HERE he had those pleasures and advantages which fortune alone can confer in the way of society and relaxation. Thus his writings are interesting in a particular manner for the insight they afford in many places to the manners and characters of perished men and things, to a state of society to which the present bears little resemblance, and to assist in the elucidation of some points that it may be interesting to clear up.

Young Beckford's hours of relaxation were spent in riding into Geneva, when not resident in the town, from Chênes, three miles off; Colonel Hamilton having a country house there. [129] He continued his fencing and riding lessons when in Geneva. There were generally one or two evenings in the week in which a small circle of persons met for social converse, when tea was served up, with wine and fruit. Such a meeting was called a "Gouté." One of those societies, for there were two, consisted wholly of clergymen, who met at each other's houses on Sundays, after the duties of the day were over.* Mr. Beckford's tutor was duly initiated there; there were two or three professors of divinity, and the public librarian, among the members. Theological subjects, of course, in the capital of Calvin, were then discussed. The other "gouté" was open both to the clergy and laity; the venerable Syndic, the first magistrate of the republic, was a member here. The subjects discussed were connected with philosophy, belles-lettres, politics and discoveries. The fame of Mr. Beckford's father made the members desirous of knowing the son. In general, however, he [130] was preferably engaged in youthful parties and visitings, society suiting better his own age. There was one of these younger parties consisting of the youth of both sexes, in which they set going what was called a dramatic "proverbe," designed to illustrate some moral maxim. Very few of the English visited any of the native parties, but herded together; a thing not regretted upon Mr. Beckford's account, as the object of his visit was to become acquainted with the more intellectual and respectable native inhabitants of the city, not to idle among the more unintellectual of his countrymen; and in this he succeeded. Saussure was among the acquaintance of Mr. Beckford, the same individual who ascended Mont Blanc, explored the glaciers of the Alps and Mont Rosa, and died in 1799. He was a man of large property, celebrated for his philosophical researches. He had a country house on the banks of the lake, where he was visited by young Beckford. M. Bonnet, the great naturalist, so well known throughout the world by his scientific and philosophical works, was among young Beckford's friends. There, too, he was repeatedly and most hospitably en- [131] tertained at a villa on the Leman. Bonnet, like Mr. Beckford, began to write at the early age of eighteen, when he began with his correspondence on Reaumur.

Among other individuals with whom Mr. Beckford contracted a friendship here, was the celebrated Huber, a man of fortune and original genius, much humour, and considerable wit. His manners were exceedingly agreeable. Though fifty years of age, Mr. Beckford was more attached to this gentleman than to any other in Switzerland, feeling always perfectly at ease in his society. His lady, two sons, and a daughter, composed his interesting family, and they inhabited a villa on the eastern shore of the lake. M. Huber was fond of falconry, upon which he had written an essay. He had an amusing talent of cutting out caricature figures in pasteboard with astonishing rapidity and success. He was a very good portrait painter, played on the violin, and had closely studied two or three branches of natural history, besides possessing much miscellaneous information. His eldest son, blind, married a lovely woman, gentle in manners, and adroit in pleasing her husband. She was his [132] reader, and his observer in acquiring his knowledge of the habits of bees. He edited the work of his father on the subject which became an authority, entitled "Nouvelles Observations sur les Abeilles." The younger son was the favourite of young Beckford, being, like himself, full of imagination. He studied painting some time at Rome. It was, therefore, no wonder that Switzerland, with its charming scenery, so much attracted the affection of its English visitor.

While at Geneva, young Beckford, not at all inclined towards abstract science, went through Locke on the Conduct of the Mind. It was little other than a barren subject to him, and in consequence, it was managed he should be invited by the Baron Prangin to his chateau near Nyon, to hear lessons on experimental physics by M. D'Epinasse, who had given them to George III. in his minority. The lectures resided with the baron, retired from the cares of the world. Mr. Beckford heard the lectures, and was hospitably entertained, but it is not probable they were his favourite themes.

