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."
END OF PART I.
The Life and Works of Benjamin West, Esq.
By John Galt, Esq.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 friendliness.
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 disposition.
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.
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 acquainted.
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.
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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 business."
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.
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.
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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.
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"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."
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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.
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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 the design. Accordingly, he desired Mr. West to draw up a list of subjects from the Bible, susceptible of pictorial representation, which Christians, of all denominations, might contemplate without offence to their tenets; and he invited Dr. Hurd, afterwards Bishop of Worcester, Dr. Douglas, Bishop of Salisbury, the Dean of Windsor, and several other dignitaries, along with the Artist, to consider the business. He explained to the meeting his scruples, declaring that he did not, in a matter of this kind, owing to his high station in the state, feel himself a free agent; that he was certainly desirous of seeing the churches adorned with the endeavours of art, and would deem it the greatest glory of his reign to be distinguished, above all others in the annals of the kingdom, for the progress and successful cultivation of the arts of peace. "But, when I reflect," said His Majesty, "how the ornaments of art in the churches were condemned at the Reformation, and still more recently in the unhappy times of Charles the First, I am anxious to govern my own wishes not only by what is right, but by what is prudent, in this matter. If it is conceived that I am tacitly bound, as Head of the Church of England, to prevent any such ornaments from being introduced into places of worship; or if it be considered as at all savouring in any degree of a popish practice, however decidedly I may myself think it innocent, I will proceed no farther in the business. But, if the church may be adorned with pictures, illustrative of great events in the history of religion, as the Bible itself often is with engravings, I will gladly proceed with the execution of this design." Little else passed at this interview; but he requested the churchmen to examine the matter thoroughly; and appointed a particular day for them to report to him the result of their investigation: presenting to them, at the same time, a paper, containing a list of thirty-five subjects which he had formed with the Artist, for the decorations of the intended chapel.
On the day appointed, Mr. West again met those eminent members of the hierarchy in the royal presence: when Dr. Hurd reported to His Majesty, that they had very seriously considered the important business which had been confided to them; that, having bestowed on it their gravest attention, they were unanimously of opinion, that the introduction of paintings into the chapel, which His Majesty intended to erect, would, in no respect whatever, violate the laws or usages of the Church of England; and that, having examined the list of subjects, which he proposed should constitute the decorations, there was not one of them, but, which properly treated, even a Quaker might contemplate with edification. This inadvertent observation attracted the King's attention; and he said, that the Quakers were a body of Christians for whom he entertained the very highest respect, and that he thought, but for the obligations of his birth, he should himself have been a Quaker; and he particularly enlarged on their peaceful demeanour and benevolence towards one another.
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The result of this conference was, that Mr. West immediately received instructions to make designs from the list of subjects; and afterwards with the King himself, he assisted to form an architectural plan of the chapel, which it was proposed should be ninety feet in length by fifty in breadth. When some progress had been made in the paintings, Mr. Wyat, who had succeeded Sir William Chambers as the royal architect, received orders to carry this plan into execution; and the grand flight of steps in the great staircase, executed by that architect, was designed to lead immediately to a door which should open into the royal closet, in the new chapel of REVEALED RELIGION.
Singular Anecdote respecting the Author of the Letters of Junius.—Of Lachlan M'Lean.—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.
By the eminent station which Mr. West has so long held among the artists, and admirers of the fine arts, in this country, he became personally acquainted with almost every literary man of celebrity; and being for many years a general visitor at the literary club, immortalised as the haunt of Johnson, Burke, Garrick, Goldsmith, and Reynolds, he acquired, without particularly attending to the literature of the day, an extensive acquaintance with the principal topics which, from time to time, engaged the attention of men of letters. An incident, however, of a curious nature, has brought him to be a party, in some degree, with the singular question respecting the mysterious author of the celebrated letters of Junius. On the morning that the first of these famous invectives appeared, his friend Governor Hamilton happened to call, and enquiring the news, Mr. West informed him of that bold and daring epistle: ringing for his servant at the same time, he desired the newspaper to be brought in. Hamilton read it over with great attention, and when he had done, laid it on his knees, in a manner that particularly attracted the notice of the painter, who was standing at his easel. "This letter," said Hamilton, in a tone of vehement feeling, "is by that damned scoundrel M'Lean."—"What M'Lean?" enquired Mr. West.—"The surgeon of Otway's regiment: the fellow who attacked me so virulently in the Philadelphian newspaper, on account of the part I felt it my duty to take, against one of the officers, a captain, for a scandalous breach of the privileges of hospitality, in seducing the wife of a very respectable man. This letter is by him. I know these very words: I may well remember them," and he read over several phrases and sentences which M'Lean had employed against him. Mr. West then informed the Governor, that M'Lean was in this country, and that he was personally acquainted with him. "He came over," said Mr. West, "with Colonel Barry, by whom he was introduced to Lord Shelburn, (afterwards Marquis of Lansdowne,) and is at present private secretary to His Lordship."
