Lewis Melville:
"William Beckford"
Some Eccentrics & a Woman
London 1911
pp. 189-215

William Beckford

It may be said with truth that there were few famous men born in the eighteenth century of whom less is known than of William Beckford of Fonthill, the author of "Vathek." There is an abundance of legend, as little trustworthy as most legends, but of the man as he was few people have even a remote conception. This may be partly because there has been no biography of him worthy of the name; but it is, probably, due even more largely to the fact that he led a secluded life. It is certain that stories concerning him, invariably defamatory and usually libellous, were circulated so far back as the days of his minority; and that these were revived when, after his Continental tours, he settled at Fonthill. Then the air of mystery that enveloped him created grave suspicion in the minds of his fox-hunting neighbours. Everything he said was misrepresented and regarded as evidence against him, until so strong was the feeling that it was looked upon by his country neighbours as disgraceful to visit him. This, however, did not prevent Nelson or Sam Rogers or Sir William Hamilton from going to Fonthill, nor, later, did it prevent his acquaintance with Benjamin Disraeli. Notwithstanding, Beckford was accused of almost every conceivable crime, and John Mitford, in one of his unpublished [190] note-books, solemnly recorded that Beckford was accused of poisoning his wife at Cintra. There was no more truth in any other accusation than in this of causing the death of a woman to whom he was deeply attached and whose loss he sincerely mourned. Thirty years after her death, Rogers noticed that there were tears in Beckford's eyes while he was talking of her.

This, however, was but one of many slanders. It was said that Beckford built the high wall round his estate of Fonthill that his orgies might be carried on unperceived - the wall was built because no mere request would keep the hunters off his land, and he could not bear to see the death agonies of a fox. It was said that he kept a number of dwarfs, and with their aid performed blasphemous rites and indulged in magical incantations - he had in his service one dwarf, Piero, whom he had rescued in some Italian town from a cruel father. Even so recently as nine years ago an anonymous writer thought it worth while to record in a literary journal the reminiscences of an elderly lady, who lived at Bath when Beckford resided in that city, who was a child then, and who had no acquaintance with him. This elderly lady stated that "a species of paroxysm would seize Beckford if he saw a woman" - yet a line before she speaks of his [191] riding through the streets of Bath! Were the women of Bath on these occasions, it is legitimate to ask, commanded, like the inhabitants of Coventry when Lady Godiva took her famous airing, to keep out of sight? or was Beckford seen to have paroxysm after paroxysm as his horse took him through the narrow streets of the quaint old city? The same authority relates that at Beckford's house in Lansdown Crescent (Bath) niches were constructed in the walls of the staircase, so that the female servants could conceal themselves when they heard their master's footsteps; and that one girl, to satisfy her curiosity as to what Beckford would do if he saw her, had her curiosity fully satisfied, for the "womanhater, in a paroxysm of fury, seized her by the waist and threw her over the banisters." This suggests a new version of the Peeping Tom episode, and also brings to mind the nursery rhyme,

"He took her by the left leg and threw her down the stairs."

It is pleasant to be told that the misogynist generously bestowed on the injured maid a pension for life. The story is nearly as good, and doubtless quite as true, as that of the gentleman who killed a waiter at an inn and told the landlord, who thought he must send for the police, to charge it in the bill.

[192] The fact is that the majority of writers on Beckford have been willing to recount what they have heard, without making any attempt at verification, even when such a task would not have been difficult. Beckford, we are told, was as likely to thrash a beggar in the streets as to give him alms. This is really the most truthful of all the charges brought against him, for it actually has for its foundation the fact that he once did strike a beggar! Here is the story: When Beckford was riding one day to Weston, a suburb of Bath, a man near his gates begged from him and received a coin; delighted with his success, the beggar watched which way the donor was going, took a short cut, and at another place again asked for alms, only to be recognised and struck with a whip.

