Literary Forbears of Arthur Machen

Extollager

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The passage in The Green Round of which I was thinking begins on page 157 (either the British or the Arkham edition, I think), but specifically pages 161ff. Machen says that most of us think of felicity as something that a person might be fortunate enough to have acquired. But he reports a dream, in which the delight was based "on what I had lost. What I had lost was all the burden of life. I do not think that many of us realise what that amounts to. Perhaps it might be said that we do not know that it is there -- till it has dropped off. ... For the burden of life is made up of an infinite number of little things. The great sorrows, the terrible losses, the horrible defeats, the remorse for grievous misdoings: these are in the pack, but there is much more. It is piled up with the trifles that we suppose we have forgotten. There are few days on which we do not do something amiss. There are few days on which something is not done amiss to us. There are few days on which something amiss does not happens, without our fault or the fault of another. ... They sink down, one by one, into their appointed depths; and every day the burden grows a little heavier though the greater part of the small odds and ends that stuff it are forgotten. ... It was all this heavy burden that in my dream was taken from me ... and I remember vaguely receiving some intimation that this was but the first degree of a new life, that there were brighter enlightenments and far more intense joys to succeed in their order," etc.
 

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I read "Comparing Small Things with Great" in Patmore's Courage in Politics and was reminded of Machen's depreciation of George Eliot -- probably in Hieroglyphics and some essays. Patmore sees Jane Austen's novels as perfect of their (relatively small) kind. Perfection may exist without greatness, such as one does find in Shakespeare, whose imperfections are evident.

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/40241/40241-h/40241-h.htm

Patmore implies that while women who write may be capable of perfection in such forms, only men who write are capable of greatness.

Is any author, man or woman, capable of greatness today? What is the most recent literary work about which one may plausibly claim that it is for the ages, that it is great?
 
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I'm reading another of Stevenson's less well-known works, Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes, from which I offer the following excerpt, which reminded me of Machen's "Out of the Earth."

There was no direct road to Cheylard, and it was no easy affair to make a passage in this uneven country and through this intermittent labyrinth of tracks. It must have been about four when I struck Sagnerousse, and went on my way rejoicing in a sure point of departure. Two hours afterwards, the dusk rapidly falling, in a lull of the wind, I issued from a fir-wood where I had long been wandering, and found, not the looked-for village, but another marish bottom among rough-and-tumble hills. For some time past I had heard the ringing of cattle-bells ahead; and now, as I came out of the skirts of the wood, I saw near upon a dozen cows and perhaps as many more black figures, which I conjectured to be children, although the mist had almost unrecognizably exaggerated their forms. These were all silently following each other round and round in a circle, now taking hands, now breaking up with chains and reverences. A dance of children appeals to very innocent and lively thoughts; but, at nightfall on the marshes, the thing was eerie and fantastic to behold. Even I, who am well enough read in Herbert Spencer, felt a sort of silence fall for an instant on my mind. The next, I was pricking Modestine [his donkey] forward, and guiding her like an unruly ship through the open. In a path, she went doggedly ahead of her own accord, as before a fair wind;but once on the turf or among heather, and the brute became demented. The tendency of lost travellers to go round in a circle was developed in her to thedegree of passion, and it took all the steering I had in me to keep even adecently straight course through a single field.

While I was thus desperately tacking through thebog, children and cattle began to disperse, until only a pair of girls remained behind. From these I sought direction on my path. The peasantry in general were but little disposed to counsel a wayfarer. One old devil simply retired into his house, and barricaded the door on my approach; and I might beat and shout myself hoarse, he turned a deaf ear. Another, having given me a direction which, as I found afterwards, I had misunderstood, complacently watched me going wrong without adding a sign. He did not care a stalk of parsley if I wandered all night upon the hills! As fort hese two girls, they were a pair of impudent sly sluts, with not a thought but mischief. One put out her tongue at me, the other bade me follow the cows; and they both giggled and jogged each other’s elbows.
 

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Extollager

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I don't remember any references to Price in Machen's writings, but I've generally not taken notes when reading Machen and have never tried to be an expert on his life (or, really, on his writings either; I just like much that I have read, and the literary authors whom Machen mentions usually are ones I'm interested in for other reasons too). If I had to guess, I'd guess that Machen would have been amused by Price rather than influenced by him. Just to take one topic, vegetarianism -- Machen has a vein of writing devoted to praise of beef cookery -- notably a piece in a World War 2-era book, called We Shall Eat and Drink Again. I should try to post an except or two!