Throughout the progress of the controversy with Junius, Hamilton remained firm in his opinion, that the author was no other than the same Lachlan M'Lean, but at the literary club the general opinion ascribed the letters for some time to Samuel Dyer. The sequel of this anecdote is curious. M'Lean, owing to a great impediment in his utterance, never made any figure in conversation; and passed with most people as a person of no particular attainments. But when Lord Shelburn came into office, he was appointed Under Secretary of State, and subsequently nominated to a Governorship in India: a rapidity of promotion to a man without family or parliamentary interest, that can only be explained by a profound conviction, on the part of his patron, of his superior talents, and perhaps, also, from a strong sense of some peculiar obligation. M'Lean sailed for India in the Aurora frigate, and was lost, in the wreck of that ship, on the coast of Africa. That the letters of Junius were not ascribed to him by any party is not surprising, for his literary talents were unknown to the public; but the general opinion of all men at the time was that they were the production of some person in connection with Lord Shelburn.
Upon this subject, I hold no particular opinion of my own; nor, indeed, should I have perhaps noticed the circumstance at all, but for a recent most ingenious publication which has ascribed these celebrated letters to the late Sir Philip Francis. One thing, however, merits attention in this curious controversy. In the Monthly Magazine for July, 1813, there is an interesting account of a conversation between Sir Richard Phillips and the Marquis of Lansdowne on this subject; in which His Lordship speaks of the obligation to secrecy imposed on himself in the question as having been removed by death; an incidental expression that at once intimated a knowledge of the author, and that he was dead at the time when this conversation took place. The importance of the matter, as an object of literary curiosity, will excuse the introduction, in an abbreviated form, of what passed at that interview, as well as of some minor circumstances connected with the question.
During the printing of Almon's edition of Junius, in which he endeavoured to show that the letters were written by a Mr. Walter Boyd, Sir Richard Phillips, the publisher of that work, sought opinions among the characters then surviving, whose names had been mixed with the writings of Junius; and he addressed himself particularly to the Duke of Grafton, the Marquis of Lansdowne, Mr. Horne Tooke, and Mr. Grattan. Through two friends of the Duke of Grafton he was informed, "that His Grace had endeavoured to live down the calumnies of Junius, and to forget the name of the author; and that, at the period of the publication, offers were made to him of legal evidence on which to convict the author of a libel; but that, as he had then treated the man with contempt, he should decline to disturb him after so great a lapse of time." From this communication it would seem, that the Duke believed that he knew the author, and also that he was still alive.
Sir Richard, on calling upon the Marquis of Lansdowne, to whom he was personally known, found him in his sick chamber, suffering under a general breaking up of the constitution, but in his usual flow of spirits, anecdote, and conversation. On mentioning Almon's new edition of Junius, and that the editor had fixed on Boyd as the author, the Marquis exclaimed, "I thought Almon had known better: I gave him credit for more discernment: the world will, however, not be deceived by him; for there is higher evidence than his opinion. Look at Boyd's other writings: he never did write like Junius; and never could write like Junius. Internal evidence destroys the hypothesis of Almon." Sir Richard then said, that many persons had ascribed these letters to His Lordship; and that the world at large conceived that, at least, he was not unacquainted with the author. The Marquis smiled, and said, "No, no: I am not equal to Junius: I could not be the author; but the grounds of secrecy are now so far removed by death, and changes of circumstances, that it is unnecessary the author of Junius should much longer be unknown. The world are curious about him; and I could make a very interesting publication on the subject. I knew Junius; and I knew all about the writing and production of those letters. But look at my own condition now: I don't think I can live another week: my legs, my strength, tell me so; but the doctors, who always flatter sick men, assure me I am in no immediate danger. They order me into the country, and I am going there. If I live over the summer, which, however, I do not expect, I promise you a very interesting pamphlet about Junius. I will put my name to it: I will set that question at rest for ever."
