William Beckford (1760–1844)
William Beckford, known as both the richest and most eccentric man of his time, was born September 29, 1760, in London, England. By all accounts, Beckford was brilliant, musically gifted, and highly artistic. He was also scandalous and hedonistic. He had no desire to follow in his father’s political or business footprints, much to his father’s dismay. Rather, young Beckford preferred to travel, write, spend money, and collect art. Because of improper relationships with his cousin’s wife, Louisa, and a young man named William “Kitty” Courtenay, Beckford was sent by his mother to the Continent to give the scandal time to die down. Indeed, young Beckford’s life followed this pattern repeatedly. He would remain in England until the scandals mounted and then would retreat to the Continent for a cooling-off period. He married in 1783 in a movement to save whatever was left of his reputation; however, his wife died in childbirth in 1785. During this time, Beckford built and rebuilt Fonthill Abbey, considered either the most amazing building or the greatest folly in England at the close of the eighteenth century. Like Horace Walpole, only much, much wealthier, Beckford indulged his passion for the Gothic and for collecting art with his domicile. Another important trait of Beckford’s was his fascination with Oriental mysticism. At an early age, he read and reread The Arabian Nights. This passion led directly to...
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