William Thomas Beckford  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

William Thomas Beckford (1 October 17602 May 1844), usually known as William Beckford, was an English novelist, art critic, travel writer and politician.

Having studied under Sir William Chambers and Alexander Cozens, Beckford journeyed in Italy in 1782 and promptly wrote a book on his travels: Dreams, Waking Thoughts and Incidents (1783). Shortly afterwards came his best-known work, the Gothic novel Vathek (1786), written originally in French and, as he was accustomed to boast, in a single sitting of three days and two nights. There is reason, however, to believe that this was a flight of his imagination. Vathek is an impressive work, full of fantastic and magnificent conceptions, rising occasionally to sublimity. His other principal writings were 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. In 1793 he visited Portugal, where he settled for a period.

Beckford's fame, however, rests as much upon his eccentric extravagances as a builder and collector as upon his literary efforts. In undertaking his buildings he managed to dissipate his fortune (estimated by his contemporaries to give him an income £100,000 a year, which (although probably never exceeding half that) made him very rich. The loss of his Jamaican sugar plantation to James Beckford Wildman was particularly costly. Only £80,000 of his capital remained at his death.

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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "William Thomas Beckford" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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