Sir Richard looked at the swollen limbs and other symptoms threatening the dissolution of this distinguished nobleman; and, convinced that he was, in truth, never likely to see him again, and that the secret of Junius might be lost with him, turned the conversation to the various persons who had, at different times, been named as the Junius; and, after mentioning five or six whose respective pretensions the Marquis treated as ridiculous, His Lordship said, "It is of no use to pursue the matter further at this time. I will, however, tell you this for your guide, Junius has never yet been publicly named. None of the parties ever guessed at as Junius were the true Junius. Nobody has ever suspected him. I knew him, and knew all about it; and I pledge myself, if these legs will permit me, to give you a pamphlet on the subject, as soon as I feel myself equal to the labour." Sir Richard soon after took his leave; and about a week after the Marquis expired.
From Horne Tooke no information could be obtained: whenever Junius was mentioned, he lost the balance of his mind, and indulged himself in so much vanity, conceit, and ingenuity, that it was almost useless to speak with him on the subject.
Mr. Grattan wrote a very candid denial of any knowledge of the matter, in a letter which was printed in the preface to Almon's edition.
Of the pretension afterwards set forward for Dr. Wilmot, I believe it was never entertained or supported by any good evidence: Dr. Francis, the father of Sir Philip, had been long before mentioned, but for what reason I have never been able to ascertain. The answer of Sir Philip himself on the subject is, however, curiously equivocal, at least it so strikes me; although it is generally considered as a decided denial. It is as follows: "The great civility of your letter induces me to answer it, which, with reference merely to its subject-matter, I should have declined. Whether you will assist in giving currency to a silly, malignant falsehood, is a question for your own discretion: to me it is a matter of perfect indifference." But notwithstanding all this, an amusingly mysterious circumstance has, I am informed, transpired since the death of Sir Philip. In a box, it is said, which he carefully deposited with his banker's, and which was not to be opened till after his death, a copy of the publication, "Junius identified," with a common copy of the letters of Junius, were found. I shall offer no comment on this occurrence, for even granting that it was true, it might have been but a playful trick—if Sir Philip Francis was, in any respect, a humorist. But I have already digressed too far from the immediate object of my work; and I cannot make a better amends to my readers than by inserting here a short paper, written by that eminent person, and addressed to Mr. West. It is a critique on the Transfiguration by Raphael, in which Sir Philip evinces considerable ingenuity, by attempting not only to explain a defect in the composition, felt by every man of taste, in the midst of the delight which, in other respects, it never fails to produce, but to show that, so far from being any defect, it is in fact a great beauty.
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Transfiguration by Raphael.
The title of this picture is a misnomer. The picture itself tells you it is the Ascension. The Transfiguration is another incident, which happened long before the Ascension, and is recited in the ninth chapter of St. Luke:—"When the countenance of Jesus was changed, and he became [Greek: etethon] and his clothing was white, and lightened." The robe of the ascending Christ is BLUE.
The painter brings different incidents together to constitute one plot. The picture consists of three separate groupes, combined and united in one scheme or action.
I. Jesus ascending perpendicularly into the air, clothed in blue raiment, and attended by two other figures.
II. Some of his disciples on the Mount, who see the ascent, and lie dazzled and confounded by the sight.
III. A number of persons at the bottom of the Mount, who appear to look intently on a young man possessed by a devil, and convulsed. None of them see the Ascension but the young man, or rather the devil, who was in him, does see it. On all similar occasions, those fallen angels know the Christ, and acknowledge him. The other figures are agitated with astonishment and terror, variously and distinctly expressed in every one of them, at sight of the effect which they see is made upon him by some object which they do not see.
This is the sublime imagination, by which the lower part of the picture is connected with the upper.
13th July, 1816.
But although it must be confessed that this comment is exceedingly ingenious, in so far as it explains the painter's design in representing the demoniac boy, as the connecting link between the action on the Mount, and the groupe at the foot of it; yet, upon an examination of the picture, it will be found that it does not exhibit the Ascension, but the Transfiguration; and I beg leave to refer to a letter, from my friend Mr. M'Gillivray, in the Appendix which seems to me as perfectly satisfactory on the subject as any thing of the kind I ever met with. Mr. West was of the same opinion as Mr. M'Gillivray; but in conversing with him on the subject, he did not enter into so distinct an explanation of his reasons for dissenting from the speculation of Sir Philip Francis. In criticism, however, whether the matter in question be works of art, or of literature, the best opinion is exactly that which is the most reasonable; and the point at issue here, is not one in which an artist's judgment can be allowed greater weight than that of any other man.
