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Engraved by Scriven. Engraver to the King from an Original Panting by Sir The Lawrance.
BENJAMIN WEST ESO
For JANUARY 1822.
A New and Improved Series.
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES OF ILLUSTRIOUS AND
Number One Hundred and Fifty-seven.
BENJAMIN WEST ESQ.
LATE PRESIDENT OF THE ROYAL ACADEMY.
It is a backnied remark, that the most dis- || the copyist, the poet the original. On the tinguished votaries of Painting, and its sister other hand, the poet is not unfrequently, in arts, Poetry and Music, are frequently, if not his turn, as extensively obliged to the great for the most part, born and educated amidst powers of the pencil; the painter may be said scenes and circumstances altogether unfa- often to sit to the poet while he embodies his vourable to the ripening bud of their intel- ideas, while, inspired by the lively and paslectual powers and their future progress. sionate forms of his creation, he translates Nature, however, works with genius, as with the artist, and turns his picture into verse. all things else, in infinite variety: we were To return to our more immediate care, when engaged but a few pages back, in the consi- we relate that Benjamin West was born in deration of a child of poesy, whose dawn of the year 1738, in the State of Pensylvania, in life as well as his progress to maturity of the United States of America, and that he reyears and powers of mind, have been not mained in his native land till after the signing merely unclouded by the ruder adversities of of American independence in 1783, we shall life, but profusely gilded by the circumstances find that he came into the world at a period of rank and affluence: from this we now turn, when the blessings and advantages of civili
to contemplate a master of the pencil, a cha-zation had scarcely dawned upon his country;
racter to whom the age has adjudged a preeminent station in the ranks of fame, and whose early days were more remarkably hostile to the bent of his genius, and the cultivation and indulgence of his decided inclination, than we find in any painter of rank of modern times.
We naturally revert thus to poetry, when painting is the subject before us; the masters of the pencil take their ideas, and borrow the passions they exhibit, from the inspirations of the poet; speaking comparatively of the arts of painting and song, the painter is himself
he was educated and controlled by a sect whose prejudices were in violent, or at least the most decided, opposition to his inclinations and pursuits; the state of the arts in his native country, and the retired situation of his place of residence, seemed to conspire with the austerity of his sect to deny him the leisure and the opportunity for study and practice which he so ardently sought; while the total want of instruction in the art of drawing, left him for a considerable time utterly unacquainted and unprovided with the common materials for its practice: Under such for
BENJAMIN WEST, ESQ.
bidding circumstances, however, and with such difficulties did the genius of the boy struggle and overcome, and such was the cloud which veiled the rising of one destined to become a leading star of the noble art.
The essay was looked on with great surprise and admiration, praise was liberally hestowed, and our young artist forthwith adventurously extended his practice to the delineation of flowers, and those forms which surrounded him, and were agreeable objects of sight. From this time, the instinct of his genius seems distinctly to have been awakened soon after this incident; the young West was sent to a school in the vicinity of his father's dwelling, and during his hours of leisure was permitted to draw with pen and ink, the only materials at that time within his reach. In the course of the summer a party of Indians arrived to pay their annual visit to the neigh
seems to have first attracted his particular notice; but when, after some time, it happened to smile in its sleep, the mind of the artist was awakened, he experienced a pleasure he had never before felt, and taking the Benjamin West was the youngest son of advantage of pens, ink, and paper, which his family, and was born in the State of Pen-happened to lay on the table, he made his sylvannia in 1738, on a spot contiguous to first essay in a portrait of the sleeping infant, that on which William Penn made his land- under the singular circumstances of never ing. He was descended in the paternal branch having at that time seen painting, drawing, of his ancestry from Lord Delaware, who was or engraving, or probably ever having heard a distinguished personage in the famous battle of the art of design. of Cressy. Colonel West, another ancestor of distinguished merit, was the friend and companion in arms of the patriotic Hampden; he was the first of their family who adopted the tenets of the quakers in 1667, and in the year 1669, the whole family having become proselytes to them, emigrated to America. A singular circumstance appears, in the most authentic account of Mr. West, to have taken place a short time previous to his birth, which, if not rationally to be placed in connection with the circumstances of his life, may at least be considered likely to have had considerable influence with his parents in their care of him. Mrs. West, when pregnant with the artist, was present at the delivery of a po-bourhood, and being amused with the rough litical discourse by a popular orator of the persuasion of the quakers, the effect of which, in her peculiar situation, was so deeply impressive, that it considerably hastened her accouchement; the singularity of this evented their own arms and ornaments. To these, made a powerful impression on the minds both of the parents and the orator, the latter of whom predicted that an infant brought into the world under circumstances so extraordinary, would arrive at lofty distinctions in his career of life, and charged Mr. West to watch over his son with a peculiar solicitude.cribed to him, he contrived to manufacture for himself from cats hair and small quills.
In his seventh year, the talent of young West was elicited by one of those accidents which we frequently find to determine in childhood the future pursuits of the man.
An elder sister, who had been married at an early age, came on a visit to her father's with her infant daughter. The child being asleep in the cradle, the mother, during a temporary absence, committed to Benjamin the charge of its safety; Benjamin, as we may suppose, attentive and solicitous in the dis charge of this pleasant duty, watched the infunt with great care; the beauty of the child
uncoloured sketches of birds, &c. which Benjamin shewed them, they communicated to him in return their method of preparing the red and yellow colours with which they paint
indigo was added by his mother, and he was thus the proud and happy possessor of the three primary colours.
Although thus provided with the simple colours, he seems to have been yet totally unprovided with hair pencils; these being des
In the following year we find him in possession of the, to him inestimable, treasure, of a box of colours and pencils, with some squares of canvas prepared for the easel, and a few engravings.
The arrival of this invaluable accession to his stock of working tools, may well be described as a great epoch in the history of the artist. The feelings of delight and amazement with which they were received we find minutely described, but they are feelings which few persons cannot call up to recollection