The Manuscript of the following Letters, written by my Father, has been
in my Possession fifty years. He intended to publish it at the time
of Mr. Beckford's death, in 1844, but delayed the execution of the work,
and sixteen years afterwards was himself called to enter on the higher
life of the spiritual world.
Mr. Beckford and my Father were kindred spirits, conversant with the
same authors, had visited the same countries, and were both gifted with
extraordinary memories. Mr. Beckford said that he had never met with
a man possessed of such a memory as my Father; and many a time has my
Father told me that he never met a man who possessed such a memory as
If my Father had published the Reminiscences himself I think that much
misconception in the public mind respecting the character of Mr. Beckford
would have been prevented. For instance, I remember, when a child, being
warned that this great man was an infidel. When he showed my Father
the sarcophagus in which his body was to be placed, he remarked, "There
shall I lie, Lansdown, until the trump of God shall rouse me on the
8 Lower East Hayes, Bath;
RECOLLECTIONS OF THE LATE
August 21, 1838.
MY DEAR CHARLOTTE, - I have this day seen such an astonishing assemblage
of works of art, so numerous and of so surprisingly rare a description
that I am literally what Lord Byron calls "Dazzled and drunk with
beauty." I feel so bewildered from beholding the rapid succession
of some of the very finest productions of the great masters that the
attempt to describe them seems an impossible task; however, I will make
The collection of which I speak is that of Mr. Beckford, at his house
in Lansdown-crescent. Besides all this I have this day been introduced
to that extraordinary man, the author of "Vathek" and "Italy,"
the builder of Fonthill, the contemporary of the mighty and departed
dead, the pupil of Mozart; in fact, to the formidable and inaccessible
Vathek himself! I have many times passed the house, and longed to see
its contents, and often have I wondered how a building with so plain
and unostentatious an exterior could suit the reception of the works
it contains, and the residence of so magnificent a personage.
I first called by appointment on his ingenious architect, Mr. Goodridge
(to whom I am indebted for this distinguished favour), and he accompanied
me to the house, which we reached at half-past twelve o'clock. We were
shown upstairs, passing many fine family pictures, and were ushered
into the neat library, where Mr. Beckford was waiting to receive us.
I confess I did at first feel somewhat embarrassed, but a lovely spaniel
ran playfully towards us, licking our hands in the most affectionate
 and hospitable manner; "You are welcome" was the silent
language. I assure you I judge much, and often truly, of the character
of individuals from the deportment of their favourite dogs. I often
find them exactly indicative of their master's disposition. When you
are attacked by snarling, waspish curs is it at all wonderful if you
find them an echo of the proprietor? But this beautiful animal reassured
me, and gave me instantly a favourable idea of its master. My astonishment
was great at the spaciousness of the room, which had in length a magnificent
and palatial effect, nor did I immediately discover the cause of its
apparent grandeur. It opens into the gallery built over the arch connecting
the two houses, at the end of which an immense mirror reflects the two
apartments. The effect is most illusive, nor should I have guessed the
truth had I not seen the reflection of my own figure in the glass.
The library, which is the whole length of the first house, cannot be
much less than fifty feet long. It has on one side five lofty windows,
the gallery having three on the same side. You have the light streaming
through eight consecutive openings; these openings, with their crimson
curtains, doubled by the reflection, produce a most charming perspective.
From the ceiling hangs a splendid ormolu chandelier, the floor is covered
with a Persian carpet (brought I believe from Portugal), so sumptuous
that one is afraid to walk on it, and a noble mosaic table of Florentine
marble, bought in at an immense price at Fonthill, is in the centre
of the room. Several rows of the rarest books cover the lower part of
the walls, and above then) hang many fine portraits, which Mr. Beckford
immediately, without losing any time in compliments, began to show us
First we were shown a portrait by de Vos of Grotius; next to it one
of Rembrandt, painted by himself. "You see, said Mr. Beckford,
"that he is trying to assume an air of dignity not natural to him,
lay throwing back his head, but this attempt at the dignified is neutralized
by the expression of the eyes, which have rather too much of sly humour
for the character which he wishes to give himself." To praise individual
pictures seems useless when everyone you meet has excellencies peculiar
to itself; in fact, whatever our ideas of the great masters may be,
and we certainly do gain from prints and pictures  a tolerable idea
of their style and different beauties (and I have myself seen the Louvre
and many celebrated pictures) there is in Mr. Beckford's chef d'oeuvres
something still more lovely than our imagination, than our expectation.
I speak not now of the St. Catherine, The Claud [sic], The Titian, &c.,
but all the pictures, whether historical, landscape, or low life, have
this unique character of excellence. You look at a picture. You are
sure it is by Gaspar, but you never saw one of Poussin's that had such
an exquisite tone of colour, so fresh and with such free and brilliant
But I digress. I forgot that it was the library and its pictures I was
attempting to describe. Well, at the other end hangs a portrait of Pope
Gregory, by Passerotti; the expression of the face Italian, attitude
like Raphael. Over the door a portrait of Cosmo de Medici by Bronzino
Allori, fresh as if painted yesterday. "The works of that master,"
I said, "are rare, but a friend of mine, Mr. Day, had a noble one
at his rooms in Piccadilly, St. John in the Wilderness. The conception
of the figure and poetical expression of the face always seemed to me
astonishingly fine. Pray, Sir, do you know that picture?" "Perfectly,
it partakes of the sublime and is amazingly fine." "Your portrait
of Cosmo has the expression of a resolute, determined man, and I think
it conveys well the idea of the monstrous parent, who could with his
own hand destroy his only surviving son after discovering he had murdered
his brother. What a horrible piece of business! The father of two sons,
one of whom murdered the other, and that father is himself the executioner
of the survivor." "It was dreadful certainly," said Mr.
Beckford. "However, we have the consolation of knowing that two
broods of vipers were destroyed."
Mr. Beckford next showed us a Titian, a portrait of the Constable Montmorency,
in armour richly chased with gold; a fine picture, but sadly deficient
in intellectual expression. And no wonder, for as Mr. Beckford observed,
"He could neither read nor write, but he was none the worse for
that." "There is, then, before us," I rejoined, "the
portrait of the man of whom his master, Henri Quatre, said: 'Avec un
Connétable qui ne sait pas écrire, et un Chancelier qui
ne sait pas le Latin, j'ai reussi dans toutes mes entreprises.' It is
the very por-  trait for which he sat. "The face,
I said, "has no great pretensions to intellect, but then Titian
know nothing of the refined flattery so fashionable now-a-days that
throws a halo of mind and expression over faces more stupid than Montmorency's,
and whose possessors never performed the chivalrous deeds of the Constable."
"Witness Sir Thomas Lawrence's fine picture of Sir Wm. Curtis,
where the Court painter has thrown a poetical expression over, a personage
that never in his life betrayed any predilection for anything but turtle
soup and gormandizing." Mr. Beckford burst out laughing. "Well,"
said he, "here is a picture that will perhaps please you. Holbein
hag certainly not been guilty of the refined flattery you complain of
here; it is the portrait of Bishop Gardiner, painted at the time he
was in Holland and in disgrace. What think you of it?" "It
is admirably painted, and has scarcely anything of his dry and hard
manner, the hands are done inimitably, but the eyes are small, and the
expression cold-hearted and brutal. It conveys to my mind the exact
idea of the cold-blooded wretch, who consigned so many of his innocent
countrymen to the flames." I did not express all I thought, but
I certainly wondered how the effigy of such a monster should have found
an asylum in this palace of taste. Smithfield and its horrors rose vividly
before me, and I turned, not without a shudder, from this too faithful
portrait to copies by Phillips of some family pictures in the Royal
Collection, painted by permission expressly for Mr. Beckford, and looking
more like originals than more copies.
But the picture of pictures in this room is a Velasquez, an unknown
head, the expression beyond anything I have ever seen. Such light and
shade, such expressive eyes; the very epitome of Spanish character.
"Is it not amazingly like Lord Byron?" "It certainly
is very like him, but much more handsome." This room is devoted
entirely to portraits.
Mr. Beckford opened a door and we entered the Duchess Drawing Room;
a truly Royal room, the colour of the curtains, carpet, and furniture
being crimson, scarlet, and purple. Over the fireplace is a full length
portrait of the Duchess of Hamilton by Phillips, painted in the rich
and glowing style of that sweet colourist. It represents a beautiful
and truly dignified lady. The  sleeves of the dress are close and
small, as worn in 1810 (Quel bonheur! d'etre jeune, jolie, et Duchesse),
go truly becoming to a finely formed woman, and so much superior to
the present horrid fashion of disfiguring the shape by gigot and bishop's
sleeves, which seem to have been invented expressly to conceal what
is indeed most truly beautiful, a woman's arm.
We were next shown a glorious Sir Joshua, a beautiful full length portrait
of Mrs. Peter Beckford, afterwards Lady Rivers, and the "Nouronchar"
of Vathek. She is represented approaching an altar partially obscured
by clouds of incense that she may sacrifice to Hygeia, and turning round
looking at the spectator. The background is quite Titianesque; it is
composed of sky and the columns of the temple, the light breaking on
the pillars in that forcible manner you see on the stems of trees in
some of Titian's backgrounds. The colouring of this picture is in fine
preservation, a delicate lilac scarf floats over the dress, the figure
is grace and elegance itself, and the drawing perfect; the general effect
is brilliancy, richness, and astonishing softness. "Sir Joshua
took the greatest pleasure and delight in painting that picture, as
it was left entirely to his own refined taste. The lady was in ill-health
at the time it was done, and Sir Joshua most charmingly conceived the
idea of a sacrifice to the Goddess of Health. Vain hope! Her disorder
There is a
portrait of Mr. Beckford's mother painted by West, with a view of
Fonthill in the background. Never was there a greater contrast in this
and the last picture; West certainly knew nothing of portrait painting.
The tout ensemble of the portrait in question is as dry and bard as
if painted by a Chinese novice. There is also a portrait of the Countess,
of Effingham, Mr. Beckford's aunt. On one side is the original portrait
by Reynolds of the author of Vathek engraved as the frontispiece of
the "Excursions to the Monasteries." The character of the
original picture is much superior in expression to the print, less stout,
eyes very intellectual; in fact, you are convinced it must be the portrait
of a poet or of a poetical character. The face is very handsome, so
is the print, but that has nothing in it but what you meet with in a
good looking young man of fashion. This, on the contrary, has an expression
of sensibility,  deeply tinged with melancholy, which gives it great
On the other side of Lady Rivers's portrait is the Duke of Hamilton
when a boy. A sweet child, with the hair cut straight along the forehead,
as worn by children some fifty years ago, and hanging luxuriantly down
his neck. On the same side of the room, behind a bronze of the Laocoon,
is a wonderful sketch by Paolo Veronese, the drawing and composition
in the grand style, touched with great sweetness and juiciness. Two
small upright Bassans, painted conjointly by both, bearing their names;
the point of sight is immensely high.
