Jerome Murch

Biographical Sketches of Bath Celebrities,
Ancient and Modern, with Some Fragments of Local History

London & Bath 1893, pp. 288-308 [Chapters XXVII-XXVIII]

Chapter XXVII.

Among the sales of English Libraries recorded in literary history, one of the most remarkable was that of Mr. Beckford at Hamilton palace in the year 1882. The books were for a long time in spacious rooms in Lansdown Crescent, Bath, sharing with the choice pictures the admiration of the visitors who were generously allowed to see them. They were bequeathed by the owner to his son-in-law, the Duke of Hamilton, and on his death in 1844 were removed to Scotland to be added to another collection of considerable value, all being sold by auction forty-two years afterwards. The sale attracted much attention in consequence of the beauty and rariety of many of the lots and the high prices they realised. In Bath it formed a subject of conversation at the Literary Club, several of the members having, like myself, often seen the well-filled shelves in Lansdown Crescent, and it occurred to me that an evening of the Club might be given to a paper on some of the incidents in Mr. Beckford's life.

The suggestion was adopted; I wrote and read; and the substance of my contribution is in the following chapters, very much as it was then given. My chief sources of information were a biography in two volumes, believed to be by Mr. Cyrus Redding, and some articles in the Athenæum and the Gentleman's Magazine for 1844. Why the biography was anonymous cannot be easily understood; Mr. Redding was well known in Bath as the editor of a local newspaper, [289] the Bath Guardian afterwards the Bath Express and the author of a book of some repute on wines. He knew Mr. Beckford, and his collections, and the memoir, though not of a high class, appears to be trustworthy. The recent memoir in the National Biography is a good condensation of what had been written previously, but contains no new facts. It states justly that the catalogues of Beckford's library and his Fonthill collections contribute much to the knowledge of his tastes and character. It also refers to the remarkable criticisms in Lockhart's review of his letters in volume iv. of the Quarterly and an article by Tiffany in volume xc. of the North American Review.

Beckford's education and early circumstances had of course much influence on his mind and character. The son of the celebrated Lord Mayor of London, he was only eleven years old when his father died, leaving an immense fortune. To a good private tutor, appointed by his mother, he owed much sound knowledge of the classics with other acquirements intended to fit him for a high position. The strong individuality of his future life was shadowed forth by various decided tastes, notably a love of Eastern fiction so absorbing that by the advice of his father's great friend, his own god-father, Lord Chatham, the Arabian Nights were hidden from him. Another incident also indicates a favourite study. When he was in his fifteenth year he spent a month with Lord Chatham at Burton Pynsent in Somersetshire. The evening family parties included the future statesman, William Pitt, then of the same age as William Beckford, and those parties were enlivened recitations. On one occasion Beckford was asked to recite a speech of considerable length which he had translated from Thucydides and learnt by heart. He obeyed with great readiness, excelled both in action and emphasis, [290] and delighted his venerable host, who laid down his crutch (having then a fit of the gout) and embraced him, saying to his son, "May you, my boy, some day make as good a speaker." What the son became all the world knows, how brilliant in the Senate, how commanding in the Cabinet; but it is said of the two youths at this time that while quietness, discernment, and accuracy were with Pitt, genius, imagination, and energy were with Beckford. Fortunately for the young orator he was not always flattered. In the same year he visited his relations, the Duke and Duchess of Queensbury, in Wiltshire. There also he displayed his oratorical powers, but the Duchess - a very stately old lady - thought him deficient in etiquette. Once he failed so lamentably that her Grace rang the bell and ordered the servant to bring the family Bible, where she found a passage applicable to the case, which she requested him to read, saying, "There it was young man that I learnt my manners."

Mrs. Beckford having a prejudice against the English Universities, sent her son for his further education to Geneva. He lived there with her relation, Colonel Hamilton, his studies being still directed by the wise tutor who had been with him from the beginning. In addition to a course of lectures on civil law, mention is made of some lessons in riding and fencing. But the chief good of his residence in Switzerland was in the companionship of a few able and eminent men. He learnt much from Saussure, one of the earliest Alpine explorers and from Bonnet the great naturalist. With a literary family named Huber, who were fond of falconry, he contracted a great intimacy. Noteworthy visits of the period were to the Grand Chartreuse, of which he wrote an admirable account, and to the philosopher of Ferney then in his eightieth year.

