The Beckford Society
William Beckford(1760-1844) is chiefly remembered as the author of Vathek and builder of the greatest of all architectural follies, Fonthill Abbey. He was a man of many parts: collector of paintings, objects, and books; traveller; writer; builder and landscape gardener. Sensing his destiny, just before his coming of age celebrations, he wrote, "I fear I shall never be half so sapient, nor good for anything in this world, but composing old airs, building towers, forming gardens, collecting old japan, and writing a journey to china or the moon."
Byron described him as "England's wealthiest son," and his great wealth enabled him to indulge his passion for building and collecting throughout his life.
On his Wiltshire estate he built Fonthill Abbey, a vast Gothic structure. Pevsner write that it was "the first neo-Gothic building to create sensations of amazement, shock, even of awe." With a tower nearly three hundred feet high, long wings, and furnished in ebony, scarlet, crimson, and purple, it fascinated Beckford's contemporaries.
Beckford was forced to sell Fonthill in 1822. He moved to Bath where he built another tower on the summit at Lansdown, linked by a landscaped walk to his home in Lansdown Crescent.
Although his writings have been admired by discerning critics, it is only recently that the richness and diversity of his taste as a collector and patron of the arts has begun to be fully appreciated. Nineteen paintings once in his collection are now in the National Gallery. His collections of furniture and objects, although diverse, were of the finest quality. Of his huge book collection he declared, "Nothing second-rate enters here." It is a maxim which can apply equally to all aspects of his patronage, as is evident in the items once in his possession which are now in galleries and collections across the world.
Beckford's oriental tale Vathek has been reprinted many times since its first publication in 1786. His travel writings, although less well known, are amongst the best of their genre. Rose Macaulay wrote that "poetry lit his imagination and soaked his prose."
The Beckford Society:
President: James Lees-Milne
Mrs Philippa Bishop
Dr Malcolm Jack (Chairman)
Gerlof Janzen M.D.
Professor John Wilton-Ely
The Beckford Society, founded in 1995, has the following aims:
to promote an interest in the life and works of William Beckford of Fonthill and his circle;
to encourage Beckford studies and scholarship through exhibitions and publications, including an annual journal and occasional newsletters;
to hold an annual Beckford lecture or symposium;
to support the preservation of Beckford's Tower, Bath, and other buildings, gardens, landscapes and objects associated with William Beckford and his circle.
Membership in the Society is open to anyone interested in William Beckford and who wishes to further the Society's objectives. Members receive The Beckford Journal and occasional newsletters. There is a minimum annual subscription of £10. Applications for membership should be sent to:
15 Healey Street
London NW1 8SR
Gerlof Janzen M.D.
[This website is not officially associated with the Beckford Society, though it does share the Society's objectives.]
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This page was last updated November 3, 1998.
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