ode in a manner so dignified, so pathetic, and so
enthusiastic, that Mr. West was scarcely less interested by his appearance
than those who enjoyed the subject and melody of his numbers. He sung the
darkness which for so many ages veiled America from the eyes of Science.
He described the fulness of time when the purposes for which it had been
raised from the deep were to be manifested. He painted the seraph of
knowledge descending from heaven, and directing Columbus to undertake the
discovery; and he related the leading incidents of the voyage. He invoked
the fancy of his auditors to contemplate the wild magnificence of
mountain, lake, and wood, in the new world; and he raised, as it were, in
vivid perspective, the Indians in the chase, and at their horrible
sacrifices. "But," he exclaimed, "the beneficent spririt of improvement is
ever on the wing, and, like the ray from the throne of God which inspired
the conception of the Virgin, it has descended on this youth, and the hope
which ushered in its new miracle, like the star that guided the magi to
Bethlehem, has led him to Rome. Methinks I behold in him an instrument
chosen by heaven, to raise in America the taste for those arts which
elevate the nature of man,--an assurance that his country will afford a
refuge to science and knowledge, when in the old age of Europe they shall
have forsaken her shores. But all things of heavenly origin, like the
glorious sun, move Westward; and Truth and Art have their periods of
shining, and of night. Rejoice then, O venerable Rome, in thy divine
destiny, for though darkness overshadow thy seats, and though thy mitred
head must descend into the dust, as deep as the earth that now covers thy
antient helmet and imperial diadem, thy spirit, immortal and undecayed,
already spreads towards a new world, where, like the soul of man in
Paradise, it will be perfected in virtue and beauty more and more." The
highest efforts of the greatest actors, even of Garrick himself delivering
the poetry of Shakespeare, never produced a more immediate and inspiring
effect than this rapid burst of genius. When the applause had abated, Mr.
West being the stranger, and the party addressed, according to the common
practice, made the bard a present. Mr. Hamilton explained the subject of
the ode: though with the weakness of a verbal translation, and the
imperfection of an indistinct echo, it was so connected with the
appearance which the author made in the recital, that the incident has
never been obliterated from Mr. West's recollection.

While the Artist was gratifying himself with a cursory view of the works
of art, and of the curiosities, Mr. Hope, of Amsterdam, the father of the
gentlemen who have since become so well known in London for their taste in
the arts, and their superb collections of pictures and marbles, arrived in
Rome. Mr. West being introduced to him, accompanied him to Cardinal
Albani, to whom he had letters of introduction, and witnessed a proof of
the peculiar skill of his Eminence. The Cardinal requested Mr. Hope to
come near him, and according to his usual custom with strangers, drew his
hands over his face, observing that he was a German. In doing the same
thing to Mr. West, he recognized him as the young American.

At this time Mengs was in the zenith of his popularity, and West was
introduced to him at the Cardinal's villa. He appeared to be as much
struck as every other person, with the extraordinary circumstance of an
American coming to study the fine arts; and begged that Mr. West would
show him a speciman of his proficiency in drawing. In returning home, our
Artist mentioned to Mr. Robinson that as he had never learnt to draw, he
could not produce any sketch like those made by the other students; but
that he could paint a little, and if Mr. Robinson would take the trouble
to sit, he would execute his portrait to shew Mengs. The proposal was
readily acceded to, and it was also agreed, that except to two of their
most intimate acquaintances, the undertaking should be kept a profound
secret. When the picture was finished, it was so advantageous to the
Artist, that it tended to confirm the opinion which was entertained of his
powers, founded only on the strength of the curiosity which had brought
him from America. But, before shewing it to Mengs, it was resolved that
the taste and judgment of the public with respect to its merits should be

Mr. Crespigne, one of the two friends in the secret, lived as a Roman
gentleman, and twice a year gave a grand assembly at his house, to which
all the nobility and strangers in Rome, the most eminent for rank, birth,
and talents, were invited. It was agreed that the portrait should be
exhibited at one of his parties, which happened to take place soon after
it was finished. A suitable frame being provided, the painting was hung up
in one of the rooms. The first guests who arrived, were Amateurs and
Artists; and as it was known among them that Robinson was sitting to Mengs
for his portrait, it was at once thought to be that picture, and they
agreed that they had never seen any painting of the Artist so well
coloured. As the guests assembled, the portrait became more and more the
subject of attention, and Mr. West sat behind on a sofa equally agitated
and delighted by their strictures, which Mr. Robinson reported to him from
time to time. In the course of the evening Mr. Dance, an Englishman of
great shrewdness, was observed looking with an eye of more than common
scrutiny at the portrait, by Mr. Jenkins, another of the guests, who,
congratulating Robinson in getting so good a portrait from Mengs, turned
to Dance, and said, "The he must now acknowledge that Mengs could colour
as well as he could draw." Dance confessed that he thought the picture
much better coloured than those usually painted by Mengs, but added that
he did not think the drawing either so firm or good as the usual style of
that Artist. This remark occasioned some debate, in which Jenkins,
attributing the strictures of Dance to some prejudice which he had early
conceived against Mengs, drew the company around to take a part in the
discussion. Mr. Crespigne seizing the proper moment in their conversation
to produce the effect intended, said to Jenkins that he was mistaken, and
that Dance was in the right, for, in truth, the picture was not painted by
Mengs. By whom then, vociferated every one, "for there is no other painted
now in Rome capable of executing any thing so?" "By that young gentleman
there," said Mr. Crespigne, turning to West. At once all eyes were bent
towards him, and the Italians, in their way, ran and embraced him. Thus
did the best judges at once, by this picture, acknowledge him as only
second in the executive department of the art to the first painter then in
Rome. Mengs himself, on seeing the picture, expressed his opinion in terms
that did great honour to his liberality, and gave the Artist an advice
which he never forgot, nor remembered without gratitude. He told him that
the portrait showed that he had no occasion to learn to paint at Rome.
"You have already, sir," said he, "the mechanical part of your art: what I
would, therefore, recommend to you, is to see and examine every thing
deserving of your attention here, and after making a few drawings of about
half a dozen of the best statues, go to Florence, and observe what has
been done for Art in the collections there. Then proceed to Bologna, and
study the works of the Caracci; afterwards visit Parma, and examine,
attentively, the pictures of Corregio; and then go to Venice and view the
productions of Tintoretti, Titian, and Paul Veronese. When you have made
this tour, come back to Rome, and paint an historical composition to be
exhibited to the Roman public; and the opinion which will then be formed
of your talents should determine the line of our profession which you
ought to follow." This judicious advice, so different from those absurd
academical dogmas which would confine genius to the looking only to the
works of art, for that perfection which they but dimly reflect from
nature, West found accord so well with his own reflections and principles,
that he resolved to follow it with care and attention. But the thought of
being in Rome, and the constant excitement arising from extraordinary and
interesting objects, so affected his mind, accustomed to the sober and
uniform habits of the Quakers, that sleep deserted his pillow, and he
became ill and constantly feverish. The public took an interest in his
situation. A consultation of the best Physicians in Rome was held on his
case, the result of which was a formal communication to Mr. Robinson, that
his friend must immediately quit the capital, and seek relief from the
irritated state of his sensibility in quiet and retirement. Accordingly,
on the 20th of August he returned to Leghorn.

Messrs. Jackson and Rutherford, by whose most friendly recommendation he
had obtained so much flattering distinction at Rome, received him into
their own house, and treated him with a degree of hospitality that
merits for them the honour of being considered among the number of his
early patrons. Mr. (afterwards Sir John) Dick, then the British Consul
at Leghorn, and his lady, also treated him with great partiality, and
procured for him the use of the Imperial baths. His mind being thus
relieved from the restless ecstasy which he had suffered in Rome, and
the intensity of interest being diminished by the circumscribed nature
of the society of Leghorn, together with the bracing effects of
sea-bathing, he was soon again in a condition to resume his study in the
capital. But the same overpowering attacks on his feelings and
imagination soon produced a relapse of his former indisposition, and
compelled him to return to Leghorn, where he was again speedily cured of
his fever, but it left in its dregs a painful affection in the ancle,
that threatened the loss of the limb. The well-known Nanoni, an eminent
surgeon, who had introduced many improvements in the treatment of
diseased joints, was at this period resident in Florence, and Messrs.
Jackson and Rutherford wrote to Sir Horace Mann, then the British
Minister at the Ducal Court, to consult him relative to the case of Mr.
West: his answer induced them to advise the Artist to go to Florence.
After a painful period of eleven months confinement to his couch and
chamber, he was perfectly and radically cured.

A state of pain and disease is adverse to mental improvement; but there
were intervals in which Mr. West felt his anguish abate, and in which he
could not only participate in the conversation of the gentlemen to whose
kindness he had been recommended, but was able, occastionally, to exercise
his pencil. The testimonies of friendship which he received at this
perdiod from Sir Horace Mann, the Marquesses of Creni and Riccardi, the
late Lord Cooper, and many others of the British nobility then travelling
in Italy, made an indelible impression on his mind, and became a
stimulating motive to his wishes to excel in his art, in order to
demonstrate by his proficiency that he was not unworthy of their
solicitude. He had a table constructed so as to enable him to draw while
he lay in bed; and in that situation he amused and improved himself in
delineating the picturesque conceptions which were constantly presenting
themselves to his fancy.

When he was so far recovered as to be able to take exercise, and to endure
the fatigue of travelling, a circumstance happened which may be numbered
among the many fortunate accidents of his professional career. Mr.
Matthews, the manager of the important commercial concerns of Messrs.
Jackson and Rutherford, was one of those singular men who are but rarely
met with in mercantile life, combining the highest degree of literary and
elegant accomplishments with the best talents for active business. He was
not only confessedly one of the finest classical scholars in all Italy,
but, out of all comparison, the best practical antiquary, perhaps, then in
that country, uniting, along with the minutest accuracy of criticism, a
delicacy of taste in the perception of the beauty and judgment of the
antients, seldom found blended with an equal degree of classical
erudition. Affairs connected with the business of the house, and a wish to
see the principal cities of Italy, led Mr. Matthews, about the period of
Mr. West's recovery, to visit Florence, and it was agreed between them
that they should together make the tour recommended by Mengs.

In the mean time, the good fortune of West was working to happy effects in
another part of the world. The story of Mr. Robinson's portrait had made
so great a noise among the travellers in Italy, that Messrs. Jackson and
Rutherford, in sending back the ship to Philadelphia, in which the Artist
had come passenger, mentioned it in their letters to Mr. Allen. It is
seldom that commercial affairs are mingled with those of art, and it was
only from the Italian shore that a mercantile house could introduce such a
topic into their correspondence. It happened that on the very day this
letter reached Mr. Allen, Mr. Hamilton, then Governor of Pennsylvania, and
the principal members of the government, along with the most considerable
citizens of Philadelphia, were dining with him. After dinner, Mr. Allen
read the letter to the company, and mentioned the amount of the sum of
money which West had paid into his hands at the period of his departure
from America, adding that it must be pretty far reduced. But, said he with
warmth, "I regard this young man as an honour to the country, and as he is
the first that America has sent to cultivate the fine arts, he shall not
be frustrated in his studies, for I have resolved to write to my
correspondents at Leghorn, to give him, from myself, whatever money he may
require." Mr. Hamilton felt the force of this generous declaration, and
said, with equal animation, "I think exactly as you do, Sir, but you shall
not have all the honour of it to yourself, and, therefore, I beg that you
will consider me as joining you in the responsibility of the credit." The
consequence of this was, that upon West going, previously to leaving
Florence, to take a small sum of about ten pounds from the bankers to whom
he had been recommended by Messrs. Jackson and Rutherford, a letter was
brought in, while he was waiting for his money, and the gentleman who
opened it said to him, "that the contents of the letter would probably
afford him unexpected pleasure, as it instructed them to give him
unlimited credit." A more splendid instance of liberality is not to be
found even in the records of Florence. The munificence of the Medici was
excelled by that of the magistracy 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 State of Italy.--Adventure on reaching the French
frontiers.--State of Taste in France.