[291] Prominent among young Beckford's educational influences was the noble gallery of pictures formed by his father. The interest he took in them and the knowledge he acquired of their merits, were shown by the first book he wrote. This was A History of Extraordinary Painters, the exact date cannot be ascertained, but it was before he went to Geneva, when he was about seventeen. The more immediate cause was that the pictures at Fonthill were shown by an ignorant woman who made all kinds of strange blunders. He therefore wished to provide, first an accurate catalogue, and then some account of the masters; in connection with which he largely indulged his sarcastic humour. He had followed the housekeeper in her rounds with strangers; he had chuckled while she dilated before a picture by Rubens on what she called "the skill of Og, of Basan" or the colouring of "Watersouchy, of Amsterdam;" and Beckford, in this book, while giving really admirable descriptions of the masters, made great fun of the stories swallowed by the rustic sight-seers.

Returning from Switzerland in 1778 he visited various relations. One was Lord Courtenay at Powderham Castle, near Exeter, who had built a tower in his park which Beckford admired, and was probably suggestive to him in future years. Another relative was the Hon. George Hamilton, then member for Wells, who lived at Bath in the Royal Crescent, and was celebrated for his love of planting. Some months having been occupied in seeing a succession of great houses, old castles and fine scenery, and the traveller not being yet of age, he was advised by Lord Chancellor Bathurst, under whose legal care he had been placed, to take the grand tour. Accordingly he and his tutor proceeded to the Continent, where his mind was greatly impressed by much that he saw. [292] Not, however, in the Low Countries nor in Germany did he chiefly find congenial objects; they awaited him in the classic beauties of Italy. To friends in England the tutor reported that, do what he would, he could not restrain his pupil's love of eastern lore; stolen moments were constantly given to it, and all possible objects were made subservient Then was it that the thoughts and images accumulated which found expression soon afterwards in Vathek, though time was also found for the preparation of another book, Dreams, Waking Thoughts and Incidents. Thus before he was twenty-two he may be said to have been the author of three remarkable works, an instance noteworthy in the early life of a man of large fortune.

On Mr. Beckford coming of age after his return front the grand tour, the event was celebrated with great rejoicings at Fonthill. His Oriental tastes were gratified by adding to the plans for feasting all classes a brilliant illumination of the house and grounds. Thousands of lamps were lighted on the lawn, in the wood, and along the banks of the river; fireworks, bonfires, and musical entertainments provided regardless of cost. Lord Byron, in Childe Harolde, had called Beckford "England's wealthiest son," so by the poet at all events these rejoicings would not have been thought strange. Soon afterwards the rich man came to Bath again, and like Walter Savage Landor met his future wife at a ball. The attraction was Lady Margaret Aboyne, an amiable woman, who died within three years, leaving two daughters. Beckford felt the loss so acutely that his friends advised him to enter political life and follow his father's example by strengthening the popular Chatham party. His tastes were altogether different; he cared nothing for party struggles and distinctions, yet at length he consented to sit for Wells, succeeding his relative, [293] Mr. Hamilton of Bath, from 1784 till 1790, when he was returned for Hindon. This seat he resigned four years afterwards by accepting the Chiltern Hundreds, thus terminating finally what had been the mere semblance of political life, and leaving more time for the enjoyment and, as he thought, the improvement of his property. We shall see that if he succeeded in one object he failed in the other.

Prior to his marriage Mr. Beckford took another journey on the continent with equipments such as are now never heard of. In addition to his old tutor and a staff of servants, he engaged an artist, a musician and a medical man, three carriages and several led horses and out-riders; accordingly while the cavalcade was sometimes supposed to belong to one imperial personage and sometimes to another, the hotel hills had everywhere an imperial complexion. But what is most remarkable as bearing on his future life is that notwithstanding all this luxury of travelling his mental aims were always prominent and his love of nature supreme. Never neglecting opportunities of acquiring knowledge, they were all the more welcome if, as in the case of an ancient palace or a venerable monastery, they gave scope for historic research or poetic feeling. Nothing, however, delighted him like fine scenery; he revelled in the glories of the Alps and the Tyrol. While other companions took long rides he drew Cozens the artist into the woods to admire the wild flowers and sketch the huts of the peasantry. Though charmed with much that he saw in the Italian cities; the missals at Siena, the sculptures at Florence, the ruins at Rome; finding at Venice especially abundant gratification of his Oriental taste; he yet turned incessantly to nature for refreshment and inspiration. At this time he wrote several poems, far inferior to his prose it is true, but proving his [294] sincere love of country life. In some lines on leaving Fonthill, after describing the changes of the seasons and various rural objects he says: –

