Fonthill Abbey

“There was still one last, great tribute to be paid to his architectural daring and inspiration. Fonthill Abbey had fallen ignominiously, but its even wilder, nobler and unlikely child would rise beside the Thames, though there is no record that Beckford even registered this final honor. It was the British Nation, not William Beckford, that had caught the Gothic infection. Without the legend of that astonishing structure high on a windy Wiltshire hillside and the images of it (…) it is unlikely that an educated public committee of 1836 would have ever have risked Charles Barry’s proposals for a new Palace of Westminster. But the decision to go Gothic was taken, and, in a morally quite inappropriate and unintentional tribute to the memory of the profoundly undemocratic Beckford, the home of the nation’s democratic institutions would rise from 1840 to 1860, with Fonthill’s axis and a skyline of “roofs and towers, detached chapels and isolated spires”, more memorably fantastic than anything the youthful Beckford dreamed of that day he stood marveling at Batalha.”

Timothy Mowl, ‘William Beckford: A biographical perspective’. In William Beckford 1760-1844: An Eye for the Magnificent, Yale University Press, 2002.


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