We were then led down the north staircase. Fronting us was a portrait
of Mr. Beckford's father, the Alderman and celebrated Lord Mayor of
London. Mr. Goodridge asked him if he know a book, just published, denying
the truth of his father's famous speech to George III. He seemed astonished,
and stood still on the staircase. "Not true! What in the world
will they find out next? Garrick was present when my father uttered
it, heard the whole speech, repeated it word for word to me, and what
is more, acted it in my father's manner." "That is the portrait
of my great-grandfather, Colonel Peter Beckford. It was painted by a
French artist, who went to Jamaica for the purpose, at the time he was
Governor of the island." It is a full length portrait, large as
life, the Colonel dressed in a scarlet coat embroidered richly with
gold. There is also a lovely portrait by Barker of the present Marquis
of Douglas, Mr. Beckford's grandson; it was painted when Lord Douglas
was twelve or thirteen years old. There is also a charming picture by
Reynolds, two beautiful little girls, full length and large as life;
they are the present Duchess of Hamilton and her sister, Mrs. General
We now entered the lovely dining room, which in point of brilliancy
and cheerfulness has more the character of a drawing than of a dining
room. Opposite the window is an upright grand pianoforte. It is the
largest ever made, with the exception of its companion made at the same
time, and its richness and power of sound are very great. Over the fire
is what is seldom seen in a dining room, a large looking glass. The
paintings in this room have been valued at upwards of £20,000.
On the right as you enter are five pictures that once  adorned the
Aldsbrandini Palace, namely, the St. Catherine by Raphael, a Claude,
a Garofalo, two by Ferrara, and several smaller ones. But bow shall
I attempt to describe to you the St. Catherine! This lovely picture
combines all the refined elegance of the Venus de Medici, in form, contour,
and flowing lines, with an astonishing delicacy of colour, and masterly
yet softened execution. The eyes are turned upwards with an expression
of heavenly resignation, the neck, flesh and life itself, the bands,
arms, and shoulders so sweetly rounded, while the figure melts into
the background with the softness of Corregio.
The air around with beauty; we inhale
The ambrosial aspect, which beheld instils
Part of its immortality; the veil
Of heaven is half withdrawn; within the pale
We stand, and in that form and face behold
What mind can make, when Nature's self would fail.
I can only convey to you a very slight idea of the impression produced
by the contemplation of this admirable painting. Such grace and sweetness,
such softness and roundness in the limbs. She seems the most beautiful
creature that ever trod this earthly planet; in short it is no earthly
beauty that we gaze upon, but the very beau ideal of Italian loveliness.
Eve of the land which still is Paradise.
Italian beauty! didst thou not inspire Raphael? "How different,"
said Mr. Beckford, "is that lovely creature from Mr. Etty's beauties.
They are for the most part of a meretricious character, would do well
enough for a mistress; but there," pointing to the St. Catherine,
"there are personified the modesty and purity a man would wish
to have in a wife, and yet Frenchmen find fault with it. Vest un assez
joli tableau, say they, mais la tete manque, de l'expression; Bi elle
avait plus d'esprit, plus de vivacite! Mais Raphael, il n'avait jamais
passe les Alpes." We burst out laughing, and I added, "Le
pauvre Raphael quel dommage, de ne savoir rien du grand. Monarque! ni
de la grande nation." "Yet," I continued, "there
is a painter, Stotherd, who has come nearer to the great Italian, in
the grace and elegance of his women and children, than perhaps any other,
and merits well the proud appellation of the English Raphael.  What
a shame that he never met with encouragement." "But I understood
that he was tolerably successful. He painted many things for me at Fonthill.
You are surely mistaken." "By no means," I replied. "Latterly
he seldom sold a picture, and supported himself on the paltry income
of £200 a year, raised by making little designs for booksellers.
Yet what a noble painting is Chaucer's pilgrimage to Canterbury."
It is indeed," said Mr. Beckford. "But, sir, there is
another painter, Howard, whose conceptions are most poetical. Do you
remember his painting at Somerset House in 1824, representing the solar
system, from Milton's noble lines -
Hither as to their fountain, other stars
Repairing, in their golden urns draw light?"
"I remember it perfectly; 'twas a most beautiful picture."
"Milton's original idea, that of the planets drawing light from
their eternal source, as water from a fountain, is certainly a glorious,
a golden one; but who beside Howard could have so tangibly, so poetically
developed the poet's idea in colour. The personifying the planets according
to their names, as Venus, Mercury, and so forth, was charming, and the
splendour of the nearer figures, overwhelmed as it were with excess
of light, and the gloom and darkness of the distant, were admirably
managed. What a wonderful picture!" "He never painted a finer."
Mr. Beckford then pointed out his Claude. It is a cool picture, the
colouring grey and greenish, the time of day, early morning just before
sunrise. but words fail to express its beauties. There is a something
in it, a je ne sais quoi. Such clearness in the colouring; the trees
are all green, but so tenderly green; the sky and distance of such an
exquisite tone that you are at once in imagination transported to those
" southern climes and cloudless skies " that inspired Claude
Lorraine. I can give no possible idea in writing of the tone of colour
in this picture, except by comparing it to the semi-transparency of
Mosaic, such are the clearness of the tints and pearliness of the sky
and distance. As to chiaro-oscuro, it is breadth and simplicity itself.
Nothing but the purest ultramarine could ever produce such a green as
that which colours the trees.
On the same side of the room are two small Vander Meulens, landscapes.
They are very highly finished,  and the colouring is delicious;
the trees are grouped with all the grandeur of Claude or Poussin. Above
are two of the finest Vernets; they are both sea pieces. The colouring
has a depth and richness I never before saw in anything attributed to
him. In the Louvre are his most famous pictures, and what I now say
is the result of calm and mature reflection. I had the Louvre pictures
constantly before my eyes for three months. They are very large, and
certainly have great merit; but had I my choice I would prefer Mr. Beckford's
to any of the set.
West's original sketch for his great picture of King Lear, painted for
Boydell's Shakspeare Gallery - "Blow, blow, thou winter wind."
A most wonderful performance. The expression of face of the poor mad
king is astonishing; the colouring rich and mellow - nothing of West's
usually hard outline. The whole picture is full of energy and fire,
and seems to have been struck off with the greatest ease and rapidity.
"Do observe the face of Edgar, said Mr. Beckford. "Under
his assumed madness you trace a sentiment of respect and anxiety for
the monarch; he could not forget that it was his sovereign." "I
have seen," I said, "most of West's great pictures, but there
is more genius in that sketch than in anything I ever saw of his. I
think he took too much pains with his sketches. The consequence was
that the original spirit evaporated long before the completion of the
great tame painting, where his men and women too often look like wooden
lay figures covered with drapery." "Sir, did you ever see
his sketch of Death on the Pale Horse? The large picture is certainly
very fine, but I have heard the best judges say that the original sketch
is one of the finest things in existence. The President himself considered
it his best and refused £100, offered for it by the Prince Regent;
yet afterwards, being distressed for money, he parted with it, I believe,
to Mr. Thompson, the artist, for £50." "Is it possible?
I wish I had known that he wanted to dispose of it. I should have liked
it beyond anything. It was most wonderful."
Above the picture of King Lear hangs a noble picture by Titian, the
composition of which reminded me much of Raphael. The Virgin's face
is extremely beautiful, but it is the sort of beauty we sometimes meet
with, that we sometimes may have seen. The St. Catherine is of a more
elevated style of beauty, more intellectual; in  short, it possesses
a combination of charms that has never yet fallen to the lot of any
mortal. The infant is extremely fine. On this side is also a portrait
of himself exquisitely coloured and finished.
Near these paintings is a Canaletti, not a real view, but an assemblage
of various fine buildings; in fact, a sort of union of Rome and Venice.
In the centre is the Mole of Hadrian, round which he has amused himself
by putting an elegant colonnade; on the right hand is a bridge. The
colouring is clear, the shadows rich, and the water softly painted and
extremely transparent. This is the most beautiful Canaletti I ever saw.
I observed that the generality of his pictures had a hardness, dryness,
and blackness that we saw nothing of here. "You are quite right,"
he said, "and the reason is that very few of those generally attributed
to him are really genuine, but of mine there can be no doubt, as this
painting and several others that I have were got directly from the artist
himself by means of the English Consul at Venice; but not a quarter
of the pictures that one sees and that are called his were ever painted
by Canaletti." There were several very fine pictures by this master
destroyed in the lifetime of Alderman Beckford at the fire which consumed
the old mansion at Fonthill nearly a hundred years ago.
This Canaletti partakes of the same character of high excellence that
Mr. Beckford's other pictures possess; in fact, as with so many of his
pictures, you see the hand of the master, whose common works you know,
but in this house you find paintings still finer, which give you more
elevated and correct ideas of the style and manner of the genuine productions
of the great masters. There really seems some charm some magic in the
walls, so great is the similarity of colouring in these chefs d'oeuvres,
the clear, the subdued, the pearly tints, a variety of delicious colour,
and none of the dirty hues you see in mediocre old paintings.
Over the sofa is a constellation of beauties which we merely glanced
at as we passed, but which I hope another day to examine. They are some
of the rarest specimens by G. Poussin, Wouvermans, Berghem, Van Huysum,
Polemberg, and others. On a small table was placed an elegantly cut
caraffe of carnations of every variety of colour that you can possibly
imagine. There is nothing  in which Mr. Beckford is more choice
than in his bouquets. At every season the rarest living flowers adorn
Next to the dining room is a small salon, which we now entered. Here
is a noble drawing by Turner of the Abbey, according to a plan proposed,
but never carried out. The tower is conical, and would have been even
higher than the one that was completed. "I have seen," I said,
"a fine drawing of Fonthill by Turner, originally in your possession,
but now belonging to Mr. Allnutt, of Clapham. It is prodigiously fine.
The scenery there must be magnificent. The hills and beautiful lake
in the drawing give one an idea of Cumberland." "It is a very
fine drawing, but rather too poetical, too ideal, even for Fonthill.
The scenery there is certainly beautiful, but Turner took such liberties
with it that he entirely destroyed the portraiture, the locality of
the spot. That was the reason I parted with it. There were originally
six drawings of the Abbey; three were disposed of at the sale, and I
still have the remaining ones." "Are they going to rebuild
the tower, sir? for when I was last in London, Papworth, the architect,
was gone down to Fonthill to do something there." "Impossible,"
he said, unless it were to be made a national affair, which indeed is
not very likely. It would cost at least £100,000 to restore it.
But what can Papworth have done there? It must I should think be something
to the pavilion. I assure you I had no idea of parting with Fonthill
till Farquhar made me the offer. I wished to purge it, to get rid of
a great many things I did not want, but as to the building itself I
had no more notion of selling it than you have (turning to his architect)
of parting with anything, with - with the clothes you have on.