"But though the scenes you now deplore
With heart and eye be your's no more,
Though now each long-known object seem
Unreal as the morning's dream,
Yet still with retrospective glance
Or rapt in some poetic trance,
At will may every charm renew,
Each smiling prospect still review,
Through memory's power and fancy's aid
The pictured phantoms ne'er shall fade."

The departure from Fonthill would remind those who are old enough of the celebrated sale which took place more than seventy years ago. It had been announced a year previously, but postponed in consequence of the purchase of the Abbey and domain by Mr. Farqhuar for £330,000. A guinea catalogue was issued, of which it was stated in the Gentleman's Magazine 7,200 copies were sold; other writers give the number as high as 10,000. The sale occupied thirty-seven days, though it did not include many things which Mr. Farqhuar had arranged to take and many more which Mr. Beckford had reserved for the house he had bought at Bath. It was attended by a great concourse of people from all parts of England, from various European capitals, and even from the United States; a large number with no intention of buying, but merely desirous of seeing the place.

Who can now realise what it was? As a private residence, is there anything like it in our own country or any other? Perhaps those who know York Minster and Westminster [295] Abbey can form the best idea of the exterior. Standing on more ground than either, yet presenting the grandest features of both; with magnificent woods as a background, its size alone was impressive. In the interior, the central saloon occupied a space of 330 feet, as great a distance as can be seen at once in Westminster Abbey-the lofty windows, arches and pillars relieved by every imaginable means. It was worth a long journey to see the stained glass in the windows when the sun threw their colours on the crimson carpet, contrasting them with the vivid green of the lawn seen through the open doors, doors as high as a moderate sized house. Looking up you saw galleries a hundred feet above, leading to what were called nunneries. Looking around, mirrors in all directions reflecting the landscape for miles, and amplifying the vistas of the saloon itself. At every step the attention was arrested by choice books, china paintings, cabinets, natural curiosities, silk hangings and costly furniture. While enjoying all this Beckford's mental sources were ample and varied; music had been one of them from childhood, and he continued to cultivate it. His improvisations on the piano delighted his visitors, and he rarely went to London without enjoying a good concert. Reading occupied a large part of every day, enabling him to form a judgment of every new book worth attention. Of planting he was passionately fond, ample scope being found in his broad acres, nineteen hundred within the park wall and three thousand around it. His gardens testified alike to his love of botany and his excellent taste, for whatever he did was accordant with nature. A great employer of labour; to him innumerable families owed their means of subsistence. If he spent money lavishly on the Abbey, he did not waste it on the turf or at the gaming table.

[296] Among the thousands who flocked to Fonthill for the sale in 1822 many asked why it was sold. It was known generally that there had been a great loss of property somewhere, but it was thought that vast wealth remained. The truth is that Beckford had spent as if his wealth had been absolutely inexhaustible. On his father's death he came into possession of an income exceeding one hundred thousand a year, and an accumulation amounting to nearly a million. One tower employed four hundred and sixty men, day and night, through an entire winter, the torches used by the workmen being visible to travellers for a long distance. When, in consequence of such foolish haste, this tower fell, another was ordered, which soon shared the same fate, the owner, it is said, regreting that he had not been present to see the sight. Not content with his Wiltshire erections, he built a palace at Cintra, "that glorious Eden of the South" eulogised by Lord Byron.

"There thou too, Vathek! England's wealthiest son,
Once formed thy paradise, as not aware
When wanton Wealth her mightiest deeds bath done,
Meek Peace voluptuous lures was ever wont to shun.
Here didst thou dwell, here schemes of pleasure plan
Beneath yon mountain's ever beauteous brow,
But now, as if a thing unblest by man,
Thy fairy dwelling is as lone as thou."