From Florence the Artist proceeded to Bologna, and having staid some time
there, carefully inspecting every work of celebrity to which he could
obtain access, he went on to Venice, visiting in his route all the objects
which Mengs had recommended to his attention. The style of Titian, which
in breadth and clearness of colouring so much excels that of almost every
other painter, was the peculiar characteristic of the Venetian school
which interested him the most, and seemed to him, at first, involved in
inexplicable mystery. He was never satisfied with the explanations which
the Italian amateurs attempted to give him of what they called the
internal light of that master's productions. Repeated experiments,
however, enabled him, at last, to make the discovery himself. Indeed, he
was from the first persuaded that it was chiefly owing to the peculiar
genius of the Artist himself,--to an exquisite delicacy of sight which
enabled him to perceive the most approximate tints,--and not to any
particular dexterity of pencilling, nor to any superiority in the
materials of his colours. This notion led Mr. West to try the effect of
painting in the first place with the pure primary colours, and softening
them afterwards with the semi tints; and the result confirmed him in the
notion that such was probably the peculiar method of Titian. But although
this idea was suggested by his visits to the collections of Venice, he
was not perfectly satisfied with its soundness as a rule, till many years
after his arrival in London, and many unsuccessful experiments.

Having completed his tour to the most celebrated repositories of art in
Italy, and enriched his mind, and improved his taste, by the perusal
rather than the imitation of their best pieces, he returned to Rome, and
applied himself to a minute and assiduous study of the great ornaments of
that capital, directing his principal attention to the works of Raphael,
and improving his knowledge of the antient costume by the study of Cameos,
in which he was assisted by Mr. Wilcox, the author of the Roman
Conversations,--to whom he had been introduced by Mr. Robinson, at Mr.
Crespigne's, on the occasion of the exhibition of the Portrait,--a man of
singular attainments in learning, and of a serene and composed dignity of
mind and manners that rendered him more remarkable to strangers than even
his great classical knowledge.

Of all the monuments of antient art in Rome, the Obelisk brought from
Egypt, in the reign of Augustus, interested his curiosity the most, and
even for a time affected him as much as those which so agitated him by
their beauty. The hieroglyphics appeared to resemble so exactly the
figures in the Wampum belts of the Indians, that it occurred to him, if
ever the mysteries of Egypt were to be interpreted, it might be by the
aborigines of America. This singular notion was not, however, the mere
suggestion of fancy, but the effect of an opinion which his early friend
and tutor Provost Smith conceived, in consequence of attending the grand
meeting of the Indian chiefs, with the Governors of the British colonies,
held at East town, in Pennsylvania, in the year following the disastrous
fate of Bradock's army. The chiefs had requested this interview, in order
to state to the officers the wrongs and injuries of which they complained;
and at the meeting they evidently read the reports and circumstances of
their grievances from the hieroglyphical chronicle of the Wampum belts,
which they held in their hands, and by which, from the date of their grand
alliance with William Penn, the man from the ocean, as they called him,
they minutely related all the circumstances in which they conceived the
terms and spirit of the treaty had been infringed by the British, defying
the officers to show any one point in which the Indians had swerved from
their engagements. It seemed to Dr. Smith that such a minute traditionary
detail of facts could not have been preserved without some contemporary
record; and he, therefore, imagined, that the constant reference made to
the figures on the belts was a proof that they were chronicles. This
notion was countenanced by another circumstance which Mr. West had himself
often noticed. The course of some of the high roads through Pennsylvania
lies along what were formerly the war tracks of the Indians; and he had
frequently seen hieroglyphics engraved on the trees and rocks. He was told
that they were inscriptions left by some of the tribes who had passed that
way in order to apprize their friends of the route which they had taken,
and of any other matter which it concerned them to know. He had also
noticed among the Indians who annually visited Philadelphia, that there
were certain old chiefs who occasionally instructed the young warriors to
draw red and black figures, similar to those which are made on the belts,
and who explained their signification with great emphasis, while the
students listened to the recital with profound silence and attention. It
was not, therefore, extraordinary, that, on seeing similar figures on the
Egyptian trophy, he should have thought that they were intended to
transmit the record of transactions like the Wampum belts.--A language of
signs derived from natural objects, must have something universal in its
very nature; for the qualities represented by the emblematic figure,
would, doubtless, be those for which the original of the figure was most
remarkable: and, therefore, if there be any resemblance between the
Egyptian hieroglyphics and those used by the American Indians, the
probability is, that there is also some similar intrinsic meaning in their
signification. But the Wampum belts are probably not all chronicles; there
is reason to believe that some of them partake of the nature of calendars,
by which the Indians are regulated in proceedings dependant on the
seasons; and that, in this respect, they answer to the household Gods of
the patriarchal times, which are supposed to have been calendars, and the
figure of each an emblem of some portion of the year, or sign of the
Zodiac. It would be foreign to the nature of this work to investigate the
evidence which may be adduced on this subject, or to collect those various
and scattered hints which have given rise to the opinion, and with a
faint, but not fallacious ray, have penetrated that obscure region of
antient history, between the period when the devotion of mankind,
withdrawn from the worship of the Deity, was transferred to the adoration
of the stars, and prior to the still greater degradation of the human
faculties when altars were raised to idols.

The idea of the Indians being in possession of hieroglyphical writings, is
calculated to lead us to form a very different opinion of them to that
which is usually entertained by the world. Except in the mere enjoyments
of sense, they do not appear to be inferior to the rest of mankind; and
their notions of moral dignity are exactly those which are recommended to
our imitation by the literature of all antiquity. But they have a
systematic contempt for whatever either tends to increase their troubles,
to encumber the freedom of their motions, or to fix them to settled
habitations. In their unsheltered nakedness, they have a prouder
consciousness of their importance in the scale of beings, than the
philosophers of Europe, with all their multiplicity of sensual and
intellectual gratifications, to supply which so many of the human race are
degraded from their natural equality. The Indian, however, is not
deficient in mental enjoyments, or a stranger to the exercise of the
dignified faculties of our common nature. He delivers himself on suitable
occasions with a majesty of eloquence that would beggar the oratory of the
parliaments, and the pulpits of Christendom; and his poetry unfolds the
loftiest imagery and sentiment of the epic and the hymn. He considers
himself as the lord of the creation, and regards the starry heaven as his
canopy, and the everlasting mountain as his throne. It would be absurd,
however, to assert with Rousseau, that he is, therefore, better or happier
than civilized man; but it would be equally so to deny him the same sense
of dignity, the same feeling of dishonour, the same love of renown, or
ascribe to his actions in war, and his recreations in peace, baser motives
than to the luxurious warriors and statesmen of Europe. Before Mr. West
left America, an attempt was made to educate three young Indians at New
York; and their progress, notwithstanding that they still retained
something of their original wildness of character, exceeded the utmost
expectations of those who were interested in the experiment. Two of them,
however, in the end, returned to their tribe, but they were rendered
miserable by the contempt with which they were received; and the brother
of the one who remained behind, was so affected with their degradation,
that he came to the city determined to redeem his brother from the
thraldom of civilization. On his arrival he found he had become an actor,
and was fast rising into celebrity on the stage. On learning this
circumstance, the resolute Indian went to the theatre, and seated himself
in the pit. The moment that his brother appeared, he leapt upon the stage,
and drawing his knife, threatened to sacrifice him on the spot unless he
would immediately strip himself naked, and return with him to their home
in the woods. He upbraided him with the meanness of his disposition, in
consenting to make himself a slave. He demanded if he had forgotten that
the Great Spirit had planted the Indian corn for their use, and filled the
forests with game, the air with birds, and the waters with fish, that they
might be free. He represented the institutions of civilized society as
calculated to make him dependant on the labour of others, and subject to
every chance that might interrupt their disposition to supply his wants.
The actor obeyed his brother, and returning to the woods, was never seen
again in the town. [A]

It may, perhaps, not be an impertinent digression to contrast this
singular occurrence in the theatre of New York with another truly
European, to which Mr. West was a witness, in the Cathedral of St. Peter.
Among other intelligent acquaintances which he formed in Rome was the
Abate Grant, one of the adherents of that unfortunate family, whom the
baseness of their confidential servants, and the factions of ambitious
demagogues, deprived, collectively, of their birthright. This priest,
though a firm Jacobite in principle, was, like many others of the same
political sentiments, liberal and enlightened, refuting, by his conduct,
the false and fraudulent calumnies which have been so long alleged against
the gallant men who supported the cause of the ill-fated Stuarts. On St.
Peter's day, when the Pope in person performs high mass in the cathedral,
the Abate offered to take Mr. West to the church, as he could place him
among the ecclesiastics, in an advantageous situation to witness the
ceremony. Glad of such an offer, Mr. West willingly accompanied him. The
vast edifice; the immense multitude of spectators; the sublimity of the
music; and the effect of the pomp addressed to the sight, produced on the
mind of the Painter feelings scarcely less enthusiastic than those which
the devoutest of the worshippers experienced, or the craftiest inhabitant
of the Vatican affected to feel. At the elevation of the host, and as he
was kneeling beside the Abate, to their equal astonishment he heard a
voice, exclaiming behind them in a broad Scottish accent, "O Lord, cast
not the church down on them for this abomination!" The surrounding Italian
priests, not understanding what the enthusiast was saying, listened with
great comfort to such a lively manifestation of a zeal, which they
attributed to the blessed effects of the performance. The Abate, however,
with genuine Scottish partiality, was alarmed for his countryman, and
endeavoured to persuade him to hold his tongue during the ceremony, as he
ran the risk of being torn to pieces by the mob.

It appeared that this zealous Presbyterian, without understanding a word
of any civilized language, but only a dialect of his own, had come to Rome
for the express purpose of attempting to convert the Pope, as the shortest
way, in his opinion, of putting an end to the reign of Antichrist. When
mass was over, the Abate, anxious to avert from him the consequences which
his extravagance would undoubtedly entail, if he continued to persevere in
it, entered into conversation with him. It appeared he had only that
morning arrived in Babylon, and being unable to rest until he had seen a
glimpse of the gorgeous harlot, he had not then provided himself with
lodgings. The Abate conducted him to a house where he knew he would be
carefully attended; and he also endeavoured to reason with him on the
absurdity of his self-assumed mission, assuring him that unless he
desisted, and behaved with circumspection, he would inevitably be seized
by the Inquisition. But the prospect of Martyrdom augmented his zeal; and
the representations of the benevolent Catholic only stimulated his
enterprise; so that in the course of a few days, much to his own exceeding
great joy, and with many comfortable salutations of the spirit, he was
seized by the Inquisition, and lodged in a dungeon, On hearing this, the
Abate applied to King James in his behalf, and by his Majesty's influence
he was released, and sent to the British Consul at Leghorn, on condition
of being immediately conveyed to his friends in Scotland. It happened,
however, that no vessel was then ready to sail, and the taste of
persecution partaking more of the relish of adventure than the pungency of
suffering, the missionary was not to be so easily frustrated in his
meritorious design; and, therefore, he took the first opportunity of
stealing silently back to Rome, where he was again arrested and confined.
By this time the affair had made some noise, and it was universally
thought by all the English travellers, that the best way of treating the
ridiculous madman was to allow him to remain some time in solitary
confinement in the dungeons of the Inquisition. When he had been
imprisoned about three months, he was again liberated, sent to Leghorn,
and embarked for England, radically cured of his inclination to convert
the Pope, but still believing that the punishment which he had suffered
for his folly would be recorded as a trial which he had endured in the
service of the faith.

