DURING the preceding tour, young Beckford's health and spirits were not good. He complained, in the first instance, of the damps of Venice, which he visited on his returning. He passed through Augsburgh to Paris, where remaining a few weeks, he came back to England. He appears to have gone almost immediately into Wiltshire. About the same time he separated himself from his tutor's surveillance: the latter taking up his temporary residence at Highwood-hill. Having engaged to spend a couple of months soon afterwards, with his pupil, at Fonthill, the latter remained there from the time of his return [202] to England, in February or March 1781, until he became of age, on the 29th of September in that year, free, for the first time, from the shackles of an easy pupilage.

As if to avenge himself, though not yet quite of age, of his tutor's dislike to his devoting so much time to oriental literature, he studied Persian harder than ever, and read all kinds of works on Eastern lore.

It was on the 29th of September, 1781, that Beckford became his own master: the following letter is an account of the festivities upon this occasion. "It is dated October 1, 1781:" –

“At last, my dear A., the festive tumult and bustle at Fonthill have begun a little to subside, and I take the first quiet moment I have had since my arrival, to give you a short account of it; I say a short one, for I have not time to mention a thousand particulars, and that only just at the time they were going on. On my arrival, on Wednesday last, I found the house half full of company. There had been music, dancing, and feasting from the beginning of the week. But Thursday and Friday being the two [203] principal days, I shall confine my account chiefly to them. On the former day we sat down to breakfast in the great arched, Grecian Hall, not less than a hundred persons, at several long tables. This being finished, a concert succeeded: the company every moment increasing, till about five o'clock on Friday. Not less than three hundred, one-third of whom were nobility and persons of fashion, sat down to dinner; not to mention a great addition to the numbers in the servants of the company visiting, those of the family, and their friends, who dined, some before and some afterwards, not fewer by many than those upon whom they attended. At night there was an illumination, and a brilliant ball, followed by a supper at one in the morning; at which the guests were not fewer than they had been at dinner. The company danced, and played at cards after supper, and the festivity was kept up till daylight. Having slept a few hours, we all met again at breakfast, and that was scarcely over, before the whole park, woods, and plantations, were filled with country people, flocking from the town of Hindon and the surrounding villages. By the afternoon there could [204] not be less that ten or twelve thousand assembled. On an extensive lawn before this noble house, there were erected three long booths. In one of them dined Mr. Beckford's Wiltshire tenants, with their sons, about two hundred persons. In the other two booths were entertained, in the same manner, the people of the town of Hindon, a little borough in the neighbourhood, in Mr. Beckford's parliamentary interest. These might amount men, women, and children, to about a thousand persons, and these as well as the tenants, had their band of music. A great quantity of strong beer was also given away to the populace. The company in the house dined at five o'clock the second day, about as many as on the day before. Dinner being over, another grand illumination succeeded. Some thousand lamps were beautifully disposed on the lawn, in the wood, and along the river; and three great bonfires lit up on a distant ground. The company having observed and enjoyed these sights, they were, after tea, entertained with magnificent fireworks, followed by a concert of vocal and instrumental music, in which was performed an Italian pastoral in honour of the day. There [205] were, perhaps, more musicians of the first eminence there, than ever met together at our greatest oratorios. The evening concluded with a very splendid and crowded supper. The next day, Sunday, the best part of the company that stayed, assembled in a large room, where Dr. Lettice gave them a sermon. At dinner, the company was reduced to three tables. A concert was performed in the evening, and all who were present were invited to supper. On the following morning the company began to depart, about a score of Mr. Beckford's more particular friends and relatives only, continuing for some time; but the birthday celebrity was considered as finished. I feel as if I had written myself out of breath, and am glad to lay down my pen."

The expenses incurred upon the foregoing occasion were very considerable; but the property into which young Beckford came, after nursing during his minority, placed him in the position of one of the richest subjects in Europe. The amount, according to his own statement, consisted of nearly a million in ready money, and an income of a hundred thousand per annum.

[206] Mr. Beckford, now his own master, determined, a few months after he had thus become of age, to take a second tour on the Continent; and in the spring of 1782, prepared for his departure. He had been presented at court long before, and had figured in a ball at St. James's, with Miss North for his partner, early in that year. He sported on that occasion one of the most elegant vis-à-vis ever seen in the fashionable world; for such were the vehicles in which it was the custom for men of fashion to drive to the court in those times, many of them being of the most costly description, and Mr. Beckford's was noted for its costliness and good taste.

