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till his Majesty's final superannuation; when, without any intimation whatever, on calling to receive it, he was told that it had been stopped, and that the paintings for the chapel, of Revealed Religion, had been suspended. He submitted in silence—he neither remonstrated nor complained."
The story of his dismissal from court was spread with many aggravations; and the malevolence of enemies which his success had created—there are always such reptiles—was gratified by the circulation of papers detailing an account of the prices which the fortunate painter had received for his works from the King. The hand which had drawn up this injurious document neglected to state that the sum of thirty-four thousand one hundred and eighty-seven pounds was earned in the course of thirty-three laborious years: and the public, looking , only to the sum at the bottom of the page, imagined that West must have amassed a fortune. This notion was dispelled by an accurate statement of work done and money received, with day and date, signed with the artist's name, and accompanied by a formal declaration of its truth; a needless addition, for all who knew any thing of West, knew him to be one of the most honourable of men.
While suffering under the neglect of the court, the peace of Amiens opened the continent, and thither West went, to see with his own eyes the splendid works of the pencil and chisel, which Buonaparte had assembled in the Louvre. The President of the British Academy was not to be overlooked by the wily politicians who surrounded the future emperor. Minister after minister, and artist after artist, from the accomplished Talleyrand and the subtle Fouch6 to the enthusiastic Denon and the ferocious David, gathered around him, and talked, with unbounded love, of historical painting and of its influence on mankind. In a series of entertainments, in which wine and flattery were poured out abundantly, the enemies of his country succeeded in persuading thn simple Benjamin that they were the most philan thropic of all nations, and their master the kindest and worthiest of men.
Filled with these fine notions, West one day came up to Mr. Fox and Sir Francis Baring, as they were strolling about the Louvre, and harangued them on the sublime and benevolent views of Napoleon, who only conquered kingdoms out of love for liberty, and collected pictures in the towns which he stormed, "to furnish models of study for artists of all nations." He concluded by pointing out the propriety, even in a mercantile point of view, of encouraging to a sevenfold extent the higher departments of art in England. The prospect of commercial advantages pleased Baring, and Fox said, with much frankness, and with that sincerity which lasts at least for the moment, " I have been rocked in the cradle of politics, and never before was so much struck with the advantages, even in a political bearing, of the Fine Arts, to the prosperity as well as to the renown of a kingdom; and I do assure you, Mr. West, if ever I have it in my power to influence our government to promote the Arts, the conversation which we have had to-day shall not be forgotten." They parted, and West returned to England.
Old age was now coming on him; but his gray hairs were denied the repose which a life of virtue and labour deserved. He took it into his head that he was looked upon coldly by the government for his admiration of Buonaparte; and, assailed in tho Academy by an opposition strong in numbers and in eloquence, in which Shee distinguished himself, he was induced to retire from the President's chair, and Wyatt was elected in his stead. This distinction the court architect had merited by no works which could be weighed in the balance with the worst of his predecessor's; and West persuaded himself that his own splendid reception in France had been at the root of all the evil. He certainly had a very lofty notion of himself, and his account of the stir which he excited in Paris marks a mind amiably but extravagantly vain. "Wherever I went," he said, " men looked at me, and ministers and people of influence in the state were constantly in my company. I was one day in the Louvre—all eyes were upon me; and I could not help observing to Charles Fox, who happened to be walking with me, how strong was the love of art, and admiration of its professors, in France." This trait of simplicity will nevei be surpassed.
In a short time, however, the Academy became weary of Wyatt, displaced him, and restored the painter, by a vote which may be called unanimous; since there was only one dissenting member—supposed to be Fuseli—who put in the name of Mrs. Moser for President. Ladies were at that period permitted to be members, and the jester no doubt meant to insinuate that a shrewd old woman was a fit rival for West.
The restored President now endeavoured to form a national association for the encouragement of works of dignity and importance, and was cheered with the assurance of ministerial, if not royal, patronage. But many of those who countenanced the design were cautious and timid men, deficient in that lofty enthusiasm necessary for success in grand undertakings, and whose souls were not large enough to conceive and consummate a plan worthy of the rank and genius of the nation. The times, too, were unfavourable: Englishmen had in those days need enough to think of other matters than paintings and statues. Mr. Pitt, who had really seemed disposed to lend his aid to this new association, soon died. Mr. Fox, who succeeded him, declared, "As soon as I am firmly seated in the saddle, I shall redeem the promise I made in the Louvre"—but he also was soon lost to his country. The pistol of an assassin prevented Perceval from taking into consideration a third memorial, which West had drawn up, and the President at last relinquished the project in despair.*
West was now sixty-four years old—a life blameless and temperate had kept his strength unimpaired, and he had still the same composed and determined mind by which he was distinguished in hi youth. He had also unbounded confidence in his own powers, and since the illness of his royal friend had closed the doors of the palace against him, he resolved to try once more his fortune with the public. He accordingly commenced painting a series of Scriptural subjects upon a large scale: and the first which appeared was that of " Christ healing the Sick." The history of this picture deserves to be told. The Quakers of Philadelphia requested West to aid them in erecting an hospital for the sick in his native town—he told them his circumstances scarcely admitted of his being generous, but he would aid them after his own way, and paint them a picture, if they would provide a place to receive it in their new building. They were pleased with this, and " Christ healing the Sick" was painted for Philadelphia. When exhibited in London, the crush to see it was very great—the praise it obtained was high—and the British Institution offered him three thousand guineas for the work: West accepted the offer, for he was far from being rich,—but on condition that he should be allowed to make a copy, with alterations, for his native place. He did so; and when the copy went to America, the profits arising from its exhibition enabled the committee of the hospital to enlarge the building and receive more patients.
The success of this piece impressed West with the belief that his genius appeared to most advantage in pictures of large dimensions, and that royal
* The British Institution was formed sut of the wreck of West's sagnMoent plan.
commissions had hitherto interposed between him and fortune. His mind, from long contemplation, was familiar with subjects of gigantic proportions and he had soon sketched out several, and finished some. But the little snug and comfortable houses of England could not contain this colossal progeny; the doors of our churches are generally opened to art with reluctance—our palaces had already admitted more of the President's works than, perhaps, were welcome; and the owners of our galleries were unwilling to make room for such enormous pieces on Scripture subjects. There was no market for the manufacture. Few were tempted to become purchasers, though many were edified with the "Descent of the Holy Ghost on Christ at the Jordan," ten feet by fourteen—" The Crucifixion," sixteen feet by twenty-eight—" The Ascension," twelve feet by eighteen—and "The Inspiration of St. Peter," of corresponding extent. As old age benumbed his faculties, and began to freeze up the well-spring of original thought, the daring intrepidity of the man seemed but to grow and augment. Immense pictures, embracing topics which would have alarmed loftier spirits, came crowding thick upon his fancy, and he was the only person who appeared insensible that such were too weighty for his handling.
Domestic sorrow mingled with professional disappointment. Elizabeth Shewell—for more than fifty years his kind and tender companion—died on the 6th of December, 1817, and West, seventy-nine years old, felt that he was soon to follow. His wife and he h-.d loved each other some sixty years —had seen their children's children—and the world had no compensation to offer. He began to sink, and though still to be found at his easel, his hand had lost its early alacrity. It was evident that all this was to cease soon; that he was suffering a slow, and a general, and easy decay. The venerabl«