On the chimney piece, protected by a glass, is a precious Japan vase.
We examined it for some time under its envelope. It seemed to me (for
I know nothing of Japan work) a bronze vessel, richly and most elaborately
chased, and I could not help joining in the praises due to its exquisite
finish. Mr. Beckford took off the glass, and desired me to take it to
the window. "I am really afraid to touch it," said I, but
he forced it into my hands. I prepared them to receive a massive and
(as it seemed to me) very weighty vessel, when lo it proved as light
as a feather. We were afterwards shown another Japan vase, the exterior
of which exactly resembled the Pompeian  designs, elegant scrolls,
delicate tracery of blue, red, green, &c. These colours strongly
opposed as in the remains of paintings at Pompeii. Here are some other
precious little pictures, a small Gerard Dow, a Watteau, a Moucheron,
and a Polemberg. He merely noticed them, and then led us into the next
A noble library. It is an elegant and charming apartment, very chastely
ornamented. Here are no pictures; it is devoted entirely to books and
ponderous folios of the most rare and precious engravings. The sides
of the library are adorned by Scagliola pilasters and arched recesses,
which contain the books. The interstices between the arches and the
ceiling are painted in imitation of marble, so extremely like that though
they touch the Scagliola it is next to impossible to distinguish any
difference. The ceiling is belted across and enriched with bands of
Grecian tracery in relief, delicately painted and slightly touched with
gold. On the walls are some gilded ornaments, enough to give to the
whole richness of effect without heaviness. Between the windows is what
I suppose may be termed a table, composed of an enormous slab of the
rarest marble, supported by elegantly cast bronze legs. Over this a
small cabinet (manufactured in Bath from drawings by Mr. Goodridge)
full of extremely small books; it is carved in oak in the most elaborate
manner. The fireplace, of Devonshire marble, is perfect in design and
in its adaptation to the rest of the room; in fact, everything in this
lovely chamber is in unison, everything soft, quiet, and subdued.
New wonders awaited me. Next to the library is a sort of vestibule leading
to a staircase, which from its mysterious and crimson light, rich draperies,
and latticed doors seemed to be the sanctum sanctorum of a heathen temple.
To the left a long passage, whose termination not being seen allowed
the imagination full play, led for aught I know to the Fortress of Akerman,
to the Montagne du Caf or to the Halls of Argenti. Ou sout peintes toutes
les createures raissonables, et les animaux qui ont habité la
To the right two latticed doors, reminding you of Grand Cairo or Persepolis,
ingeniously conceal the commonplace entrance from the Crescent. The
singular and harmonious light of this mysterious vestibule is produced
by crimson silk strained over the fanlight of the outer  door. "This
place," I observed, "puts one in mind of the Hall of Eblis."
"You are quite right, he observed, "this is unquestionably
the Hall of Eblis." "Those latticed doors," I continued,
"seem to lead to the small apartment where the three princes, Alasi,
Barkiarokh, and Kalilah, related to Vathek and Nouronchar their adventures."
He seemed amused at my observations, and said, "Then you have read
'Vathek.' How do you like it?" "Vastly. I read it in English
many years ago, but never in French." "Then read it in French,"
said Mr. Beckford. "The French edition is much finer than the English."
We mounted the staircase. Above you in open niches are Etruscan vases.
The ceiling is arched and has belts at intervals. I wished to
exclude the draughts," said Mr. Beckford, "and to do away
with the cold and uncomfortable appearance you generally have in staircases."
The effect of the whole is so novel that you lose all idea of stairs,
and seem merely going from one room to another. As you stand on the
landing the vaulted and belted ceiling behind you has the appearance
of a row of arches in perspective. The same solemn and mysterious gloom
pervades the staircase. The architect has frequently entreated to be
allowed to introduce a little more light, but in vain. The author of
"Vathek" will not consent to the least alteration of the present
mystical effect, and he is quite right. This warm and indefinite light
produces not only the effect of air, but also of space, and makes the
passage before noticed, seen through the latticed doors, apparently
of lines of real dimensions.
Mr. Beckford drew aside a curtain. We entered the smaller of two lovely
drawing rooms lately fitted up. Before us, over the mantelpiece, was
suspended a magnificent full length portrait by Gaspar de Crayer of
Philip II. of Spain. Just then my head was too full of the Hall of Eblis,
of "Vathek" and its associations, for mere ordinary admiration
of even one of the finest portraits painted, and on Mr. Beckford pointing
out the whitefaced monarch I almost involuntarily ejaculated "Pale
slave of Eblis." He burst out laughing. "Eh! eh! what? His
face is pale indeed, but he was very proud of his complexion."
This is a very fine group. Philip is represented dressed in a suit of
black armour, elaborately chased in gold, standing on a throne covered
 with a crimson carpet. Near him is his dwarf, dressed in black,
holding the helmet, adorned with a magnificent plume of feathers, and
turning towards his master (the fountain of honour) a most expressive
and intelligent face. " That dwarf," said Mr. Beckford, "was
a man of great ability and exercised over his master a vast influence."
Lower down you discover the head of a Mexican page, holding a horse,
whose bead, as well as that of the page, is all that is visible, their
bodies being concealed by the steps of the throne. This is a noble picture;
but in my eyes the extreme plainness of the steps of the throne and
the unornamented war boots of the king have a bare and naked appearance.
They contrast rather too violently with the whole of the upper part
of the picture. Over the steps are painted in Roman letters Rx. Ps.
4s. (Rex Philippus quartos). Many who have hardly beard the painter's
name will of course not admire it, being done neither by Titian nor
Vandyke; but Mr. Beckford's taste is peculiar. He prefers a genuine
picture by an inferior painter to those attributed to the more celebrated
masters, but where originality is ambiguous, or at least if not ambiguous
where picture cleaner, or scavengers, as he calls them, have been at
work. In this room, suspended from the ceiling by a silken cord, is
the silver gilt lamp that hung in the oratory at Fonthill. Its shape
and proportion are very elegant, and no wonder; it was designed by the
author of "Italy" himself. How great was my astonishment some
time after, on visiting Fonthill, at perceiving, suspended from the
cul de lamp, the very crimson cord that once supported this precious
vessel! The lamp had been hastily cut down, and the height of the remains
of the cord from the floor was probably the reason of its preservation.
Mr. Beckford next pointed out a charming sketch by Rubens, clear and
pearly beyond conception. It is St. George and the Dragon, the dragon
hero and his horse in the air, and the dragon must certainly have been-an
African lion. Mr. Beckford called the beast, or reptile, a mumpsimus
(sic). "Do look at the Pontimeitos in the beautiful sketch,"
said he, "there is a bit from his pencil certainly his own. Don't
imagine that those great pictures that bear his name are all his pictures.
He was too much of a gentleman for such drudgery, and the greatest part
of such pictures (the Luxembourg for instance) are  the works of
his pupils from his original designs certainly; they were afterwards
retouched by him, and people are silly enough to believe they are all
his work. But mark well the difference in execution between those great
gallery pictures and such a gem as this." Mr. Beckford then showed
me a "Ripon" by Polemberg, a lovely classic landscape, with
smooth sky, pearly distance, and picturesque plains; the Holy Family
in the foreground. "Do take notice of the St. Joseph in this charming
picture," he said. "The painters too often pourtray him as
little better than a vagabond Jew or an old beggar. Polemberg had too
much good taste for such caricaturing, and you see he has made him here
look like a decayed gentleman."
Mr. Beckford drew aside another curtain, and we entered the front drawing
room, of larger dimensions, but fitted up in a similar style. The first
thing that caught my eye was the magnificent effect produced by a scarlet
drapery, whose ample folds covered the whole side of the room opposite
the three windows from the ceiling to the floor. Mr. Beckford's observation
on his first view of Mad. d' Aranda's boudoir instantly recurred to
my mind. These are his very words: "I wonder architects and fitters-up
of apartments do not avail themselves more frequently of the powers
of drapery. Nothing produces so grand and at the same time so comfortable
an effect. The moment I have an opportunity I will set about constructing
a tabernacle larger than the one I arranged at Ramalhad, and indulge
myself in every variety of plait and fold that can be possibly invented."
"I never was so convinced," I said, of the truth of
your observations as at the present moment. What a charming and comfortable
effect does that splendid drapery produce!" "I am very fond
of drapery," he replied, "but that is nothing to what I had
at Fonthill in the great octagon. There were purple curtains fifty feet
Here was a cabinet of oak, made in Bath, in form most classical and
appropriate. On one side stood two massive and richly chased silver
gilt candlesticks that formerly were used in the Moorish Palace of the
Alhambra. "Then you have visited Granada?" I inquired. "More
than once." "What do you think of the Alhambra?" "It
is vastly curious certainly, but many things there are in wretched taste,
and to say truth I don't much admire Moorish taste."
 Mr. Beckford next pointed out a head in marble brought from Mexico
by Cortez, which was for centuries in the possession of the Duke of
Alba's family, and was given to the present proprietor by the Duchess.
"Her fate was very tragical," he observed. In a small cupboard
with glass in front is a little ivory reliquior, four or five hundred
years old. It was given to Mr. Beckford by the late Mr. Hope. It is
in the shape of a small chapel; on opening the doors, the fastenings
of which were two small dogs or monkeys, you found in a recess the Virgin
and Child, surrounded by various effigies, all carved in the most astonishingly
The mention of Mr. Hope's name produced an observation about "Anastasius,"
of which Mr. Beckford affirmed he was confident Mr. Hope had written
very little; he was, he positively asserted, assisted by Spence. My
companion here observed, "Had Mr. Beckford heard of the recent
discoveries made of the ruins of Carthage?" Of Carthage?"
he said, "it must be New Carthage. It cannot be the old town, that
is impossible. If it were, I would start to-morrow to see it. I should
think myself on the road to Babylon half-way." "Babylon must
have been a glorious place," observed my companion, " if we
can place any reliance on Mr. Martin's long line of distances about
that famous city." "Oh, Martin. Martin is very clever, but
a friend of mine, Danby, in my opinion far surpasses him." I cannot
agree with Mr. Beckford in this. Martin was undoubtedly the inventor
of the singular style of painting in question, and I do not believe
that Danby ever produced anything equal to some of the illustrations
of "Paradise Lost," in particular "The Fall of the Apostate
Angels," which is as fine a conception as any painter, ancient
or modern, ever produced.
Mr. Beckford then, taking off a glass cover, showed us what is, I should
imagine, one of the greatest curiosities in existence, a vase about
ten inches high, composed of one entire block of chalcedonian onyx.
