William Thomas Beckford
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
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.