Machen did pick up some odds and ends about the occult, partly from his employment for a time as a young cataloguer of someone's book collection, and partly from a spell of association with the Golden Dawn (nothing to do with the Greek party of that name that you read about sometimes now). But he regarded it with amusement (see the comments on the "Twilight Star" in his autobiographical writing). What I think really did interest him was the early history of Christianity in Britain, the ancient Christian liturgies, Christian mystics such as Traherne, Boehme, and William Law, etc. I'm referring to his life and literary output as a whole.

A topic that can be picked up by anyone who'd like to explore it, with my compliments: was Machen a reader of Andrew Lang, who dealt with folklore, anthropology, myth, etc.?
 

Extollager

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I did read the New Arabian Nights, back in junior high school, though I fear I remember absolutely nothing about them.
I'm reading the NAR now. "The Suicide Club" was competent entertainment, while "The Pavilion on the Links," currently underway, is better. If you like John Buchan, you ought to look up this story.

The above picture seems to be an old illustration; a more recent one is here:
http://www.jrusselljinishiangallery.com/pages/gilkerson-pages/gilkersonimage-arabian.htm
 

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I'm now finishing Stevenson's Amateur Emigrant, his account of his transatlantic voyage from Scotland to New York. He was dismayed by what he the attitude of "workmen fellow-passengers" who "would not hear of improvement on their part, but wished the world made over again in a crack, so that they might remain improvident and idle and debauched, and yet enjoy the comfort and respect that should accompany the opposite virtues; and it was in this expectation, as far as I could see, that many of them were now on their way to America." I remember something close to that attitude from the Sixties and Seventies...
 

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Stevenson's account of a transcontinental rail journey in the Across the Plains portion of the Amateur Emigrant is an excellent sequel to Francis Parkman's Oregon Trail, if one's read that account from about 40 years before.

In contrast, Machen's ginger-whiskered narrator isn't very convincing to me in his "Novel of the Dark Valley," but then Mr. Ginger Whiskers is not trustworthy. He relates:

After about a week had been spentin New York we took our seats in the cars, and began a journey tedious beyondall conception. Day after day, and night after night, the great train rolledon, threading its way through cities the very names of which were strange tome, passing at slow speed over perilous viaducts, skirting mountain ranges andpine forests, and plunging into dense tracts of wood, where mile after mile andhour after hour the same monotonous growth of brushwood met the eye, and allalong the continual clatter and rattle of the wheels upon the ill-laid linesmade it difficult to hear the voices of our fellow-passengers. We were aheterogeneous and ever-changing company; often I woke up in the dead of nightwith the sudden grinding jar of the brakes, and looking out found that we hadstopped in the shabby street of some frame-built town, lighted chiefly by theflaring windows of the saloon. A few rough-looking fellows would often come outto stare at the cars, and sometimes passengers got down, and sometimes therewas a party of two or three waiting on the wooden sidewalk to get on board.Many of the passengers were English; humble households torn up from themoorings of a thousand years, and bound for some problematical paradise in thealkali desert or the Rockies. I heard the men talking to one another of thegreat profits to be made on the virgin soil of America, and two or three, whowere mechanics, expatiated on the wonderful wages given to skilled labor on therailways and in the factories of the States. This talk usually fell dead aftera few minutes, and I could see a sickness and dismay in the faces of these menas they looked at the ugly brush or at the desolate expanse of the prairie, dottedhere and there with frame-houses, devoid of garden, or flowers or trees,standing all alone in what might have been a great gray sea frozen intostillness.

Mr. Ginger Whiskers appears to imagine the train journey from New York to Reading, Pennsylvania, as taking five days. (He doesn't say "Pennsylvania," but what other Reading is there? Massachusetts, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota?) Driving time today between New York and the Pennyslvania city is about 125 miles! [Later: I see that Machen's narrator images the destination as in the Rocky Mountains... at a place called Blue Rock Park. Blue Rock Park is in Ohio -- !]

Oh, but I'd urge the curious reader to look up Stevenson's chapter called "The Plains of Nebraska" -- it's just superb, but, even though only a few pages long, too long to quote here. That might well whet his or her appetite to read the whole book--which I am finding excellent.

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/614/614-h/614-h.htm#page1
Do yourself a favor and look it up. Now that's writing
 
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Extollager

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...I see that at the end of the "Dark Valley" story the narrator specifies Colorado as the locale.

