BECKFORD, William, English writer, famous in his time for his immense wealth, eccentricities and literary talents: b. Fonthill, 29 Sept. 1759; d. Bath, 2 May 1844. When only 10 years old he was in receipt of an income, through the death of his father, of more than $500,000 a year. Under the direction of Lord Chatham he received a careful education at the hands of tutors, and at an early age gave evi dence of unusual abilities. His first work, a satirical essay entitled 'Biographical Memoirs of Extraordinary Painters,) in which he ridi culed the English artists of his time, was pub lished before he was 21 years of age. In 1783 he married Lady Margaret Gordon, daughter of the 4th Earl of Aboyne, who died in 1786. One of his daughters married the 10th Dulce of Hamilton. He spent most of his time on the Continent; an account of some of his travels he published half a century later with the title 'Italy, with Sketches of Spain and Portugal' (2 vols., London 1834). He sat in the House of Commons from 1784-94, and from 1806-20, but took no interest in political affairs. He went
to Portugal in 1794, where he bought an estate in the neighborhood of Cintra, and lived in familiar intercourse with the royal family of Portugal. After the lapse of some years he appeared again in England, and began in 1796 to erect a splendid edifice upon his estate of Fonthill, which he furnished with more than royal luxury, and continually enlarged with new buildings. Here he resided till 1822, when, owing to the loss of two large estates, which had been successfully claimed in chancery by other owners, he was obliged to sell Fonthill for f330,000. He then settled at Bath, where he began to occupy himself anew with building and collecting works of art. His literary fame rests upon his Eastern tale, (Vathek,) which he wrote in French, composing it in three days and two nights, during which he did not take off his clothes. It was published at Lausanne in 1787, and made a remarkable impression upon Byron. See VATHEK.