William Beckford’s Fonthill Abbey is thought of as a supreme example of romantic hubris and defiance of nature. The tower, 276 feet high, originally intended to exceed the spire of Salisbury Cathedral, crumbled and fell within 20 years. Robert J. Gemmett, Professor of English in New York State University, gives a very readable account of its history, well illustrated and written in a pleasant style, agreeably free of academic jargon. An appendix reprinting contemporary accounts occupies more than half the book.
In his teens Beckford was already writing of his hopes of erecting ‘a Tower dedicated to meditation’ and his imagination was fired by Swiss scenery, the remoteness of the Grande Chartreuse and the mona