The Principal or Western Entrance into this noble mansion, is really a triumph of architecture a glorious specimen of the late Mr. Wyatt's abilities, and of the style termed Modern Gothic. There is no point of view in which its exquisite proportions do not please, and whether contemplated from under its fine pointed arch, or from any rising part of the Avenue which extends from it, it is equally an object of delight and admiration.
This entrance leads into a Hall (68ft. by 28ft. height 78ft.) worthy of its style and beauty. The roof is of oak, appropriately divided into pannels [sic], and adorned with shields in the old baronial manner. The light is received into the Hall from three pointed-arched windows of painted glass, upon the right, of a cathedral character, and shedding a mellow lustre on the upper part of the superb flight of steps, which ascends to the Octagon. The lower steps are in broader day from the door light; and the coup d'œil here is indescribably fine. The magnificent opening, by its Gothic associations, rather than by its natural effect, seems to throw one shade upon the [f]air tint of the lawn, and the eye rests upon the gradually, but slightly deepening tone of the ascent, till it rests upon the clustered shafts in the Octagon, which support the high Tower. These are tinged with rose colour, from the hue of the windows, whose light rests upon them; and the whole resembles a magic palace, more than any abode of luxury contrived by human art. This interior view is certainly one of the most striking at the Abbey, and visitors will do well to remember the old advice, and pause upon the threshold. On the left of the Hall, are three recesses hung with crimson curtains, corresponding with the windows on the other side; in the centre recess, stands a marble statue of the late Alderman Beckford, holding in his right hand a copy of the great charter, and decked with the robes of office, as Lord Mayor of London. In the inside of the Hall, immediately above the Western Entrance, is a Music Gallery, with an appropriate screen-work of stone, extending quite across the Hall. The stairs leading to the Gallery are within the piers on each side the entrance. Over the Music Gallery is a small Gothic Window, with a Madonna and Child of stained glass.
From the Hall, by the before-mentioned steps, and under an arch corresponding with the West entrance, is entered the centre of attraction, even at this fairy palace, the Great Octagon. Words are inadequate to describe the sublime beauty of scene presented to view in this glorious apartment; the very colour which is thrown from the painted windows, and the crimson curtains of the recesses, add to the magic of its appearance. Between piers, which are composed of clustered columns, bearing eight lofty arches, are four pointed windows of beautifully painted glass, copied from those of the celebrated monastery of Batalha, in Portugal: the other four arches that support the Tower, are the openings of the galleries, the entrance to the Great Hall, and another arch built up; this latter is reserved for the entrance to the chapel intended to be erected on the eastern side of the Abbey. The arches, that have no place of egress, five in number, are hung with curtains at least fifty feet high, which, concealing the termination of the building, give an idea of continued space: the light admitted through the stained glass of the windows of the Octagon, presents a most enchanting play of colours; and the effect produced by the sombre hue of twilight, contrasted with the vivid appearance at different hours of the day, is indescribably pleasing and grand. Above the eight arches, is an open Gallery that communicates with the higher suit of apartments; from this springs a beautiful groining of fan-work, supporting a lanthorn lighted by eight windows, richly painted: the whole is finished by a vaulted roof, the height of which is 132 feet from the ground. Certainly nothing more splendid than this Octagon can be conceived; and whether viewed from its base, or from the corridors above, it presents a noble impression. . . .
It would much exceed our limits to describe the Gallery, the Library, or the various other rooms of this mansion. We must not, however, omit to notice the Tower, which is still unfinished, high above the highest terrestrial object in view, standing upon the almost highest spot of ground in its vicinity, and being in itself 276 feet above the surface. . . .
On one occasion, whilst the Tower was rearing its lofty crest towards Heaven, an elevated part of it caught fire, and was destroyed. The sight was sublime; it was a spectacle, it is said, which the owner of the mansion enjoyed with as much composure, as if the flames had not been devouring what it would have cost a fortune to repair. This occasioned but small delay in its re-erection, as the building was carried on by Mr. Beckford with an energy and enthusiasm, of which duller minds can form but a poor conception. At one period, it is said, that every cart and waggon in the district were pressed into the service, though all the agricultural labours of the country stood still. At another, even the royal works of St. George's Chapel, Windsor, were abandoned, that 460 men might be employed night and day on Fonthill Abbey. These men relieved each other by regular watches, and during the longest and darkest nights of winter, the astonished traveller might see the Tower rising under their hands, the trowel and torch being associated for that purpose. This must have had a very extraordinary appearance, and, it is said, was another of those exhibitions which Mr. Beckford was fond of contemplating. He is represented as surveying the work thus expedited, the busy levy of the masons, the high and giddy dancing of the lights, and the strange effects produced on the woods and architecture below, from one of those eminences in the walks, of which there are several; and wasting the coldest hours of December's darkness, in feasting his sense with this display of almost super-human power. These traits of character will not surprise those who have made mankind their study: the minds most nearly allied to genius, are the most apt to plunge into extremes, and no man at present in existence, can make higher pretensions to a mind of this cast, than the founder of Fonthill Abbey.
[SOURCE:`Fonthill Abbey', The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, 1 (4) (23 November 1822), pp. 502]
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