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.
While Mr. West was engaged on the series of religious and historical works for the King, he had frequent opportunities of becoming acquainted with political incidents, that a man less intent on his art, and more ambitious of fortune, might have turned to great advantage. This was particularly the case during the American War, for His Majesty knowing the Artist's connections with that country, and acquaintance with some of the most distinguished of the rebels, often conversed with him on the subject; and on different occasions Mr. West was enabled to supply the King with more circumstantial information respecting some important events than was furnished by the official channels. I do not consider myself at liberty, nor this a fit place, to enter upon subjects so little in unison with the arts of peace, or the noiseless tenour of an artist's life; but, among other curious matters that may be thrown out for the investigation of the future historian, is an opinion which prevailed among some of the best informed in America, that when General Washington was appointed to the supreme command of the army, it was with the view and intention of effecting a reconciliation between the two countries. A communication to this purpose is said to have been made by that illustrious man, which communication was never answered, nor ever laid formally before the Privy Council, at least not until more than six weeks after it had been received, and then it was too late. America was lost; and millions spent, and thousands sacrificed afterwards in vain. Whether, indeed, the King ever did know the whole affair, may be doubted.
The mind of Mr. West, however, had no enjoyment in political cabals, in the petty enmities of partizans, or the factious intrigues of party leaders. He was by his art wholly enchanted, and saw in the prospect before him an adequate recompense in fame for all his exertions, his days of labour, and his nights of study. The historical pictures for Windsor Castle cost him many a patient hour of midnight research; for the means to assist his composition, especially in architecture, and the costume of the time, were then far from being so easy of access as they are at present. A long period of preference for classic literature, and the illustration of the Greek and Roman story, had withdrawn the public taste from the no less glorious events of our own annals. To mark, therefore, the epoch, and manners of the age of Poictiers and Cressy, of the Institution of the Garter, and the other heroic and magnificent incidents of the reign of Edward the Third, with that historical truth which the artist thought essential to historical painting, required the inspection of many an ancient volume, and much antiquarian research. In the composition for the Institution of the Garter, the late Marquis of Buckingham offered several suggestions, which were adopted; and on His Lordship mentioning to the King, that Mr. West was descended of the Delawarre family, the head of which bore a distinguished part in the great events of that time, His Majesty ordered Mr. West to insert his own portrait among the spectators represented in the gallery, and immediately over the shield bearing the arms of the Earl of Delawarre. Mr. West himself was not, at that period, acquainted with the descent of his pedigree; but it happened in a conversation one day with Lord Buckingham, that His Lordship enquired from what part of England his family had been originally, and upon Mr. West telling him, His Lordship said, that the land which his ancestors had formerly possessed was become his by purchase; and that the Wests of Long Crandon were sprung from the ancient Earls of Delawarre.
But, except the historical information required for his pictures, in which he was indefatigable, until master of all that could be obtained, Mr. West, following the early and wise advice of Dr. Smith of Philadelphia, wasted none of his time in other literary pursuits. Among his learned and ingenious cotemporaries, however, he acquired a general knowledge of the passing literature of the day, and in consequence, there are few authors of any celebrity, especially the cotemporaries of Johnson, of whom he does not possess interesting anecdotes, as well as an acquaintance with the merit which they were severally allowed to possess.
One day at Sir Joshua Reynolds, after dinner when Dr. Johnson, Goldsmith, and Burke were present, the conversation turned on the degree of excellence which sculpture attained among the Greeks. It was observed incidentally, that there was something in the opinion of the ancients, on this subject, quite inexplicable; for, in the time of Alexander the Great, although painting was allowed to have been progressive, sculpture was said to have declined, and yet the finest examples of the art, the Apollo and Venus, were considered as the works of that period. Different theories were sported on this occasion, to explain this seeming contradiction; none of them, however, were satisfactory. But, on the arrival of the Athenian marbles, which Lord Elgin brought to this country, Mr. West was convinced, at the first sight of them, of the justness of ancient criticism, and remembered the conversation alluded to.