In 1778, young Beckford and his tutor visited the Grande Chartreuse, the head of the Houses [133] of the Order of Chartreuse, in the deepest recesses of the mountains of Dauphiny. The order was nearly as severe as that of La Trappe. The brethren were allowed to converse together once a week, with freedom to ramble on the same day through the wild forests around. Young Beckford was much struck with the grandeur of the scenery, the dashing torrents, and towering rocks which overhung the buildings. The entertainment afforded was hospitable both to visitor and attendant. A large parlour, with cells communicating, answered for bed-chambers. There were vast ranges of buildings, offices, cells, a chapel, library, and guides in a coadjutor and secretary. These last were very pleasant persons, exceedingly kind and civil. Young Beckford, while delighted with the grandeur of the scenery, found the awful solitude touch his spirit. An excellent entertainment of milk, vegetables, and fish was served up, the fare being always meagre, but dressed in such a variety of ways as to be extremely palatable. Three days thus passed away. One morning, being wet, Mr. Beckford got hold of the works of St. Bruno, in folio and in Latin. Of these and the monastery he wrote an ad- [134] mirable account. In that narration he thus described the works of St. Bruno from this perusal of them: -

"After we had breakfasted by the light of our fire - the casements admitted but a very feeble gleam - I sat down to the works of St. Bruno, of all medleys the strangest. Allegories without end; a theologico-natural history of birds, beasts, and fishes; several chapters on Paradise; the delights of solitude; the glory of Solomon's temple; the new Jerusalem, and numerous other wonderful subjects, full of enthusiasm and superstition.

"St. Bruno was certainly a mighty genius. I admire the motives which drew him to this desert; but before we come to that part of the story, you would like to know what preceded it.

“My saint, for Bruno has with me succeeded Thomas of Canterbury, was of noble descent, and possessed of considerable wealth. He was not less remarkable for the qualities of his mind, and his talents gained him the degree of 'Master of the Sciences' in the University of Rheims; he contracted a friendship with Odo, afterwards Pope Urban the Second. Being always poetical, [135] singular, and visionary, he soon grew disgusted with the world, and began early in life to sigh after retirement. His residence was at Grenoble, where he was invited by Hugo, its bishop, who determined him to choose the monastic state.

"This venerable prelate imparted to him a vision, in which he seemed to behold the desert and mountain beyond his city, visible in the dead of night, by the streaming of seven lucid stars that hung distinctly over them.

"Whilst he was ardently gazing at this wonder, a still voice was heard declaring it the future abode of Bruno, by him to be consecrated as a retirement for holy men desirous of holding converse with their God.

“Here it was that St. Bruno, in 1084, by the advice of Hugo, founded the convent, where he finished his days in 1101."

Strangers being desired to write their names in the album of the monastery, with anything they chose to add regarding the place and their reception, the visitors left the following lines, the larger portion being those of the tutor, Dr. Lettice, the pupil being, perhaps, not at the moment duly inspired: -

[136] To orisons the midnight bell
Had toll'd each silent inmate from his cell:
The hour was come, to muse or pray,
Or work mysterious rites that shun the day.
My steps some whispering influence led,
Up to the pine-clad mountain's gloomy head:
Hollow and deep the gust did blow,
And torrents dash into the vales below:
At length the toilsome height attained,
Quick fled the morn, and sudden stillness reigned!
As fearful turned my searching eye,
Glanced near a shadowy form, and fleeted by!
Anon before me, full it stood,
A saintly figure, pale, in pensive mood.
Damp horror thrilled me till it spoke,
And accents faint the charm-bound silence broke: –
'Lone traveller, ere this region near,
Say, did not whisperings strange arrest thine ear?
My summons 'twas, to bid thee come,
Where sole the friend of nature loves to roam.
Ages long past this drear abode
To solitude I sanctified and God.
'Twas here by love of wisdom brought,
Her truest lore, self-knowledge, first I sought;
Devoted here my worldly wealth,
To win my chosen sons immortal health.
Midst these dim woods, and mountains steep,
Mid the wild horrors of yon desert deep,
Mid yawning caverns, watery dells,
Mid long sequestered aisles and peaceful cells,
No passions fell distract the mind,
To nature, silence, and herself consigned.
[137] In these still mansions who shall bide,
Tis mine with heaven's appointment to decide.
But hither I invite not all,
Some want the will to come, and more the call.
But all, mark well my parting voice,
Led or by chance, necessity, or choice, –
Oh! with our genius dread to sport –
Sage lessons here may learn of high import.
Know silence is the nurse of truth –
Know temperance long retards the flight of youth,
Learn hence how penitence and prayer
Man's fallen race for happier worlds prepare –
Learn mild demeanor, void of art;
And bear amid the world the hermit's heart –
Fix, traveller, deep this heaven-taught lore:
Know Bruno brings it, and returns no more,'
Half sighed, half smiled his long farewell,
He turned and vanished in the brightening dell!"