The calumnies that pursued Beckford during his life, and his memory since his death, were bad enough, but the excuses that are made for him nowadays are worse. The writer already referred to as retailing the elderly lady's gossip, unable to account for Beckford's mysterious seclusion and other peculiarities, fell back upon the convenient suggestion of "a mental derangement." "We learn," he said, in support of his contention, "that at his death he showed scarcely a sign of age, a peculiarity frequently noticed, of [193] course, among those with similar mental aberrations." Another peculiarity frequently noticed, among those with similar mental aberrations, we may add, is that at their death many show every sign of age.

Many of those who do not suggest that Beckford was mad love to dwell upon his eccentricities; but an examination of their arguments shows that these eccentricities were limited to the building of Fonthill and a love of seclusion. His seclusion has been vastly exaggerated, and Fonthill was but the whim of a millionaire - a whim, moreover, prompted by a laudable desire to provide employment for the poor of the countryside. What a genius he had "Vathek" proves conclusively; how sane he was to the end of his days may be discerned from the letters written in the last years, even in the last month, of his long life.

The keynote of Beckford's character was enthusiasm. If he undertook anything it must be done forthwith; if he had a desire, he must satisfy it with the least possible delay. Thus, when he built Fonthill he had five hundred men working day and night; when he collected books, he did so with such vigour that in a few years he brought together one of the finest private libraries in the world. That last passion never deserted him, [194] and in his eighty-fourth year he studied catalogues as keenly, and was as impatient for news as to the success that had attended his agent, as when he began half-a-century earlier. Like most men he did not suffer bores gladly, but, unlike the majority, he would not have aught to do with them. Having a genius and a million, he lived his life as he pleased; while welcoming his friends, and opening wide his doors to distinguished writers, artists and musicians, he held the rest of the world at bay, and spent his days with his books and pictures, playing the piano, and superintending his gardens. So well did he order his life that when in his eighty-fifth year the flame was burning out, he could say truthfully, "I have never known a moment's ennui."

Beckford was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Wealth came to him from his father, the Alderman, and aristocratic connections from his mother, the daughter and co-heir of the Hon. George Hamilton, second surviving son of the Sixth Earl of Abercorn. Lord Chatham was his godfather, and when the Alderman died in 1770, not only did Lord Chatham, but also "the good Lord Lyttelton" and Lord Camden, interest themselves in the education of the ten-years-old lad, who, if he lived to attain his majority, would be the wealthiest commoner in England. The [195] Rev. John Lettice was his tutor; Sir William Chambers, who was then rebuilding Somerset House, taught him architecture; and he studied music under Mozart. He learnt declamation, too, and at an early age won the approval of his godfather by reciting with correct emphasis a passage from Thucydides which he had previously translated into English. "May you," the aged statesman said to his son William, "some day make as brilliant a speaker." The cynical may trace from this remark the dislike that subsequently existed between the younger Pitt and Beckford.

"Great pains were bestowed upon my education," Beckford said in his old age. "I was living amidst a fine collection of works of art, under competent tutors. I was studious and diligent from inclination. I was fond of reading whatever came in my way. After my classical studies were finished, and while I worked hard at Persian, I read French and English biographies of all sorts." How much he profited by his education, and how well he remembered what he read, is shown conclusively by the numerous allusions to men and books in the letters written when he was still a lad. He seems, indeed, to have been taught, or to have acquired by reading, some knowledge of most subjects, except, as he subsequently admitted regretfully, astronomy. Like most boys, he pre- [196] ferred the subjects of his own choosing to those he was compelled to study. A chance discussion as to whether the Abercorn branch of the Hamilton family from which his mother was descended was older than the ducal branch sent him early to books of genealogy, and his reading in this byway of history imbued him with a pride of race that nothing could eradicate. His father's ancestry did not satisfy him, and he studied the pedigree of his mother, and declared he could trace it to John of Gaunt. He claimed the distinction of being descended from all the barons (of whom any issue remained) who signed Magna Charta. At a very early age he came across a copy of "The Arabian Nights " - and this chance find had more effect upon his life and character than any other incident. He read and re-read these stories with avidity, and the impression they made on him was so strong that Lord Chatham instructed Lettice that the book must be kept from the boy. The precaution came too late, for, though the injunction was obeyed and for some years “The Arabian Nights" was withheld from him, the Oriental tales had taken possession of the impressionable reader to such an extent that he could never forget them. They had fired his youthful mind and held his imagination captive; their influence over him never waned all the days [197] of his life; and while they inspired him with the idea of "Vathek," they also fostered in him the love of magnificence, inherited from his father, that resulted in the erection of Fonthill Abbey and other extravagances. As a lad, owing to the hold the stories had over him, he became a dreamer and lived in an unreal world; and it is not surprising, therefore, that, though of an amiable disposition, he became wilful and capricious. "Little Beckford was really disappointed at not being in time to see you - a good mark for my young vivid friend," Lord Chatham wrote to William Pitt, 9th October 1773. "He is just as much compounded of the elements of air and fire as he was. A due proportion of terrestrial solidity will, I trust, come and make him perfect."

