Eton College, Windsor, Windsor and Maidenhead SL4 6DW
University of Oxford, Oxford, Oxfordshire OX1 3PA, UK
St. Etheldreda Church Hatfield, Welwyn Hatfield District, Hertfordshire, England
Richard West (1716 - June 1, 1742) was a poet and friend of Thomas Gray. Although a wide range of biographers and critics have long assumed that Thomas Gray's attraction to friends such as Horace Walpole and Richard West and his later infatuation with other young men were erotically charged, there is no keyhole testimony to "prove" that Gray partecipated in any transgressive sexual activity.
Richard West, born in 1716, was the only son of Richard West (d. 1726). He was educated at Eton with Thomas Ashton, Thomas Gray, and Horace Walpole, forming a ‘quadruple alliance’ of friendship, and was known among them as ‘Favonius.’ In youth he was ‘tall and slim, of a pale and meagre look and complexion,’ and he was then reckoned a more brilliant genius than Gray. The rest of the friends went to Cambridge, but West matriculated from Christ Church, Oxford, on 22 May 1735 at the age of nineteen.
West was from his youth marked out for the profession of the bar, through the influential positions of his father and his uncle, Sir Thomas Burnet. On 21 Feb. 1737–8 he was at Dartmouth Street, Westminster; by the following April he had left Oxford, and was studying at the Inner Temple, where he had been admitted on 17 July 1733. Gray came to London in September 1738 to join him at the bar, but was drawn off into travelling with Horace Walpole. West then thought of the army as a profession, but his strength was failing, and in September 1741 Gray found his friend ill and weary in London.
In March 1742 West was at Pope's (or Popes), two miles to the west of Hatfield in Hertfordshire, the seat of David Mitchell. A few days later he was racked by a ‘most violent cough,’ and he died at Pope's on 1 June 1742. He was buried in the chancel of Hatfield church, immediately before the altar-rails, and a gravestone to his memory was placed in the floor. The Countess of Huntingdon deplored his loss, in a letter to John Wesley (Life and Times of Countess of Huntingdon).
Among Mitford's manuscripts at the British Museum are copies of letters to and from West, the originals of which belonged to Lady Frankland Lewis in February 1853. Many of these were published for the first time in the Rev. D. C. Tovey's ‘Gray and his Friends’. Walpole's letters to him, twenty in all, were printed in 1798 in the set of Walpole's ‘Works’ which was edited by Miss Berry and her father, and are included, with the answers, in Cunningham's edition of Walpole's ‘Correspondence.’ His correspondence with Gray has been printed by Mason and Mitford in their editions of that poet. He sent Latin elegies to Gray when on his travels, and addressed to him the ‘Ode to May’ beginning with Dear Gray, that always in my heart Possessest still the better part.
Gray embalmed his friend's memory in a very tender sonnet in English, and also addressed to him as ‘Favonius’ the Latin poem ‘De Principiis Cogitandi.’
Both Gray and John Mitford designed to collect West's remains, but died before their work was done. A selection from his poems appeared in Park's ‘British Poets,’ vol. iv. of ‘Supplement,’ pp. 67–74, Bell's ‘Poets,’ vol. c., and Anderson's ‘Collection,’ vol. x.; all his known pieces are contained in Mr. Tovey's ‘Gray and his Friends.’ At Horace Walpole's request his ‘Monody on Queen Caroline’ was inserted in Dodsley's ‘Collection,’ ii. 274, and it was reprinted in Bell's ‘Fugitive Poetry,’ xv. 119–24; certain lines in it may be regarded as the germs of part of Gray's ‘Elegy.’ A poem signed ‘Richard West’ is in Alexander Dalrymple's ‘English Songs’ (1796), pp. 142–3. The ode on West's death, in the ‘European Magazine,’ January 1798, p. 45, is by Thomas Ashton (1716–1775). Some ‘very indecent poems by him’ are said by Samuel Rogers to be among the papers at Pembroke College. Mr. Tovey speaks of a lost tragedy by him entitled ‘Pausanias.’
According to Prof. Dowden (Academy, 1890), West had ‘a fine sensibility to literary influences and a genius for friendship’. His character was ‘extremely winning’ (Gosse, Gray, in ‘Men of Letters,’). Rogers said, ‘If West had lived he would have been no mean poet’ (Table Talk).
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