The building at Fonthill alone cost £273,000, exclusive of the stone and timber from the estate and of the wonderful wall around the park, seven miles in circumference and twelve feet in height. But neither this outlay nor that required for the roads and plantations would have compelled the sale. Very early his property began to suffer from two causes: great mismanagement and adverse Chancery suits. A large [297] West Indian estate which had been in his family sixty years was taken from him in consequence of defective title, while he had to pay the heavy costs of long litigation. The success of the plaintiff in this case led to other attacks of the same kind, some of which he consented to terminate by buying off the litigants at enormous sacrifices. Then came the great fall in West Indian property generally, involving a rapid diminution of income several successive years. While the earlier losses were going on he was yet able to maintain a princely establishment, including a physician, a professor of music, and other gentlemen of education. He also gave great regal entertainments, the most notable being occasioned by the visit of Lord Nelson and Sir William and Lady Hamilton, and he could still keep open house for half the county. But when the heavier trials came he bowed to necessity, considered for some time whether to live in a smaller house at Fonthill or seek a suitable one at Bath, and eventually decided on Bath. Some of the incidents of his residence here will be related in the next chapter.



[298] Chapter XXVIII.

The paper for the Literary Club adverted to in the first part of this sketch was entitled "Recollections of Mr. Beckford." Although he had brought from Fonthill the exclusive tastes and habits which had grown upon him, yet glimpses were caught in Bath of what he was and did after his removal. Pedestrians would meet him in quiet places, sometimes walking, often on his pony, and various people had to communicate with him on matters relating to books, pictures, furniture, gardening, planting and building. His remarkable individuality naturally made such means of knowledge more thought of than they would have been in ordinary cases.

I first saw Mr. Beckford's house in Lansdown Crescent in the year 1833. He had then lived there ten years, during which he had built the tower on the adjoining hill. He had also bought most of the land between the Crescent and the hill, a distance of about a mile, in order that his grounds might be as spacious as possible. Here he resumed his love of planting, for which the neighbourhood became indebted to him, there being a great want of trees and his selection always such as the soil and situation required. His love of pure, natural beauty extended to the smallest objects. Along the private walk which led up to the tower he produced a great variety of picturesque effects. At one turn you came upon thickets of roses, at another beds of thyme, marjoram and other aromatic herbs, interspersed with ferns and wild flowers. The immediate approach to the tower was marked [299] by trees and shrubs suited to its architectural character, in which his Italian and Oriental tastes were obviously blended.

Mr. Beckford greatly enjoyed the air and views of Lansdown. Riding or walking he was attended by his favourite dogs and two grooms, intelligent elderly men. At intervals he was seen in the Bath Park, to which at that time I gave much attention as one of the committee of management. My employment then was that of converting an exhausted stone quarry into something like a (loll by planting Coniferæ. It was the only thing of local public interest for which Mr. Beckford was known to care; every afternoon while the work lasted he came to see what progress had been made. In reply to some pleasant remark on what I was doing I said how glad I should be to receive any advice from him. He was by no means unwilling to give it, although at first his manner was reserved. He spoke of the effects of contrasts in similar situations, not so much in the trees themselves as with reference to the line of sky and the surrounding objects. On one occasion he asked if I had seen his plantations around the tower, adding that he thought the library would interest me. "Pray go," he said, " at any time; you will forgive me if I don't offer to meet you; my health is uncertain, and I shrink from some states of temperature besides you probably know that the world and I have taken leave of each other."

It was easy to conjecture why Mr. Beckford forsook the world. Until he came to Bath he had lived in a sphere different from any he could find within a large radius hero. Never accustomed to more local society, never prone to cultivate friendships, he only accepted the acquaintances which his birth and position brought him. They were generally people distinguished by rank, either in this country, [300] as in the case of the Hamiltons, Queensburys, Effinghams, Dorchesters and Chathams, or in Portugal where his intercourse with the royal family was frequent. He was remarkably proud of his own descent from royalty; it was shown in a genealogical tree in the vestibule of his house in Lansdown Crescent, which, if I remember rightly, began with Edward III. He could put up with the loss of Fonthill; he could submit to a great reduction of his establishment; he could reconcile himself to the impossibility of more regal entertainments; but he could not form fresh ties altogether different from those of a long life; and, having great resources in his own mind as well as in the costly and beautiful things which he retained, especially his books, he preferred seclusion. This may be understood without being defended; those who have right views of social duty would assuredly not defend it. On the other baud we may think of the peculiar circumstances of such a life, the training, the education, the early indulgence; and the result of those considerations would probably be the question, how should we ourselves have acted if we had lived under similar influences.