A boy of thirteen who is all "air and fire" is certain to be spoilt by a doting mother and made much of by visitors to the house, and Beckford's wit was so much encouraged by almost all of them that, in spite of Lettice's admonitions, he frequently got out of hand. Only his relative, the old Duchess of Queensberry - Gay's Duchess who lived in the neighbourhood, ventured to rebuke him when he treated her with some lack of respect at her house, without making any reply, she sent a servant for the great family [198] Bible, and made the boy read a passage from the Book of Solomon: "There it was, young man, that I learnt my manners," she said impressively; "I hope you will remember what you have read.

Mrs Beckford had refused to allow her son to go to school, and she objected as strongly to send him to a university, regarding the temptations that would there be held out to a young man of enormous wealth as more than counterbalancing the advantages. Eventually it was decided that the lad, now in his seventeenth year, should stay with his relatives, Colonel and Miss Hamilton, who lived at Geneva. Though for the first time emancipated from maternal control, Beckford, happy in his daydreams, showed no desire to kick over the traces. It was at this time that Beckford first gave expression to his intention to adopt a mode of life different from that led by most fashionable young men.

"To receive Visits and to return them, to be mighty civil, well-bred, quiet, prettily Dressed, and smart is to be what your old Ladies call in England a charming Gentleman, and what those of the same stamps abroad know by the appellation of un homme comme il faut. Such an Animal how often am I doomed to be" (he wrote at the [199] age of seventeen, in a letter hitherto unpublished). "To pay and to receive fulsome Compliments from the Learned, to talk with modesty and precision, to sport an opinion gracefully, to adore Buffon and d'Alembert to delight in Mathematics, logick, Geometry, and the rule of Right, the mal morale and the mal physique, to despise poetry and venerable Antiquity, murder Taste, abhor imagination, detest all the charms of Eloquence unless capable of mathematical Demonstration, and more than all, to be vigorously incredulous, is to gain the reputation of good sound Sense. Such an Animal I am sometimes doomed to be. To glory in Horses, to know how to knock up and how to cure them, to smell of the stable, swear, talk bawdy, eat roast beef, drink, speak bad French, go to Lyons, and come back again with manly disorders, are qualifications not despicable in the Eyes of the English here. Such an Animal I am determined not to be."

