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tled “Abdallah : les Aventures du Fils de Hanif, envoyé par le Sultan des Indes a la Découverte de l'Isle de Borico où est la Fontaine merveilleuse dont l'eau fait rajeunir.” “ There was nothing in Vathek,' says Mr. Redding, “that might not have been found in ‘Abdallah,' which is supposed to be from an Arabic MS. found in Batavia. The time in which the events of the history occur is the reign of Chah-Jehan. The Hindoo mythology is commingled in it with that of the Arabs. Genius and Ginne, the Divs and Peris, the mountain Kaf, and the empire of Ginnistan ; in fact Indian and Mohammedan notions intermingled, seemed to explain the source, which, from happening to be in the hands of young Beckford at the moment, supplied the images and terms which were requisite in order to render the Eastern illusion in “Vathek' complete. The two kinds of Genii called Dives, or Divs and Peris masculine, and Perises and Dives feminine, according to the Mohammedan doctors, inhabited the earth before the creation of Adam. Dazzial and bis ass, Lutfallah, Gian's sword, Ronschau and similar names or objects on which elaborate notes have been written, may all be found in the work in question."
Byron praises “ Vathek” for its correctness of costume, beauty of description, and power of imagination. “As an Eastern tale,” he says, “even Rasselas must bow before it ; his Happy Valley will not bear a comparison with the Hall of Eblis.”
As might be expected, the aim of the fortune-favoured author of “ Vathek" appears to have been to realize through his surroundings the dreams and fictions of his fancy; yet he does not seem to have brought himself in bondage to his entourage, for, in 1822, he sold Fonthill Abbey, and left for Bath, taking with him his most precious valuables, and glad of the change.
Fonthill Abbey, Hazlitt called, “A desert of magnificence, a glittering waste of laborious idleness, a cathedral turned into a toy-shop, an immense museum of all that is most curious and costly, and at the same time most worthless in the productions of art and nature.” The tower of the abbey seems to have met with the misfortunes incidental to all towers, from that of Babel downwards. At one time it tumbled down; at another was partially burnt, the owner himself watching the flames with as much composure as if they had not devoured what it would cost a fortune to repair ; but Mr. Beckford had determined upon the completion of his cherished scheme, and once the royal works of St. George's Chapel, Windsor, were abandoned, that 460 men might be employed night and day on Fonthill Abbey. These men were made to relieve each other by regular watches; and during the longest and darkest nights of winter the astonished traveller might see the tower rising under their hands, the trowel and torch being associated for that purpose. This must have had a very extraordinary appearance, and we are told that it was another of those exhibitions which Mr. Beckford was fond of contemplating. He is represented as surveying the work thus expedited, the busy levy of masons, the high and giddy dancing of the lights, and the strange effects produced upon the architecture and woods below, from one of the eminences in the walks, and wasting the coldest hours of December darkness in feasting his sense with this display of almost superhuman power. Thus far the extinct Literary Gazette of 1822. Critics, unless of a very rare kind indeed, are permitted to write nonsense with impunity; it pleases them, and does us little harm; but we may as well pause to ask what there is of “superhuman power” in a millionaire, the son of a
lucky city merchant, spending his money foolishly, and hastening to a rötten and unfinished completion a building which fell to decay before the paint was well dry, on its rococo and false decorations ? Beckford seems to have been a second-hand Horace Walpole, plus two millions of money, minus what wit the gossiping Horace had. The master threw off as a tour de force a somewhat rubbishing gothic romance, the “ Castle of Otran.. to;" his imitator did, in a like manner, produce “Vathek.” Both romances have little moral, and are written with insufficient knowledge of time or place, yet both are so distant that the reader fails to detect incongruities, and the books form pleasant reading. Both authors claim to have merely played with letters. Walpole kept himself awake with strong coffee, and wrote his story.“all at once.” “Vathek” was also written “at one sitting.” Walpole did not even know there was a castle at Otranto. Beckford was equally ignorant of the localities described in “Vathek.” Walpole was, however, fonder of his child than Beckford; probably he was more truly the parent of his curiosity of literature, not the least curious part being that both books should become in some sort classics. Beckford even carried his imitation so far as to give in some respect a reproduction of Strawberry Hill at Fonthill. These details are characteristic of Mr. Beckford, and form an interesting illustration of his peculiar taste and genius.
In 1783, after three years of married life, his first wife died, and he immediately united himself to Lady Margaret Gordon, daughter of the Earl of Aboyne, a lady of wonderful sweetness of disposition, whom he met at Bath. He was then only twenty-four.
“ His manners," says Cyrus Redding, speaking of him near the close of his long life, “his manners were those of the school fashionable between 1790 and 1800. He was above the middle height, well-formed, and slender rather than stout. His features indicated intellectual power. He had small, remarkably piercing grey eyes, and, at eighty-four, had no need of spectacles. He generally wore a green coat with cloth buttons, a buffcoloured striped waistcoat, breeches of the same kind of cloth as the coat, and brown-topped boots, the fine cotton stocking appearing over them. His voice was agreeable, and his enunciation rapid; and when he ceased talking he would frequently place his freckled fingers over his lips. His bodily activity at eighty was equal to that of a man of sixty: his face alone bore signs of age, though not more than a hale man of seventy would carry."
He was so passionately fond of old and rare books, that it was a greater treat to him to be in their company than in the society of the noblest men and women in England. In his last illness he was still faithful to his books, and pertinaciously read till he could read no longer, when he quietly died after a short and comparatively painless illness at Bath, in 1844, at the advanced age of eightyfour.
The present edition, which is, we believe, the fifth, is printed verbatim from the first English edition. The first was published, as Beckford tells us in his preface, which we subjoin, in Paris, from a translation made for the author. He would have us believe that this was by a mistake; the probability is that it was merely the result of a knowing calculation on the part of the author, and copies of the French work having been circulated in England, before the appearance of the original, there was no doubt much talk about the book, since those who were happy enough to get a glimpse at it, magnified its beauties and its merits. Thus Lord Byron, who too often wrote for effect, praises it as a work of genius, and draws a comparison, where, indeed, none exists, between the happy valley of Rasselas and the Hall of Eblis of Vathek.
Truly that is the crowning scene, and in its .prosaic grandeur will bear reading even after the astounding and sublime gloom of Milton and Dante, from the latter of whom the image of the hearts for ever devoured by flames is no doubt taken. As a work of imagination, full of a gloomy colouring, which is not, and an aimless tyranny which is, truly Eastern, and as the last of a long line of a class of stories, formerly so popular that Pope says of Phillips, that he
“Turned a Persian tale for half-a-crown.” Vathek is deserving the popularity it has gained, while the fervour of its composition, and the verve of its too careless style, will always preserve it. To make our volume as complete as possible, we add the characteristic preface to the third French edition by the author, and for the same reason we have added the exhaustive though somewhat pedantic notes to the first edition by Dr. Henley.