I suppose I'd read this Machen story of a wicked gang and vigilante justice just once before, about 40 years ago. It's a poorish thing! Had he submitted it to one of the Western adventure pulps, maybe it'd have been accepted if an issue needed a make-weight.
 

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Machen's con man story ("Private Bar") rates as passable entertainment, but I had no sense of regret, reading it again after perhaps 40 years, that I hadn't reread it more often. Il peut être oublié.
 

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The "Decorative Imagination" and "Iron Maid" bits also seems like a make-weight. As I approach the end of Machen's Three Impostors, I'm feeling that the usual judgment is correct, that the much-anthologized "Black Seal" and "White Powder" are the only stories therein that have much going for them.

Machen's London, in this book, likely owes something to Stevenson's London in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde -- not just the nocturnal London descriptions, but the use of bachelor conversationalists as characters.

From "Decorative Imagination" may be salvaged this:

One night we conversed so eagerly together over our pipesand whiskey that the clock passed unnoticed, and when I glanced up I realizedwith a shock that I had just five minutes in which to catch the last tram. Imade a dash for my hat and stick, and jumped out of the house and down thesteps, and tore at full speed up the street. It was no good, however; there wasa shriek of the engine whistle, and I stood there at the station door and sawfar on the long dark line of the embankment a red light shine and vanish, and aporter came down and shut the door with a bang.

"How far to London?" I asked him.

"A good nine miles to Waterloo Bridge;" andwith that he went off.

Before me was the long suburban street, its drearydistance marked by rows of twinkling lamps, and the air was poisoned by thefaint sickly smell of burning bricks; it was not a cheerful prospect by anymeans, and I had to walk through nine miles of such streets, deserted as thoseof Pompeii. I knew pretty well what direction to take; so I set out wearily,looking at the stretch of lamps vanishing in perspective; and as I walked,street after street branched off to right and left,—some far reaching todistances that seemed endless, communicating with, other systems ofthoroughfare; and some mere protoplasmic streets, beginning in orderly fashionwith serried two-storied houses, and ending suddenly in waste, and pits, andrubbish heaps, and fields whence the magic had departed. I have spoken ofsystems of thoroughfare, and I assure you that, walking alone through thesesilent places, I felt phantasy growing on me, and some glamour of the infinite.There was here. I felt, an immensity as in the outer void, of the universe. Ipassed from unknown to unknown, my way marked by lamps like stars, and oneither band was an unknown world where myriads of men dwelt and slept, streetleading into street, as it seemed to world's end. At first the road by which Iwas travelling was lined with houses of unutterable monotony,—a wall of graybrick pierced by two stories of windows, drawn close to the very pavement. Butby degrees I noticed an improvement: there were gardens, and these grew larger.The suburban builder began to allow himself a wider scope; and for a certaindistance each flight of steps was guarded by twin lions of plaster, and scentsof flowers prevailed over the fume of heated bricks. The road began to climb ahill, and, looking up a side street, I saw the half moon rise over plane-trees,and there on the other side was as if a white cloud had fallen, and the airaround it was sweetened as with incense; it was a may-tree in full bloom.


And from the "Iron Maid" may be salvaged this:


One night we conversed so eagerly together over our pipesand whiskey that the clock passed unnoticed, and when I glanced up I realizedwith a shock that I had just five minutes in which to catch the last tram. Imade a dash for my hat and stick, and jumped out of the house and down thesteps, and tore at full speed up the street. It was no good, however; there wasa shriek of the engine whistle, and I stood there at the station door and sawfar on the long dark line of the embankment a red light shine and vanish, and aporter came down and shut the door with a bang.

"How far to London?" I asked him.

"A good nine miles to Waterloo Bridge;" andwith that he went off.

Before me was the long suburban street, its drearydistance marked by rows of twinkling lamps, and the air was poisoned by thefaint sickly smell of burning bricks; it was not a cheerful prospect by anymeans, and I had to walk through nine miles of such streets, deserted as thoseof Pompeii. I knew pretty well what direction to take; so I set out wearily,looking at the stretch of lamps vanishing in perspective; and as I walked,street after street branched off to right and left,—some far reaching todistances that seemed endless, communicating with, other systems ofthoroughfare; and some mere protoplasmic streets, beginning in orderly fashionwith serried two-storied houses, and ending suddenly in waste, and pits, andrubbish heaps, and fields whence the magic had departed. I have spoken ofsystems of thoroughfare, and I assure you that, walking alone through thesesilent places, I felt phantasy growing on me, and some glamour of the infinite.There was here. I felt, an immensity as in the outer void, of the universe. