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PRINTED VERBATIM FROM FIRST EDITION, WITH THE
SAMPSON LOW, SON, AND MARSTON,
ILLIAM BECKFORD, the author of “Vathek," was born in 1759. He was the son of the well-known and patriotic Lord
Mayor Beckford, the friend of the Earl of Chatham. His father died when he was eleven years of age, leaving him property which accumulated during his minority to an annual income of one hundred and ten thousand pounds, and this in addition to a million in ready money.
His education was partially superintended by his father's old friend, the Earl of Chatham, whose son, William Pitt, he excelled in elocutionary powers. At the age of eighteen he published his “ Memoirs of Extraordinary Painters," a work of considerable power and humour, and real knowledge of the subject, which satirises some English artists under feigned names, and may even now be read with pleasure.
In 1780 he made a tour to the Continent, which formed the subject of a series of letters picturesque and poetical, since published under the title of “ Italy, with Sketches of Spain and Portugal.” On his return to England, Mr. Beckford sat for the borough of Hindon in
several parliaments. He afterwards went to Portugal,, and purchasing an estate at Cintra—that “glorious Eden" of the south—he built himself a palace for a residence.
“ There thou, too, Vathek ! England's wealthiest son,
“Recollections of an Excursion to the Monasteries of Alcobaça and Batalha," was published in 1835. The excursion was made in June 1794, at the desire of the Prince Regent of Portugal. Mr. Beckford describes the wonderful ancient ecclesiastical edifice of Alcobaça, with its princely monks, its paintings, and antique tombs and fountains, as only a mind of the highest imagination could do. The kitchen, whither he and his friends were conducted by the Abbot, to witness the preparations made to regale them, must have been worthy of an eastern sultan. “Through the centre of the immense and nobly-groined hall, not less than sixty feet in diameter, ran a brisk rivulet of the clearest water, containing every sort and size of the finest river fish. On one side loads of game and venison were heaped up; on the other vegetables and fruits in endless variety. Beyond a long line of stores extended a row of ovens, and close to them hillocks of wheaten
flour whiter than snow, rocks of sugar, jars of the purest oil, and pastry in vast abundance, which a numerous tribe of lay brothers and their attendants were rolling out and puffing up into a hundred different shapes, singing all the while as blithely as larks in a cornfield.” This magnificent monastery was plundered and burnt by the French troops under Massena, in 1811.
“ Vathek,” the fourth and last edition of which was published in 1834, by Bentley, is unquestionably Beckford's great work, the one for which he will always hold a high rank amongst romantic and imaginative writers. The first edition of this work in French was printed in 1786. It was written at the age of twenty-two, at one sitting, as Beckford himself told Cyrus Redding. Day and night he kept to his work, only stopping occasionally for refreshment, and as might have been expected, such protracted application brought on a fit of illness.
“Vathek," says Lord Byron, “bears such marks of originality, that those who have visited the East will have some difficulty in believing it to be more than a translation."
In his own preface, Mr. Beckford says, “ J'ai preparé quelques épisodes ; ils sont indiqués à la page 200,* comme faisant suite à Vathek; peut-être parâitront-ils un jour.” But they have not appeared yet. Beckford at his house in Park Lane, in his eightieth year, read them to Cyrus Redding, in the twilight of a gloomy spring day, and without spectacles; but Mr. Redding does not appear to have considered these episodes important. He (Mr. Redding) mentions the fact, that Beckford gave strict orders for the purchase of a certain Eastern book, enti
* We have given the titles of these Episodes; the only part ever written.