On availing myself of Mr. Beckford's invitation I was a little disappointed in the plantations around the tower, although if I had known the lull before they were made I might have had a different feeling. A dull, flat piece of ground, open to the west wind; nothing but a careful selection of trees would have made it interesting or answered the owner's purpose. But the building and its contents were well worth many a visit, showing the most exquisite taste in all respects, as well as the most thorough provision for intellectual enjoyment. It is pleasant to remember the various rooms; some full of books; others of vases, pictures, and cabinets; everything in the best Italian [301] style, harmonising with the architecture. There was a room called the chapel; bouquets of the loveliest flowers were on the tables, a few choice pictures adorned the walls, while upon a pedestal of Siena marble, in a niche panelled with Egyptian porphyry and lighted by a dim cupola, was a delicate piece of sculpture, St. Anthony with the infant Saviour in his arms, and the Oxford motto "Dominus Illuminatio Dea." All this is gone; no trace remains within the building of what the owner did; but the view from the top is still as glorious as when he enjoyed it; reaching to Fonthill in one direction, and the Welsh mountains in another; the waves of the Severn, some fifteen miles off, sparkling when the sun shone, and the Greville monument close by telling its tale of the Great Rebellion; all as if to show how enduring nature is, how evanescent the work of man.

In my conversations with Mr. Beckford he was by no means reticent on topics mutually interesting. From the work of planting and landscape gardening we were led to authors on such subjects and thence to other paths of literature. He mentioned the kind of books I should find at the Tower, and on my first visit I made myself acquainted to some extent with their general character. Although not numerous they were rare and elegant; binding, paper and type vying with the contents. Spanish and Portuguese books abounded; of French authors there were some choice specimens; and I wondered what many an English Divine would have thought of the theology in all languages. A writer in the Times, after relating how Mr. Beckford's books "followed him from Fonthill to Bath," and how they crowded every room of his house, none but the owner knowing where to find them, adds "but he always knew; his memory was as wonderful as his judgment and he was a buyer till he died." The book he was reading [302] at the time of my first visit was Wiseman's Lectures on Natural and Revealed Religion. It was open on the table at which I sat and had marginal notes in Mr. Beckford's writing on almost every page. This was the habit of his life. At the sale at Fonthill in 1823 large prices were obtained for books thus enriched. And at the Hamilton sale in London a volume of Beckfordiana, being a transcript of the various notes on margins and flyleaves in his library, sold for £156. To all book collectors the interest was so great that every work was examined with a view to the discovery of manuscript notes, and any that contained them sold for as many pounds as, if unannotated, they would have produced shillings.*

It has been said that with all Mr. Beckford's lavish expenditure he was not a bad man of business. To what [303] extent this is true of the general management of his property, either English or West Indian, we have few means of judging. With regard to works of art whatever he did was marked by great decision; he would not haggle with others nor would he allow others to haggle with him. That he knew the real value of things may be fairly inferred by his great knowledge and experience; that he did not hesitate to make a fair profit especially when he parted with anything be prized, was well known. His Letters on Italy he sold to Mr. Bentley the bookseller for £500, £400 in cash and the remainder in a bill. The bill he passed to his agent; the cash be invested in a sweet picture by Gerard Dow; but soon, not liking the high finish, he sold it for £500. His biographer states that the National Gallery paid him £800 for a Perugino which only cost him 50 guineas. More than forty years ago I received a call from the Marquis of Lansdowne, who told me he had come to Bath on behalf of the Government to see some pictures in Mr. Beckford's collection. He had in view more particularly the St. Catherine by Raphael, and the Doge of Venice by Bellini. There was this remarkable circumstance: the owner had no other specimen by the same masters; the National Gallery was without one of either. No one, therefore, would blame Mr. Beckford for asking from the Government much larger sums than he gave; and they were given without any of the long negotiations he disliked. Knowing now as we do the increased value of such works, there is no doubt that the Government on this occasion made a good investment.

