Saturday, 2 January 2010
Extract from William Beckford's note on the party at Fonthill House, Christmas 1781:
Immured we were 'au pied de la lettre' for three days following – doors and windows so strictly closed that neither common daylight nor commonplace visitors could get in or even peep in – care worn visages were ordered to keep aloof – no fallen mouths or furroughed foreheads were permitted to meet our eye. Our société was extremely youthful and lovely to look upon... Throughout the arched halls and vast apart(ment)s…prevailed a soft and pure radiance – distilled with much skill under the direction of Loutherbourg…. The solid Egyptian Hall looked as if hewn out of a living rock. The line of apartments being infinite were all vaulted – a gloomy staircase, which appeared, and which was in fact of enormous height, led to suites of stately apartments gleaming with marble and pavements –. Above these princely rooms a broad flight of richly carpeted stairs led to another world of decorated chambers and a gallery…still above there was a further labyrinth of chambers filled with curious works of arts and precious cabinets. Through all these suites – through all these galleries – did we wander and wander – too often hand in hand – strains of music swelling forth at intervals – sometimes the organ – sometimes concerted pieces – in which P[acchierotti], T[enducci] and R[auzzini] – for a wonder of wonders – most amicably joined – sometimes a chaunt was heard – issuing, no-one could divine from whence – innocent affecting sounds. I seem even at this long distance to be warmed by the genial artificial light that Loutherbourg had created throughout the whole of what appeared a necromantic region, or rather, one of those fairy realms where K[ing]s’ daughters were held in thrall by a powerful Magician – one of those temples deep below the earth set apart for tremendous mysteries…at every stage of this enchanted palace tables were swung out covered with delicious consummations and tempting dishes, masked by the fragrance of a bright mass of flowers, the heliotrope, the basil and the rose – even the splendour of the gilded roof was often masked by the vapour of wood aloes ascending in wreaths from cassolettes placed low on the floor in salvers and jars of Japan. The glowing haze, the mystic look, the endless intricacy of the vaulted labyrinth produced an effect so bewildering that it became impossible for anyone to define exactly where at the moment he was wandering…It was the realization of a romance in all its fervours, in all its extravagance. The delirium in which our young fervid bosoms were cast by such a combination of seductive influences may be conceived but too easily.