A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature/Beckford, William

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Beckford, William (c. 1760-1844). -- Miscellaneous writer, only s. of William B., Lord Mayor of London, the associate and supporter of John Wilkes, inherited at the age of 9 an enormous fortune. In these circumstances he grew up wayward and extravagant, showing, however, a strong bent towards literature. His education was entrusted to a private tutor, with whom he travelled extensively on the Continent. At the age of 22 he produced his oriental romance, Vathek (c. 1781), written originally in French and, as he was accustomed to boast, at a single sitting of three days and two nights. There is reason, however, to believe that this was a flight of imagination. It is an impressive work, full of fantastic and magnificent conceptions, rising occasionally to sublimity. His other principal writings are Memoirs of Extraordinary Painters (1780), a satirical work, and Letters from Italy with Sketches of Spain and Portugal (1835), full of brilliant descriptions of scenes and manners. B.'s fame, however, rests nearly as much upon his eccentric extravagances as a builder and collector as upon his literary efforts. In carrying out these he managed to dissipate his fortune of £100,000 a year, only £80,000 of his capital remaining at his death. He sat in parliament for various constituencies, and one of his two dau. became Duchess of Hamilton.