William Thomas Beckford

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There is nothing so pleasing as retiring to caverns: my taste for dead bodies, and everything like mummy, is decided.

William Thomas Beckford (September 29 1760May 2 1844) was an English novelist, travel writer, art-collector and eccentric. His best-known work is the oriental romance Vathek; it was written in French, reputedly in the space of three days and two nights.



Sourced[edit]

  • I fear I shall never be…good for anything in this world, but composing airs, building towers, forming gardens, collecting old Japan, and writing a journey to China or the Moon.
    • Letter to Catherine, Lady Hamilton, April 1781; cited from Lewis Melville The Life and Letters of William Beckford of Fonthill (London: William Heinemann, 1910) p. 92.
  • Eternal Power!
    Grant me through obvious clouds one transient gleam
    Of thy bright essence in my dying hour!
    • "A Prayer", line 14; cited from Cyrus Redding Memoirs of William Beckford of Fonthill (London: Charles J. Skeet, 1859) vol. 2, p. 283

Vathek[edit]

Quotations in the original French are cited from the 1st edition (Paris: Poinçot, 1787). English quotations are cited from the 1836 edition of Samuel Henley's translation.

  • Quand il étoit en colère, un de ses yeux devenoit si terrible qu'on n'en pouvoit pas soutenir les regards: le malheureux sur lequel il le fixoit tomboit à la renverse, & quelquefois même expiroit à l'instant. Aussi, dans la crainte de dépeupler ses états, & de faire un désert de son palais, ce prince ne se mettoit en colère que très-rarement.
    • When he was angry, one of his eyes became so terrible, that no person could bear to behold it; and the wretch upon whom it was fixed, instantly fell backward, and sometimes expired. For fear, however, of depopulating his dominions, and making his palace desolate, he but rarely gave way to his anger.
    • P. 3; translation p. 1.
  • J'aurois grande envie de voir ce palais souterrein, rempli d'objets intéressans pour les gens de notre espèce; il n'est rien que j'aime autant que les caverns; mon goût pour les cadavres & les momies est décidé.
    • I myself have a great desire to watch over thy conduct, and visit the subterranean palace, which, no doubt, contains whatever can interest persons like us. There is nothing so pleasing as retiring to caverns: my taste for dead bodies, and everything like mummy, is decided.
    • P. 56; translation p. 34.
  • Je n'aime pas à résister à la tentation.
    • I am not over-fond of resisting temptation.
    • P. 140; translation p. 83.

About William Beckford and Vathek[edit]

  • The great Apostle of Paederasty.
    • Lord Byron, letter to Francis Hodgson, June 25, 1809; cited from Leslie A. Marchand (ed.) Byron's Letters and Journals (London: John Murray, 1973-1994 ) vol. 1, p. 210.
  • [Vathek] has, in parts, been called, but to some judgments, never is, dull: it is certainly in parts, grotesque, extravagant and even nasty. But Beckford could plead sufficient "local colour" for it, and a contrast, again almost Shakespearean, between the flickering farce atrocities of the beginning and the sombre magnificence of the end. Beckford's claims, in fact, rest on the half-score or even half-dozen pages towards the end: but these pages are hard to parallel in the later literature of prose fiction.
    • George Saintsbury, in A. W. Ward and A. R. Waller (eds.) The Cambridge History of English Literature (New York: G. P. Putnam, 1907-21) vol. 11, p. 321.
  • One of the vilest men of his time.
    • Hilaire Belloc A Conversation with an Angel, and Other Essays (London: Jonathan Cape, 1931) p. 91.
  • El original es infiel a la traducción.
    • The original is unfaithful to the translation.
    • Jorge Luis Borges "Sobre el Vathek de William Beckford" (1943), in Otras inquisiciones: 1937-1952 (Buenos Aires: Sur, 1952) p. 163; "About William Beckford's Vathek", in Ruth L. C. Simms (trans.) Other Inquisitions: 1937-1952 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964) p. 140.
    • On Henley's translation of Vathek.

External links[edit]

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