After a year and a half's absence Beckford was summoned to England, where he stayed for some months, visiting various cities and country houses, and composing his first book, "Biographical Memoirs of Extraordinary Painters." It was well in keeping with the curious contradictions of Beckford's character, that, while his letters before [200] and after, and even while he was engaged upon the "Memoirs," were so full of dreams, this work should be an amusing burlesque. "I will explain the origin of the 'Memoirs,'" Beckford said to Cyrus Redding in 1835, fifty-five years after its publication. "The housekeeper at old Fonthill, as is customary, used to get her fee by exhibiting the pictures to those who came to see the building. Once or twice I heard her give the most extraordinary names to different artists. I wondered how such nonsense could enter the brain of woman. More than this, in her conceit she would at times expatiate upon excellencies of which the picture before her had no trace. The temptation was irresistible in my humour. I was but seventeen My pen was quickly in hand composing the 'Memoirs.' In future the housekeeper had a printed guide in aid of her descriptions. She caught up my phrases; the fictitious names of the wives, too, whom I had given to my imaginary painters, were soon learned in addition; her descriptions became more picturesque, her language more graphic than ever, to the sight-seeing people. Mine was the text-book, whoever exhibited the paintings. The book was soon on the tongues of all the domestics. Many were the quotations current upon the merits of Og of Basan and Watersouchy of Amsterdam. Before a picture of Rubens [201] or Murillo there was often a charming dissertation upon the pencil of Herr Sucrewasser of Vienna, or that great artist, Blunderbussiana of Venice. I used to listen unobserved until I was ready to kill myself with laughter, at the authorities quoted to the squires and farmers of Wiltshire, who took all for gospel. It was the most ridiculous thing in effect you can conceive. Between sixty and seventy years ago people did not know as much of the fine arts as they do now. Not but that they have still much to learn." The biographies of Aldrovandus Magnus of Bruges, of Andrew Guelph and Og of Basan, disciples of the former, of Sucrewasser of Vienna, Blunderbussiana of Dalmatia, and Watersouchy of Amsterdam, make up, as the author said in his last years, "a laughable book"; but, indeed, it is more than that, for it contains much brilliant satire on the Dutch and Flemish schools, showing that the writer, although so young, had profited by his early training in art. "[It is] a performance," Lockhart wrote in 1834, "in which the buoyancy of juvenile spirits sees of the results of already extensive observation, and the judgments of a refined (though far too fastidious and exclusive) taste."

In June 1780 Beckford, with Lettice again as his companion, went abroad for the second time, [202] and visited Holland, Germany, Austria and Italy, staying for a while at Naples with his relative, Sir William Hamilton, whose first wife was then living. During this tour the young traveller made notes that soon after he expanded and printed under the title of "Dreams, Waking Thoughts, and Incidents." This book is composed of impressionist sketches made as his mind dictated, and nowhere did he allow himself to be shackled by the rules laid down by the compilers of works of travel. If anyone wants full particulars of a town, either topographical or historical, it is not to "Dreams, Waking Thoughts, and Incidents" he must turn; but if he desires exquisite wordpictures inspired by a brilliant imagination and conveyed with great literary skill, these he can find to his heart's content. The story goes that the book was suppressed by the author acting on the advice of his friends, who represented that the brilliant imagination therein displayed would create a prejudice against him when he should enter the practical field of public life, but it can scarcely be contended that this was the reason why at the eleventh hour it was withdrawn. As a matter of fact there were rumours, started no one knows how, of grave misconduct on Beckford's part, and probably it was thought that the tendency to romance laid bare in the work might give [203] some colour to them. These rumours endured through Beckford's life, and the scandal was certainly widely circulated, but there seems to have been absolutely no grounds whatever for the charges. That Beckford should deny the charges was a matter of course, and, indeed, he protested passionately against them; but even John Mitford, an envenomed critic of his brother-author, had to admit that Samuel Richard White, Beckford's solicitor, who knew more about the matter than anyone else, after his client's death as during his life, declared his firm belief in Beckford's innocence.

In due course there were the coming-of-age festivities at Fonthill, and then another Continental tour, when Beckford was accompanied by so large a suite that at Augsburg he was mistaken for the Emperor of Austria, who at the time was known to be travelling incognito to Italy. Early in 1783, when he was two and twenty years of age, he came to England, saw, wooed, and married Lady Margaret Gordon, the sole surviving daughter of the Fourth Earl of Aboyne.