Perhaps I may be allowed to mention here, without impropriety, that I was at Athens when the second cargo of these celebrated sculptures was dispatched; that I took some interest in getting the vessel away; and that I went with her myself to the island of Idra. Two circumstances occasioned this interference on my part;—an Italian artist, the agent of Lord Elgin, had quarrelled about the marbles with Monsieur Fauvelle, the French Consul, a man of research and taste, to whom every traveller that visited Athens, even during the revolutionary war, might have felt himself obliged. Fauvelle was, no doubt, ambitious to obtain these precious fragments for the Napoleon Museum at Paris; and, certainly, exerted all his influence to get the removal of them interdicted. On the eve of the departure of the vessel, he sent in a strong representation on the subject to the governor of the city, stating, what I believe was very true, that Lord Elgin had never any sufficient firman or authority for the dilapidations that he had committed on the temples. Luseri, the Italian alluded to, was alarmed, and called on me at the monastery of the Roman propaganda, where I then resided; and it was agreed between us, that if any detention was attempted, I should remonstrate with the governor, and represent to him that such an arrest of British property would be considered as an act of hostility. But our fears were happily removed. No notice was taken by the governor of Monsieur Fauvelle's remonstrance. In the evening I embarked on board the vessel at the Pireus, and next morning was safely landed on the island of Idra, where the vessel, after remaining a day or two, sailed for Malta.
But to return to the biographical narrative. On the death of Sir Joshua Reynolds, in 1791, Mr. West was unanimously elected President of the Royal Academy. The choice was not more a debt of gratitude on the part of the Institution, to one who had essentially contributed to its formation, than a testimony of respect deservedly merited by the conduct and genius of the Artist who, when the compass, number, and variety of his pictures are considered, was, at that period, decidedly the greatest historical painter then living, who had been born a British subject. This event, at once so honourable to his associates and himself, was confirmed by the sanction of His Majesty on the 24th of March, 1792; on which occasion, on taking the chair, Mr. West addressed the Academicians to the following effect:—
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"The free and unsolicited choice with which you have called me to fill this chair, vacated by the death of that great character, Sir JOSHUA REYNOLDS, is so marked an instance of your friendship and good opinion, that it demands the immediate acknowledgment of my thanks, which I beg you to accept.
"I feel more sensibly the dignity to which you have raised me, as I am placed in succession after so eminent a character, whose exalted professional abilities, and very excellent discourses delivered under this roof, have secured a lasting honor to this Institution and to the country; while his amiable dispositions, as a man, will make his loss to be long regretted by all who had the happiness to know him.
"HIS MAJESTY having been graciously pleased to approve and confirm the choice which you have made of me as your President, it becomes my duty, as far as my humble abilities will permit, to study and pursue whatever may be the true interest, the prosperity, and the glory of this ACADEMY. In the prosecution of this duty, I can make no doubt of success, when I reflect that all the departments and classes of this Institution are filled with men of established professional reputation, selected from professors of the three great branches of art, which constitute the objects of your studies and, when I see this union of abilities strengthened by many ingenious productions of other able artists, who, although they have not as yet the honour of belonging to this body, will, nevertheless, enable us to maintain the accustomed brilliancy of our Exhibitions, and, consequently, to secure to us the approbation of a liberal and judicious public.
"The Exhibitions are of the greatest importance to this Institution; and the Institution is become of great importance to the country. Here ingenious youth are instructed in the art of design; and the instruction acquired in this place, has spread itself through the various manufactures of this country, to which it has given a taste that is able to convert the most common and simple materials into rare and valuable articles of commerce. Those articles the British merchant sends forth into all the quarters of the world, where they stand preeminent over the productions of other nations.
"But important as this is, there is another consequence of a more exalted kind; I mean, the cultivating of those higher excellences in refined art, which have never failed to secure to nations and to the individuals who have nourished them, an immortality of fame, which no other circumstances have been equally able to perpetuate. For it is by those higher and more refined excellences of painting, sculpture, and architecture, that Grecian and Roman greatness are transmitted down to the age in which we live, as if it was still in existence. Many centuries have elapsed since Greeks and Romans have been overthrown and dissolved as a people; but other nations, by whom similar refinements were not cultivated, are erased from the face of the earth, without leaving any monument or vestige to give the demonstration that they were ever great.