Letters to the Right Honourable Lord Brougham and Vaux

Item author: Arthur Brooke Faulkner
Item date: 1837
Grant Value: £3,100 [Smaller Libraries Fund]
Item cost: £4,850
Item date acquired: 2018
Item institution: Beckford's Tower Trust
Town/City: Bath
County: Somerset

Books once owned by William Beckford reveal key information about his interests and collecting habits and this information is enhanced when volumes contain Beckford’s own annotations and notes.  Such notes are often references to the text and Beckford’s opinion on it, as is the case for pencil notes made by him on the end papers and rear of the title page of this volume.  What makes this volume even more significant however, is the inclusion of a pencil sketch by Beckford for furniture, dated 26 September 1837 on the rear pastedown. 

Bound in its original card covers, the book was published in early 1837 and the dated sketch proves that Beckford purchased and read the work not long after its publication.  The content of the volume provides a good reasoning behind this.  Framed as letters to Lord Brougham, the work records Faulkner’s travels in countries that Beckford had extensive knowledge of and had also himself published recollections of in his 1834 work Italy, with Sketches of Spain and Portugal.  It was this personal knowledge that Beckford drew on to form his responses to the text written in the pencil notes, which are vivid critiques of the work in Beckford’s unique style.  He plays on the book’s title by referring to Faulkner as the ‘rambling author’ and sums the book up as ‘a farrago of abuse & hackneyed ribaldry’.  Beckford’s dislike for the work is perhaps why the book remains in its original card covers, rather than having been considered good enough to be bound for Beckford’s library.

What makes this book an important acquisition for Beckford’s Tower is the sketch, which shows a wall-mounted bookcase in three sections above a matching settle.  Beckford was commissioning new furniture after 1834 for both the Tower and his home at Lansdown Crescent in Bath and the dated sketch of 1837 fits perfectly with this period.  The design is in the style and scale of the furniture being commissioned for the Tower and appears to match the description for a cabinet at the building listed in the 1845 sale catalogue as ‘An Elegant suspended oak cabinet in three compartments for books and bijouterie, the sides enclosed by doors and panelled with plate glass, three drawers under, supported by carved brackets, 5 feet 7 wide, by 5 feet 9 high.’ (English & Son, Lansdown Tower, Bath, Catalogue of the Late William Beckford, 1845, Lot 593).  If this is a design for the wall cabinet at the Tower, it makes this sketch the only known image of a now lost piece of Beckford’s furniture, and visitors to Beckford's Tower will be be able to rediscover this design when the book goes on display, thanks to the support of the Friends of National Libraries.

Beckford's notes and sketch on the rear pastedown.
Beckford's notes and sketch on the rear pastedown.
Detail of Beckford's sketch of the wall mounted bookcase.
Detail of Beckford's sketch of the wall mounted bookcase.
Title page with Beckford's notes.  Images courtesy of Beckford's Tower Trust.
Title page with Beckford's notes. Images courtesy of Beckford's Tower Trust.