The years 1783 to 1786 make little call upon Beckford's biographer. The honeymoon had been spent in travelling, and when it was over the bride and bridegroom, still ardent lovers, stayed for a while at Cologny, near Geneva. Towards [204] the end of the year, having made up their minds to sojourn for an indefinite period under southern skies, they decided to rent a more commodious residence, and took up their quarters at the Château de la Tour, near Vevey. There, in June 1784, was born a daughter, Susan Euphemia, and, on 14th May 1786, another, Margaret Maria Elizabeth. A fortnight later the young mother died. The marriage had been an ideal union, and Beckford's grief was terrible. His friends, fearful of his losing his reason or taking his life, moved him from place to place, hoping that change of scene might distract his thoughts, even momentarily, from the loss. To some extent this plan was successful, for after some weeks Beckford became again a reasonable being. He allowed arrangements to be made for his children to live with his mother, then residing at West End, between the villages of Hampstead and Kilburn; but himself continued to move restlessly from town to town, seeking, not change of place so much as change of thought. Though time mercifully mitigated the transports of his grief, it never ousted from his mind the memory of his gracious, beautiful wife. Rarely he spoke of her, but when he did mention her it was in a way which made it clear that she was always in his mind; though his wealth and genius made him the target of [205] fortune-hunters, he never even thought to marry again; and his tender memories of her, enduring through the passage of years, acting upon an emotional nature, may have had more to do with his subsequent retirement than is generally supposed.

Before Beckford left England for his second Continental tour he had begun the composition of a "Suite des Contes arabes." Of this the principal story was "Vathek," which he completed while he was abroad. He sent the manuscript in 1783 to his friend, the Rev. Samuel Henley, who was delighted with it, and volunteered to translate it into English. The offer was accepted, but Henley proceeded leisurely with the work, which, with the notes added by him, was not finished until early in 1786. Beckford, however, was desirous to insert in "Vathek" the stories of the Princes whom his hero met in the Hall of Eblis, and he told Henley that on no account must the publication of the translation precede that of the original. Henley, however, ignored the author's injunction, and issued the translation later in the year, and made matters worse by stating that the tale was of Eastern origin: Beckford hereupon made the only rejoinder in his power, and issued the French original at Lausanne.

[206] After bringing his children to England Beckford returned to the Continent, where he remained until 1794, visiting Spain and Portugal, where he wrote another book of travels, and staying for some time in Paris, where he witnessed the fall of the Bastille and the execution of Louis XVI. At Paris he was at one time mistaken for an English spy, and he was in danger of arrest, from which he was saved by the devotion of the second-hand bookseller, Chardin, who contrived his escape in disguise to England, for which he was rewarded by Beckford with a pension. Subsequently Beckford endeavoured, through his agent at Paris, to set on foot, in 1797, negotiations for a peace between France and this country.

After 1794 Beckford seldom left England except to pay brief visits to Paris. At Fonthill he employed James Wyatt, the architect, to make improvements in the house his father had built; and subsequently he erected a new house, the famous Fonthill Abbey, a magnificent but unsubstantial Gothic structure. Once Beckford was asked if the Abbey was built from his own plan. "No, I have sins enough to answer for, without having that laid to my charge," he answered. "Wyatt had an opportunity of raising a splendid monument to his fame, but he missed [207] it." But whatever was said against the Abbey, no one had anything but praise for the gardens and park, which were, indeed, beautiful. Beckford lived at Fonthill until 1822, when, owing to the depreciation of his property in the West Indies, he sold the place and moved to Bath, where he remained until his death twenty-two years later.

Though Beckford had many visitors at Fonthill, he was singularly independent of company, having more resources in himself than usually falls to the lot of a man. "I love building, planting, gardening, whatever will keep me employed in the open air," he said ; and, while the Abbey was being built and the grounds laid out, he might have been seen at all hours of the day, and sometimes, too, at night, watching the progress of the operations. He charged himself with the welfare of his workmen, of whom there were never less than two hundred in his employ; he visited the poor on his estates, and made provision for those who could not help themselves.

