The story so far: having escaped death at the hands of assassins, Lord Byron continues his sight-seeing tour of Portugal, describing the sights as seen by his fictional character Childe Harold.
On sloping mounds, or in the vale beneath,
Are domes where whilom kings did make repair;
But now the wild flowers round them only breathe:
Yet ruined splendour still is lingering there.
And yonder towers the prince’s palace fair:
There thou, too, Vathek! England’s wealthiest son,
Once formed thy Paradise, as not aware
When wanton Wealth her mightiest deeds hath done,
Meek Peace voluptuous lures was ever wont to shun.
whilom = formerly. “England’s wealthiest son” is a reference to William Beckford, author of Vathek, considered a classic gothic novel. I have a nicely illustrated copy of it, and confess I have yet to read it, though it’s not lengthy.
A wealthy eccentric, the life of Beckford is worth mentioning. At five he received piano lessons from Mozart, who was nine years old at the time. His father, twice Lord Mayor of London, bequeathed him, his only son, a vast fortune derived from Jamaican sugar plantations powered by slave labor. Beckford blew most of his fortune on collecting art and on building Fonthill Abbey, a gigantic gothic construction with a central tower that ended up collapsing twice.
When his sexual involvement with a young boy was exposed (Beckford was 18 and the boy 10 when they first met), he chose self-exile, fleeing to the Continent with his wife.
Here didst thou dwell, here schemes of pleasure plan.
Beneath yon mountain’s ever beauteous brow;
But now, as if a thing unblest by man,
Thy fairy dwelling is as lone as thou!
Here giant weeds a passage scarce allow
To halls deserted, portals gaping wide;
Fresh lessons to the thinking bosom, how
Vain are the pleasaunces on earth supplied;
Swept into wrecks anon by Time’s ungentle tide.
Apparently, a pleasaunce, aside from meaning enjoyment, is also “the region of a garden with the sole purpose of giving pleasure to the senses, but not offering fruit or sustenance” (an obsolete definition from allwords.com). A pleasaunce, full of pretty but useless, fruitless plants, is a fine metaphor for empty pleasures. Take care, dear reader, lest you end up ruined with no more than a garden full of giant weeds!
Vain are the pleasaunces on earth supplied; Swept into wrecks anon by Time’s ungentle tide.