It is of Greek workmanship, most probably about the time of Alexander
the Great. The stone is full of veins, as usual with onyxes. "Do
observe," said he, "these satyrs' heads. Imagine the number
of diamonds it must have taken to make any impression on such a hard
substance. Rubens made a drawing of it, for it was pawned in his time
for a large sum. I possess an engraving from his drawing," and
 opening a portfolio be immediately presented it to my wondering
Over the fireplace is a magnificent picture by Roberts, representing
the tombs of Ferdinand and Isabella in the Alhambra. What I had always
imagined a small chapel is, I find, really of gigantic proportions,
and looks like a Cathedral in solemn grandeur and softness; the two
sarcophagi are of white marble. The light streams through enormous painted
windows, and at the extremity of the edifice is an altar surrounded
by figures in different attitudes. "I should never have dreamt,
from what Washington Irving says of the chapel of Ferdinand and Isabella,
that it was such a plan as this." "Oh, Washington Irving,"
he replied, "is very poor in his descriptions; he does not do justice
to Spain." I wished he had spoken with a little more enthusiasm
of a favourite author, but I imagine that the author of the "Sketch
Book" is scarcely aristocratic enough for Mr. Beckford.
On the right hand of the fireplace is a very large landscape by Lee,
which Mr. Beckford eulogised warmly. "That silvery stream,"
he observed, "winding amongst those gentle undulating hills must
be intended to represent Berkshire," or he pronounced it Barkshire.
With all due deference to the taste of the author of "Vathek,"
and his admiration of this picture, which he compared to a Wouvermann,
it is in my eyes a very uninteresting scene, though certainly strictly
natural. "I don't in general like Lee's pictures," be said,
"but that is an exception." In the corresponding recess is
a fine sea piece by Chambers. On the opposite side of the room are rows
of the most valuable books, which almost reach the ceiling. I hinted
that I was really afraid we were trespassing on his leisure, as our
visit was lengthened out most prodigiously. "Not at all,"
lie replied, "I am delighted to see you. It is a pleasure to show
these things to those who really appreciate them, for I assure you that
I find very few who do." We now returned through the apartments.
He accompanied us as far as the dining room door, when he inquired if
I had seen the Tower? On my answering in the negative he said, "Then
you must come up again." He shook hands with my friend, and bowing
politely to me was retiring, when stepping back he held out his hand
in the kindest manner, repeating the words "Come  up again."
We found we had spent three hours in his company.
We paused an instant before leaving the dining room to admire a lovely
bit of perspective. It is a line of open doors, exactly opposite each
other (never seen but in large houses), piercing and uniting the three
lower rooms. The effect is vastly increased by a mirror placed in the
lobby leading to the second staircase, which mirror terminated the view.
"L'une perspective bien ménagée charmait la vue;
ici, la magie de l'optique la trompoit agréablement. En un mot,
le plus curieux des hommes n'avait rien omis dans ce palais de ce qui
pouvait contenter la curiosité de ceux qui le visitait."
You may imagine I did not forget Mr. Beckford's invitation, nor cease
pestering my friend till he at length fixed a day for accompanying me
again to Lansdown. My curiosity to see the Tower was excited. I longed
to behold that extraordinary structure, but still more to see again
the wonderful individual to whom it belonged.
We proceeded in the first place to the house, and I had an opportunity
of examining the pictures and curiosities in the ante-room. Here are
two cabinets, containing curious china, and small golden vessels. Most
of the china was, I believe, painted at Sèvres expressly for
Mr. Beckford, as the ornaments on several pieces indicate, being formed
of his arms, so arranged as to produce a rich and beautiful effect without
the slightest formality. I counted in one cabinet ten vessels of gold,
in the other five: these were small teapots, caddies, cups, saucers,
plates. I am told that they are used occasionally at tea-time.
Over the door is a magnificent drawing of the Abbey, by Turner, taken
I should imagine at a distance of two miles. The appearance of the building
with its lofty tower is grand and imposing. The foreground seems to
have been an old quarry. The great lake glitters in the middle distance,
from the opposite banks of which the ground gradually rises, and the
eminence is crowned by the stately structure. Here are also a fine interior
by Van Ostade from Fonthill, representing a noble picture gallery; a
drawing of the interior of St. Paul's; one by Rubens, representing Christ
and the two disciples at Emmaus; a fine Swaneveldt; a glorious Weeninx,
game  and fruit; with a lovely bit by Lance, and many smaller pictures.
I was informed that Mr. Beckford intended meeting us at the Tower, and
that a servant was in readiness to conduct us thither by the walk through
the grounds. We therefore issued by a private door, and presently entered
the spacious kitchen garden, containing, I believe, seven or eight acres.
A broad gravel walk, bordered by lovely flowers and fruit trees, leads
to a magnificent terrace, which bounds the northern side of this beautiful
enclosure, the view from which is enchanting. This noble terrace is
screened from the north by a luxuriant shrubbery, from which arises
an archway of massive proportions, erected chiefly to shut out the view
of an unpicturesque object. The tout ensemble reminds one of Florence.
You pass this gigantic portal, and ascend the hill by a winding pathway
through the fields, the grass being always kept clipped and short. At
the distance of half a mile from the house we crossed a lane, and our
guide unlocking a gate entered the grounds at the brow of the hill.
We again ascended, till we reached a broader way between two flourishing
plantations, branching off to the left, and leading by a gently winding
walk to a rustic sort of bungalow, which was discovered about a quarter
of a mile off. You must walk along here," said my friend,
"and behold the prospect before we mount higher, for you will find
the view repay you." It did indeed repay us: the grassy pathway
extends along the side of the southern brow of Lansdown, and the view
from this spot is unrivalled. The whole valley of the Doon stretches
beneath you. Looking towards the east you discover in extreme distance
the Marlborough Downs; then somewhat nearer Kingsdown, Bathford, the
hills above Warleigh, with Hampton cliffs and the neighbouring woods,
where Gainsborough, Wilson, and Barker studied Nature so well, and where
is shown the flat rock called Gainsborough's table, on which the first
of this picturesque triumvirate so often ate his rustic meal. To the
south Bladud's splendid city, with its towers and stately buildings,
backed by the long line of Wiltshire hills, and Alfred's Tower is faintly
traced in the clear, grey haze. The little conical hill of Englishcombe,
where the unfortunate Duke of Monmouth drew up his army during his rash
and fatal enterprise, awoke a thousand recollections,  whilst the
lovely river flashed occasionally in the noontide sun. To the west are
seen Newton Park, the Mendip Hills, Dundry Tower, and the Welsh hills,
whilst the hazy atmosphere marked the position of another great city,
Bristol. At the extreme western point, too, are seen the waters of the
Bristol Channel, glittering under the glowing rays of the setting sun,
and shining like a vast plateau of burnished gold.
After feasting our eyes on this lovely panorama and tracing out well
known places, at one moment lost in obscurity from the shadow of a passing
cloud and the next moment appearing in the full blaze of sunshine, we
retraced our steps towards the path to the Tower. We again ascended
the hill, and soon reached the sort of tableland on the top, which seems
to me to have been once an immense quarry, and no doubt furnished stone
in vast quantities for the building of the splendid city at the foot
of the eminence. The remains of these quarries are most picturesque.
At a little distance they seem to present the wrecks of stately buildings,
with rows of broken arches, and vividly recall the idea of Roman ruins.
I afterwards mentioned my impressions on seeing them to Mr. Beckford,
who replied, "They do indeed put one in mind of the Campagna of
Rome, and are vastly like, the ruins of the Baths of Caracalla."
We were now on the brow of the hill, and soon felt the influence of
the genial breezes from the Bristol Channel. We quitted the open Down,
and passing under a low doorway entered a lovely shrubbery. The walk
(composed of small fossils) winds between graceful trees, and is skirted
by odoriferous flowers, which we are astonished to find growing in such
luxuriance at an elevation of nearly a thousand feet above the vale
below. In many places the trees meet, and form a green arcade over your
head, whilst patches of mignonette, giant plants of heliotrope, and
clusters of geranium perfume the air.
We next enter a beautiful kitchen garden, and are presented with a broad
and noble straight walk fully ten feet in width and nearly four hundred
feet long, between beds of flowers, and on either side beyond fruit
trees and vegetables. The garden terminates with a picturesque building,
pierced by a lofty archway, through which the walk passes. This garden
is about eighty feet wide and about twelve feet below the level of the
Down, being  formed in an old quarry, besides which a lofty wall
on either side shelters it. One cannot describe one's sensations of
comfort at finding so delicious a spot in so unexpected a place. I said
to the gardener, "I understood Mr. Beckford had planted everything
on the Down, but you surely found those apple trees here. They are fifty
years old." "We found nothing here but an old quarry and a
few nettles. Those apple trees were great trees when we moved them,
and moving them stopped their bearing. They blossom in the spring and
look pretty, and that is all master cares about." We left this
charming enclosure, passing under the archway before mentioned. And
here I must pause a moment and admire the happy idea of placing this
pretty building at the end of this cultivated spot. It closes the kitchen
garden, and as its front is similar on either side, it harmonizes with
the regular garden we have left, as well as with the wilder spot which
we next approach. This building forms a complete termination to one
of that succession of lovely scenes with which we are presented on our
walk to the Tower. Each scene is totally distinct in character from
the others, and yet with matchless taste they are united by some harmonious
link, as in the present case.
Having then passed through the archway of this building, we observed
before us a grotto, into which we entered. On the right is a pond of
gold and silver fish, which are fed every morning by the hands of the
gifted possessor of this charming place. On the opposite side thirty
or forty birds assemble at the same time to hail the appearance of St.
Anthony's devotee, and chirrup a song of gratitude for their morning
meal. The grotto is formed under a road, and is so ingeniously contrived
that hundreds have walked over it without ever dreaming of the subterranean
passage beneath. The grotto-like arch winds underground for perhaps
sixty or seventy feet. When coming to its termination we are presented
with a flight of rustic steps, which leads us again directly on to the
Down. Looking back you cannot but admire the natural appearance of this
work of art. The ground over the grotto is covered with tangled shrubs
and brambles. There is nothing formed, nothing apparently artificial,
and a young ash springs as if accidentally from between the stones.
 We pursued our way to the Tower by a path of a quarter of a mile
on the Down, along a walk parallel to the wall of the public road, gently
curved to take off the appearance of formality, yet so slightly that
you can go on in a straight line. On our right hand venerable bushes
of lavender, great plants of rosemary, and large rose trees perfume
the air, all growing as if indigenous to the smooth turf. In one place
clusters of rare and deeply crimsoned snapdragons, in another patches
of aromatic thyme and wild strawberries keep up the charm of the place.