In the mean time West was carefully furnishing his mind by an attentive
study of the costume of antiquity, and the beauties of the great works of
modern genius. In doing this, he regarded Rome only as an university, in
which he should graduate; and, as a thesis preparatory to taking his
degree among the students, he painted a picture of Cimon and Iphigenia,
and, subsequently, another of Angelica and Madoro. The applause which they
received justified the opinion which Mengs had so early expressed of his
talent, and certainly answered every object for which they were composed.
He was honoured, in consequence, with the marks of academical
approbation, usually bestowed on fortunate Artists. He then proposed to
return to America, with a view to cultivate in his native country that
profession in which he had already acquired so much celebrity. At this
juncture he received a letter from his father, advising him, as peace had
been concluded between France and England, to go home for a short time
before coming to America; for the mother country was at that period still
regarded as the home of her American offspring. The advice of his father
was in unison with his own wishes, and he mentioned his intention to Mr.
Wilcox. That gentleman, conceiving that he spoke of America as his home,
expressed himself with grief and surprise at a determination so different
from what he had expected; but, upon being informed of the ambiguity in
the phrase, he exclaimed that he could hardly have resolved, on quitting
Italy, more opportunely, for Dr. Patoune, a Scotish gentleman, of
considerable learning, and some taste in painting, was then returning
homeward, and waiting at that time in Rome, until he should be able to
meet with a companion. It was therefore agreed that West should be
introduced to him; and it was soon after arranged that the Doctor should
proceed to Florence, while the Artist went to take leave of his friends at
Leghorn, to express to them his gratitude for the advantages he had
derived from their constant and extraordinary kindness, which he estimated
so highly, that he could not think of leaving Italy without performing
this pleasing and honourable pilgrimage. It was also agreed between him
and his companion, that the Doctor should stop a short time at Parma,
until West should have completed a copy of the St. Jerome of Corregio,
which he had begun during his visit to that city with Mr. Matthews.

During their stay at Parma, the Academy elected Mr. West a member, an
honour which the Academies of Florence and Bologna had previously
conferred on him; and it was mentioned to the Prince that a young American
had made a copy of the St. Jerome of Corregio in a style of excellence
such as the oldest Academicians had not witnessed. The Prince expressed a
wish to see this extraordinary Artist, particularly when be heard that he
was from Pennsylvania, and a Quaker. Mr. West was, in consequence,
informed that a visit from him would be acceptable at Court: and it was
arranged that he should be introduced to His Highness by the chief
Minister. Mr. West thought that, in a matter of this kind, he should
regulate his behaviour by what he understood to be the practice in the
court of London; and, accordingly, to the astonishment of the whole of the
courtiers, he kept his hat on during the audience. This, however, instead
of offending the Prince, was observed with evident pleasure, and made his
reception more particular and distinguished; for His Highness had heard of
the peculiar simplicity of the Quakers, and of the singularly Christian
conduct of William Penn.

From Parma he proceeded to Genoa, and thence to Turin. Considering this
City as the last stage of his professional observations in Italy, his mind
unconsciously took a retrospective view of the different objects he had
seen, and the knowledge which he had acquired since his departure from
America. Although his art was always uppermost in his thoughts, and
although he could not reflect on the course of his observations without
pleasure and hope, he was often led to advert to the lamentable state into
which every thing, as well as Art, had fallen in Italy, in consequence of
the general theocratical despotism which over-spread the whole country,
like an unwholesome vapour, and of those minute subdivisions of territory,
in which political tyranny exercised its baleful influence even where the
ecclesiastical oppression seemed disposed to spare. He saw, in the
infamous establishment of the cicisbeo, the settled effect of that general
disposition to palliate vice, which is the first symptom of decay in
nations; and he was convinced that, before vice could be thus exalted into
custom, there must exist in the community which would tolerate such an
institution, a disregard of all those obligations which it is the pride of
virtue to incur, and the object of law to preserve. It seemed to him that
every thing in Italy was in a state of disease; and that the moral energy
was subsiding, as the vital flame diminishes with the progress of old age.
For although the forms and graces of the human character were often seen
in all their genuine dignity among the common people, still even the
general population seemed to be defective in that detestation of vice
found in all countries in a healthful state of morals, and which is often
strongest among the lowest of the vulgar, especially in what respects the
conduct of the great. He thought that the commonalty of Italy had lost the
tact by which the good and evil of actions are discriminated; and that,
whatever was good in their disposition, was constitutional, and
unconnected with any principle of religion, or sense of right. In the
Papal states, this appeared to be particularly the case. All the creative
powers of the mind seemed there to be extinct. The country was covered
with ruins, and the human character was in ashes. Sometimes, indeed, a few
embers of intellect were seen among the clergy; but the brightness of
their scintillation was owing to the blackness of death with which they
were contrasted. The splendour of the nobility struck him only as a more
conspicuous poverty than the beggary of the common people; and the perfect
contempt with which they treated the feelings of their dependants, seemed
to him scarcely less despicable than the apathy with which it was endured.
The innumerable examples of the effects of this moral paralysis to which
he was a witness on his arrival in Rome, filled him for some time with
indescribable anxiety, and all his veneration for the Roman majesty was
lost in reflections on the offences which mankind may be brought to commit
on one another. But at Genoa, Leghorn, and Venice, the Italians were seen
to less disadvantage. Commerce, by diffusring opulence, and interweaving
the interests of all classes, preserved in those cities some community of
feeling, which was manifested in an interchange of respect and
consideration between the higher and the lower orders; and Lucca he
thought afforded a perfect exception to the general degeneracy of the
country. The inhabitants of that little republic presented the finest view
of human nature that he had ever witnessed. With the manliness of the
British character they appeared to blend the suavity of the Italian
manners; and their private morals were not inferior to the celebrity of
their public virtues. So true it is, that man, under the police and
vigilance of despotism, becomes more and more vicious; while, in
proportion to the extension of his freedom, is the vigour of his private
virtue. When deprived of the right of exercising his own judgment, he
feels, as it were, his moral responsibility at an end, and naturally
blames the system by which he is oppressed, for the crimes which his own
unresisted passions instigate him to commit. To an Englishman the
remembrance of a journey in Italy is however often more delightful than
that of any other country, for no where else is his arrogance more
patiently endured, his eccentricities more humourously indulged, nor the
generosity of his character more publicly acknowledged.

In coming from Italy into France, Mr. West was particularly struck with
the picturesque difference in the character of the peasantry of the two
countries; and while he thought, as an Artist, that to give appropriate
effect to a national landscape it would not only be necessary to introduce
figures in the costume of the country, but in employments and recreations
no less national, he was sensible of the truth of a remark which occurs to
almost every traveller, that there are different races of the human
species, and that the nature of the dog and horse do not vary more in
different climates than man himself. In making the observation, he was
not, however, disposed to agree with the continental philosophers, that
this difference, arising from climate, at all narrowed the powers of the
mind, though it influenced the choice of objects of taste. For whatever
tends to make the mind more familiar with one class of agreeable
sensations than another, will, undoubtedly, contribute to form the cause
of that preference for particular qualities in objects by which the
characteristics of the taste of different nations is discriminated.
Although, of all the general circumstances which modify the opinions of
mankind, climate is, perhaps, the most permanent, it does not, therefore,
follow that, because the climate of France or Italy induces the
inhabitants to prefer, in works of art, certain qualities of the
excellence of which the people of England are not so sensible, the climate
of Great Britain does not, in like manner, lead the inhabitants to
discover other qualities equally valuable as sources of enjoyment. Thus,
in sculpture for example, it would seem that in naked figures the
inhabitants of a cold climate can never hope to attain that degree of
eminence which we see exemplified in the productions of the Grecian and
Italian sculptors; not that the Artists may not execute as well, but
because they will not so readily find models; or, what is perhaps more to
the point, they will not find a taste so capable of appreciating the
merits of their performances. In Italy the eye is familiar with the human
form in a state of almost complete nudity; and the beauty of muscular
expression, and of the osteological proportions of man, is there as well
known as that of the features and complexion of his countenance; but the
same degree of nakedness could not be endured in the climate of England,
for it is associated with sentiments of modesty and shame, which render
even the accidental innocent exposure of so much of the body offensive to
the feelings of decorum. It is not, therefore, just to allege, that,
because the Italians are a calm, persuasive, and pensive people, and the
French all stir, talk, and inconstancy, they are respectively actuated by
different moral causes. It will not be asserted that, though the sources
of their taste in art spring from different qualities in the same common
objects, any innate incapacity for excellence in the fine arts is induced
by the English climate, merely because that climate has the effect of
producing a different moral temperament among the inhabitants.

On the morning after arriving at the first frontier town, in coming from
Savoy into France, and while breakfast was preparing, Mr. West and his
companion heard the noise of a crowd assembled in the yard of the inn. The
Doctor rose and went to the window to inquire the occasion: immediately on
his appearance the mob became turbulent, and seemed to menace him with
some outrage.--The Peace of 1763 had been but lately concluded, and
without having any other cause for the thought, it occurred to the
travellers that the turbulence must have originated in some political
occurrence, and they hastily summoned the landlord, who informed them,
"That the people had, indeed, assembled in a tumultuous manner round the
inn on hearing that two Englishmen were in the house, but that they might
make themselves easy, as he had sent to inform the magistrates of the
riot." Soon after, one of the magistrates arrived, and on being introduced
by the landlord to the travellers, expressed himself to the following
effect: "I am sorry that this occurrence should have happened, because had
I known in time, I should, on hearing that you were Englishmen, have come
with the other magistrates to express to you the sentiments of respect
which we feel towards your illustrious nation; but, since it has not been
in our power to give you that testimony of our esteem; on the contrary,
since we are necessitated by our duty to protect you, I assure you that I
feel exceedingly mortified. I trust, however, that you will suffer no
inconvenience, for the people are dispersing, and you will be able to
leave the town in safety!" "This place," he continued, "is a manufacturing
town, which has been almost ruined by the war. Our goods went to the ocean
from Marseilles and Toulon; but the vigilance of your fleets ruined our
trade, and these poor people, who have felt the consequence, consider not
the real cause of their distress. However, although the populace do not
look beyond the effects which immediately press upon themselves, there are
many among us well acquainted with the fountain-head of the misfortunes
which afflict France, and who know that it is less to you than to
ourselves that we ought to ascribe the disgraces of the late war. You had
a man at the head of your government (alluding to the first Lord Chatham),
and your counsellors are men. But it is the curse of France that she is
ruled by one who is, in fact, but the agent and organ of valets and
strumpets. The Court of France is no longer the focus of the great men of
the country, but a band of profligates that have driven away the great.
This state of things, however, cannot last long, the reign of the
Pompadours must draw to an end, and Frenchmen will one day take a terrible
revenge for the insults which they suffer in being regarded only as the
materials of those who pander to the prodigality of the Court." This
singular address, made in the year 1763, requires no comment; but it is a
curious historical instance of the commencement of that, moral re-action
to oppression which subsequently has so fully realized the prediction of
the magistrate, and which, in its violence, has done so much mischief, and
occasioned so many misfortunes to Europe.