The romantic scenery he had seen on his tour with his tutor, had so strongly fixed itself in his mind, that he determined, being now his own master, to make a second excursion, and enjoy it without the control of any one, omitting no means of rendering it useful as well as agreeable. He prepared every convenience for his object that comfort demanded. He engaged an eminent artist, Mr. Cozens, to accompany him, also a physician, Dr. Errhert [sic], and an eminent musician, a Mr. Burton. They filled three carriages, [207] besides having led-horses and outriders. He invited his old tutor to be of the party; and with a considerable retinue, set out in May, 1782. He reached Cologne on the 28th of that month, where he made a very short stay at the Hotel Der Heilige Geist, and the next day rapidly took the road towards Italy, through the Tyrol, the country of picturesque wonders. Near Nasseriet he was delighted with the beauties of the country. He ran on foot into the woods, admiring the delicate foliage on all sides, while the artist Cozens drew the huts that were scattered about the landscape. He openly declared how fondly he felt attached to a pastoral life, and to scenes like those of the Tyrol, enamelled with the wild flowers in which he luxuriated. The traveller next drove furiously along the causeways by the Brenta, and stopped but a very little time anywhere until he once more saw the domes of Venice rising out of the waters; and the fresh breeze bore to his ears the toll of innumerable bells. Sadness came over him on entering the Great Canal, and recalling those solemn palaces, with their arcades and gloomy arches, beneath which he had once before often sat, the locality [208] of strange adventures. Venice itself seemed deserted, most of the citizens being absent at their villas, on the Brenta. Here he went over all his previous walks; paid some visits; bathed in the Adriatic, and returned to the city, which appears to have been a favorite place, if not by climate, at least by agreeable associations. He began at one time to fancy St. Marks a mosque, and the neighbouring palaces a huge seraglio, fitted with arabesque saloons, embroidered sofas, and voluptuous Circassians.

He quitted Venice for Padua, where he remained, ten days. Before he left he determined to go to Mirabello, a house in the country, where Algarotti had lived, among the Euganean Hills, nine miles from Padua. The road was lovely, and the trees heavily laden with fruit. At the house where he was entertained a wild-looking little niece of the owner played the piano, and sang the voluptuous air of Bertoni's Armida. Coffee was served under branching lemon trees, on a terrace commanding a boundless scene; seas of corn and vine, and shrubby hillocks arising like islands out of the ocean of verdure.

Rome, imperial Rome was now revisited for a [209] week; and the arch of Titus, the Coliseo, and the Capitol. But a rinfresco after the close and dull fancies of Rome was studiously avoided. At night the Cupola of St. Peter was bright with twinkling illuminations.

The genius of Mr. Beckford thus early shunned pageantry. He moved off from the rejoicings to the Negroni garden, "to find that his soul desired," namely, thickets of jasmine, and wild spots overgrown with hay; long-neglected cypress alleys, almost impassable, owing to their luxuriance of vegetation; antique fragments, vases, sarcophagi, and altars sacred to the manes, in such deep, shady recesses, as he "was certain the manes must love." The air was filled with murmurs of water trickling down basins of porphyry, and lost amid weeds and grasses.

Night once came on as he was looking over the dreary waste of the Campagna. He saw the unwholesome vapours rising like blue mists from the plains, and fancied the malaria affected him, feeling chills and terrors, but the whole of these sensations departed as if by magic, and he returned home as well as he ever was in his life. [210] The breezes from the sea had restored him. He reached Naples on the 6th of July, 1782, and one day visited Portici with the first Lady Hamilton in an open chaise. They saw the Bosquetto, where no carriage except that of Sir William and of royalty itself was permitted to drive. Amongst wild bushes of ilex and myrtle stood graceful antique statues, and sometimes a fountain was discovered in the thicket, or some rude knoll arose, from whence the blue glittering bay disclosed its waters. Here Peruvian aloes, with white blossoms, scented like those of the magnolia, formed rich clusters. The King's Pagliaro was in a small garden, with hedges of luxurious jessamine, the branches of which were suffered to wander at their own sweet will. Mr. Beckford was greatly pleased at the neatness and simple character of the spot. In the middle of the room was a table covered with a Persian carpet; and at one end four niches with silken mattresses, where the king and his favourites reposed after dinner; at the other was a white marble basin. He then ascended a small staircase which led to a room, the windows of which domineered over a garden, not [211] laid out in flourishing parterres, but divided into plots of fragrant herbs and flowers, with here and there a little marble table or basin of the purest water. All these were looked after with great care. There were lettuces growing there, and other vegetables as fresh and green as in an English garden.

In one part of the journey, before he reached Rome, Mr. Beckford and his party were taken for the Emperor of Austria, who was supposed to be paying an incognito visit to Rome. Even the cardinal legates and other important personages were thus under a deception. The numerous mobs encountered, and the curiosity testified was excessive. The mistake was very useful in expediting the means of travelling, but on the other hand gave a very imperial complexion to the inn reckonings. It was found a task of difficulty to undeceive the greater part of the hosts on the way, who were obstinately fond of adhering to their profitable error.

