THE CALIPH OF FONTHILL. by H. A. N. Brockman (Werner Laurie, 21s.)
" THE Caliph of Fonthill " is worth reading because it is very well written. It is also worth reading because it tells a good story the fantastic, almost incredible story of William Beckford, that vastly rich eccentric who built himself a Gothic abbey with a huge octagonal tower. cloisters, and nunneries. as a residence.
There is literary interest in the story, too. for this is the Beckford, author of " Vathek," the literary successor of Walpole's "Castle of Otranto " and the cause of the wild rumours which embellished the wild enough facts of the young squires's unnat mai debaucheries.
There is Catholic interest in the story, too. for. apart from the fact that Beckford travelled much abroad and was received as an honoured guest in Baty, Spain and Portugal by Bishops and abbots, he was too intelligent to fall for " the monster Henry VlIfs " Church of England. in fact, as this biographer remarks, "had the Church of Rome reached the influence and authority it gained 50 years later. the emotional and indeed ascetic Beckford might have achieved an abbey with a far more authoritative blessing than that of his chosen patron St. Antony or that of his own self-dramatisation."
the fact that for the author, an architect, the chief interest is the architectural one, is shown not only by a brief introduction by Nicholas Pevsner hut also by the balance of the writing.
This is indeed a first-rate book. well written, finely printed, amply illustrated, telling a most interesting story with balance and humour and a right sympathy. B.F.