The travellers remained no longer in Paris than was necessary to inspect
the principal works of the French Artists, and the royal collections. Mr.
West, however, continued long enough to be satisfied that the true feeling
for the fine arts did not exist among the French to that degree which he
had observed in Italy. On the contrary, it seemed to him that there was an
inherent affectation in the general style of art among them, which
demonstrated, not only a deficiency of native sensibility, but an anxious
endeavour to conceal that defect. The characteristics of the French
School, and they have not yet been redeemed by the introduction of any
better manner, might, to a cursory observer, appear to have arisen from a
corrupted taste, while, in fact, they are the consequences only of that
inordinate national vanity which in so many different ways has retarded
the prosperity of the world. In the opinion of a Frenchman, there is a
quality of excellence in every thing belonging to France, merely because
it is French, which gives at all times a certain degree of superiority to
the actions and productions of his countrymen; and this delusive notion
has infested not only the literature and the politicks of the nation, but
also the principles of Art, to such a deep and inveterate extent, that the
morality of painting is not yet either felt or understood in that country.
In the mechanical execution, in drawing, and in the arrangement of parts,
the great French painters are probably equal to the Italians; but in
producing any other sentiment in the spectator than that of admiration at
their mechanical skill, they are greatly behind the English. Painting has
much of a common character with dramatic literature, and the very best
pictures of the French Artists have the same kind of resemblance to the
probability of Nature, that the tragedies of their great dramatic authors
have to the characters and actions of men. But in rejecting the
pretensions of the French to superiority either in the one species of art
or in the other, the rejection ought not to be extended too far. They are
wrong in their theory; but their practice so admirably accords with it,
that it must be allowed, were it possible for a people so enchanted by
self-conceit to discover that the true subjects of Art exist only in
Nature, they evince a capacity sufficient to enable them to acquire the
pre-eminence which they unfortunately believe they have already attained.
But these opinions, with respect to the peculiarities of the French taste,
though deduced from incidental remarks in conversations with Mr. West,
must not be considered as his. The respect which he has always entertained
towards the different members of his own profession never allows him to
express himself in any terms that might possibly be construed by malice or
by ignorance to imply any thing derogatory to a class which he naturally
considers among the teachers of mankind. He may think, indeed he has
expressed as much, that the style of the French Artists is not the most
perspicuous; and that it is, if the expression may be allowed, more
rhetorical than eloquent; but still he regards them as having done honour
to their country, and, in furnishing objects of innocent interest to the
minds of mankind, as having withdrawn so far the inclinations of the heart
from mere sensual objects. The true use of painting, he early thought,
must reside in assisting the reason to arrive at correct moral inferences,
by furnishing a probable view of the effects of motives and of passions;
and to the enforcement of this great argument his long life has been
devoted, whether with complete success it would be presumptuous in any
contemporary to determine, and injudicious in the author of these memoirs
to assert.

* * * * *

[A] The following Extract from the Journal of a Friend, who has
lately travelled through the principal parts of the United States, will
probably be found interesting, as it tends to throw some degree of light
on the sentiments of the Indians; of which the little that is known has
hitherto never been well elucidated.

"One of my fellow-passengers was a settler in the new state of Tenessee,
who had come to Charleston with Horses for sale, and was going to
Baltimore and Philadelphia for the purpose of investing his money in an
assortment of goods suited to the western country. The ideas of civilized
and savage life were so curiously blended in this man, that his
conversation afforded me considerable amusement. Under the garb and
appearance of a methodist preacher, I found him a hunter and a warrior;
with no small portion of the adventurous spirit proper to both those
characters. He had served as a militia-man or volunteer under General
Jackson, in his memorable campaign against the Creek Indians in 1813; and
he related to me some interesting particulars of the principal and final
action which decided the fate of the war. The Indians had posted
themselves at a place called, in their language, _Talapoosie_, and by the
Americans, the Horse-shoe; a position of great natural strength, the
advantages of which they had improved to the best of their skill, by a
breast-work seven feet high, extending across the neck of land which
formed the only approach to their encampment. This seems to have been
viewed by the Creeks themselves as the last stand of their nation: for,
contrary to the usual practice of the Indians, they made every preparation
for defence, but none for retreat. Their resistance was proportionably
desperate and bloody. For several hours they supported a continued fire of
musketry and cannon without shrinking; till at length the American
General, finding that he had lost a great number of men, and that he
could not otherwise dislodge the enemy, gave orders for a general assault.
The breast-work was carried by storm; and the Indians, broken at all
points, and surrounded by superior numbers, were nearly all put to the
sword. Out of one thousand warriors who composed the Creek Army, scarcely
twenty made their escape. A body of Choctaw Indians, who attended the
American Army as auxiliaries, were the chief actors in this massacre, and
displayed their usual barbarous ferocity. It affords a remarkable
illustration of the savage character, that the whole of this bloody scene
passed in the most perfect silence on the part of the Indians: there was
no outcry, no supplication for mercy: each man met his fate without
uttering a word, singly defending himself to the last. The lives of the
women and children were spared, but many of the boys were killed in the
action, fighting bravely in the ranks with their fathers and elder
brothers. My Tenessee friend received four arrows from the bows of these
juvenile warriors, while in the act of mounting the breast-work.

"In hearing such a story, it is impossible not to be touched with a
feeling of sympathy for a high-minded but expiring people, thus gallantly
but vainly contending, against an overwhelming force, for their native
woods, and their name as a Nation; or to refrain from lamenting that the
settlement of the New World cannot be accomplished at a less price than
the destruction of the original and rightful proprietors of the soil."


The Life and Works of Benjamin West, Esq.

By John Galt, Esq.

Part II.

To Simon M'Gillivray, Esq.
This Work
Is inscribed, with every sentiment of esteem, by the Author.


Nearly the whole of this work was printed during the last illness of Mr.
West. The manuscript had long previously been read to him. My custom was,
to note down those points which seemed, in our conversations, to bear on
his biography, and, from time to time, to submit an entire chapter to his
perusal; afterwards, when the whole narrative was formed, it was again
carefully read over to him. Still, however, I am apprehensive that some
mistakes in the orthography of names may have been committed; for although
the same custom was strictly observed in preparing the manuscript of the
first part of his Memoirs for the press, yet, in perusing the proofs, he
found several errors of that kind. It was intended that he should have
read the proofs of this part also, but the progress of his disease
unfortunately rendered it impracticable.


_30th March, 1820_.


Although Mr. West was, strictly speaking, a self-taught artist, yet it
must be allowed that in his education he enjoyed great and singular
advantages. A strong presentiment was cherished in his family, that he
would prove an extraordinary man, and his first rude sketch in childhood
was hailed as an assurance of the fulfilment of the prediction of
Peckover. The very endeavours of his boyish years were applauded as
successful attainments; no domestic prejudices were opposed to the
cultivation of his genius; even the religious principles of the community
in which he lived were bent in his favour, from a persuasion that he was
endowed by Heaven with a peculiar gift; and whatever the defects of his
early essays may have been, it was not one of the least advantageous
circumstances of his youth, that they were seen only by persons, who,
without being competent judges of them, as works of art, were yet
possessed of such a decided superiority of intellect, that their
approbation in any case would have been esteemed great praise.

The incidents attending his voyage to Italy, and his introduction to the
artists, virtuosi, and travellers at Rome, were still more auspicious.
Taken in connection with his previous history, they form one of the most
remarkable illustrations of the doctrine of fortune, or destiny, that is
to be found in authentic biography. Without any knowledge of his abilities
or acquirements, his arrival in the capital of Christendom, the seat of
the arts, was regarded as an interesting event: his person was
contemplated as an object of curiosity; and a strong disposition to
applaud his productions, was excited by the mere accident of his having
come from America to study the fine arts. A prepossession so extraordinary
has no parallel. It would almost seem, as if there had been some
arrangement in the order of things that would have placed Mr. West in the
first class of artists, although he had himself mistaken the workings of
ambition for the consciousness of talent. Many men of no inconsiderable
fame have set out in their career with high expectations in their favour;
but few, of whom such hopes were entertained, have, by a succession of
works, in which the powers of the mind were seemingly unfolded with more
and more energy, so long continued to justify the presentiments of his
early friends. It is not, however, the object of this undertaking to form
any estimate of the genius of Mr. West, or of the merits of his works;
another opportunity, distinct from his memoirs, will be taken for that
purpose; but only to resume the narrative of his progress, in his
profession, by which it will appear that a series of circumstances no less
curious than those which tended to make him an artist, facilitated his
success, and placed him in that precise station in society, where, in this
country, at the time, there was the only chance of profitable employment
as an historical painter.


Part II.

Chap. I.

Mr. West arrives in England.--Relative Condition of Artists in
Society.--Mr. West's American Friends in this Country.--Of Governor
Hamilton and Mr. Allen.--Circumstances favourable to their Reception
in the Circles of Fashion.--Mr. West's Visit to Bath, and Excursions
to see some of the Collections of Art in England.--He settles as a
Portrait Painter.--Introduction to Burke and Dr. Johnson.--Anecdote of
a Monk, the Brother of Mr. Burke.--Introduction to Archbishop
Drummond.--Mr. West's Marriage.

Chap. II.

Some Notice of Archbishop Drummond.--Mr. West paints a Picture for His
Grace.--His Grace's Plan to procure Engagements for Mr. West as an
Historical Painter.--Project for ornamenting St. Paul's Cathedral with
Pictures.--Anecdote of Dr. Terrick, Bishop of London.--The
Altar-piece of St. Stephen's Walbrook.--State of public Taste with
respect to the Arts.--Anecdotes of Hogarth and Garrick.

Chap. III.

Archbishop Drummond's Address in procuring for Mr. West the Patronage
of the King.--Singular Court Anecdote of a Lady of Fashion.--Character
of the King in his Youth.--Anecdotes of the King and Queen,--The
King employs Mr. West to paint the Departure of Regulus.--Mr. West's
Celebrity as a Skater.--Anecdote of Lord Howe.--His Fame as a Skater
of great Service in his professional Success.

Chap. IV.

The King's personal Friendship for Mr, West.--Circumstances which led
to the Establishment of the Royal Academy.--First Exhibition of the
Works of British Artists.--The Departure of Regulus finished, and
taken to Buckingham House.--Anecdote of Kirby.--The Formation of the
Royal Academy.--Anecdote of Reynolds.--The Academy instituted.

Chap. V.

The Opening of the Royal Academy.--The Death of General
Wolfe.--Anecdote of Sir Joshua Reynolds.--New Pictures ordered by the
King.--Origin of the Series of Historical Pictures painted for Windsor
Castle.--Design for a grand Chapel in Windsor Castle, to illustrate
the History of revealed Religion.--His Majesty's Scruples on the
Subject.--His confidential Consultation with several eminent
Divines.--The Design undertaken.

Chap. VI.

Singular Anecdote respecting the Author of the Letters of Junius,--Of
Lachlan McLean.--Anecdote of the Duke of Grafton.--Of the Marquis of
Lansdowne.--Of Sir Philip Francis; Critique on the Transfiguration of
Raphael by Sir Philip Francis, and Objections to his Opinion.

Chap. VII.

Observations on Mr. West's Intercourse with the King.--Anecdote of
the American War.--Studies for the Historical Pictures at Windsor
Castle.--Anecdote of the late Marquis of Buckingham.--Anecdote of Sir
Joshua Reynolds; and of the Athenian Marbles.--Election of Mr. West to
the Presidency of the Royal Academy.--His Speech to the Academicians
on that occasion.