Here, too, the travellers met with the beautiful inscription by Gray the poet in the same album, written upon his second visit to the Chartreuse, beginning –

Oh! Tu severi religio loci.

In 1783, Mr. Beckford was persuaded to print his travelling letters, and he had five hundred copies struck off in quarto, under the title of "Dreams, Waking Thoughts, and Incidents, in a Series of Letters from various parts of Europe." [138] They were full of fire, imagination, and great sensibility of nature. One or two over-zealous friends persuaded him to destroy the whole edition, except half-a-dozen copies, for the very silly reason, that such a lively imagination and quickness of sensibility as they displayed, and so opposite to common modes of thinking - such, for example, as his extreme tenderness for the animal creation, and dislike of torturing it for sport, as in hunting - might prejudice him in the House of Commons, and make ministers imagine he was not capable of solid business. Nothing could be more ill-judged. He was capable of flights of fancy fully equal and more correct than many for which Burke obtained praise. He was not himself ambitious about the matter; a vast fortune, some philosophy, a love of nature, reading, and the arts, why should he toil, and clamour, and wrangle, and intrigue, to be what court favour continually made men without a tithe of his intellect, and what his indomitable pride would never suffer him to do to attain. We can only be that for which we are made by nature and inclination, friends flatter themselves as they may.

[139] It is remarkable that the extract given here regarding St. Bruno, came from that suppressed volume, and is nearly verbatim with a portion of that fine description of the Chartreuse which Mr. Beckford published in 1834-5. This is a proof that he still possessed a copy of his printed but unpublished quarto, from which he had extracted portions for his use in the later work. If the whole of the quarto were equal to what appeared in his "Italy, Spain, and Portugal," in relation to the Chartreuse, the suppression is still more to be regretted.

On the morning of the departure of the visitors from the Chartreuse, the coadjutor showed them into a large room which contained a number of portraits, and among the rest one little expected to be seen in that secluded spot. It was a fine half-length of Mary, Queen of Scots, painted when she resided in France. The coadjutor declared it was a genuine picture, and stated how it came into the possession of the brethren. The countenance was handsome, if not beautiful, and the whole so full of elegance, that the strangers stole back a second time to [140] look at it before they took their departure back to Geneva.

During the same summer, young Beckford made an excursion with his tutor and others to the waters of Evian, in Savoy, situated in the midst of noble groves of beech, chesnut, and other forest trees, on the banks of Lake Leman. The "Waters of Evian" were out of the town some small distance, and the place was full of company, the chief part from Geneva, a thing common during the season. The company met at the springs at seven in the morning, and consisted not only of invalids, but of young persons of both sexes. Round the fountains every day, thus early, there was music and a lively dance in the open air. Young Beckford was always ready to bear his part in the gay scene, which lasted for about an hour before breakfast. The ladies and their partners were in their morning dresses, and amid the picturesque scenery around the whole, gave a pleasing impress of rural pleasure and freedom very gratifying to witness. Parties were made up on the lake, in which young Beckford was always foremost. Some explored the romantic recesses of the Bois de [141] Blonay, others the Rocks of Millerie, but all met together again at dinner, at the ordinary of the principal inn at Evian. Sometimes small parties were made to breakfast on the green turf, in the open air, near the waters. Here it was that young Beckford gave a breakfast to a considerable party, and increased the attentions paid him at Evian; while the retired life, full of innocent pleasure, he led there, it is probable attached him still more strongly to country rather than town life, an attachment which never departed from him.

The next excursion from Geneva made by Mr. Beckford could not be passed over, as it gave him an opportunity of observing one of the most celebrated men of the age, the philosopher of Ferney. Colonel Hamilton having a relative intimate with Voltaire, and residing near Ferney, he promised to introduce the young Englishman and his tutor.

In passing through the village to the Chateau, the chapel erected and dedicated "Deo Optimo Maximo," over the entrance, led the travellers to ask who preached there. They were told that sometimes Voltaire himself officiated to the [142] people, over whom he was lord of life and death, of which a gallows standing on the estate was proof, it being a Seignorie which conferred that power. The constant official at the chapel was a Jesuit named Père Adam, of whom Voltaire humorously observed - "Quoiquo il fût le Père Adam, il n'etoit pas le premier dos hommes."

