The History of Caliph Vathek by William Beckford


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The Project Gutenberg eBook, The History of the Caliph Vathek, by William

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with
almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or
re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included
with this eBook or online at

Title: The History of the Caliph Vathek

Author: William Beckford

Release Date: April 20, 2005 [eBook #2060]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-646-US (US-ASCII)


Transcribed from the 1887 Cassell & Company edition by David Price, email



William Beckford, born in 1759, the year before the accession of King
George the Third, was the son of an Alderman who became twice Lord Mayor
of London. His family, originally of Gloucestershire, had thriven by the
plantations in Jamaica; and his father, sent to school in England, and
forming a school friendship at Westminster with Lord Mansfield, began the
world in this country as a merchant, with inheritance of an enormous West
India fortune. William Beckford the elder became Magistrate, Member of
Parliament, Alderman. Four years before the birth of William Beckford
the younger he became one of the Sheriffs of London, and three years
after his son's birth he was Lord Mayor. As Mayor he gave very sumptuous
dinners that made epochs in the lives of feeding men. His son's famous
"History of the Caliph Vathek" looks as if it had been planned for an
Alderman's dream after a very heavy dinner at the Mansion House. There
is devotion in it to the senses, emphasis on heavy dining. Vathek piqued
himself on being the greatest eater alive; but when the Indian dined with
him, though the tables were thirty times covered, there was still want of
more food for the voracious guest. There is thirst: for at one part of
the dream, when Vathek's mother, his wives, and some eunuchs "assiduously
employed themselves in filling bowls of rock crystal, and emulously
presented them to him, it frequently happened that his avidity exceeded
their zeal, insomuch that he would prostrate himself upon the ground to
lap up the water, of which he could never have enough." And the
nightmare incidents of the Arabian tale all culminate in a most terrible
heartburn. Could the conception of Vathek have first come to the son
after a City dinner?

Though a magnificent host, the elder Beckford was no glutton. In the
year of his first Mayoralty, 1763, Beckford, stood by the side of
Alderman Wilkes, attacked for his No. 45 of _The North_ _Briton_. As
champion of the popular cause, when he had been again elected to the
Mayoralty, Beckford, on the 23rd of May, 1770, went up to King George the
Third at the head of the Aldermen and Livery with an address which the
king snubbed with a short answer. Beckford asked leave to reply, and
before His Majesty recovered breath from his astonishment, proceeded to
reply in words that remain graven in gold upon his monument in Guildhall.
Young Beckford, the author of "Vathek," was then a boy not quite eleven
years old, an only son; and he was left three years afterwards, by his
father's death, heir to an income of a hundred thousand a year, with a
million of cash in hand.

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