The happy thought of this William Beckford’s life was “Vathek.” It is a story that paints neither man nor outward nature as they are, but reproduces with happy vivacity the luxuriant imagery and wild incidents of an Arabian tale. There is a ghost of a moral in the story of a sensual Caliph going to the bad, as represented by his final introduction to the Halls of Eblis. But the enjoyment given by the book reflects the real enjoyment that the author had in writing it—enjoyment great enough to cause it to be written at a heat, in one long sitting, without flagging power. Young and lively, he delivered himself up to a free run of fancy, revelled in the piled-up enormities of the Wicked Mother, who had not brought up Vathek properly, and certainly wrote some parts of his nightmare tale as merrily as if he were designing matter for a pantomime.
Whoever, in reading “Vathek,” takes it altogether seriously, does not read it as it was written. We must have an eye for the vein of caricature that now and then comes to the surface, and invites a laugh without disturbing the sense of Eastern extravagance bent seriously upon the elaboration of a tale crowded with incident and action. Taken altogether seriously, the book has faults of construction. But the faults turn into beauties when we catch the twinkle in the writer’s eye.