At the Chateau the visitors were received by Madam Denis, Voltaire's niece, and she announced their arrival to Voltaire. He was then a very dark-complexioned, shrivelled, thin old man, stooping much from age, being eighty-four, though not naturally a very tall man. The chief, and indeed most striking impression made by any of his features was by his eyes, which were remarkably large and penetrating.

Upon his entrance he bowed, for his address was that of a finished gentleman of the time, taking each of the party in turn, and he then said: –

"You see, gentlemen 'un pauvre Octagenaire,' about to quit this world;" then making a few observations about himself, he turned to young Beckford, and spoke some words highly complimentary of his father. He next asked [143] some general questions about England; what his visitors thought of Switzerland; and for ten minutes addressed the party, all standing, upon topics of the day. He concluded his audience with addressing the Englishmen, with some little humour, in the parliamentary mode, "My lords and gentlemen, many thanks for your visit. Pray take some refreshment, and then, if it will amuse you, look into my garden and my situation, and give me leave to retire;" which he did immediately, not apparently ill-pleased at the visit.

A cold collation was served up under the auspices of Madam Denis, and a walk in the poet's garden followed. It was laid out in the formal French style. The house was not large, and plainly furnished, but its situation was admirable.

At Fonthill, before going abroad young Beckford had displayed considerable petulance and pride at times, owing to his mother's fondness nurturing his naturally haughty temper. This became much less visible abroad, indeed it seemed wholly changed, a proof of the original cause.

[144] After a residence of nearly a year and a half, he and his tutor returned to England, the romantic mind of the young heir much impressed with the scenery of the far-famed mountain land. They reached England before the end of December, 1778.

Lord Littleton had been dead five years, and Lord Chatham had expired, like a public character of the heroic age, at his post in the House of Lords, in the May preceding, and in the year of young Beckford's return home. His mother was therefore left without the advice of those great men at a critical moment. She was indulgent as mothers are towards only sons. The Lord Chancellor, therefore, was now his only superintendent, and it may be well imagined that the guardianship, superintendence, and notions of those who rule under his official sign are at war with nature, and regard only extrinsic things, and matters of property. However well, in the lawyer's view, that duty might have been carried out by Lord Bathurst, whose fame rests on being the son of a distinguished character of the same name, and on his work upon Evidence, a work unknown out of the law; [145] he resigned the seals the same year (1778). It was predetermined, however, that his ward should see a little of his native country, as well as of foreign lands; and that before making the Grand Tour, as it was styled in those days, he should know something of England. In the summer of 1779, he set out with his tutor for the West of England, proceeding directly to Plymouth, which was at that moment threatened with a descent or a bombardment by the United fleets of France and Spain, consisting of between sixty and seventy sail of the line, and a host of frigates, all lying off in sight of the citadel. A large encampment had been formed near the town, filled with troops of the line and militia. Sir Charles Hardy, with thirty-eight sail of the line, was off the entrance of the channel, in sight of the enemy; report said endeavouring to draw them out of the narrow seas, that he might manœuvre better against a superior force. This must have been an error. Drake did not wait in the chops of the Channel. No matter - the scene was worth a visit. Young Beckford had a letter to Sir John Lindsay, the Governor of Plymouth, who [146] expressed himself apprehensive for his security, having with him in the citadel only a few invalids, and very little ammunition. The visitors found the pavement of the town torn up, and great consternation abroad; but the enemy had moved off. One day, after dinner, while viewing the encampment, some remarks arose about their mutual accounts; and the tutor took a memorandum-book from his pocket to set it right. Both tutor and pupil were at once seized as spies, for taking observations on behalf of the enemy, surrounded by soldiers, and conducted to the guard-house, with a large mob at their heels. On referring the officer of the guard to the governor, they were at once released with many apologies, and the book of espionage taken from them was restored. Among those who paid the visitors great attention, was the Rev. T. Gandy, Vicar of Charles, Plymouth, a clergyman of the old school, highly respected, who died at a very advanced age a little preceding the subject of this memoir. Mount Edgcumbe was much admired by young Beckford, whose good taste at that age was so remarkably exhibited when- [147] ever it was called forth by objects either of art or nature.

Returning by way of Exeter, a visit was paid to the family of his relative, Lord Courtenay, at Powderham Castle, near that city. His family consisted of a son and twelve daughters. His lordship died in 1788. He had built a lofty tower in his park, which commanded one of the finest and most extensive views in the kingdom, with which young Beckford was quite enchanted. He then visited Lord Lisburne's mansion and grounds, and Sir G. Yonge, returning, and glanced at his noble oaks and fine park; also at that of Mr. Bamfylde, in Somerset. He sojourned some days at Hazel, the residence of Sir Charles Tynte, amidst a crowd of visitors, enchanted with his host, the company, and the old baronial hall, with its painted glass windows, in which the company dined. At Sir Philip Hale's place, he exhibited that proud, scornful lip which to the last he showed when indicating contempt for any thing; nor did he express a very different feeling at Lord Egmont's, then new-old baronial castle, at Enmore. Glastonbury Tor, Thorn, ruined abbey, and the cathedral [148] of Wells, were explored, and he then proceeded to Bath to visit "young" Mr. Hamilton, he who planted Pains' Hill, and made good wine there more than forty years before. He was now eighty, and having fitted up a home in the Crescent, had married a young wife, purchased ten acres of land, and was creating on their face & thousand beauties. The house where Mr. Beckford himself lived and died must stand on or overlook this very ground on the hill side. It is probable the sight strengthened that love of rural economy and gardening which was afterwards so marked a trait in Mr. Beckford's history. Lord Bathurst's woods were at that time celebrated for their beauty, stateliness, and extent. They stood unfortunately upon level ground, near Cirencester, destitute of water, prospect, ruins, and any kind of diversity to relieve the eye. They were deemed dreary and uninteresting by the young traveller, who was eager to get away from them to Gloucester. He would only remain to dine with her ladyship. Lord Bathurst was not at home. He then hurried forwards through the lovely vale of Gloucester. The city took his [149] fancy with its pin manufactories, and fine old cathedral. Worcester, Hagley, the Leasowes, and Birmingham, with Bolton and Watt's manufactory, and a visit to the theatre, succeeded.

It would not be of moment to notice further than the names of places, the motions of the grand tour of the youth of fortune, in England, in those times, except that it shows what places among the numerous residences of people of fortune were deemed most worthy of notice at that period, as well as what natural objects were most in favour.

The youth and his tutor now travelled by Lichfield to Derby, and visited Lord Scarsdale. Then they proceeded to Ashbourne, Okam, Ilam, Dove-dale, and Matlock. At the last place a number of amusing parties were made up, for it was a fashionable haunt. Chatsworth, Haddon Hall, the Peak, and Buxton followed. Manchester was visited. Tho Duke of Bridgwater's subterranean canal was explored for nearly a mile, by young Beckford and a party of ladies who had come on in his company from Matlock. Warrington Academy, and the Presbyterian establishment for students were [150] explained, as to its arrangements and vacations, and young Beckford was surprised to find the students were only allowed three months' vacation in the year. Glass-making strongly attracted his attention. The sight of Liverpool, with its buildings, and a number of French and Spanish prizes which lay there, setting the town in high spirits, seemed to make no impression upon his mind. Not so Lancaster. He was delighted with the river Lune from John o'Gaunt's castle, and at once reverted to Eton-Brea, and to his old ancestral notions.*

The sands were now crossed to Ulverston, and the distant mountains of Cumberland and Westmoreland, rising into the clouds, above all the tidal influx which seemed to cut him off from the rest of the world, struck his fancy with delight. Villages, old romantic castles, woods close to vales opening on the sea. Rude rocks, tidal rivers, sea-mews, herons, and the screaming of aquatic birds, while thus cut off from the world in wild solitudes, were delightful to his young mind. Ulverston being head- [151] quarters, the lakes in this part of Furness were explored in turn, and the abbey in the Vale of the Deadly Night Shade delighted the sensitive mind of young Beckford so much, it was difficult to detach him from it, and return to Dalton. From thence the journey back, after exploring the scenery of the other lakes, took place in October, 1779, and the remainder of the year, and winter of 1780, were spent in Wimpole Street or at Fonthill, with his tutor.

The chancellor had recommended the grand tour before the home excursion thus concluded. In the spring of 1780, Mr. Beckford and Dr. Lettice set out for the continent, on a tour intended to occupy about ten months. They proceeded by way of Ostend, and had a rough passage. Mr. Beckford expressed no great admiration of the Low Countries. He was active, and visited all the public buildings, and lions in the churches, such as the statuary and pictures; but, as his tutor stated, his thoughts were bent southward. He also suspected that his pupil had not long before been again at his Eastern lore at stolen moments. In all events he now looked for his enjoyments [152] to the infinite variety and classical beauties of Italy, to which they proposed to proceed through Germany. It was from his notes at this time that Mr. Beckford put together his letters published in 1834. Thus these formed no part of the contents of the suppressed quarto before spoken of, which related to Switzerland, and from which his account of the Grande Chartreuse was taken.

The teeming moist plains of the Low Countries, the wealthy village dunghill, and the spots where "sows and porkers bask in the sun until the hour of death and bacon arrives," had no charm for him, nor plains dotted with cows, and here and there a spire peering towards the pale blue sky. The watery sunshine, the want of interest in willowed ditches, did not suit his taste, though, after he had paid a visit to Holland, he seems to have thought better of the Netherlands. In Antwerp the silence and solitude struck him much at certain times of the day; and at twilight, when rambling about alone, “amusing fancies came upon him,” to use his own words. It was on one of these occasions that he found himself, before he was [153] aware of it, under the stupendous tower of the cathedral. The shadows of night were cast darkly upon the lower galleries, concealing their fretwork, and the edifice rose in a vast mass above, the tower mounting up nearly five hundred feet into the air, while the light of heaven twinkled through the interstices of the pinnacles, and produced one of those effects which seemed to have a particular charm for his feelings. But when suddenly the clock struck, and the chimes broke forth, and shook the building, he fled like a deer, for his ear was exceedingly sensitive. He congratulated himself on being able to walk Antwerp in perfect stillness at night, however late, while he had left London a scene of conflagration, under reports of artillery, and the groans of the wounded, referring to the riots of 1780.

After visiting the cabinets of Antwerp, and all the works of art, of which at that time he had an excellent critical judgment, as has been shown from his Memoirs of Extraordinary Painters, he proceeded to the Hague. He had found some worthy Berghems and Polembergs in the cabinet of a canon Knyff, and two or [154] three noticeable Italian works, also a Teniers, representing St. Anthony the Hermit, surrounded with more than the usual "malicious imps" and "leering devilesses," which he well characterised as calculated to display "the whimsical buffoonery of a Dutch imagination."

He observed in another collection what he styled a "sublime thistle," executed by Snyders. It was of most heroic dimensions, and so complete a facsimile that it was impossible for any ass to behold it unmoved. This finished his visit to the cabinets of Antwerp. He sat down to the piano, and played himself in fancy out of the Netherlands. Night came on, and again he visited alone the grand massy cathedral looming darkly upwards. A solitary Franciscan was the only being seen, and he communicated the fact that the next day there was to be grand music in honor of John the Baptist. This Mr. Beckford determined to hear, and he did hear a Dutchman thunder away upon an organ, with fifty stops, and at the same time admired the master-piece of Rubens, the Descent from the Cross. Some music of Jomelli at once transported him in fancy to the south, in place [155] of doing which the next day he set out for the Hague.

It must be remembered that at this time he was only in his twentieth year. The great advance he had made in the acquirement of knowledge of a varied character, shows the deep attention he paid to whatever he felt desirous of learning, and that his progress was extraordinary. Those favoured by fortune are generally the dullest of scholars, or perchance distinguish themselves, one a little above the other, in mere classical attainments. Young Beckford at twenty, was a citizen of the world in respect to knowledge; and with not more of expense than is laid out in the education of the sons of many individuals of rank or fortune, knew more at that age in a general way than any other half-a-dozen youths if not of his own, most assuredly of the present day.

Journeying into Holland, in which he anathematized tobacco smoke and green canals, uncouth bipeds and the universal sameness, he reached the Hague, and at once went to the sea-side, and found a charm in the vast azure expanse of ocean which burst upon him at once, with [156] two hundred vessels in sight, the last sunbeams impurpling their sails, and their path strewing the wave with brilliants. Here his imagination hinted, "What would I not give to follow the shining track? It might conduct to those fortunate western climates, those happy isles which you are so fond of painting, and I of dreaming about."

His conclusion was the sad verity, the passage of which his fancy spoke was the only one the Dutch were ignorant of. They might have islands blessed with the sun's particular attention, rich in spices, but which their rulers rendered by no means fortunate.

As to the Dutch gardens, stiff and created out of sand hills, believed in Holland to be in the English style, he visited one belonging to Count Bentinck, and declared he was astonished at the unyielding perseverance of the Dutch, who raised gardens on sand and cities out of the sea.

One of these his youthful visits was to the cabinet of the prince of Orange. There too he found a temptation of the most holy St. Anthony, by Hell-fire Breughel, or, as sometimes denomi- [157] nated, Hellish Breughel, (Peter Peterz, for there were three artists of the name, or "Old," "Hellish," and "Velvet,)" whose devils and witches, rendered more uncouth, perhaps, by being of the Dutch breed, have long been notorious. "Breughel," said young Beckford, "made his saint take refuge in a ditch, filled with harpies and creeping things innumerable, whose malice one would think must have lost Job himself the reputation of patience. Castles of steel, and fiery turrets glared on every side, from whence issued a band of junior devils. These seemed highly entertained with pinking poor St. Anthony, and whispering, I warrant you, filthy tales in his ear." He then refers to better things in the gallery, to exquisite Berghems and Wouvermans. The two Polenbergs there, he thought not good.

His fancy got continually into play, set going by some trivial object that came before him. Thus, on seeing an oriental coffer of elaborate workmanship in one of the Hague museums, containing flasks of oriental essences for perfuming a zenana, and while be scented them, he could have persuaded himself that as such [158] essences dissolve enchantments, they may raise them. He could have made himself believe he was in the wardrobe of Hecuba;

“ Where treasured odours breathed a costly scent."

"I saw, or seemed to see the arched apartments, the procession of the matins, the consecrated vestments: the very temple began to rise upon my sight, when a sweltering Dutch porpoise, approaching, made me a low bow, his complaisance proved full as notorious as Satan's, when, according to Catholic legends, he took leave of Luther, that disputatious heresiarch." The spell was broken. The museum was next dismissed, and a dinner at the house of an English naval officer, and then young Beckford, after exposing the ignorance of a couple of his countrymen, of a character similar to too many travelling English youths, betook him alone once more to the bosom of the nature he loved. He entered what is called "the great wood," where the trees were left wholly to nature, forest-fashion, and so free from anything Dutch, that he could not believe he was near their marshes and canals. He was pleased to find there was one [159] spot in Holland where nature was suffered to have her own way, and the fashion of the country protected even the hares and rabbits. On the other hand, in the stiff gardens of the choicest flowers, their rich perfumes on one hand were answered by the filthy exhalations of canals and puddles on the other, natural, he thought, to the Dutch constitution. He declared his opinion that Holland was once all under water, and the present inhabitants descendants of fish; their oysterishness of eye, and flabbiness of complexion, seeming to prove it. Thus he left the Hague, determined never to revisit it, unless he grew wiser and less curious.

Leyden had the honour of his next visit, and then Amsterdam, where he saw the Stadthouse, on a hot Bengal day. Next he went to Utrecht, visited the Moravian establishment at Ziest, and saw Zinzendorf's habitation, remarking how the fair-ones were kept out of sight of the young visitor.

At Aix-la-Chapelle he explored the five large galleries of paintings, and admired some valuable pictures. He censured Rubens's Last Day as disgusting. Hosts of sinners striving to avoid [160] the tangle of the Devil's tail; with other anomalous representations from which he felt only disgust. He was compensated by a Holy Family of Procaccini, in a different room, beyond what any idea could conceive of gracefulness. The features, truly celestial, deeply struck his young fancy. If ever he beheld an inspired countenance, he asserted, it was there.

The precious bodies of the Magi, who travelled to Bethlehem, were at Aix-la-Chapelle; and the traveller paid his devotions at the shrine of monkery. Mr. Beckford had imagined their dust might have been reposing under some Eastern cupola, until he was thus undeceived. "May not the Emperor of Morocco be some day canonized in Lapland?" thought the irreligious young traveller.

His next visit was to Bonn, the road side lined with beggars, crucifixes, convent walls, lazy monks, and dejected peasants. The traveller looked away from them at the tops of the distant azure mountains which bound the view, longing to be at their summits; and built castles and capitols in the clouds in all the extravaganza of Piranesi. These vanished upon [161] entering Bonn. The inn was opposite the Elector's residence, but it looked contemptible, compared with the palaces his fancy had just been rearing, though its plaistered walls and prominent columns were seen in a favourable twilight hue.