As we draw nearer to the Tower the ground is laid out in a wilder and
more picturesque manner, the walks ire more serpentine. We turned a
corner, and Mr. Beckford stood before us, attended by an aged servant,
whose hairs have whitened in his employment, and whose skill has laid
out these grounds in this beautiful manner. Mr. Beckford welcomed me
in the kindest way, and immediately began pointing out the various curious
plants and shrubs. How on this happy spot specimens of the productions
of every country in the world unite! Shrubs and trees, whose natural
climates are as opposite as the Antipodes, here flourish in the most
astonishing manner. We were shown a rose tree brought from Pekin and
a fir tree brought from the highest part of the Himalaya Mountains;
many have been brought to this country, but Mr. Beckford's is the only
one that has survived. Here are pine trees of every species and variety
- a tree that once vegetated at Larissa, in Greece, Italian pines, Siberian
pines, Scotch firs, a lovely specimen of Irish yew, and other trees
which it is impossible to describe. My astonishment was great at witnessing
the size of the trees, and I could scarcely believe my ears when told
that the whole of this wood had been raised on the bare Down within
the last thirteen years. The ground is broken and diversified in the
most agreeable manner: here a flight of easy and water worn steps leads
to an eminence, whence you have a view of the building and an old ruin
overgrown with shrubs, which looks as if it had seen five hundred summers,
but in reality no older than the rest of this creation. On ascending
the easy though ruined steps of this building, passing under an archway,
the view of the Tower burst upon us, and a long, straight walk led us
directly to the entrance. Front this point the view is most imposing.
On your right is a continuation of  the shrubberies I spoke of,
at the end of which is a lovely pine, most beautiful in form and colour,
which by hiding some of the lower buildings thus makes a picture of
the whole. The effect of the building is grand and stately beyond description.
The long line of flat distance and the flatness of the Down here come
in contact with the perpendicular lines of the Tower and lower buildings,
producing that strikingly peculiar combination which never fails to
produce a grand effect. This is the real secret of Claude's seaports.
His stately buildings, moles, and tall towers form a right angle with
the straight horizon; thus the whole is magnificent. Nothing of the
sort could be produced in the interior of a country but in a situation
like the present. Who but a man of extraordinary genius would have thought
of rearing in the desert such a structure as this, or creating such
an oasis? The colouring of the building reminded me of Malta or Sicily,
a rich mellow hue prevails; the ornaments of the Tower are so clean,
so distinct, such terseness. The windows, small and few compared with
modern buildings, give it the appearance of those early Florentine edifices
reared when security and defence were as much an object as beauty. From
every part of the ground the pile looks grand, the lines producing the
most beautiful effect. The windows have iron gratings, which give it
an Oriental character. We entered, and immediately ascended the Tower.
A circular staircase was round the wall. The proportion of the interior
is beautiful; you see from the bottom to the top. From the apparent
size of the three or four oopholes seen from the outside I imagined
it would be dark and gloomy front within, but I was agreeably surprised
to find the whole extremely light. The balustrade is Egyptian in form,
and banisters bronze. On reaching the top you find a square apartment
containing twelve windows, each a piece of plate glass, the floor covered
with red cloth and crimson window curtains. The effect of distance seen
through these apertures unobstructed by framework, contrasted with the
bronze balustrade without and crimson curtains within, is truly enchanting.
We were not happy in the weather. The morning was sunny and promising,
but at noon clouds obscured the heavens; therefore we wanted that glow
and splendour sunshine never fails to give the landscape. The height
is so great that everything looks quite diminutive. The road run- 
ning in a straight line across the Down reminds one of a Roman work,
and the whole expanse of country surrounding recalls the Campagna. Two
more flights of stairs, most ingeniously contrived and to all appearance
hanging on nothing, lead to two other apartments, the top one lighted
by glass all round, concealed on the outside by the open ornament that
runs round the very top of the cupola.
On descending the staircase, the door opening showed us at the end of
a small vaulted corridor a beautiful statue by Rossi of St. Anthony
and the infant Jesus. At the back, fixed in the wall, is a large slab
of red porphyry, circular at the too and surrounded by an elegant inlay
of Sienna verd, antique border surrounding the whole figure of the Saint,
and has a most rich effect; it is difficult to believe that the Sienna
is not gold. The light descending from above gives that fine effect
which sets off statues so much. On the left hand of the figure is a
picture by Pietro Perugino, which for centuries was in the Cathedral
of Sienna, having been painted for that building and never removed till
Mr. Beckford (I suppose by making an offer too tempting to be resisted)
succeeded in obtaining it. It is the Virgin and two pretty boys, admirably
drawn, very like Raphael, and in as fine preservation as the St. Catherine.
The execution is masterly, and though not so free as the Raphael still
it is forcible. The figure of the left band boy is very graceful, face
beautiful and sweetly dimpled. Opposite are a Francesco Mola and a Steinwych.
The Mola is exceedingly fine, the sky and landscape much like Mr. Beckford's
Gaspar Poussin in colour and execution; the Steinwych, interior of a
Cathedral, one of the most wonderful finished pictures I ever beheld.
This picture was painted for an ancestor of Mr. Beckford's. Here there
is a little cabinet full of rare and curious manuscripts. We were shown
a small Bible in MS., including the Apocrypha, written 300 years before
printing was introduced, and a very curious Missal.
We then entered a gorgeous room containing pictures and curiosities
of immense value. Its proportions seem exactly the same as the one on
the floor below, and decorations with its furniture pretty similar.
The windows in both are in one large plate, and the shutters of plain
oak. The colour of curtains and carpet crimson. In these rooms are a
portrait of the Doge out of the Grimaldi  Palace, purchased by Mr.
Beckford from Lord Cawdor, who got it out of the Palace by an intrigue;
this is a splendid portrait; he has on the Dalmatica and the Phrygian
Cal) worn by the Doges on occasions of State, and two lovely Polembergs,
infinitely finer and more like Claude than anything I ever saw; in fact,
they were ascribed to Claude by the German Waagen, architecture grand,
foliage light and elegant; the figures are by Le Soeur. Two fine portraits
by De Vos, wonderfully painted, execution and colouring reminded me
of Vandyke, particularly the latter, and not unlike the Gavertius in
the National Gallery. Then there is a magnificent Houdekoeta, the landscape
part painted by Both most inimitably. A beautiful cabinet designed by
Bernini, another with sculptured paintings, in the centre the story
of Adam and Eve. Two more candlesticks from the Alhambra, in shape and
execution similar to those at the house; two gold candlesticks after
designs by Holbein; some curious specimens of china; an Asiatic purple
glass vase, brought by St. Louis from the Holy Land, which contained
at St. Denis some holy fragments; a piece of china, the centre of which
is ornamented in a style totally different from the generality of china,
in eight or ten compartments, and painted in such a manner that the
festoon of leaves fall over and hide the fruit most picturesquely; two
ivory cups, one in alto, the other in basso relievo; the latter the
finer and most charmingly carved; a small group in bronze by John Bologna,
"Dejanira and the Centaur," admirably done. Here are tables
of the rarest marbles, one composed of a block from the Himalaya Mountains.
In one of the windows is a piece of African marble brought to this country
for George IV; also a small bath of Egyptian porphyry. In the lower
room was a vase containing the most lovely flowers, that perfumed the
apartment. In this room, from the judicious introduction of scarlet
and crimson, you have the effect of sunshine. The ceilings are belted;
the interstices painted crimson. It is impossible to give any idea of
the splendour of these two rooms, the finishing touch being cabinet
looking glasses, introduced most judiciously.
We now took leave of Mr. Beckford. His horses were waiting in the courtyard,
with two servants standing respectfully and uncovered at the door, whilst
two more  hold the horses. The stately and magnificent tower, the
terrace on which we lingered a few moments, whilst this extraordinary
man mounted his horse, all, all conspired to cast a poetical feeling
over the parting moment which I shall never forget. I was reminded most
forcibly of similar scenes in Scott's novels. In particular the ancient
Tower of Tillietudleni was presented to my mind's eye, and I gazed for
a moment on this gifted person with a melancholy foreboding that it
was for the last time, and experienced an elevation of feeling connected
with the scene which it is impossible to describe, Such moments are
worth whole years of everyday existence. We turned our heads to look
once more on a man who must always create the most intense interest,
and I repeated those lines of Petrarch, introduced by Mr. Beckford himself
in his "Italy" on a similar occasion -
0 ora, o georno, o ultimo momento,
0 stelle conjurate ad impoverime, &c.
I forgot to mention a cluster of heliotrope in blossom on the Down,
growing in such wild luxuriance that I could not believe it to be my
little darling flower. However, on stooping down I soon perceived by
its fragrance it was the same plant that I had been accustomed to admire
in greenhouses or in small pots.October, 1838.
I have had another peep at the Tower. The day was auspicious. I ran
up the staircase and wonderfully enjoyed the prospect. Looking through
the middle window towards the west you have a delicious picture. The
hills undulate in the most picturesque manner, the motion of the clouds
at one moment threw a line of hills into shadow, which were the next
minute illumined by the sun, the Avon glittering in the sunbeams, the
village of Weston embedded in the valley, a rich cluster of large trees
near the town, variegated by the tints of autumn, united to form a charming
picture. The pieces of plateglass that compose the twelve windows of
this beautiful room cannot be less than 5 1/2 ft. high and 18in. wide.
On descending I was struck with the lovely effect of the corridor, at
the end of which is the statue of St. Anthony; on the pedestal (a block
of Sienna) are engraved in letters of gold these words, "Dominus
illuminatio mio." The Francesco Mola (the Magdalen in the Desert)
is a lovely  landscape indeed; the rocks and their spirited execution,
lightness of the foliage, &c., in the foreground remind one of St.
Rosa. A cluster of cherubs hovers over the bead of Mary. In the smaller
room on the upper floor is the picture by West of the Installation of
the Knights of the Garter. From the contemplation of this picture I
entertain a higher opinion of the genius of West than I river did before.
You can scarcely believe it is his painting; there is nothing of his
usual hard outline, the shadows are rich, the background soft and mellow,
the lights unite sweetly, and it is touched in the free and juicy manner
of the sketches of Rubens or Paolo Veronese. It is difficult to believe
that this picture is not 200 years old. The head of a child by Parmigiano;
a large picture by Breughel. The enameled glass vase brought to Europe
by St. Louis; this must be of Arabian manufacture, for the figures on
horseback have turbans. A large cabinet by Franks, the panels most highly
finished, different passages in the history of Adam and Eve form small
pictural subjects. In the larger room is the cabinet by Bernini, inlaid
with mosaic work in the most finished manner, surrounded by three brass
figures; Bellini's two pictures of the Doges of Venice. Over Bernini's
cabinet a large piece of looking glass is most judiciously introduced.
In this and the lower room are two lovely crimson Wilton carpets; the
ceilings of both are painted purple and red. Holbein's candlesticks
are really gold! the chasing is elegance itself; an inscription states
that they were made in 1800 for the Abbey at Fonthill. A fine picture
of the infant St. John by Murillo; a curious one of St. Anthony by Civoli;
an exquisite interior, by Steynwich, very small, and being a night effect,
the shadows are amazingly rich. In the passage leading to the garden
are the two ivory cups by Frainingo. One is much better carved than
the other; it is copied from an antique vase. The figures are Bacchanalian.
