The first draft of this book was completed some years ago. Owing to circumstances of copyright, it could not then be published. I do not regret the delay; for in meditation in the intervening years, a number of hitherto unsuspected enigmas presented themselves and began to press in on me. If once I had hoped to produce a well-knit and rounded life of Beckford, the hopes were effectively dissipated. Had the whole vast store of correspondence, diaries, of minor but relevant drafts and papers, been already printed, the task might have been within the bounds of achievement. But the question of the character of many of the Beckford Papers among the Hamilton Muniments is such that it must be ventilated. In consequence, this book has perforce been overburdened with lengthy quotation in order that the reader may see for himself the extent of the problem, which is raised by the contradiction of the documents, and the fact that a number are not to be accepted.
I am fully persuaded that Beckford hoped his life would be written -- perhaps one had better say his éloge -- and kept every scrap which he thought might be of service to a biographer endowed with a proper sense of the respect due to his subject. Unfortunately, the task has been left too long. To a generation, whose interest is rather in analysis than panegyric, whose delight is in motives rather than in actions, whose chief mental recreations are the detective story and the cross-word, puzzle, it is unsafe to bequeath documents. Even if the true trail be not discovered, the writer of to-day is on the watch for the false.
Yet at the end, even if he is rash enough to believe that he has understood something of Beckford, the historian is still faced with the problem of handling the material and of deciding what line he should take in separating the true from the false. Since, however, this involves a long discussion of interest only . . .