I remember another instance of Mr. Beckford's decision. At one time he had serious thoughts of leaving Lansdown Crescent. He had increased his collection so largely that even his two houses united by the arch became insufficient. [304] But perhaps a still stronger reason was that he allowed himself to be worried by grievances unavoidable with other houses near. The evil now, in his own words, was that he was "perpetually annoyed by the ticking of some cursed jack, the jingling of some beastly piano, bells of horrid tone perpetually tinkling, and so on." It happened that the owner of the neighbouring Summerhill property, Dr. Parry was then willing to sell it, and, although less secluded than he wished, yet as the grounds reached nearly up to his own plantations around the tower, he proposed to buy it. Mr. English, of Milsom Street, who told me the story, was commissioned to offer a certain price and to obtain an answer within twenty-four hours; Dr. Party, however, asked for longer time for consideration and the matter dropped.

Whether it was before or after this that Mr. Beckford added the third house I fail to remember. At first he did not intend to use it, saying that his object was merely to secure greater quiet, but it soon became full of costly and beautiful things. He also made openings in the walls of the drawing-room story which showed a fine vista extending the entire length of the three houses and the arch. The grandeur of these rooms, quiet as it was, contrasted with the simplicity of others for his private use, especially his bedroom, with its little narrow uncurtained bed, reminding one of the Duke of Wellington's answer at Apsley House with regard to his own; on hearing the remark that there was no room to turn, he said, "Turn, turn, when one wants to turn it is time to turn out."

Another contrast was of a different kind but not less striking. It was the ugly dwarf Pero stationed in the vestibule of the house with no apparent duty whatever. The visitors were admitted by the hall porter and passed on to a servant in the interior, while this wretched looking object sat [305] in his armchair grinning. One explanation of the incongruity was that Mr. Beckfords taste was in many respects Oriental, and that he liked to perpetuate as much as possible the customs of feudal times and ancient families. Among the strange characters in Vathek is the dwarf Bababalouk, a combination of Caliban and Sancho Panza, if such can be imagined, uniting immense conceit with a hideousness of person less than human. In Portugal the author was intimate with a distinguished family, the Marialvas, relations of Don Pedro, who took him one evening to the theatre where he saw in the stage box the light-complexioned Countess of Pombion with a black dwarf negress on each side of her, as if to show how very fair she was.

I conclude with a rapid survey of Mr. Beckford's achievements in authorship. His Memoirs of Extraordinary Painters have been mentioned. The Quarterly Review, Vol. li., says of them that "they would have excited considerable attention under any circumstances, as a series of sharp and brilliant satires on the Dutch and Flemish schools, the language polished and pointed, the sarcasm at once deep and delicate." In his twenty-second year came the tale of Vathek. Originally written in French, editions were published both in Paris and Lausanne. Translations appeared in successive years in England, some for which he was not responsible. Lord Byron says of it that for correctness of costume, beauty of description, and power of imagination it is unsurpassed. "As an Eastern tale," the poet adds, "even Rasselas must bow before it; the Happey Valley will not bear a comparison with the Hall of Eblis." Then came the book of travels written in one of his journeys. Of this the world was almost entirely ignorant until fifty years afterwards Mr. Beckford reprinted it with additions in two volumes under [306] the title of Italy, with Sketches of Spain and Portugal. One object of the reprint was to vindicate his claim to certain ideas which had been adopted by other authors, consciously or unconsciously, to whom he had allowed a perusal of the unpublished work. Rogers is said to have read it before he wrote Italy; Thomas Moore to have been indebted to it while writing Rhymes on the Road, and even Lord Byron to have had it in his mind when he formed the general plan of Childe Harolde.

In 1796 and 1797 Beckford wrote two novels for the purpose of satirising the fictitious literature of the day. First, The Elegant Enthusiast with the interesting emotions of Arabella Bloomville. By the Right Hon. Lady H. Marlow. Then Amezia [sic], a Descriptive and Sentimental Novel. By Jacquetta Agneta, Mariana Jenks of Bellegrave Priory in Wales, with criticisims [sic] anticipated. Though full of sparkling humour it would be impossible to appreciate these clever "Burlesques" without some knowledge of the absurd romances they were intended to cut up.