Beckford's indoor occupations were numerous. It has been said, and with some show of reason, that he was the most accomplished man of his time. He was a good musician, he could sketch, he spoke five modern European tongues, and could write three of them with elegance, he was well [208] acquainted with Persian, Arabic, and, of course, the Latin and Greek classics; while his reading was at least as extensive as that of any of his contemporaries. Anyone who has these accomplishments can scarcely be dull, and Beckford, in addition, was an enthusiastic collector of books, pictures, and other treasures, in pursuit of which he frequently went to London to inspect the dealers' stocks of scarce volumes and fine paintings. Though he yielded to none in his love of tall copies, splendid bindings and rare editions, he was student as well as collector and it was characteristic of his tastes that while, in later life, he sometimes disposed of a picture, he never sold a book. Even as in his youth he secluded himself at Lausanne to read Gibbon's library, which he had purchased, so afterwards he rarely put on his shelves any volume until he had made himself acquainted with its contents; and, large as his library was, to the end of his days he could without a moment's hesitation put his hand on any book or print he possessed. It was his habit to annotate his books, and to write some brief criticism on the fly-leaf. Sometimes his comments covered three or four pages, and one of the most valuable items offered at the sale of his library, in 1882-1883, was this item, knocked down to Quaritch for forty-two pounds: "Beckfordiana. [209] Transcript from the autograph notes written by Mr Beckford on the fly-leaves of various works in his library, 7 vols., Manuscript (folio)." His comments were unusually shrewd, and often so caustic as to suggest that had he been obliged to earn his living he might well have turned an honest penny by contributing to one or other of the quarterlies in the days when severity was the motto of these periodicals.

In Wiltshire Beckford rarely went beyond the limits of his estate, except when driving to London; but at Bath he might occasionally be seen at a concert or a flower show, and not infrequently riding on his cream-coloured Arabian, either alone, attended by three grooms, two behind and one in front as an outrider, or in company with the Duke of Hamilton or a friend. He was always dressed in a great-coat with cloth buttons, a buff-striped waistcoat, breeches of the same kind of cloth as the coat, and brown top boots, the fine cotton stockings appearing over them, in the fashion of thirty or forty years before. He wore his hair powdered, and with his handsome face and fine eyes looked every inch the fine old English gentleman.

These appearances in public were the only difference between the life Beckford led at Fonthill and at Bath. In fine weather it was [210] his invariable custom to rise early, ride to the tower he had erected at Lansdown, look at the flowers, and walk back to his house for breakfast. He would then read until noon, transact business with his steward, and afterwards ride out for exercise, again visiting the tower, if there was any planting or building going on. After dinner, which in those days was served in the afternoon, unless he had a visitor, he would retire to his library, and occupy himself with his correspondence, his books and his prints, and the examination of catalogues of sales sent to him by the London dealers. This routine was seldom varied, except when he went to London, where by this time he had removed from No. 22 Grosvenor Square to a house, No. 127 Park Street, overlooking Hyde Park, which, owing to its somewhat unwholesome insanitary condition, he styled, and dated from, "Cesspool House." In 1841, because of its many defects, he gave up this residence.

The Bath aristocracy and the fashionable folk who flocked to the watering-place could not understand how books and pictures, music and gardens, could occupy anyone to the exclusion of participation in the gaieties of the town; and the rumours that had been current in Wiltshire society were revived with interest in the little [211] Somersetshire valley. The most awful crimes were placed to his account, and with them accusations of devil-worship and the study of astrology. Nothing was too terrible or too absurd with which to charge the man of mystery, and, we are told, "surmises were current about a brood of dwarfs that vegetated in an apartment built over the archway connecting his two houses; and the vulgar, rich and poor alike, gave a sort of half-credit to cabalistical monstrosities invoked in that apartment."