The effect of this lower room from the vestibule, illumined by the rays
of the glorious sun, was more beautiful than anything of the sort I
had ever witnessed. Nothing can be more happy than the way the colour
of this apartment is managed. The walls are covered with scarlet cloth;
the curtains on each side of the window being a deep purple produce
a striking contrast; the colouring of the ceiling, crimson, purple and
gold, is admirable.  In one window is a large table formed of a
block of Egyptian porphyry, on which were flowers in a large vase of
ivory; in the other recess, or rather tribune, is the small round Himalaya
block. Over the fireplace is a charming little Dietrich, and on either
hand a Polemberg. On this side, of the room the two De Vos, two singularly
shaped cabinets of oak finely carved; on one is a gold teapot. On the
right hand of the door is a Simonini: sky and distance admirable, the
colouring of two large, trees very rich and mellow, one a dark green,
the other pale yellow. A picture on the other side of the door by Canaletti.
On the opposite side of the room a large Pastel, ruins of foliage fine
but figures lanky. I had not before to-day seen the Tower from the road
entrance. The effect of the whole building is grand, and improved by
the arches which support the terrace. On the left the ground is admirably
broken and the foliage rich.
Mr. Beckford showed me some sketches of St. Non's Sicily and harbour
of Malta, forty drawings, given by St. Non himself, each bearing the
name in pencil; he also showed me a MS. "Arabian Nights."
He studied Arabic very deeply in Paris, and had a Mussulman master.
He read to me part of a tale never put into the ordinary edition, translated
into English tersely and perspicuously. He is much indebted to Arabic
MS. for "Vathek," and reads Arabic to this day. He says Lord
Byron and others are quite mistaken as to the age when he wrote "Vathek,"
not seventeen but twenty-three years of age. "Sir," says he,
"if you want a description of Persepolis read 'Vathek.
He laughed heartily at the different sorts of praise bestowed by Lord
Byron on "Vathek," equal to Rasselas, like Mackenzie. Lord
Byron tried many times to get a sight of the Eps [?], often intreated
the Duchess to intercede with her father. He once called with "Vathek"
in his pocket, which he styled "his gospel." Moore's "Lallah
Rookh" has too much western sentimentality for an Oriental romance,
the common fault of most writers of such stories. Beckford prefers Moore's
Melodies, and likes the "Loves of Angels" least of all. "Fudge
Family" he thinks admirable.
Speaking of the triumph he achieved in writing as art Englishman a work
which was supposed for years to be  by a Frenchman, he said: "Oh,
my great uncle did more than me. Did you never read 'Memories of the
Duke of Grammont?' Voltaire told me he was entirely indebted to my great
uncle for whatever beauty of style lie might possess. French is just
the same as English to me. He showed me the Eps."
October 31. - Went out and accidentally met Mr. Beckford speaking in
praise of his West, who painted expressly for Mr. Beckford. I said,
"How did you get him to paint it so soft? I suppose you particularly
requested him to do so." "Oh no. Mr. West was a man who would
stand no dictation; had I uttered such a thought he would have kicked
me out of the house! Oh no, that would never have done. The only way
to get him to avoid his hard outline would be to entreat him to paint
harder. West came one day laughing to me, and said, "All London
is in ecstasy beholding the Lazarus in Sebo Deltz, painted they say
by M. A. Ha! ha! they don't know it is my painting. L., who brought
the picture over, came to me in the greatest distress, 'The set is ruined
by the salt water; you must try and restore the Lazarus.' I was shut
up for two days, and painted the Lazarus" On my asking if he believed
it true, Mr. Beckford replied, "Perfectly true, for I saw it lying
on the floor and the figure of Lazarus was quite gone." "Then
you don't value that picture much?" "All the rest is perfect,
and I offered £12,000 for that and four more. I saw in the Escurial
the marriage of Isaac and Rebecca, now belonging to the Duke of Wellington.
In fact, of all the pictures in the collection there is not more than
one in ten that has escaped repainting. The picture given by H. Carr
I cannot admire, the outline of the hill is so hard. It is just the
picture Satan would show poor Claude, if he has him, which we charitably
hope he has not."
How poor dear Mozart would be frightened (moralised Mr. Beckford) could
he hear some of our modern music! My father was very fond of music,
and invited Mozart to Fonthill. He was eight years old and I was six.
It was rather ludicrous one child being the pupil of another. He went
to Vienna, where he obtained vast celebrity, and wrote to me, saying,
"Do you remember that march you composed which I kept so long?
Well, I have just com-  posed a new opera and I have introduced
your air." "In what opera? asked I. "Why in the
'Nozze di Figaro. "Is it possible, sir, and which then
is your air?" "You shall hear it." Mr. Beckford opened
a piano, and immediately began what I thought a sort of march, but soon
I recognized "Non piu andrai." He struck the notes with energy
and force, he sang a few words, and seemed to enter into the music with
the greatest enthusiasm; his eye sparkled, and his countenance assumed
an expression which I had never noticed before.
Mr. Beckford showed me some very fine original drawings by Gaspar Poussin,
exceedingly delicate. On the back a profile most exquisitely finished,
another just begun, and another by his brother in admirable style, sketch
of a peacock by Houdekoeta. "When I was in Portugal," said
Mr. Beckford, "I had as much influence and power as if I had been
the King. The Prince Regent acknowledged me in public as his relation
(which indeed I was). I had the privilege of an entrance at all times,
and could visit the Royal Family in ordinary dress. Of course, on grand
occasions I wore Court costume." He showed me a letter from a rich
banker in Lisbon, a man in great esteem at the Palace; another letter
from one of the first noblemen in Portugal, entreating him to use his
influence with the Prince Regent for the reversion of the decree of
confiscation of some nobleman's estate; another from the Grand Prior
of Aviz (in French). Mr. Beckford was treated as a grandee of the first
rank in Germany; he showed me an autograph of the Emperor Joseph. Voltaire
said to him, "Je dois tout A votre oncle, Count Anthony H. The
Duchess was acknowledged in Paris by the Bourbon as Duchess de Chatelrault.
On going to Court I saw her sitting next the Royal Family with the Duchess,
whilst all the Court was standing. The Duchess has fine taste for the
arts, quite as strong a feeling as I have. The Duke also is amazingly
fond of the arts. The Marquis of D. has a spice of my character."
The Claude looked more blooming and pearly than ever. 1I observed that
I had never seen such a tone in any Claude in existence. I know many
pictures which had that hue, but they have been so daubed and retouched
that they are no longer the same. He showed me the Episodes. One begins,
"Mes malheurs, 0 Caliphe sont encore plus grands que les votres,
aussi bien que mes  crimes, tu a été trompé
en ecoutant un navis malheureux; mais moi, pour me désobir d'une
amitie la plus tendre, je suis precipité dans ce lieu d'horreur."
The origin of Beckford's "Lives of Extraordinary Painters"
was very odd. When be was fifteen years old the housekeeper came to
him, and said she wished he would tell her something about the artists
who painted his fine pictures, as visitors were always questioning her,
and she did not know what to answer. "Oh, very well; I'll write
down some particulars about them." He instantly composed "Lives
of Extraordinary Painters." The housekeeper studied the manuscript
attentively, and regaled her astonished visitors with the marvellous
incidents it contained; however, finding many were sceptical, she came
to her young master and told him people would not believe what she told
them. "Not believe? Ah, that's because it is only in manuscript.
Then we'll have it printed; they'll believe when they see it in print."
He sent the manuscript to a London publisher, and inquired what the
expense of printing it would be. The publisher read it with delight,
and instantly offered the youthful author £50 for the manuscript.
The housekeeper was now able to silence all cavilers by producing the
Having left an umbrella in Lansdown-crescent, I inquired of the gentleman
to whom I air indebted for my introduction to Mr. Beckford if be thought
it would be taking a liberty if I sent in my name when I called for
it. "I really don't know what to say" was the answer, "you
must do as you think proper. I will only say that for my part I am always
looking out for squalls, but I daresay he will be glad to see you."
I accordingly determined to make a bold stroke and call on him, remembering
the old adage, "Quidlibet audendum picturis atque poetis."
The weather was most delightful. A wet and cold summer had been succeeded
by warm autumnal days, on which the sun shone without a cloud; it was
one of those seasons of settled fair so uncommon in our humid country,
when after witnessing a golden sunset you might sleep
Secure he'd rise to-morrow.
I therefore called at the great man's house, and found the umbrella
in the exact corner in the anteroom where it had been left a fortnight
before, and told the porter to  announce my name to his master.
I waited in anxiety in the hall a few moments. The footman returned,
saying his master was engaged, but if I would walk upstairs Mr. Beckford
would come to me. The servant led the way to the Duchess Drawing Room,
opened the door, and on my entering be retired, leaving me alone in
this gorgeous apartment, wondering what the dickens I did there. You
may suppose I was not a little delighted at this mark of confidence,
and spent several minutes examining the pictures till the author of
"Vathek" entered, his countenance beaming with good nature
and affability. He extended his hand in the kindest manner, and said
he was extremly glad to see me. I instantly declared the purport of
my visit that I had some copies of pictures that were once in his possession,
and that it would give me the greatest possible pleasure to show them
to him. "I shall be delighted to see them" was the reply,
"but for some days I am rather busy; I will come next week.
"You have had a visit from the author of 'Italy'," I observed;
"people say that you like Mr. R.'s poem." "Oh yes, some
passages are very beautiful. He is a man of considerable talent; but
who was that person he brought with him? What a delightful man! I suppose
it was Mr. L." I replied, "I believe they are great friends."
"What an awful state the country is in (he observed)! One has scarcely
time to think about poetry or painting, or anything else, when our stupid,
imbecile Government allows public meetings of 150,000 men, where the
most inflammatory language is used and the common people are called
on to arm, beginning, too, with solemn prayer. Their prayer will never
succeed. No, no, their solemn prayer is but a solemn mockery. They seemed
to have forgotten the name of the only Mediator, without whose intercession
all prayer is worse than useless. Well, well (said Mr. Beckford), depend
upon it we shall have a tremendous outbreak before long. The ground
we stand on is trembling, and gives signs of an approaching earthquake.
Then will come a volcanic eruption; you will have fire, stones, and
lava enough. Afterwards, when the lava has cooled, there will be an
inquiry for works of art. I assure you I expect everything to be swept
away." I ventured to differ from him in that opinion, and said
I was convinced that whatever  political changes might happen, property
was perfectly secure. "Some reforms," I said, "would
take place, and many pensions perhaps be swept away, but such changes
would never affect him or his, and after all it was but a matter of
pounds, shillings, and pence." "There you are right,"
he exclaimed." "If anything can save us 'twill be pounds,
shillings, and pence," meaning, I suppose, a union of all classes
who possessed property, from the pound of the peer to the penny of the
plebeian. "But the present times are really very critical. Have
you time to go through the rooms with me?" he demanded. I replied
that nothing would give me greater pleasure. But perhaps you are
going somewhere? I answered that I was perfectly disengaged. Passing
along the landing of the stairs he paused before the Alderman's portraits
and observed, "Had my father's advice been taken we should not
now be in danger of starvation." I ventured to say that in those
days there was more reciprocal feeling between the a poor and the rich
than at present; now a-days classes are so divided by artificial barriers
that there is little or no sympathy between any. "You are mistaken,"
he replied. As long as I remember anything there was always discontent,
always heartburning; but at the time of my father's speech dissatisfaction
had risen to such a pitch that I assure you these people were on the
point of being sent back to the place they came from." (He alluded
to the present Royal Family).
Mr. Beckford opened the door of the great library, and on entering I
immediately discovered the cause of my being so much puzzled as to its
architecture. There are two doors in this magnificent room; one leads
to the Duchess Drawing Room, the other to the landing, and to produce
the air of privacy so delightful to a bookworm the latter is covered
with imitative books, exactly corresponding with the rest of the library.
I remembered on my first entering the room from the staircase, and when
the servant had closed the door, there appeared but one entrance, which
was that by which we left this noble room, passing thence into the Duchess's
room. I puzzled my brains in vain to make out the geography of the place,
but could make neither top nor tail, and should never have solved the
enigma but for this third visit. "I have been to Fonthill,"
he said, "since I saw you. I don't think much of what Papworth
has done there. I rode  thirty-eight miles in one day without getting
out of the saddle. That was pretty well, eh?" I thought so indeed
for a man in his seventy-ninth year.
On the 28th of October, 1844, we left Bath determined to examine the
once far-famed Abbey of Fonthill, and to see if its scenery was really
as fine as report had represented. The morning was cold and inauspicious,
but when we reached Warminster the sun burst out through the mists that
had obscured him, and the remainder of the day was as genial and mild
as if had been May. We procured the aid of a clownish bumpkin to carry
our carpet bag, and left Warminster on foot. About four miles from that
town those barren and interminable downs are reached which seem to cover
the greater part of Wiltshire. The country is as wild as the mountain
scenery of Wales, and the contrast between it and the polished city
we had left in the morning was truly singular. We took the road to Hindon,
but a worthy old man, of whom we asked particulars, pointed out a pathway,
which cut off at least a mile and a half. We followed his direction,
and left the high road. Mounting the hill by a steep and chalky road
we reached a considerable elevation; before us extended a succession
of downs, and in the extreme distance a blue hill of singular form,
at least nine miles off, was crowned by buildings of very unusual appearance.
Curiosity as to the place was at its utmost stretch, but our ignorant
bumpkin could tell nothing about it. It surely cannot be Fonthill was
the instant suggestion? Impossible. Can we see the remains at this distance?
We continued our walk for about two miles, without losing sight of this
interesting edifice, and at length all doubts were cleared in the certainty
that the long wished-for object was absolutely before us. It is impossible
to describe the feelings of interest experienced by the sight of these
gigantic remains. The eastern transept still rises above the woods,
a point, pinnacle, and round tower. Descending the hill towards Hindon
we lost sight of the Abbey. A most singular specimen of country life
was presented by an old shepherd, of whom we inquired the way. How
far is it to Hindon?" "About four miles." Is this
the right road?" "Yes,  you cannot miss it, but I haven't
been there these forty years. Naa, this is forty years agone save two
that I went to Hindon: 'twas in 1807."
This place, which once sent members to Parliament, and which the author
of "Vathek himself represented for many years, is not so
large as the village of Batheaston! There are neither lamps nor pavement,
but it possesses a most picturesque little church. It was one of the
rotten boroughs swept away, and properly enough, by the Reform Bill.
Here our rustic relinquished his burden to a Hindon lad, who acted as
our future cicerone, and undertook to show us the way to the inn called
the Beckford Arms. Soon after leaving Hindon the woods of Fonthill were
reached. We mounted a somewhat steep hill, and here met with a specimen
of the gigantic nature of the buildings. A tunnel about 100 feet long
passed under the noble terrace, reaching from Knoyle to Fonthill Bishop,
at least three miles in length; the tunnel was formed to keep the grounds
private. The beech trees, now arrayed in gaudy autumnal tints, seen
through this archway have a lovely effect. Emerging from the tunnel,
the famous wall, seven miles long, was just in front. To the left you
trace the terrace, on a charming elevation, leading to Fonthill Gardens,
and here and there you have glimpses of the great lake. The ground is
broken and varied in the most picturesque fashion. You pass some cottages
that remind you of Ryswick, and soon come to the church of Fonthill
Gifford. This church is perfectly unique in form, its architecture purely
Italian; one would think it was designed by Palladio. There is a pretty
portico supported by four tall Doric columns, and its belfry is a regular
cupola. We at last gained the inn, and were shown into a lovely parlour
that savoured of the refined taste that once reigned in this happy solitude.
It is lofty, spacious, and surrounded by oak panels; it has a charming
bow window, where are elegantly represented, in stained glass on distinct
shields, the arms of Alderman Beckford, his wife, and their eccentric
The evening was most lovely. A soft haze had prevailed the whole afternoon,
and as there was still an hour's daylight I determined on instantly
visiting the ruins. Just without the sacred enclosure that once prevented
all intrusion to this mysterious solitude is the lovely little village
of Fonthill Gifford; its charming  cottages, with their neat gardens
and blooming roses, are a perfect epitome of English rusticity. A padlocked
gate admits the visitor within the barrier; a steep road, but gently
winding so as to make access easy, leads you to the bill, where once
stood "the gem and the wonder of earth."
The road is broad and entirely arched by trees. Emerging suddenly from
their covert an astonishing assemblage of ruins comes into view. Before
you stands the magnificent eastern transept with its two beautiful octangular
towers, still rising to the height of 120 feet, but roofless and desolate;
the three stately windows, 60 feet high, as open to the sky as Glastonbury
Abbey; in the rooms once adorned with choicest paintings and rarities
trees are growing. Oh what a scene of desolation! What the noble poet
said of "Vathek's" residence in Portugal we may now literally
say of Fonthill.
Here grown weeds a passage scarce allow
To halls deserted, portals gaping wide.
Fresh lessons, ye thinking bosoms. how
Vain are the pleasures by earth supplied,
Swept into wrecks anon by Time's ungentle tide.
Of all desolate scenes there are none so desolate as those Which we
now see as ruins, and which were lately the abode of splendour and magnificence.
Ruins that have been such for ages, whose tenants have long since been
swept away, recall ideas of persons and times so far back that we have
no sympathy with them at all; but if you wish for a sight of all that
is melancholy, all that is desolate, visit a modern ruin. We passed
through briars and brambles into the great octagon. Straight before
us stands the western doorway of the noble entrance hall; but where
is its oaken roof, with its proud heraldic emblazonments, where its
lofty painted windows, where its ponderous doors, more than 30 feet
high? The cross still remains above, as if symbolical that religion
triumphs over all, and St. Anthony still holds out his right hand as
if to protect the sylvan and mute inhabitants of these groves that here
once found secure shelter from the cruel gun and still more cruel dog.
But he is tottering in his niche, and when the wind is high is seen
to rock, as if his reign were drawing to a close.
Of the noble octagon but two sides remain. Looking up, but at such an
amazing elevation that it makes one's  neck ache, still are seen
two windows of the four nunneries that adorned its unique and unrivalled
circuit. And what is more wonderful than all, the noble organ screen,
designed by "Vathek" himself, has still survived; its gilded
lattices, though exposed for twenty years to the "pelting of the
pitiless storm," yet glitter in the last rays of the setting sun.
We entered the doorway of the southern` entrance hall, that door which
once admitted thousands of the curious when Fonthill was in its glory.
This wing, though not yet in ruins, not yet entirely dismantled, bears
evident signs of decay. Standing on the marble floor you look up through
holes in the ceiling, and discover the once beautifully fretted roof
of St. Michael's Gallery. We entered the brown parlour. This is a really
noble room, 52 feet long, with eight windows, painted at the top in
the most glorious manner. This room has survived the surrounding desolation,
and gives you a slight idea of the former glories of the place. Each
window consists of four gigantic pieces of plate-glass, and in the midst
of red, purple, lilac, and yellow ornaments are painted four elegant
figures, designed by the artist, Hamilton, of kings and knights, from
whom Mr. Beckford was descended. As there are eight windows there are
thirty-two figures, drawn most correctly. What reflections crowd the
mind on beholding this once gorgeous room! There stood the sideboard,
once groaning beneath the weight of solid gold salvers. In this very
room dined frequently the magnificent " Vathek " on solid
gold, and there, where stood his table, covered with every delicacy
to tempt the palate is now a pool of water, for the roof is insecure,
and the rain streams through in torrents. On the right hand is the famous
cedar boudoir, whose odoriferous perfume is smelt even here. We entered
the Fountain Court, but sought in vain the stream that was once forced
up, at vast expense, from the vale below and trickled over its marble
For the stream has shrunk from its marble bed. Where the weeds and desolate
dust are spread.
One would almost imagine Byron had written his lines in the "Giaour"
describing Hassan's residence amidst the ruins of Fonthill, so striking,
so tangible, is the resemblance. He says of the fountains -
'Twas sweet of yore to hear it play
And chase the sultriness of day,
 As springing high the silver dew
In whirls fantastically flew
And flung luxurious coolness round
The air, and verdure o'er the ground.
'Twas sweet, when cloudless stars were bright,
To view the wave of watery light
And hear its melody by night.
But the shades of evening, now rapidly advancing, warned us to depart
while there was yet light enough to trace our path through the gloomy
wood. We entered its thick and umbrageous covert, and were near losing
our road before we reached the barrier gate. The road was strewed with
dry leaves, which reminded me of the earthly hopes of man.
He builds too low who builds beneath the skies,
and he who wishes for solid happiness must rest on a broader base than
that afforded by momentary enjoyment, tempting and blooming as the foliage
of summer, but evanescent as its withered leaves.
The next morning was finer than our most sanguine wishes could have
anticipated. We were not long dispatching our comfortable breakfast,
and hastened to the barrier gate. We here met a venerable woman, whose
noble features and picturesque dress would have served as a splendid
model for Gainsborough or Ben Barker. Stopping to inquire a nearer road
to the Abbey, as she seemed indigenous to the place, I was tempted to
ask if she knew Mr. Beckford. "I have seen him, sir, many, many
times; but be is gone, and I trust-I do trust-to rest. He was a good
man to the poor, never was there a better." "You astonish
me; I had heard that he never gave away anything." "Good gracious,
sir, who could have invented such lies? There never was a kinder friend
to the poor, and when he left they lost a friend indeed. Not give away
anything! Why, sir, in the winter, when snow was on the ground and firing
dear, he used to send wagons and wagons for coal to Warminster, and
make them cut through the snow to fetch it, and gave the poor souls
plenty of firing, besides money, blankets, and clothing, too, and as
for me I can answer for three half-sovereigns he gave me himself at
different times with his own hand." "You surprise me."