Chap. VIII.

The first Discourse of Mr. West to the Students of the
Academy.--Progress of the Arts.--Of the Advantages of Schools of
Art.--On the Natural Origin of the Arts.--Of the Patronage which
honoured the Patrons and the Artists.--Professional Advice.--Promising
State of the Arts in Britain.

Chap. IX.

Discourse to the Royal Academy in 1794.--Observations on the Advantage
of drawing the Human Figure correctly.--On the Propriety of
cultivating the Eye, in order to enlarge the Variety of our Pleasures
derived from Objects of Sight.--On characteristic Distinctions in
Art.--Illustrations drawn from the Apollo Belvidere, and from the
Venus de Medici; comprehending critical Remarks on those Statues.

Chap. X.

Discourse to the Academy in 1797--- On the Principles of Painting and
Sculpture.--Of Embellishments in Architecture.--Of the Taste of the
Ancients.--Errors of the Moderns.--Of the good Taste of the Greeks
in Appropriations of Character to their Statues.--On Draiwing.--Of
Light and Shade.--Principles of Colouring in Painting.
--Illustration.--Of the Warm and Cold Colours.--Of Copying fine
Pictures.--Of Composition.--On the Benefits to be derived from
Sketching.--and of the Advantage of being familiar with the
Characteristics of Objects in Nature.

Chap. XI.

Discourse.--Introduction.--On the Philosophy of Character in Art.--Of
Phidias.--Of Apelles.--Of the Progress of the Arts among the
Moderns.--Of Leonardo da Vinci.--Of Michael Angelo, Raphael, and
Bartolomeo.--Of Titian.--Of the Effects of Patronage.

Chap. XII.

Discourse.--Introduction.--Of appropriate Character in Historical
Composition.--Architecture among the Greeks and Romans.--Of the
Athenian Marbles.--Of the Ancient Statues.--Of the Moses and Saviour
of Michael Angelo.--Of the Last Judgment of Michael Angelo.--Of
Leonardo da Vinci.--Of Bartolomeo.--Of Raphael.--Of Titian, and his
St. Peter Martyr.--Of the different Italian Schools.--Of the Effects
of the Royal Academy.--Of the Prince Regent's Promise to encourage the
Fine Arts.

Chap. XIII.

Mr. West's Visit to Paris.--His distinguished Reception by the
Members of the French Government.--Anecdote of Mr. Fox.--Origin of
the British Institution.--Anecdotes of Mr. Fox and Mr.
Percival.--Anecdote of the King.--History of the Picture of Christ
Healing the Sick.--Extraordinary Success attending the Exhibition of
the Copy in America.

Chap. XIV.

Reflections.--Offer of Knighthood.--Mr. Wyatt chosen President of the
Academy.--Restoration of Mr. West to the Chair.--Intrigues respecting
the Pictures for Windsor Castle.--Mr. West's Letter to the
King.--Orders to proceed with the Pictures.--The King's Illness.--Mr.
West's Allowance cut off,--and the Pictures countermanded.--Death of
Mrs. West.--Death of the Artist.


The Life and Works of Benjamin West

Chap. I.

Mr. West arrives in England.--Relative Condition of Artists in
Society.--Mr. West's American Friends in this Country.--Of Governor
Hamilton and Mr. Allen,--- Circumstances favourable to their Reception
in the Circles of Fashion.--Mr. West's Visit to Bath, and Excursions
to see some of the Collections of Art in England.--He settles as a
Portrait Painter.--Introduction to Burke and Dr. Johnson.--Anecdote
of a Monk, the Brother of Mr. Burke.--Introduction to Archbishop
Drummond.--- Mr West's Marriage.

Mr. West arrived in England on the 20th of August, 1763. The sentiments
with which he approached the shores of this island, were those of a
stranger visiting interesting scenes, mingled with something of the
solicitude and affections of a traveller returning home. He had no
intention of remaining in London: he was only desirous to see the country
of his ancestors, and his mind, in consequence, was more disengaged from
professional feelings than at any period from that in which his genius
was first awakened. He considered his visit to England as devoted to
social leisure, the best kind of repose after mental exertion; but the
good fortune which had hitherto attended him in so remarkable a manner,
still followed him, and frustrated the intentions with which he was at
that time actuated.

Those who have at all attended to what was then the state of the arts in
this country, and more particularly to the relative condition of artists
in society, and who can compare them with the state of both at the present
period, will not hesitate to regard the arrival of Mr. West as an
important event. In the sequel of this work, it may be necessary to allude
to the moral and political causes which affect the progress of the fine
arts, and opportunities will, in consequence, arise to show how meanly
they were considered, how justly, indeed, it may be said, they were
rejected, not only by the British public in general, but even by the
nobility. A few eminent literary characters were sensible of their
importance, and lamented the neglect to which they were consigned; but the
great body of the intelligent part of the nation neither felt their
influence, nor were aware of their importance to the commerce and renown
of the kingdom. Artists stood, if possible, lower in the scale of society
than actors; for Garrick had redeemed the profession of the latter from
the degradation to which it had been consigned from the time of the
Commonwealth; but Reynolds, although in high repute as a portrait-painter,
and affecting a gentlemanly liberality in the style of his living, was not
so eminently before the public eye as to induce any change of the same
consequence towards his profession.

Mr. West found, on his arrival in London, several American families who
had come across the Atlantic after the peace to visit their relations,
and he had the unexpected pleasure of hearing that Mr. William Allen,
Governor Hamilton, and Dr. Smith, his earliest friends and patrons, were
in this country.

Mr. Allen, like many others in the colonies at that time, was both a
professional man and a merchant. He held indeed the dignified office of
chief justice in Pennsylvania, and was a person of powerful and extensive
connections in the mother-country. Hamilton, who had been many years
governor, was chiefly indebted to him for the rank which he enjoyed, in
consequence of having married his sister.

The naval and military officers who had occasion, during the war, to visit
Philadelphia, found in the houses of the governor and Mr. Allen a cordial
hospitality which they never forgot. Many of these officers were related
to persons of distinction in London, and being anxious to testify to the
Americans their grateful sense of the kindness which they had experienced,
rendered the strangers objects of hospitable solicitude and marked respect
in the first circles of the metropolis. Mr. West, accordingly, on his
arrival, participated in the advantages of their favourable reception,
and before he was known as an artist, frequented the parties of several of
the highest characters in the state.

His first excursion from London was to Hampton Court to see the Cartoons
of Raphael. Soon after, he visited Oxford, Blenheim, and Corsham; whence
he proceeded to Bath, where Mr. Allen was at that time residing. Here he
remained about a month; and in returning to town made a short tour, in the
course of which he inspected the collections of art at Storehead,
Fonthill, Wilton House, the Cathedral of Salisbury, and the Earl of
Radnor's seat at Longford. At Reading he staid some time with his
half-brother, Mr. Thomas West, the eldest son of his father. When he
returned to London he was introduced by Mr. Patoune, his travelling
companion from Rome, to Reynolds, and a friendship commenced between them
which was only broken by death. He also, much about the same time, formed
an acquaintance with Mr. Richard Wilson, the landscape painter, to whom
indeed he had brought very warm letters of introduction, from some of
that great artist's friends and admirers in Italy.

The first lodgings which Mr. West occupied, in his professional capacity,
were in Bedford-Street, Covent-Garden, where, when it was understood that
he intended to practise, he was visited by all the artists of eminence
then in London, and welcomed among them with a cordiality that reflected
great honour on the generosity of their dispositions. In this house the
first picture which he painted in England was executed. The subject was
Angelica and Medora, which, with the Cymon and Iphiginia, painted at
Rome, and a portrait of General Moncton, (who acquired so much celebrity
by his heroic conduct as second in command under General Wolfe at
Quebec,) by the advice of Reynolds and Wilson, he sent to the exhibition
in Spring Gardens in 1764.

While he was engaged on the picture of Angelica and Medora, Dr. Markham,
then Master of Westminster-School, paid him a visit and invited him to a
dinner, at which he introduced him to Dr. Johnson, Mr. Burke; Mr.
Chracheroide, and Mr. Dyer. On being introduced to Burke he was so much
surprised by the resemblance which that gentleman bore to the chief of the
Benedictine monks at Parma, that when he spoke he could scarcely persuade
himself he was not the same person. This resemblance was not accidental;
the Protestant orator was, indeed, the brother of the monk.

It always appeared to Mr. West that there was about Mr. Burke a degree of
mystery, connected with his early life, which their long intercourse,
subsequent to the introduction at Dr. Markham's, never tended to explain.
He never spoke of any companions of his boyhood, nor seemed to have any of
those pleasing recollections of the heedless and harmless days of youth,
which afford to most men of genius some of the finest lights and breaks of
their fancy; and his writings corroborate the observation. For, although
no prose writer ever wrote more like a poet than this celebrated man, his
imagery is principally drawn from general nature or from art, and but
rarely from any thing local or particular.

The conversation after dinner chiefly turned, on American subjects, in
which Mr. Burke, as may well be supposed, took a distinguished part, and
not more delighted the Artist with the rich variety and affluence of his
mind, than surprised him by the correct circumstantiality of his
descriptions; so much so, that he was never able to divest himself of an
impression received on this occasion, that Mr. Burke had actually been in
America, and visited the scenes, and been familiar with many of the places
which he so minutely seemed to recollect. Upon a circumstance so singular,
and so much at variance with all that has hitherto been said respecting
the early history of this eminent person, it is needless to dilate. The
wonder which it may excite I have no means of allaying; but I should not
omit to mention here, when Mr. Burke was informed that Mr. West was a
Quaker, that he observed, he had always regarded it among the most
fortunate circumstances of his life, that his first preceptor was a
member of the Society of Friends.

Dr. Markham in 1765 introduced Mr. West to Dr. Newton, Bishop of Bristol,
Dr. Johnson, Bishop of Worcester, and Dr. Drummond, Archbishop of York.
Dr. Newton engaged him to paint the Parting of Hector and Andromache, and
afterwards sat to him for his portrait, in the back ground of which a
sketch of this picture was introduced: and for the Bishop of Worcester he
painted the Return of the Prodigal Son. The encouragement which he thus
received from these eminent divines was highly creditable to their taste
and liberality, and is in honourable contrast to the negligence with which
all that concerned the fine arts were treated by the nobility and opulent
gentry. It is, however, necessary to mention one illustrious exception.
Lord Rockingham offered Mr. West a regular, permanent engagement of L700
per annum to paint historical subjects for his mansion in Yorkshire: but
the Artist on consulting his friends found them unanimously of opinion,
that although the prospect of encouragement which had opened to him ought
to make him resolve to remain in England, he should not confine himself to
the service of one patron, but trust to the public. The result of this
conversation was a communication to Dr. Smith and Mr. Allen, of the
attachment he had formed for the lady whom he afterwards married, and that
it was his intention to return to America in order to be united to her. In
consequence of this, an arrangement took place, by which the father of Mr.
West came over to this country with the bride, and the marriage was
solemnised on the 2d of September, 1765, in the church of St. Martin in
the Fields.

Chap. II.

Some Notice of Archbishop Drummond.--Mr. West paints a Picture for His
Grace.--His Grace's Plan to procure Engagements for Mr. West as an
Historical Painter.--Project for ornamenting St. Paul's Cathedral with
Pictures.--Anecdote of Dr. Terrick, Bishop of London.--The Altarpiece
of St. Stephens, Walbrook.--State of public Taste with respect to the
Arts.--Anecdotes of Hogarth and Garrick.