Though in his later years Beckford rarely indulged in the pleasures of authorship, he did not underrate his literary gifts, and he saw with pleasure that "Vathek" was taking the place in English literature to which it was entitled. New editions were called for, and in 1834 it took its place among Bentley's Standard Novels. The venture must have been profitable; for Bentley became Beckford's publisher-in-chief. He at once took over the "Biographical Memoirs of Extraordinary Painters," and in 1834 issued "Italy, with Sketches of Spain and Portugal" - a work that appeared in the same year also in Baudry's European Library, published in Paris. In 1835 Bentley brought out "Alcobaça and Batalha," and five years later republished this and the earlier book of travels in one volume - the last edition [212] of any of Beckford's books issued in the author's lifetime. Beckford's interest in the various publications was very considerable, and his annoyance with adverse critics is only to be compared with the anger he displayed when rival collectors at auction sales snatched treasures from his grasp. The adverse critics of "Italy, with Sketches of Spain and Portugal," however, were few and far between. It was, indeed, received with a chorus of praise, and no one cried "Bravo!" louder than Lockhart, who reviewed the work in The Quarterly Review.

Though Beckford lived to the patriarchal age of eighty-four, almost to the last hour of his life he enjoyed good health. It has already been said that when nearly eighty he declared he had never known a moment's ennui: few men have been able to say so much; yet there is no doubt this was true, for he had stumbled upon the secret that only the idle man is bored. Beckford was never idle; he had made so many interests for himself that every moment of his day was occupied. A man of his age who, in his last weeks, retains all his enthusiasms for his books, his prints and his gardens, may well claim that he has made a success of life. His intellectual power never waned, his sight was preserved to him unimpaired, and at seventy-eight he could read from manuscript [213] for an hour and a half without resting. When his last illness overtook him, he was busily engaged in marking a catalogue of M. Nodier's library, the sale of which at Paris his agent was to attend to make purchases : he was as enthusiastic about his collections at the age of eightyfour as he had been when he took up his residence at Fonthill fifty years before.

Physically, too, considering his great age, he was wonderfully active, and until within a few days of his death he took regular exercise on foot and on horseback. When he was seventy-seven he astonished a friend by mentioning that he had on the previous day at dusk ridden from Cheapside to his house in Park Street; and a year later he stated, "I never feel fatigue. I can walk twenty to thirty miles a day; and I only use my carriage (in London) on account of its being convenient to put a picture or book into it, which I happen to purchase in my rambles." At seventy-five his activity was so great that he could mount rapidly to the top, of the tower at Lansdown without halting - "no small exertion," comments Cyrus Redding feelingly, "for many who were fifteen or twenty years younger": and even eight years later, during his visits to London, he would ride to Hampstead Heath, or through Hyde Park, and along the Edgware Road to [214] West End, and pull up his horse opposite the spot where once had been the entrance to his mother's house.

Most men who live to an advanced age have some theory to account for it. Beckford had none, beyond believing that his days had probably been prolonged by the fact that his life had been temperate, and that, as he grew older, he took reasonable care of himself. "I enjoy too good health, feel too happy, and am too much pleased with life to have any inclination to throw it away for want of attention," he said. "When I am summoned I must go, though I should not much mind living another hundred years, and, as far as my health goes at present, I see no reason why I should not." Thus, when going out he would put on an overcoat, even if there were only the slightest wind stirring; and, however interested or amused he might be, he would always retire early; but while he took such precautions as these, he was in no sense a valetudinarian. His love of fresh air, and his activity, together with the regular life he led, undoubtedly had much to do with his attaining his great age.

Until the last week of April 1844, Beckford occupied himself in his usual way, walking and riding, and working in his library. Then influenza laid hold of him, and though he struggled man- [215] fully against it, at last there was no doubt that the end was near. He sent a last laconic note to his surviving daughter, the Duchess of Hamilton, "Come quick! quick!" and a day or two after her arrival, on 2nd May, he expired, with perfect resignation, and, we are told, so peacefully that those by his side could not tell the moment when he passed away.

His mortal remains were, on 11th May, interred in the Bath Abbey Cemetery; but soon after they were removed, and reburied, more appropriately, at Lansdown, under the shadow of his tower. On one side of his tomb is a quotation from "Vathek," "Enjoying humbly the most precious gift of heaven to man - Hope"; and on another these lines from his poem, "A Prayer":

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

Lewis Melville [Lewis S. Benjamin],
caricature by "Matt"
From the autobiography Not all the Truth,
London & New York 1929