Famous Reviews eBook

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LOCKHART ON THE AUTHOR OF “VATHEK"[1]

[From The Quarterly Review, June, 1834]

[1] “Italy:  with sketches of Spain and Portugal.  In a series of letters
    written during a residence in these Countries.”  By William Beckford,
    Esq., author of Vathek.  London, 1834.

Vathek is, indeed, without reference to the time of life [before he had closed his twentieth year] when the author penned it, a very remarkable performance; but, like most of the works of the great poet (Byron) who has eloquently praised it, it is stained with poison-spots—­its inspiration is too often such as might have been inhaled in the “Hall of Eblis.”  We do not allude so much to its audacious licentiousness, as to the diabolical levity of its contempt for mankind.  The boy-author appears to have already rubbed all the bloom off his heart; and, in the midst of his dazzling genius, one trembles to think that a stripling of years so tender should have attained the cool cynicism of a Candide.  How different is the effect of that Eastern tale of our own days, which Lord Byron ought not to have forgotten when he was criticising his favourite romance.  How perfectly does Thalaba realize the ideal demanded in the Welsh Triad, of “fulness of erudition, simplicity of language, and purity of manners.”  But the critic was repelled by the purity of that delicious creation, more than attracted by the erudition which he must have respected, and the diction which he could not but admire—­

  The low sweet voice so musical,
  That with such deep and undefined delight
  Fills the surrender’d soul.

It has long been known that Mr. Beckford prepared, shortly after the publication of his Vathek, some other tales in the same vein—­the histories, it is supposed, of the princes in his “Hall of Eblis.”  A rumour had also prevailed, that the author drew up, early in life, some account of his travels in various parts of the world; nay, that he had printed a few copies of this account, and that its private perusal had been eminently serviceable to more than one of the most popular poets of the present age.  But these were only vague reports; and Mr. Beckford, after achieving, on the verge of manhood, a literary reputation, which, however brilliant, could not satisfy the natural ambition of such an intellect—­seemed, for more than fifty years, to have wholly withdrawn himself from the only field of his permanent distinction.  The world heard enough of his gorgeous palace at Cintra (described in Childe Harold), afterwards of the unsubstantial pageant of his splendour at Fonthill, and latterly of his architectural caprices at Bath.  But his literary name seemed to have belonged to another age; and, perhaps, in this point of view, it may not have been unnatural for Lord Byron, when comparing Vathek with other Eastern tales, to think rather of Zadig and Rasselas, than

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