"It is a great evil to look upon mankind with too clear vision."

The only son of William Beckford, Lord Mayor of London,William Beckford (1760-1844) acquired an enormous fortune at the age of nine. He grew up wayward and extravagant, but with a keen interest in literature. An important influence on Beckford was his drawing teacher Alexander Cozens, who, born and raised in St. Petersburg, fed the boy's imagination with exotic tales of Russia. Cozens, though actually the child of an English shipbuilder employed by the tsar, was believed by some to be an illegitimate son of Peter the Great. Young Beckford preferred the legend of imperial ancestry, which fitted in with his taste for the exotic and sense of his own importance. In addition to drawing and painting, Cozens introduced his student to The Arabian Nights and to magic, both of which were to fascinate Beckford throughout his life. He also owed his lifelong fascination with Persia and oriental lore to Cozens. In 1781, at the age of 22 he produced his oriental romance, Vathek, written originally in French, allegedly at a single sitting of three days and two nights.

His other works include The Story of Al Raoui: A Tale from the Arabic (1879), A Dialogue in the Shades (1819), Memoirs of Extraordinary Painters (1780) and Letters from Italy with Sketches of Spain and Portugal (1835), Despite his written output, Beckford is better remembered for his spectacular expenditure, spending at a rate of £100,000 a year, reducing his fortune to a mere £80,000 at the time of his death. He sat in parliament for various constituencies, and one of his two daughters became Duchess of Hamilton.