In Archbishop Drummond Mr. West found one of the most active and efficient
patrons that he had yet met with. This eminent prelate was esteemed, by
all who enjoyed the pleasure of his acquaintance, for a peculiar dignity
of mind, and a liberality of sentiment that reflected lustre on his
exalted rank. He had in his youth travelled on the Continent, and
possessing an innate sensibility to the moral influence of the fine arts,
had improved his natural taste by a careful inspection of every celebrated
work to which he could obtain access. He lamented that in this great,
flourishing, and triumphant nation, no just notion of the value of the
fine arts was entertained; and on all occasions, when a suitable
opportunity presented itself, he never failed to state this opinion, and
to endeavour to impress it on others. He frequently invited Mr. West to
his table; and the Artist remarked that he seemed to turn the conversation
on the celebrity which the patronage of the arts had in all ages reflected
on the most illustrious persons and families, addressing himself with
particular emphasis to his sons. In the course of one of these
conversations, he engaged Mr. West to paint for him the story of Agrippina
landing with the ashes of Germanicus, and sent one of the young gentlemen
to the library for the volume in which Tacitus describes the
circumstances. Having read the passage, he commented on it at some length,
in order to convey to Mr. West an idea of the manner in which he was
desirous the subject should be treated.

The painter, on returning home, felt his imagination so much excited by
the historian's description, and the remarks of the Archbishop, that he
immediately began to compose a sketch for the picture, and finished it
before going to bed. Next morning he carried it to His Grace, who, equally
surprised and delighted to find his own conception so soon embodied in a
visible form, requested the Artist to proceed without delay in the
execution of the picture.

In the interim, the Archbishop endeavoured, by all the means in his power,
to procure encouragement for Mr. West to devote himself exclusively to
historical composition; and with this view he set on foot a scheme to
raise three thousand guineas to constitute a fund, which would be a
sufficient inducement for the Artist, in the first instance, to forego, at
least for a time, the drudgery of portrait painting. But the attempt
failed: so little was the public disposed to patronise historical subjects
from the pencil of a living artist, that after fifteen hundred pounds were
subscribed, it was agreed to relinquish the undertaking. As this fact is
important to the history of the progress of the arts in this country, I
present my readers with a copy of the subscription-paper, with the names
and amount of the sums attached to them, by the respective subscribers,

In 1766 Mr. West made a proposal to his friend Bishop Newton, who was then
Dean of St. Paul's, to present a gratuitous offering to the Cathedral, by
painting a religious subject to fill one of the large spaces which the
architect of the building had allotted for the reception of pictures; and
speaking on the design one day after dinner at the Bishop's when Reynolds
was present, he said that the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai would make
an appropriate subject. Reynolds was delighted with the idea of decorating
St. Paul's by the voluntary offerings of artists, and offered to paint a
Nativity as his contribution. A formal proposal was in consequence made to
the Dean and Chapter, who embraced it with much satisfaction. But Dr.
Terrick, the Bishop, felt some degree of jealousy at the design being
adopted, without consulting him, and set himself so decidedly against it
that it was necessarily abandoned. Dr. Newtorn had, in his capacity of
Dean, obtained (without reflecting that Terrick had a veto over all) the
consent of the other curators of the Cathedral, namely, of the Lord Mayor,
the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the King. "But," exclaimed Dr. Terrick,
with the energy of an ancient martyr, "I have heard of the proposition,
and as I am head of the Cathedral of the metropolis, I will not suffer the
doors to be opened to introduce popery." It is to be hoped that the
declaration proceeded from the fear implied, and not because Dr. Newton
omitted to ask his consent before applying to the King and the Archbishop.

Mr. West was, however, too deeply impressed with the advantage which would
accrue to the arts by inducing the guardians of the Church to allow the
introduction of pictures, to be discouraged by the illiberality of the
Bishop of London. He therefore made a proposal to paint an Altar-piece for
the beautiful church of St. Stephen's, Walbrook, and it was accepted. In
the same year his friend, Mr. Wilcox, gave him a commission to execute
another sacred subject, which he presented to the Cathedral of Rochester,
and it is placed over the communion-table. In these biographical sketches
it cannot be expected that a history of all Mr. West's numerous works
should be related. It is the history of the Artist, not of his works, that
is here written; and, therefore, except where the incidents connected with
them are illustrative of the state of public feeling towards the arts, it
is unnecessary to be more particular. I have, however, prepared a complete
catalogue of his designs, with such remarks concerning them as must
satisfy any want that may be felt by this systematic omission in the
narrative. I should, however, mention that, in this stage of his career,
the two of his earliest pictures, which attracted the greatest share of
public attention, were _the Orestes and Pylades_, and _the Continence of
Scipio_. He had undertaken them on speculation, and the applause which
they obtained, when finished, were an assurance of his success and reward.
His house was daily thronged with the opulent and the curious to see them;
statesmen sent for them to their offices; princes to their bedchambers,
and all loudly expressed their approbation, but not one ever enquired the
price; and his imagination, which had been elevated in Italy to emulate
the conceptions of those celebrated men who have given a second existence
to the great events of religion, history, and poetry, was allowed in
England to languish over the unmeaning faces of portrait-customers. It
seemed to be thought that the genius of the Artist could in no other way
be encouraged, than by his friends sitting for their own likenesses, and
paying liberally for them. The moral influence of the art was unfelt and
unknown; nor can a more impressive instance of this historical truth be
adduced, than the following anecdote of Hogarth, which Garrick himself
related to Mr. West.

When that artist had published the plates of the Election, he wished to
dispose of the paintings, and proposed to do so by a raffle of two hundred
chances, at two guineas the stake; to be determined on an appointed day.
Among a small number of subscribers, not half what Hogarth expected,
Garrick had put down his name; and when the day arrived he went to the
artist's house to throw for his chance. After waiting a considerable time
no other person appeared, and Hogarth felt this neglect not only as
derogatory to his profession, but implying that the subscription had
something in it of a mendicant character. Vexed by such a mortifying
result of a plan which he had sanguinely hoped would prove, at least, a
morning's amusement to the fashionable subscribers, he insisted that, as
they had not attended, nor even sent any request to him to throw for them,
that Garrick should go through the formality of throwing the dice; but
only for himself. The actor for some time opposed the irritated artist;
but at last consented. Instead, however, of allowing Hogarth to send them
home, he begged that they might be carefully packed up, until his servant
should call for them; and on returning to his house, he dispatched a note
to the painter, stating that he could not persuade himself to remove works
so valuable and admired, without acquitting his conscience of an
obligation due to the author and to his own good fortune in obtaining
them. And knowing the humour of the person he addressed, and that if he
had sent a cheque for the money it would in all probability be returned,
he informed him that he had transferred two hundred guineas at his
bankers, which would remain at the disposal of Hogarth or his heirs,
whether it was or was not then accepted. The charge of habitual parsimony
against Garrick was not well founded; and this incident shows that he knew
when to be properly munificent. In the acquisition and management of his
affluent fortune, it would have been more correct to have praised him for
a judicious system of economy, than to have censured him for meanness. It
ought to have been considered, that he was professionally required to deal
with a class of persons not famed for prudence in pecuniary concerns, and
to whom the methodical disbursements of most private gentlemen would
probably have appeared penurious.

Chap. III.

Archbishop Drummond's Address in procuring for Mr. West the Patronage
of the King.--Singular Court Anecdote of a Lady of Fashion.--Character
of the King in his Youth.--Anecdotes of the King and Queen.--The King
employs Mr. West to paint the Departure of Regulus.--Mr. West's
Celebrity as a Skater,--Anecdote of Lord Howe.--His Fame as a Skater
of great Service in his professional Success.

The coldness with which Archbishop Drummond's scheme for raising three
thousand guineas had been received by the persons to whom he had applied,
and the prejudice which he found almost universally entertained against
the efforts of living genius, chagrined him exceedingly. He regarded the
failure as a stigma on the age, and on his country; and, as a public man,
he thought it affected himself personally. With this feeling, he declared
to the gentlemen who had exerted themselves in the business, that he saw
no way of engrafting a taste for the fine arts on the British public,
unless the King could be so far engaged in the attempt, as to make it
fashionable to employ living artists, according to the bent of their
respective talents. But, about this period, the affair of Wilkes agitated
the nation; and the Duke of Portland and Lord Rockingham, who were among
the most strenuous of Mr. West's friends, being both of the Whig party,
undervalued the importance attached to His Majesty's influence and
countenance. The Archbishop was not, however, discouraged by their
political prejudices; on the contrary, he thought that His Majesty was one
of those characters who require to be personally interested in what it is
desired they should undertake; and he resolved to make the attempt. The
address with which His Grace managed the business, evinced great knowledge
of human nature, and affords a pleasing view of the ingenuousness of the
King's disposition.

When the picture of Agrippina was finished, the Archbishop invited the
most distinguished artists and amateurs to give him their opinion of the
work; and satisfied by the approbation which they all expressed, he went
to court, and took an opportunity of speaking on the subject to the King,
informing His Majesty, at the same time, of all the circumstances
connected with the history of the composition; and on what principle he
had always turned his conversations with Mr. West to excite an interest
for the promotion of the arts in the minds of his family. The dexterity
with which he recapitulated these details produced the desired effect. The
curiosity of the King was roused, and he told the Archbishop that he would
certainly send for the Artist and the picture.

This conversation probably lasted longer than the usual little
reciprocities of the drawing-room; for it occasioned a very amusing
instance of female officiousness. A lady of distinguished rank, having
overheard what passed, could not resist the delightful temptation of being
the first to communicate to Mr. West the intelligence of the honour that
awaited him. On quitting the palace, instead of returning home, she went
directly to his house, and, without disclosing her name, informed him of
the whole particulars of the conversation which had passed between the
Archbishop and the King. In the evening, Barnard, who had been an
attendant on the King from the cradle, and who was not more attached to
His Majesty, than he was himself in return affectionately beloved, came to
Mr. West, and requested him to be in attendance next morning at the
Queen's house, with the picture of Agrippina. In delivering the message,
this faithful servant was prompted by his own feelings to give the Artist
some idea of His Majesty's real character, which at that time was very
much misrepresented to the public; and Mr. West during the long term of
forty years of free and confidential intercourse with the King, found the
account of Barnard to be in every essential and particular point correct.

The King was described to him as a young man of great simplicity and
candour of disposition, sedate in his affections, and deeply impressed
with the sanctity of principle; scrupulous in forming private friendships;
but, when he had taken any attachment, not easily swayed from it, without
being convinced of the necessity and propriety of so doing.

At the time appointed, Mr. West was in attendance with the picture; and
His Majesty came into the room where he was waiting. After looking at it
some time with much apparent satisfaction, he enquired if it was in a
proper light; and, on being told that the situation was certainly not the
most advantageous, he conducted the Artist through several apartments
himself, till a more satisfactory place was found. He then called several
of the domestics into the room, and, indeed, assisted them himself to
remove the picture. When the servants had retired, and he had satisfied
himself with looking at it, he went out of the apartment and brought in
the Queen, to whom he introduced the Artist with so much warmth, that Mr.
West felt it at the moment as something that might be described as

The Queen, though at this period very young, possessed a natural
graciousness of manner, which her good sense and the consciousness of her
dignity rendered peculiarly pleasing; so that our Artist was not only
highly gratified by the unexpected honour of this distinguished
introduction, but delighted with the affability and sweetness of her

When Their Majesties had examined the picture, the King observed that he
understood the same subject had seldom been properly treated. Mr. West
answered, that it was, indeed, surprising it should have been neglected by
Poussin, who was so well qualified to have done it justice, and to whose
genius it was in so many respects so well adapted. His Majesty then told
the Queen the history of the picture before them, dwelling with some
expressions of admiration on the circumstance of the sketch having been
made in the course of one evening after the artist had taken coffee with
the Archbishop of York, and shown to His Grace the next morning. Turning
briskly round to Mr. West, he said, "There is another noble Roman subject
which corresponds to this one, and I believe it also has never been well
painted; I mean the final departure of Regulus from Rome. Don't you think
it would make a fine picture?" The Artist replied, that it was undoubtedly
a magnificent subject. "Then," said His Majesty, "you shall paint it for
me;" and, ringing the bell in the same moment, ordered the attendant who
answered to bring the volume of Livy in which the event is related,
observing to the Queen, in a sprightly manner, that the Archbishop had
made one of his sons read to Mr. West; but "I will read to him myself the
subject of my picture;" which, on the return of the servant with the book,
he did accordingly. And the Artist was commanded to come with the sketch
as soon as possible.

The Archbishop was highly delighted at the successful result of his
scheme, and augured from the event the happiest influence to the progress
of the arts; nor has his patriotic anticipations been unrewarded; for,
without question, so great and so eminent a taste for the fine arts as
that which has been diffused throughout the nation, during the reign of
George the Third, was never before produced in the life-time of one
monarch, in any age or country.

But in relating the different incidents which contributed to bring Mr.
West into favourable notice, there is one of a peculiar nature, which
should not be omitted. During winter, at Philadelphia, skating was one of
the favourite amusements of the youth of that city, and many of them
excelled in that elegant exercise. Mr. West, when a boy, had, along with
his companions, acquired considerable facility in the art; and having
become exceedingly fond of it, made himself, as he grew up to manhood, one
of the most accomplished skaters in America. Some of the officers at that
time quartered there, also practised the amusement; and, among others,
Colonel Howe, who afterwards succeeded to the title of his elder brother,
and who, under the name of General Howe, is so well known in the
disastrous transactions of the subsequent civil war, which ended in
establishing the independence of the United States. In the course of the
winter preceding Mr. West's departure for Italy, they had become
acquainted on the ice.

In Italy Mr. West had no opportunity of skating; but when he reached
Lombardy, where he saw so much beautiful frozen water, he regretted that
he had not brought his skates with him from America. The winter, however,
which succeeded his arrival in England, proved unusually severe; and one
morning, when he happened to take a walk in St. James's park, he was
surprised to see a great concourse of the populace assembled on the canal.
He stopped to look at them, and seeing a person who lent skates on hire,
he made choice of a pair, and went on the ice. A gentleman who had
observed his movements, came up to him as he retired to unbuckle the
skates, and said, "I perceive, Sir, you are a stranger, and do not perhaps
know that there are much better places than this for the exercise of
skating. The Serpentine River, in Hyde Park, is far superior, and the
basin in Kensington Gardens still more preferable. Here, only the populace
assemble; on the Serpentine, the company, although better, is also
promiscuous; but the persons who frequent the basin in the Gardens are
generally of the rank of gentlemen, and you will be less annoyed among
them than at either of the other two places."

In consequence of this information, on the day following, Mr. West
resolved to visit the Gardens; and, in going along Piccadilly with that
intention, bought a pair of skates, which, on reaching the margin of the
ice, he put on, After a few trial-movements on the skirts of the basin,
like a musician tuning his violin before attempting a regular piece of
composition, he dashed off into the middle of the company, and performed
several rounds in the same style which he had often practised in America.
While engaged in this manner, a gentleman called to him by name; and, on
stopping, he found it was his old acquaintance Colonel Howe.

The Colonel immediately came up, and exclaimed, "Mr. West, I am truly glad
to see you in this country, and at this time. I have not heard of you
since we parted on the wharf at Philadelphia, when you sailed for Italy;
but I have often since had occasion to recollect you. I am, therefore,
particularly glad to see you here, and on the ice; for you must know that,
in speaking of the American skaters, it has been alleged, that I have
learnt to draw the long bow among them; but you are come in a lucky moment
to vindicate my veracity."

He then called to him Lord Spencer Hamilton, and some of the Cavendishes,
who were also on the ice, and introduced Mr. West to them as one of the
American skaters, of whom they had heard him so often speak, and would not
credit what he had said of their performance; and he requested Mr. West to
show them what, in Philadelphia, was called the Salute. Mr. West had been
so long out of practice, that he was at first diffident of attempting this
difficult and graceful movement: but, after a few trials, and feeling
confidence in himself, he at last performed it with complete success. Out
of this trivial incident, an acquaintance arose between him and the young
noblemen present. They spoke of his talents as a skater; and their praise,
in all their usual haunts, had such an effect, that, in the course of a
few days, prodigious crowds of the fashionable world, and of all
descriptions of people, assembled to see the American skater. When it was
afterwards known to the public that he was an artist, many of the
spectators called at his rooms; and he, perhaps, received more
encouragement as a portrait-painter on account of his accomplishment as a
skater, than he could have hoped for by any ordinary means to obtain.

Chap. IV.

The King's personal Friendship for Mr. West.--Circumstances which led
to the Establishment of the Royal Academy.--First Exhibition of the
Works of British Artists.--The Departure of Regulus finished, and
taken to Buckingham House.--Anecdote of Kirby.--The Formation of the
Royal Academy.--Anecdote of Reynolds.--The Academy instituted.

The King, at the period when he was pleased to take Mr. West under his own
particular patronage, possessed great conversational powers, and a
considerable tincture of humour. He had read much, and his memory was
singularly exact and tenacious: his education had, indeed, been conducted
with great prudence, and, independent of a much larger stock of literary
information than is commonly acquired by princes, he was fairly entitled
to be regarded as an accomplished gentleman. For the fine arts he had not,
perhaps, any natural taste; he had, however, been carefully instructed in
the principles of architecture by Chambers, of delineation by Moser, and
of perspective by Kirby; and he was fully aware of the lustre which the
arts have, in all ages, reflected on the different countries in which the
cultivation of them has been encouraged to perpetuate the memory of great
events. His employment of Mr. West, although altogether in his private
capacity, was therefore not wholly without a view to the public advantage,
and it is the more deserving of applause, as it was rather the result of
principle than of personal predilection.

When Mr. West had made a sketch for the Regulus, and submitted it to His
Majesty, after some conversation, as to the dimensions, the King fixed on
an advantageous part of the walls in one of the principal apartments, and
directed that the picture should be painted of a size sufficient to fill
the whole space. During the time that the work was going on, the Artist
was frequently invited to spend the evening at Buckingham-house, where he
was often detained by the King as late as eleven o'clock, on topics
connected with the best means of promoting the study of the fine arts in
the kingdom. It was in these conversations that the plan of the Royal
Academy was digested; but it is necessary to state more particularly the
different circumstances which co-operated at this period to the formation
of that valuable institution.

At the annual exhibitions of the paintings and drawings, which obtained
the premiums of the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Agriculture,
and Commerce, it was then customary with artists to send occasionally
their works to be exhibited with those of the competitors, as a convenient
method of making themselves known to the public. But the visitors hearing
from the newspapers only of the pictures which had gained the prizes,
concluded that they were the best in the exhibition; and the works of the
matured artists were overlooked in the attention paid to the efforts of
juvenile emulation. This neglect mortified the artists, and induced them
to form themselves into an association for the exhibition of their own
productions. The novelty of this plan attracted much attention, and
answered the expectations of those with whom it originated. Such was the
state of things with the artists when Mr. West came to England; and to the
first exhibition, after his arrival, he sent, as I have already mentioned,
three pictures. The approbation which these works obtained, induced the
association to elect him one of the directors, and he held this situation
till, the society beginning to grow rich by the receipts of the
exhibitions, the management of its concerns became an object of ambition.
This association was incorporated in 1765, under the designation of the
Incorporated Artists.

Chambers and Payne, who were leading members in the Society, being both
architects, were equally desirous that the funds should be laid out in the
decoration of some edifice adapted to the objects of the institution. This
occasioned so much debate, division, and rivalry, among their respective
partisans, that Mr. West was induced to resign the office of director, and
to withdraw along with Mr. Reynolds (afterwards Sir Joshua) and others,
disgusted with the bickering animosities which disgraced the proceedings
at their meetings. This transaction made some noise at the time, and it
happened on the very day when Mr. West waited on the King, with his sketch
of the Departure of Regulus, that the newspapers contained some account of
the matter. His Majesty enquired the cause and particulars of the schism,
and Mr. West, in stating what they were, mentioned that the principles of
his religion made him regard such proceedings as exceedingly derogatory to
the professors of the arts of peace.

This led the King to say that he would gladly patronise any association
which might be formed more immediately calculated to improve the arts. Mr.
West, after retiring from the palace, communicated this to Chambers and
Moser, and, upon conferring on the subject with Mr. Coats, it was agreed
that the four should constitute themselves a committee of the dissenting
artists, to draw up the plan of an academy. When this was mentioned to His
Majesty, he not only approved of their determination, but took a great
personal interest in the scheme, and even drew up several of the laws
himself with his own hand. Nor should one remarkable circumstance be
omitted; he was particularly anxious that the whole design should be kept
a profound secret, being apprehensive that it might be converted into some
vehicle of political influence.

In the mean time the picture of the Departure of Regulus was going
forward, and it was finished about the time that the code of rules for the
academy was completed. The incorporated artists were also busy, and had
elected as their president Mr. Kirby, who had been preceptor in
perspective to the King, and who had deservedly gained great celebrity by
his treatise on the principles of that branch of art. Kirby, having free
access to the royal presence, and never hearing from His Majesty any thing
respecting the academy, was so satisfied in his own mind that the rumours,
respecting such an institution being intended, were untrue, that, in his
inaugural address from the chair, he assured the incorporated artists
there was not the slightest intention entertained of establishing a Royal
Academy of Art.

When the Departure of Regulus was finished, the King appointed a time for
Mr. West to bring the picture to Buckingham-house. The Artist having
carried it there, His Majesty, after looking at it some time, went and
brought in the Queen by the hand, and seated her in a chair, which Mr.
West placed in the best situation for seeing the picture to advantage.
While they were conversing on the subject, one of the pages announced Mr.
Kirby; and the King consulted Her Majesty in German about the propriety of
admitting him at that moment. Mr. West, by his residence among the German
inhabitants of Lancaster in America, knew enough of the language to
understand what they said, and the opinion of the Queen was that Kirby
might certainly be admitted, but for His Majesty to take his own pleasure.
The attendant was in consequence ordered to show him in, and Mr. West was
the more pleased at this incident, as it afforded him an advantageous
opportunity of becoming personally known to Kirby, with whom, on account
of his excellent treatise, he had for some time been desirous to become

When Kirby looked at the picture he expressed himself with great warmth
in its praise, enquiring by whom it had been painted; upon which the King
introduced Mr. West to him. It would perhaps be doing injustice to say
that the surprise with which he appeared to be affected on finding it the
production of so young a man, had in it any mixture of sinister feeling;
but it nevertheless betrayed him into a fatal indiscretion. As a preceptor
to the King, he had been accustomed to take liberties which ought to have
terminated with the duties of that office; he, however, inadvertently
said, "Your Majesty never mentioned any thing of this work to me." The
tone in which this was uttered evidently displeased the King, but the
discretion of the unfortunate man was gone, and he enquired in a still
more disagreeable manner, "Who made this frame?" Mr. West, anxious to turn
the conversation, mentioned the maker's name; but this only served to
precipitate Mr. Kirby into still greater imprudence, and he answered
somewhat sharply, "That person is not Your Majesty's workman;" and naming
the King's carver and gilder said, "It ought to have been made by him."
The King appeared a good deal surprised at all this, but replied in an
easy good-humoured way, "Kirby, whenever you are able to paint me a
picture like this, your friend shall make the frame." The unhappy man,
however, could not be restrained, and he turned round to Mr. West, and in
a tone which greatly lessened the compliment the words would otherwise
have conveyed, said, "I hope you intend to exhibit this picture." The
Artist answered, that as it was painted for His Majesty, the exhibition
must depend on his pleasure; but that, before retiring, it was his
intention to ask permission for that purpose. The King immediately said,
"Assuredly I shall be very happy to let the work be shown to the
public."--"Then, Mr. West," added Kirby, "you will send it to my
exhibition," (meaning to the exhibition of the Incorporated Artists).
"No," interposed the King, firmly, "it must go to my exhibition,--to the
Royal Academy." Poor Kirby was thunderstruck; but only two nights before,
in the confidence of his intercourse with the King, he had declared that
even the design of forming such an institution was not contemplated. His
colour forsook him, and his countenance became yellow with mortification.
He bowed with profound humility, and instantly retired, nor did he long
survive the shock.