Upon his return home, in the latter part of the year 1782, it is most probable that he composed Vathek, because in the following year he married, and went abroad with his bride [212] immediately, remaining for the most part in Switzerland until near the end of 1786. The only guide to this surmise is the fact that he stated to Mr. Redding* that he composed Vathek in the twenty-second year of his age. It is possible that in the winter of 1781 or in the first two or three months of the following year, before he went to the continent the second time, he might have completed this extraordinary story. It has been shewn that in October the rejoicings took place on his coming of age. His twenty-second year must have been between the end of September, 1781, and 1782, and he went abroad in the spring, and did not return to England until his twenty-second year had nearly run out its sand. He was at Fonthill for the most part in the autumn of 1781 and the commencement of 1782, and there can be little doubt that having flung off the rule of tutors and guardians, he expatiated freely in oriental lore, his favourite literature, which he studied furtively before he was of age, and the love of which remained with him to the last. The arbitrary power of the rulers of the east, and the obsequiousness of their [213] subjects, seemed congenial to his notions of that magnificence, which, accompanying power, had delighted him in his early reading, and caused the remonstrances from his tutor, and cautions from the Earl of Chatham. Yet it is a proof of his powers of application thus almost clandestinely exerted, that he acquired a knowledge both of the Arabic and Persian sufficient to translate them freely. That this was the case was shown by his publication of a tale entitled "Al Raoui,"* a story only printed in 1799, but its translator informs us translated sixteen years before, which would date back to 1783, about the time of his marriage, and near the period to which allusion is now making – the period to which it more properly belongs.

The tale of Al Raoui it is probable was an attempt to try his skill in eastern translation, a sort of essay with his wings before he adventured upon a higher flight in Vathek. On this account, and still more on that of some verses contained in the same volume, which plainly [214] allude to the conjugal state in which he was about to enter, written in the fashionable style of poetry in those days, it seems doubly suitable to introduce the work at the date at which we have the author's authority for fixing both the translation of the tale and the composition of the verses.

This little work, comprizing only about sixty pages of letter-press, is inscribed to a Mrs. Cuthbert verbatim as follows:

"My dear Madam, – It is usual with the Easterns to retain an attendant, for the sake of amusing them with ingenious recitals; and Al Raoui, or the Taleteller, is the title they give him. If this story of the Emir's, an adept in his art, can afford you any amusement, it will be highly gratifying to the Translator."

A preface followed this dedication, which shows that the translation was made about the time its author wrote Vathek - namely, in 1782-3. It may not be uninteresting, therefore, to give it as it stands in the little volume where it appeared, the reader again bearing in mind that it was not published until sixteen years after Vathek.

[215] "In the preface to the History of Vathek, a collection of Tales is mentioned, of which this story is one. It was translated above sixteen years since, and still would have remained in oblivion, but for the notice of a MS. possessed by Captain Scott, which occurs in Major Ouseley's very curious collections. The contents of a tale, as there expressed, suggested the persuasion of its identity with this; or, at least, of its being very similar to it: for, of the Arabian Nights, it deserves to be remarked, that no two transcripts are found to be the same. Indeed, it would be strange if they were; for, setting aside design in the person reciting them, each tale in recital must, more or less, vary.

"If Captain Scott, who is pre-eminently qualified to render them justice, could be induced to translate his own collection, it is impossible to say how great an obligation he, by it, would confer on the public.

"Mr. Browne, in his Travels in Africa, Egypt, and Asia, just published, mentions a circumstance which, as illustrating a remark in the following story, is for that reason subjoined.

“'When a firmân, or mandate, is received in [216] Egypt from Constantinople, the beys are summoned to the castle to hear the commands of the Porte. Those who attend, as soon as the reading is finished, answer, as is usual, Esmana wa taâna – we have heard, and we obey.'

"Since the foregoing preface was sent to the press, it is found that Captain Scott has undertaken the translation of his MS.; and that the original Arabic of this tale will be inserted from it in Major Ouseley's collections."

Thus far proceeds the introduction to the translation, which is printed in Mr. Beckford's volume both in English and German. Why it should appear in the latter tongue is not accounted for, unless the translations were both made by Mr. Beckford, which is likely enough to have been the case. The German is the exact counterpart of the English, with the dedication to Mrs. Cuthbert verbatim. Al Raoul has been thus connected with Vathek by its translator, and is almost unknown to the public, whom it will not fail to interest, perfectly simple as it is.


"THERE was formerly an Emir of Grand Cairo, whose company was more sought for his genius than his rank. One day, being very sad, he turned to an attendant, and said, 'My heart is dejected, and I know not the cause; relate to me some story to dissipate my grief.' Al Raoui, with whom hearing was obedience, replied: 'The great deem stories an antidote to chagrin; if you will allow me, I will tell my own.'

“In the days of my youth, I became enamoured of a beautiful damsel, who, with symmetry of features, had a skin pure as snow. She dwelt with her father and mother, and I, only to behold her, often passed by their door. Going thither one day, as was my custom, and finding no one within, I asked of their neighbours whither they were gone? It was told me they had changed their habitation, and were departed to dwell in the Valley of Camels. This greatly afflicted my heart. Not being able to live any longer without her, I relinquished my all to seek her abode. That evening 1 saddled my [218] camel, girded on my sabre, mounted the beast, and set forth.

"The night was dark, the road difficult, and perplexed by precipices and torrents. To increase my distress, I was surrounded by the howlings of the desert. Notwithstanding, I blessed God for whatever might occur, and went on as before. At length, drooping with fatigue, drowsiness oppressed me; and, subdued by its power, I dozed as I rode. Whilst thus slumbering, my camel went astray; but, proceeding slowly, I did not awake till my forehead was stricken by the branch of a tree. As day was beginning to dawn, I discerned by the faint glimmering that I had wandered widely from my way. 'We cannot go against God's will!' said I,' to myself; 'we must be content with whatever may happen!" Reasoning in this manner, I turned my eyes on all sides, and beheld pleasant gardens divided by streams, and birds that, incited by the beams of the morning, harmoniously blended their sweetest songs. Instantly alighting, I took my camel by the bridle, and walked onward, till I entered the land of Alfia.

[219] "Having thus recovered spirits, I remounted my beast, and not knowing whither I was come, entirely resigned her to the guidance of God. After crossing a delightful region, I found myself again on a wild. Then, I beheld a magnificent tent, whose awnings, of dazzling white, were waved by the breath of the morning, and, at glimpses, discovered the splendour within. Goats and sheep were pasturing round; a camel and horse stood near at their picket, but no human creature appeared. 'This is very strange!' said I to myself. At length, approaching, I called: 'Who is there? – doth not some good Mussulman inhabit this tent? Would he point out his way to a traveller bewildered?' Immediately came forth a youth, beautiful as the moon when leaving a cloud, she stoops from beneath it, into the clear blue sky. His dress gave a grace to his noble appearance. He saluted me with the accents of gentleness, and said: 'Brother Arab, you seem to have erred from your road?' I answered that I had, and trust you will guide me. 'Brother,' said he, 'the tracks here are imperfect, it now raineth, the night will be dark, and in this re- [220] gion are many wild beasts; alight, rest yourself with me, and to-morrow I will point out your way.' At these words I dismounted. Tying up my camel, he gave her some provender, and ushered me into his tent. When there seated, he left me, and departed in search of a sheep. Having killed and prepared it with savoury herbs, we placed ourselves at his table. The young man, during this repast, ceased not to sigh and weep. I divined that from love proceeded his tears; because, myself, being conscious of love, I judged he must love vehemently, for one knows not what honey is till we taste it. I wished to learn from him the state of his heart, but feared to appear indiscreet.

“When we had sufficiently eaten, he brought out, in a golden canteen, two bottles of crystal, one with musked rose-water, the other with wine; and a napkin of silk, bordered with gold. I washed my hands, admiring the magnificence and taste that my host had displayed. We then conversed for a while; after which, he introduced me to the interior of his tent, showed me a rich mattrass of green silk, furnished with curtains of the same colour, and retired, wishing [221] me refreshment from slumber. I undressed myself, and sunk at once into sleep. Never did I enjoy a more tranquil repose. The imagination possessed by what I had seen, and my soul soothed by the hospitality and deportment of my host, presented to me dreams of pleasantness and peace. After some hours of rest, I was awakened by a voice, more melodious than a lute. Softly drawing back the curtain, I discovered with mine host a young woman, lovely as the chief of the Houries. After a moment, I heard much whispering. Methought, at first, the beauty I saw was a daughter of the Genii in love with this youth, and sequestered here to enjoy him; for her look cast a radiance, like that of the sun, upon every object around: but I soon found her no other than a daughter of Arabia.

“Seeing them hand in hand as they entered, I easily perceived they were lovers, and could not refrain from blessing their lot. Immediately closing the curtains, I reposed my head on the pillow, and again yielded to sleep. In the morning, having put on my clothes, after ablution and prayer, 1 went to mine host. We [222] broke our fast together, but I asked no question of what I had seen. When our meal was ended, I said: 'Now, hope I, your kindness will shew me my way; it will be a favour conferred upon all that are passed.' 'Know,' replied he, 'it is a custom with the Arabs to lengthen their visits to the end of three days: moreover, your company is acceptable to me, and I shall rejoice if it please you to stay.' Finding myself constrained to fulfil his desire, I tarried with mine host till the fourth day came, and saw each night the damsel return. At the end of this time, I forbore no longer to ask him who he might be? He replied, 'I am one of the tribe of Beni Azra.' He then told me his name, the name of his father, and his father's brethren. On hearing these names, I knew him to be the son of my uncle, of the great tribe of Beni Azra. Of this I apprised him; and further inquired: 'Why, my kinsman, hast thou forsaken thy illustrious house to dwell alone in this desert?' No sooner had I spoken these words than he answered: 'I came, my cousin, to dwell in this desert, it being the abode of her whom I love. I am enamoured of the [223] daughter of my uncle, the second brother of my father; I sought her at his hands, but he denied my request, and betrothed her forthwith to another, our kinsman, who, having gone in to her, led her away to the place where he himself dwells. For the space of a year I was not myself, and being unable to live from her sight, I abandoned all to come hither. She whom my soul loveth abides at the foot of yonder mountain, and every evening returns to converse for an hour with me. It is for this comfort that here I remain, and trust, by God's favour, all will be well.' 'Then,' said I, 'when she shall come this evening, thou wilt seat her on my camel, take what thou hast which is precious, and go together with me; the foot of my beast is so fleet that, before the day can dawn, we shall be far removed from this place. Then wilt thou enjoy, without any to hinder, the solace of abiding with her whom thou lovest; and thou shalt be free to choose the abode of thine eyes; for the land of God is very wide: I also will help thee, to the utmost of my power.' This proposal pleased him well. He embraced it with a look of delight. We waited [224] patiently till evening should come, to hear what the damsel would say.

"When twilight drew on, we repaired to the door, earnestly expecting to see her approach. Each air seemed to bring the tread of her step. Her perfume he tried to inhale from the breeze. After anxiously waiting a long time in vain, 'My kinsman,' he cried, in a faltering voice, 'some misfortune most surely hath beset her on the way; abide my return, I will go forth to see.' On saying this, he entered the tent, snatched up his sabre, and went. In the space of two hours I saw him come back, with a bundle pressed under his arm. His visage was covered with the paleness of death. Trembling and bewildered he hurried towards me, and, dropping what he brought, fell lifeless at my feet. After some time he appeared again to revive, but his faintness gave way to the bitterest anguish. At length in distraction he loudly exclaimed, 'A lion hath met, hath devoured my beloved! – lo! her robe, her veil, and her blood! Here is all of her now that remains!' Having thus spoken, he continued for an hour entranced and speechless, gazing [225] on her vestments. Then, looking less wildly, he said, 'Remain! I am going, but soon shall return.'

"Within another hour he re-entered the tent, bearing in his hand the head of the lion. This casting on the ground, he asked me for water, and having washed off the gore, he kissed its mouth. His tears now gushed forth afresh, and beholding with stedfastness the object of horror, till then muffled up in a warp of her dress, he uttered a groan that cleft through my heart.

"I approached, he grasped my hand, and said, 'I conjure thee, by the love of our kinswoman - by the friendship we have mutually sworn – to keep this adventure undivulged to our kin; let it not depart from thy lips. May the memory of my misfortune, as well as my felicity - so short in duration - be for ever buried in oblivion. I shall soon be no more. When I am dead, wash me, put on me the robe of my beloved, and inter me with her remains, in the door of this tent. All it contains is thine. Mayest thou enjoy it more happily than I!' At these words he retired to the inmost apart- [226] ment: in another hour coming forth, he sunk upon the earth, compressed my hands, and expired.

"Amazed at the sight, I at first wished for death, but soon recollected the injunctions he had given. Having washed, I interred him, according to his will, and tarried three days to lament by his grave. Then, full of affliction from this woful event, instead of proceeding to the Valley of Camels, I returned to the place of my former abode, for the evil thus witnessed had healed me of love."

In his partiality for eastern manners and literature, amid a strong attachment for the classical schools of antiquity, something must be conceded to the splendour which the oriental imagery presents to an active imagination. Accustomed to airy dreams, and to give way to the illusions of fancy, there were ever present desires of a more extended grasp, which efforts were continually made to accommodate to the every-day scenes of existence. The repeated wish to increase the possession of objects of art, is the desire akin to the ambition for raising a fortune or making a high reputation. It is an [227] ambition more refined than those which actuate the mass of mankind, but it has still the same origin. Man thinks he must be blest in something, and in that to which his mind has a partiality before everything else. He only hopes the more because he hopes in vain. It is probable that Mr. Beckford never fully realized any one of the objects of his ambition. His collections of engravings, for example, were exceedingly fine; but now and then accident discovered a better copy here and there, and that which was good yesterday was put by to-day for what was better. His advance this way was continual. It was the same with his extensive reading. He used to say that every day he learned something new; that when he regarded it, he was tempted to ask himself cui bono, that life was a stinted space in which to carry out but a very little of what man acquired. He could not help reading and reflecting, while conscious of the impossibility of putting what he acquired to the smallest practical benefit. Still he would get an increase of knowledge, because its acquirement was a substantial enjoyment.

[228] At the time young Beckford was thus busy in studying Oriental literature, he did not neglect the art of making verses. At that period, and for a score of years afterwards, Strephons and Delias, shepherds and groves, purling streams and perfumed zephyrs, were the materials of the young poet's song. The following are some of his youthful metrical productions, published in the same volume as the translation to which allusion has just been made, and quite in the strain of the portion of the eighteenth century between Goldsmith and Cowper. The author stated that,

"The verses which follow were long ago printed, but with more defects than their own. They have here been annexed for the sake of correcting them."

If memory does not fail the present writer, they originally appeared either in the "Gentleman's" or "Universal" Magazine, between 1775 and 1780, which alludes to the words, "long ago printed." The first lines were simply inscribed –

[229] VERSES.

By the side of the stream that strays through the grove,
I met in a ramble the blithe God of Love;
His bow o'er his shoulder was carelessly tied,
His quiver in negligence clank'd at his side.
A grasp-full of arrows he held to my view,
Each wing'd with a feather that differ'd in hue.
"This fledged from the eagle," he smiling begun,
I aim at the heart that no danger will shun;
“And this from the peacock, all gaudy array'd,
The breast of Sir Fopling is sure to invade;
When I aim at the prattler, who talks void of wit,
My shaft in the plume of a parrot will hit;
And when I've a mind that the jealous should smart,
An owl-feathered arrow will pierce through his heart.
For the youth in whom truth and fondness reside,
From the breast of a dove my dart is supplied;
This I value the most: and this 'twas, I found,
From you, O my Delia, that gave me the wound."


If aught of bliss sincere hath o'er been given.
To those who dwell so far beneath the skies;
That bliss, which makes earth a present heaven,
Can only from the purest passions rise.

Say, do not storms uproot the lofty oak,
That crowns with majesty the mountain's brow;
While lowly shrubs escape the thunder's stroke,
And wave their verdure in the vale below?

[230] Say, does that soil whose bosom gold contains,
From its rich lap in more profusion throw,
Of sweeter flower, than scent unpillag'd plains,
Where baneful gold hath ne'er been taught to glow?

Say, does that haughty bird whose gaudy train
Attracts the full gaze of the splendid day,
Pour from the heart so soothing, sweet a stain,
As modest Philomela's melting lay?

Ambition, avarice, and the pomp of pride,
Seductive oft, may lure unheedful eyes,
But ne'er can tempt my right-on foot aside;
These who pursue, will ne'er obtain the prize.

Remote from envy, far from madding strife,
I nothing want, of competence possessed;
Amid the scenes of mild domestic life,
I'll seek, by blessing other, to be blessed.

Be mine the first, the most endearing care,
That nought may e’er disturb my Delia's joy;
Whate'er to her could cause the lightest fear,
Would instant all my happiness destroy.

For her I'd wake even at the glimpse of dawn,
And blithesome at the heavy plough would toil;
Anticipating, ere my wished return,
The ready welcome of an heart-felt smile.

When Autumn o'er our fields her produce spreads,
And vying reapers bend in adverse rows;
With pleasure she the yellow landscape treads,
And wipes the dews of labour from their brows.

[231] Should sickness e'er molest my menial train.
With lenient hand she'd every grief assuage;
Her sympathy would draw the sting of pain,
Revive the young, and charm e'en wayward age.

Should some kind friend frequent our humble shed,
With studious ease she'd grace the frugal board,
Before our guest her rural treasures spread,
Nor boast a treat but what our grounds afford.

Should some bewildered traveller as he strays.
Protection seek beneath our sheltering roof,
For him we'll make the cheerful hearth to blaze,
Of hospitality the promptest proof.

The hallowed raptures of the bridal bed,
When first entranced we sealed our mutual vow,
Transport less poignant through the bosom sped
Than yields the fond delight that fills us now.

Ah, speak, my Delia, thy overflowing heart,
When cradled in thine arms the tender boy
With filial smile doth first begin t'impart,
He knows his mother, source of al [sic] his joy.

Or when around my knees the infant band,
In clambering contest seek the envied kiss;
Impetuous, each extends the pleading hand,
T’ assert his claim, and all obtain the bliss.

While we, in sportive contest, strive to trace,
In which each parent's semblance most prevails,
Their father's vigour, and thy winning grace,
In varied mixture o'er each feature steals.

[232] Oft when the little tongue but ill can tell
The sprightly fancies in their brain that rise;
With keen attention thou explain'st them well,
And readest the meaning in their speaking eyes.

"Delightful task the tender thought to rear,
To teach the young idea how to shoot!"
To prune each impulse that a vice might bear,
And tend with fostering hand the ripening fruit.

When tottering lambkins from the searching air,
Unable yet the fresh world to sustain,
Demand the fold, be theirs the tender care,
Nor will she hear the sufferers bleat in vain.

When timid red-breast, pinch'd by taming cold,
Enters our friendly cot in search of food,
Be their's the joy to make the stranger bold,
And learn the luxury of doing good.

Thus with their opening minds our pleasures spread,
While they in all that's just and generous thrive,
Till autumn's mellowing hour our days o'ershade,
Then in our scions we'll again revive.

Fond memory then shall make us feel anew
Those happy hours when first you touched my heart;
Recall each dear idea to our view,
When you that wounded, smiling eased the smart.

Then in my boys some lovely maid I’ll woo,
Whose virtues and whose form resemble thine;
While in your girls shall pay their court to you,
Some honest youth, whose bosom glows like mine.

[233] And when at length draws on the gloom of death,
We'll praise our God for all his blessings given;
In gentle slumber yield our easy breath,
And, both transported, wake to bliss in heaven!

These lines are not equal in poetical merit to the prose of the "Memoirs of Extraordinary Painters," much less to that of Vathek; but to write well in prose and in verse are different gifts. At the opening of manhood, the dreams of sexual affection naturally occupy the mind; and in men of genius, and of no genius at all, break forth in rhyme. Young Beckford's verses speak of a heart in the right place, and if they are not such as would draw attention at present, for poetical merit, still less would the subject attract. It must be recollected that nearly four-score years have passed away since they were composed; that the present taste is not directed towards the simple and natural, but towards the complex, indefinite, and incomprehensible in poetry. Lucid meaning and simplicity of subject were once prevalent.

In the volume from which the above was extracted, there occurs only one other piece of poetry, purporting to be written at the close of winter, [234] to a friend just leaving a favourite retirement, previous to settling abroad.” [sic]

It is probable the title was given to conceal the self reference. There is the author's love of country life and the romantic in every line; his fondness for nature, and the effect of its images upon his fancy. In all events the lines record his close observation of rural scenes and objects, at a time when most young men of fortune and consideration, hold such things in very low estimation, compared with "fandango, race, and route." They are as follow: –

"Ere yet your footsteps quit the place
Your presence long hath deigned to grace,
With softening eye and heart deplore
The conscious scenes your own no more.

When vernal clouds their influence shower,
Expend the bud, and rear the flower,
Who to yon leafy grove will come,
Where the rath primrose loves to bloom,
And fondly seek, with heedful tread,
The forward flowrets' downy head?
Or, when the violet leaves the ground,
Scent the pure perfume breathing round;
The garden tribes that gladlier grew,
While cherished by your fostering view,
No more disclose their wonted hues,
No more their wonted sweets diffuse!

[235] Who first will spy the swallows' wing?
Or hear the cuckoo greet the spring?
Unmark'd shall then the assiduous dove
With ruffling plumage urge his love;
Unnoted, though in lengthened strain,
The bashful nightingale complain!
O'er the wide heath who then delight,
Led by the lapwing's devious flight,
To see her run, and hear her cry,
Most clamorous with least danger nigh!

Who, sauntering oft, will listless stay.
When rustics spread the unwithered hay,
And o'er the field survey askance
The wavy vapour-quivering dance;
Or, sunk supine, with musing eye,
List to the hum of noonday fly?
Or watch the bee from bell to bell,
Where sheltered lilies edge the dell!
Or, mid the sultry heat inclined,
Beneath the poplar woo the wind;
While to the latest air that strays,
Each leaf its hoary side displays.

Who drawn by nature's varying face,
O'er heaven the gathering tempest trace
Or, in the rear of sunny rain,
Admire the wide bow's gorgeous train,
Till, blended, all its tints decay,
And the dimm'd vision fleets away,
In misty streams of ruddy glow,
That cast an amber shine below;
[236] And, melting into ether blue,
The freshened verdure gild anew.

Who now ascend the upland lawn,
When morning tines the kindling dawn,
To view the goss'mer pearl'd with dew,
That glistening shoots each mingling hue?
Or mark the clouds in liveries gay,
Precede the radiant orb of day?
Who, when his amplest course is run,
Wistful pursue the setting sun?
To common eyes he vainly shines;
Unheeded rises, or declines!

In vain with saffron light o'erspread.
Yon summit lifts its verdant head,
Defining clear each whitened cote,
And tuft of copse, to eye remote;
While down the sidelong steep, each oak,
Outbraving still the woodman's stroke.
Detains, athwart the impurpling haze,
A golden glance of westering rays.
The rook-loved groves, and grange between,
Dark hedge-row elms, with meadows green;
The grey church peeping through the trees;
Slopes waving corn, as wills the breeze;
The podding bean-field, striped with balks;
The hurdled sheepfold; hooftrod walks;
The road that winds aslant the down;
The yellow furze brake; fallow brown;
The windmill's scarcely circling vane;
The villagers' returning wain;
The orient window's crimson blaze,
Obtrusive flaring on the gaze;
[237] The eager heifer's echoing low,
Far from her calf compelled to go;
From topmost ash the throstle's lay,
Bidding farewell to parting day;
The dale's blue smokes, that curling rise;
The toil-free hind that homeward hies;
The stilly hum from glimmering wood;
The lulling lapse of distant flood;
The whitening mist that widening spreads,
As winds the brook adown the meads;
The plank and rail that bridge the stream;
The rising full moon's umbered gleam,
'Twixt severing clouds that, richly dight,
Let gradual forth her brigtening light;
No more the onward foot beguile,
Where pollards rude protect the stile.

Whose look now scans the dusky sphere,
To note succeeding stars appear;
Who now the flushing dawn descries,
That upward streams o'er northern skies?
Or the wan meteor's lurid light,
That, headlong trailing, mocks the sight?
'Mid the lush grass, who now require,
The glow-worm's ineffectual fire?
Or catch the bells from distant vale,
That load by fits the freshening gale,
Till, flurried from her ivied spray,
The moping owl re-wing her way?

When autumn sere the copse invades,
No more you haunt the woodland glades,
[238] To eye the change from bough to bough,
Or eddying leaf descending slow;
That, lighting near her calm retreat,
Prompts the shy hare to shift her seat;
Or peering squirrel nimbly glean,
Each nest that hung before unseen;
Or flitting down from thistle born,
Or glossy haw that crowds the thorn,
Whence oft in saws observers old
Portend the length of winter's cold!

Waked by the tail's redoubling sound,
When spangling hoar-frost cusps the ground,
No more forego bewildering sleep,
To climb with health yon airy steep!
When deepening snows oppress the plain,
The birds no more their boon obtain;
The red-breast hovering round your doors,
No more the stated men implores!
Where all that needed found relief,
No tearful eye laments their grief;
No lenient hand dispels their pain,
Fainting they sue, yet sue in vain.

But though the scenes you now deplore,
With heart and eye be yours 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;
[239] Through memory's power, and fancy's aid,
The pictured phantoms ne'er shall fade.
And, oh! where'er your footsteps roam,
Where'er you fix your future home,
May joys attending crown the past,
And heaven's best mansion be your last!"

The rural images and allusions in these lines show further his early observations of nature, and his strong attachment to what had been closely and well noted in the morning of life, and not only noted but felt. The author being on the eve of taking his departure for Switzerland, renders it probable that these lines were a record of his feelings at the moment. The romantic South strongly attached him to its scenery, as was plainly shewn after his marriage. Such objects as he here depicts were the reverse of those which his friends desired, when they hoped to see him cut a great political figure in the world. On the other hand, he always openly avowed his preference for study. His fitting pursuits were literature and art, in place of wading through the mud of political tergiversation and intrigue. Even while he sat in parliament he confessed a distaste for its forma- [240] lities, as well as an absence of all political ambition. He had not the bold effrontery to bandy words with opponents whom in his heart he might despise; neither could he out-brazen or cajole others with the dexterity of a leading man in office. He was of an uncompromising disposition; too rigid ever to yield in what he thought right. His mind was too highly cultivated. He cut no figure in parliament while he sat there. To be under the control of those in whom he felt no interest, if he did not despise them with his fiery temper, and to sacrifice independent action, did not suit him. From his youth nature and study had been his choice in a small circle of intelligent persons. His innate pride was greater than that of most other men, he was more susceptible of an affront, and less willing to expose himself to it with a corresponding make-weight to his own satisfaction. These things he must have encountered by entering the field of politics, and from them, besides being prompted by his natural hauteur, he shrunk. In this sense, indeed, he was a shy man, one touched with mauvaise honte. He had too much intellect and genius, and not [241] craft enough, nor a front sufficiently unblushing to adapt him to public life, being incapable of justifying everything by an equivocal or crooked policy.


[p. 212] * See N. M. Magazine, vol. lxxi.
[p. 213] * The Story of Al Raoui, a tale from the Arabic. London, printed by Whittingham. M. C. Geisweild, Pall Mall, and sold by Robinsons, 1799.

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