"I saw him coming once with his servants. I had my baby in my arms
- that's she that lives in that cottage yonder,  she's grown a woman
now - and I was shuffling along to get out of his way, when he called
out, 'What a beautiful little babe, let me look at it,' and then he
smiled and made as though he would shake hands with the child, and,
bless you, he slipped half-a-sovereign into my hand." I confess
I was delighted at the little anecdote, and I am sure the good woman's
praise was perfectly disinterested. Those who know anything of the poor
are convinced they never flatter those from whom they can never again
derive any benefit. I had almost expected to hear curses, if not loud
at least deep.
A bailiff resides in the Abbey stables, who has charge of the place,
but the "steeds are vanished from the stalls." We inquired
if we could see the remaining apartments, but found the bailiff was
gone to Hindon, and had taken the keys with him. Here was a difficulty
indeed. "Perhaps," said his daughter, "you can get into
the great Tower staircase; I think the door is open." We proceeded
thither, but alas! a ponderous door and locked most unequivocally denied
all entrance. "Perhaps father has left the key in his old coat;
I will run and see said our interesting young cicerone. She scuttled
off, and we waited in anxiety, till in five minutes she returned with
a large bunch of keys, the passport to the extraordinary apartments
still remaining. My joy was as great at bearing the lock turn as was
ever "Vathek's" when he discovered the Indian at the gate
of the Hall of Eblis with his clef d'or. The great circular staircase
survived the shock of the falling tower. The stairs wind round a massive
centre, or newel, three feet in diameter; the ascent is gentle, the
stairs at least six feet broad. They form an approach light, elegant,
and so lofty that you cannot touch with the hand the stairs above your
head. Numerous small windows make the staircase perfectly light, and
the inside is so clean that it is difficult to believe it is not continually
scoured and whitened, but this I was assured was not the case. Two hundred
and ten steps lead to a leaden roof, the view from which beggars description.
You have here a bird's eye view of the lovely estate. Majestic trees,
hanging woods, and luxuriant plantations cover the ground for two or
three miles round, whilst beyond this begin those immense and interminable
downs for which Wiltshire is so noted; they are dreary and barren enough
in themselves, but at  such a point as this, where the foreground
and middle distance are as verdant and richly clad with trees as cart
possibly be desired, their effect is very beautiful. The absence of
enclosures produces breadth and repose, and the local colour melts gradually
into the grey distance in the most charming manner. Looking westward
the great avenue, a mile in length, presents itself; to the south the
Beacon-terrace, a green road more than two miles long, leads to a high
hill, where the Alderman commenced, but never finished, a triangular
tower. This road, or rather avenue, has a most charming effect; the
trees that bound its sides are planted in a zigzag direction, so as
to destroy the appearance of formality, whilst in reality it is a straight
road, and you walk at once in a direct line, without losing the time
you would if the road were more tortuous. On the south side the view
is most fascinating. In a deep hollow not half&-mile off, enbosomed,
nay almost buried amidst groves of pine and beech, are discovered the
dark waters of the bittern lake. The immense plantations of dark pines
give it this sombre hue, but in reality the waters are clear as crystal.
Beyond these groves, still looking south, you discover the woods about
Wardour Castle, and amongst them the silvery gleam of another sheet
of water. To the south-west is the giant spire of Salisbury, which since
the fall of Fonthill Tower now reigns in solitary stateliness over these
vast regions of down and desert. Stourton Tower presents itself to the
north, whilst to the west, in the extreme distance, several high hills
are traced which have quite a mountainous character -
Naveled in the woody hills,
And calm as cherished hate, its surface wears
A deep, cold, settled aspect nought can shake.
The north wing of the Abbey, containing the oratory, does not seem to
have suffered from the fall of the Tower, and we next proceeded to inspect
it. A winding staircase from the kitchen court leads you at once to
that portion of the gallery called the vaulted corridors. The ceilings
of four consecutive rooms are beautiful beyond all expectation. Prepared
as I was by the engravings in Rutter and Britton to admire these ceilings,
I confess that the real thing was finer than I could possibly have imagined.
King Edward's ceiling of dark oak (and its ornaments in strong relief)
is as fresh as if just painted, and the beau-  tiful cornice round
the four walls of this stately gallery is still preserved, with its
three gilded mouldings, but the seventy-two emblazoned shields that
formed an integral part of the frieze have been ruthlessly torn off.
The roof of the vaulted corridor with its gilded belts is the most perfect
of the series of rooms, and that of the sanctum is beautifully rich;
it is fretted in the most elegant way with long drops, pendants, or
hangings like icicles, at least nine inches deep. Here alas! the hands
of vandals have knocked off the gilded roses and ornaments that were
suspended. These three apartments are painted in oak and gold is most
judiciously introduced on prominent parts. But the ceiling of the last
compartment is beyond all praise; it gleams as freshly with purple,
scarlet, and gold as if painted yesterday. Five slender columns expand
into and support a gilded reticulation on a dark crimson ground. In
the centre of the ceiling is still hanging the dark crimson cord which
formerly supported the elegant golden lamp I had formerly admired in
Lansdown-crescent; it seemed to have been hastily cut down, and its
height from the floor and its deep colour, the same as the ceiling,
has probably prevented its observation and removal. The southern end
of the gallery has been stripped of its floor, and it was with difficulty,
and not without danger, I got across a beam; and, standing with my back
against the brick wall that has been built up at the end, where were
once noble glazed doors opening into the grand octagon, I surveyed the
whole lovely perspective; the length from this spot is 120 feet. The
beautiful reddish alabaster chimneypiece still remains, but it is split
in the centre, whet-her from the weight of wall or a fruitless attempt
to tear it out I know not. The recesses, once adorned with the choicest
and rarest books, still retain their sliding shelves, but the whole
framework of the windows has been removed, and they are open to the
inclemency of the weather, or roughly boarded up. The stove, once of
polished steel, is now brown and encrusted with rust as if the iron
were 500 years old. It is impossible for an architect or artist to survey
the ruthless and wanton destruction of this noble wing, unscathed and
uninjured but by the hands of barbarous man, without feelings of the
deepest regret and sorrow. How forcibly do the lines of the noble bard
recur to the mind on surveying  these apartments, still magnificent,
yet neglected, and slowly and surely falling into ruin -
For many a gilded chamber's here,
Which solitude might well forbear,
Within this dome, ere yet decay
Hath slowly worked her cankering way.
I ran up the circular staircase and entered the noble state bedroom.
The enormous plate glasses still remain; the ceiling is of carved oak
relieved by gold ornaments. With what emotion did I turn through the
narrow gallery, leading to the state room, to the tribune, which looked
into the great octagon. A lofty door was at the extremity. I attempted
to open it; it yielded to the pressure, and I stood on the very balcony
that looked into the octagon.
Here the whole scene of desolation is surveyed at a glance. How deep
were my feelings of regret at the destruction of the loftiest domestic
apartment in the world. Twenty years ago this glorious place was in
all its splendour. High in the air are still seen two round windows
that once lighted the highest bedrooms in the world. What an extraordinary
idea! On this lofty hill, 120 feet from the ground, were four bedrooms.
Below these round windows are the windows of two of the chambers called
nunneries. Landing on this balcony I quickly conjured up a vision of
former glory. There were the lofty windows gleaming with purple and
gold, producing an atmosphere of harmonious light peculiar to this place,
the brilliant sunshine covering everything within its influence with
yellow quatrefoils. From that pointed arch once descended draperies
50 feet long! The very framework of these vast windows was covered with
gold. There was the lovely gallery opening to the nunneries, through
whose arches ceilings were discovered glittering with gold, and walls
covered with pictures. Exactly opposite was another tribune similar
to this; below it the immense doors of St. Michael's Gallery, whose
crimson carpet, thickly strewed with white roses; was seen from this
place, whilst far, far above, at an elevation of 130 feet, was seen
the lofty dome, its walls pierced with eight tall windows, and even
these were painted and their frames gilded. The crimson list to exclude
draught still remained on these folding doors, but the lock was tom
off! I closed the doors, not without a feeling of sadness,  and
returning to the small gallery again ran up the Lancaster Gallery to
another noble bedroom. Finding the stairs still intact I mounted them,
and found a door, which opened on to the roof. We were now on the top
of the Lancaster Tower. Though not so extensive as the view from the
platform of the great staircase, there is a peep here that is most fascinating;
it is the extreme distance awn through the ruined window of the opposite
The glimpse I had of the bittern lake having sharpened my appetite to
see it, I descended the staircase of the Lancaster turret, and marching
off in a southerly direction hastened towards its shores. But it is
so buried in wood that it was not without some difficulty we found it.
Never in happy England did I see a spot that so forcibly reminded me
of Switzerland. Though formed by Art, so happily is it concealed that
Nature alone appears, and this lovely lake seems to occupy the crater
of an extinct volcano. It is much larger than I anticipated. A walk
runs all round it; I followed its circuit, and soon had a glorious view
of the Abbey, standing in solitary stateliness on its wooded hill on
the opposite side. The waters were smooth as a mirror, and reflected
the ruined building; its lofty towers trembled on the crystal wave,
as if they were really rocking and about to share the fate of the giant
Tower that was once here reflected. We followed the banks of the lake.
Passing some noble oaks that were dipping their extended boughs in the
water, we soon gained the opposite side. Here is a labyrinth of exotic
plants, a maze of rhododendrons, azaleas, and the productions of warmer
climes, growing as if indigenous to the soil. We passed between great
walls of rhododendrons, in some places 15 feet high, and reached a seat,
from whence you see the whole extent of this lovely sheet of water.
What I had seen and admired so much on Lansdown was here carried to
its utmost perfection; I mean the representation of a southern wilderness.
In this spot the formality of gardening is absolutely lost. These enormous
exotic plants mingle with the oak, the beech, and the pine, so naturally
that they would delight a landscape painter. These dark and solemn groves
of fir, contrasting so strikingly with the beech woods, now arrayed
in their last gaudiest dress, remind me forcibly of Switzerland and
the Jura Mountains, which I saw at  this very season. Nature at
this period is so gaudily clad that we may admire her for her excessive
variety of tints, but cannot dare to copy her absolutely. In this sheltered
and sequestered spot the oaks, though brown and leafless elsewhere,
are still verdant as July. Every varied shade of the luxuriant groves
- yellow, red, dark, and light green - every shade is reflected in these
clear waters. Three tall trees on the opposite shore have, however,
quite lost their leaves, and their reflection in the wave is so exactly
like Gothic buildings, that one is apt to imagine you see beneath the
waters the fairy palace of the Naiads, the guardians of this terrestrial