* * * * *

On the day following, a meeting of the artists who had separated
themselves from the incorporated association, was to be holden in the
evening at the house of Wilton the sculptor, in order to receive the code
of laws, and to nominate the office-bearers of the Academy. In the course
of the morning, Mr. Penny, who was intended to be appointed professor of
painting, called on Mr. West and mentioned that he had been with Reynolds,
and that he thought, for some unfathomable reason or another, that
distinguished artist would not attend the meeting. Soon after, Moser
likewise called, and stated the same thing. Mr. West was much perplexed at
this information; for it had been arranged with the King that Reynolds,
although not in the secret, nor at all consulted in the formation of the
Academy, should be the president. He therefore went immediately to his
house, and finding him disengaged, mentioned, without alluding to what he
had heard, the arrangements formed for instituting an academy, and that a
meeting of thirty artists named by the King, of the forty members of which
it was intended the Academy should consist, was that evening to take place
at Wilton's. Reynolds was much surprised to hear matters were so far
advanced, and explained to Mr. West that Kirby had assured him in the most
decided manner, that there was no truth whatever in the rumour of any such
design being in agitation, and that he thought it would be derogatory to
attend a meeting, constituted, as Kirby represented it, by persons who had
no sanction or authority for doing what they had undertaken. To this Mr.
West answered, "As you have been told by Mr. Kirby that there is no
intention to form any institution of the kind, and by me that there is,
that even the rules are framed, and the officers condescended on, yourself
to be president, I must insist on your going with me to the meeting, where
you will be satisfied which of us deserves to be credited in this

In the evening, at the usual hour, Mr. West went to take tea with
Reynolds, before going to the meeting, and it so fell out, either from
design or accident, that it was not served till a full hour later than
common, not indeed till the hour fixed for the artists to assemble at
Wilton's, so that, by the time they arrived there, the meeting was on the
point of breaking up, conceiving that as neither Reynolds nor West had
come, something unexpected and extraordinary must have happened. But on
their appearing, a burst of satisfaction manifested the anxiety that had
been felt, and without any farther delay the company proceeded to carry
into effect the wishes of the King. The code of laws was read, and the
gentlemen recommended by the King to fill the different offices being
declared the officers, the code of laws was accepted. Reynolds was
declared president, Chambers treasurer, Newton secretary, Moser keeper,
Penny professor of painting, Wale professor of perspective, and Dr.
William Hunter professor of anatomy. A report of the proceedings was made
to His Majesty next morning, who gave his sanction to the election, and
the Academy was thus constituted. The academicians afterwards met and
chose a council to assist the president, and visitors to superintend the
schools in three branches of art, painting, sculpture, and architecture.
Thus, on the 10th December, 1768, under the title of the Royal Academy of
the Arts in London, that Institution, which has done more to excite a
taste for the fine arts in this country, than any similar institution ever
did in any other, was finally formed and established.

Chap. V.

The opening of the Royal Academy.--The Death of General
Wolfe.--Anecdote of Sir Joshua Reynolds.--New Pictures ordered by the
King.--Origin of the Series of Historical Pictures painted for Windsor
Castle.--Design for a grand Chapel in Windsor Castle, to illustrate
the History of revealed Religion.--His Majesty's Scruples on the
Subject.--His confidential Consultation with several eminent
Divines.--The Design undertaken.

When the Academy was opened, the approbation which _the Regulus_ received
at the exhibition gratified the King, and he resolved to give Mr. West
still farther encouragement. Accordingly, he soon after sent for him, and
mentioned that he wished him to paint another picture, and that the
subject he had chosen was Hamilcar making his son Hannibal swear
implacable enmity against the Romans. The painting being finished it was
earned to Buckingham-house, and His Majesty, after looking at it with
visible satisfaction, said, that he thought Mr. West could not do better
than provide him with suitable subjects to fill the unoccupied pannels of
the room in which the two pictures were then placed.

* * * * *

About this period, Mr. West had finished his Death of Wolfe, which excited
a great sensation, both on account of its general merits as a work of art,
and for representing the characters in the modern military costume. The
King mentioned that he heard much of the picture, but he was informed that
the dignity of the subject had been impaired by the latter circumstance;
observing that it was thought very ridiculous to exhibit heroes in coats,
breeches, and cock'd hats. The Artist replied, that he was quite aware of
the objection, but that it was founded in prejudice, adding, with His
Majesty's permission, he would relate an anecdote connected with that
particular point.

* * * * *

"When it was understood that I intended to paint the characters as they had
actually appeared in the scene, the Archbishop of York called on Reynolds
and asked his opinion, the result of which was that they came together to
my house. For His Grace was apprehensive that, by persevering in my
intention, I might lose some portion of the reputation which he was
pleased to think I had acquired by his picture of Agrippina, and Your
Majesty's of Regulus; and he was anxious to avert the misfortune by his
friendly interposition. He informed me of the object of their visit, and
that Reynolds wished to dissuade me from running so great a risk. I could
not but feel highly gratified by so much solicitude, and acknowledged
myself ready to attend to whatever Reynolds had to say, and even to adopt
his advice, if it appeared to me founded on any proper principles.
Reynolds then began a very ingenious and elegant dissertation on the state
of the public taste in this country, and the danger which every attempt at
innovation necessarily incurred of repulse or ridicule; and he concluded
with urging me earnestly to adopt the classic costume of antiquity, as
much more becoming the inherent greatness of my subject than the modern
garb of war. I listened to him with the utmost attention in my power to
give, but could perceive no principle in what he had delivered; only a
strain of persuasion to induce me to comply with an existing prejudice,--a
prejudice which I thought could not be too soon removed. When he had
finished his discourse, I begged him to hear what I had to state in reply,
and I began by remarking that the event intended to be commemorated took
place on the 13th of September, 1758, in a region of the world unknown to
the Greeks and Romans, and at a period of time when no such nations, nor
heroes in their costume, any longer existed. The subject I have to
represent is the conquest of a great province of America by the British
troops. It is a topic that history will proudly record, and the same truth
that guides the pen of the historian should govern the pencil of the
artist. I consider myself as undertaking to tell this great event to the
eye of the world; but if, instead of the facts of the transaction, I
represent classical fictions, how shall I be understood by posterity! The
only reason for adopting the Greek and Roman dresses, is the picturesque
forms of which their drapery is susceptible; but is this an advantage for
which all the truth and propriety of the subject should be sacrificed? I
want to mark the date, the place, and the parties engaged in the event;
and if I am not able to dispose of the circumstances in a picturesque
manner, no academical distribution of Greek or Roman costume will enable
me to do justice to the subject. However, without insisting upon
principles to which I intend to adhere, I feel myself so profoundly
impressed with the friendship of this interference, that when the picture
is finished, if you do not approve of it, I will consign it to the closet,
whatever may be my own opinion of the execution. They soon after took
their leave, and in due time I called on the Archbishop, and fixed a day
with him to come with Reynolds to see the painting. They came accordingly,
and the latter without speaking, after his first cursory glance, seated
himself before the picture, and examined it with deep and minute attention
for about half an hour. He then rose, and said to His Grace, Mr. West has
conquered. He has treated his subject as it ought to be treated. I retract
my objections against the introduction of any other circumstances into
historical pictures than those which are requisite and appropriate; and I
foresee that this picture will not only become one of the most popular,
but occasion a revolution in the art."

* * * * *

On Mr. West pausing, the King said, "I wish that I had known all this
before, for the objection has been the means of Lord Grosvenor getting the
picture; but you shall make a copy for me." His Majesty then entered into
some further conversation respecting subjects for paintings to adorn the
apartment; and Mr. West suggested that the Death of Epaminondas would, as
a classic subject, and with Grecian circumstances, make a suitable
contrast with the Death of Wolfe. The King received this idea with
avidity; and the conversation being pursued further on the same topic, the
Artist also proposed the Death of the Chevalier Bayard for another
picture, which would serve to illustrate the heroism and peculiarities of
the middle ages. Two pannels were still unprovided; and Mr. West, with
submission to His Majesty, begged that he might be allowed to take the
incident of Cyrus liberating the Family of the King of Armenia for the
one, and of Segestus, and his daughter, brought before Germanicus, for
the other. The King was much pleased with the latter idea; a notion being
entertained by some antiquaries that the Hanoverian family are the
descendants of the daughter.

During the time that our Artist was engaged in these works, he was
frequently at the palace with the King; and His Majesty always turned the
conversation on the means of promoting the fine arts, and upon the
principles which should govern artists in the cultivation of their genius.
In one of these conversations, Mr. West happened to remark, that he had
been much disgusted in Italy at seeing the base use to which the talents
of the painters in that country had been too often employed; many of their
noblest efforts being devoted to illustrate monkish legends, in which no
one took any interest, while the great events in the history of their
country were but seldom touched. This led to some further reflections; and
the King, recollecting that Windsor-Castle had, in its present form,
been erected by Edward the Third, said, that he thought the achievements
of his splendid reign were well calculated for pictures, and would prove
very suitable ornaments to the halls and chambers of that venerable
edifice. To this incident, the arts are indebted for the series of
pictures which bring the victories of Cressy and Poictiers, with the other
triumphal incidents of that time, again, as it were, into form and being,
with a veracity of historical fact and circumstance which render the
masquerades by Vario even a greater disgrace to St. George's Hall than
they are to the taste of the age in which they were painted.

* * * * *

In the execution of these different historical subjects, the King took a
great personal interests, and one piece became the cause of another, until
he actually acquired a feeling like enthusiasm for the arts. When he had
resolved to adorn Windsor-Castle with the achievements and great events of
the reign of Edward the Third, he began to think that the tolerant temper
of the age was favourable to the introduction of pictures into the
churches: at the same time, his scrupulous respect for what was
understood to be the usage, if not the law, relative to the case,
prevented him for some time from taking any decisive step. In the course
of different conversations with Mr. West, on this subject, he formed the
design of erecting a magnificent oratory, or private chapel, in the Horns'
Court of Windsor-Castle, for the purpose of displaying a pictorial
illustration of the history of revealed religion. But, before engaging in
this superb project, he thought it necessary to consult some eminent
members of the Church, who enjoyed his confidence, as to the propriety of

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