The university had no attractions for him, while he was impatient to get on to the banks of the Rhine, which from Bonn to Coblentz are so picturesque. He set out the next day, July 11, 1780; and descending from his carriage, walked by the river wherever an advantage was to be gained by it. He saw the vast rafts of timber, and cottages upon them, come floating down from the river on which, in his youthful fancy, he thought he should like to construct a moveable village, with his friends, and thus live propelling it floating from island to island. It must be remembered, as their author observed, that his remarks were written in the bloom and heyday of youthful spirits and youthful confidence. He alighted Coblentz, and was more pleased to continue his journey through the country, to inhale the fresh breezes and perfumes from flowers, and mark the cloudless [162] sky, and bask in the sunshine, than mingle in the streets of the old-fashioned German towns. At Ems, indeed, he loitered for a short time; his youthful fancy pleased with the valley of the Lahn, and a sort of Indian life among wilds and mountains peculiarly adapted to his taste. Every snug locality seemed to have a charm belonging to itself. Yet amidst all, he made frequent references to his Eastern lore; showing that his partiality for it still existed, perhaps because it permitted a wider range for the imagination than the plodding Germans could impart. He was more charmed with the country near Ems than with the idle visitants to its waters, who were apparently unconscious of that which afforded him the highest gratification. He, though so young, turned the customary objects in such places into ridicule. Even an account of the visit of Prince Orloff, "avec sa crande maidresse, son shampelan, et guelgues tames donneur," to adopt the German French of the locality, had no attraction for him. Once indeed he confessed himself alarmed at the dangers which he was informed awaited him on the route he was going to take, and he did not go [163] to bed under the most agreeable impressions; but he found nothing to alarm him between Ems and Wisbaden, which he travelled the next day in perfect security, sleeping soundly at the last-named town.

The youthful mind of the traveller, it is clear, was constituted differently from that of most youths of fashion and fortune. It was the love of nature which attracted him, and not the circles of fashionable life. Where the Danube swept majestically along, here and there, seen near Ulm, in all its grandeur, he imbibed the purest enjoyment. He fancied, in some places, that he was actually travelling over those vast and flowery Savannahs, to which Indian tribes repair once or twice in a century, to settle the rights of the chase and lead off their customary dances, their highest enjoyment, and that which they paint to themselves as foretastes of their future felicity: where the seas

"Are for ever calm - the skies for ever bright."

There was a remarkable susceptibility of those impressions in young Beckford. Thus we find him luxuriating in the ideas of the Indians re- [164] garding scenes of future felicity, - to be their own in another state of being - where they are welcomed - where their favorite attendants, being separated from them while on earth, are restored again in this ethereal region, and skim freely over the vast level space; "now hailing one groupe of beloved friends, and now another. Mortals newly ushered by death into this world of pure blue sky and boundless meads, seeing the long-lost objects of their affection advancing to meet them, - whilst flights of familiar birds, the purveyors of many an earthly chase, once more attend their progress; and the shades of their faithful dogs seem coursing each other below. The whole region is filled with low murmurs and tinkling sounds, which increase in melody as its new denizens proceed, who, at length, unable to resist the thrilling music, spring forward in ecstacies to join the eternal round."

Such were the visions fancy presented to the youthful imagination of Beckford in those years when individuals of his age are taken up with social frivolities, and pleasures of any but a reflective character. The town-hall of Augsburgh he criticised in these words: "I should not be [165] surprised at a burgomaster assuming a formidable dignity in such a room." The women he described as in the very dresses in which Hollar formerly engraved them. The people made way for him as he came out of the hall, with as much silent respect as if he had been really the wise sovereign of Israel; but when he got to his inn "an execrable sourcroutish supper was served up to my majesty; I scolded in an unroyal style, and soon convinced myself I was no longer Solomon."


[p. 129] * This, in the Calvinistic capital, so rigid in creed, bears out the fact of Calvin himself having played at bowls on Sunday evenings at Geneva, to show how joyous Sunday was kept by the early Christians.
[p. 150] * The castle has since been metamorphosed into a jail.

[Next chapterBack to start page]


William Beckford, by George Romney (1782).
Interior of Antwerp Cathedral, by Peeter Neeffs the elder [ca 1648]. The Wallace Collection, London.