The author's genius always appeared to the greatest advantage in works descriptive of nature and art. As in his early books on Italy, so in his later eloquent account of his Excursion to the Monasteries of Alcobaça and Batalha the ruling passion is manifest. Those works also furnish the best clue to the character of his mind and the philosophy by which he was governed. The Quarterly Reviewer, writing in 1834, speaks of" His spirit so capable of the noblest enthusiasm and so dashed with the gloom of over-pampered luxury yet ever and anon stooping to chairs and china with the zeal of an auctioneer, reminding one of the Lord of Strawberry Hill; though here all we have is on a grander scale. The Oriental prodigality of his magnificence shines out even in trifles; [307] Beckford buys a library where Walpole cheapens a missal; one is as superior to the other as Fonthill with its York-like tower embosomed among hoary forests was to the silly band box on the road to Twickenham." "Beckford," adds the writer, "is a poet and a great one, although we know not that he ever wrote a line of verse. His rapture amidst the sublime scenery of mountains and forests, in the Tyrol especially and in Spain, is that of a spirit cast originally in one of nature's finest moulds; and he fixes it in language which can scarcely he praised beyond its deserts-simple, massive, nervous, apparently little laboured, yet revealing in its effect the perfection of art. Some immortal passages in Gray's letters and Byron's diaries are the only things in our tongue that seem to us to come near the profound melancholy and yet picturesque description of these extraordinary pages." Long before this passage was written Beckford had composed the lines on quitting Fonthill, given in a former chapter, and long afterwards some verses were published entitled A Prayer written at Fonthill. Short as it is it yet reveals something of the inner life of the author. The last three lines are given in the inscription on his tomb in the Lansdown Cemetery.

"Like the low murmur of the secret stream
Which through dark alders winds its shaded way,
My suppliant voice is heard: – all do not deem
That on vain toys I throw my hours away!
In the recesses of the forest vale,
on the wild mountain, on the verdant sod,
Where the fresh breezes of the morn prevail,
I wander lonely, communing with God.
When the faint sickness of a wounded heart
Creeps in cold shudderings through my sinking frame,
I turn to Thee! That holy peace impart
Which soothes the invokers of Thine awful name.
[308] Oh, all pervading Spirit! sacred beam!
Parent of life and light! Eternal power!
Grant me through obvious clouds one transient gleam
Of thy bright essence in my dying hour!"

That hour came at length, in 1844, after eighty-five years of life. His illness was short; it found him at home, comforted by his favourite daughter the Duchess of Hamilton. Long before his death he ordered his tomb of Aberdeen granite and directed that the coffin should be placed within it so as to be above the ground. He wished to lie under the shade of his tower near a favourite dog, but the dog being there and the ground unconsecrated the interment took place at the Abbey Cemetery, and the tower and its grounds were sold by auction. Then the Duchess of Hamilton, shocked at hearing that her father's beautiful little domain was to be perverted to tea gardens bought it back, gave it to the parish of Walcot for a cemetery, obtained the Bishop's consecration after the removal of the dog and ordered the remains of the former owner back to the spot he loved. There he lies amidst the trees and shrubs he planted, surrounded also now by the fellow men from whom in life he was divided. There they all sleep side by side, the same sun shining upon the quiet graves in summer's heat and winter's cold; and there the visitor who wishes to see the last resting-place may see the fervent aspiration,

" Eternal Power!
Grant me through obvious clouds one transient gleam
Of thy bright essence in my dying hour!"


*[Note page 302:] One of the most interesting of the lots at the Sale was the quarto Gibbon, in six volumes, containing ten pages of M.S. notes by Mr. Beckford, who thus concludes his criticism:
"The time is not far distant, Mr. Gibbon, when your almost ludicrous self-complacency, your numerous, and sometimes apparently wilful, mistakes, your frequent distortion of historical truth to provoke a gibe or excite a sneer at everything most sacred and venerable, your ignorance of the Oriental languages, your limited and far from acutely critical knowledge of the Greek and the Latin; and in the midst of all the prurient and obscene gossip of your notes, your affected moral purity perking up every now and then from the corrupt mass, like artificial roses shaken off in the dark by some prostitute on a heap of manure; your heartless scepticism, your unclassical fondness for meretricious ornament, your tumid diction, your monotonous jingle of periods, will be still more exposed and scouted than they have been. Once fairly kicked off from your lofty, bedizened stilts you will be reduced to your just level and true standard. - W. B."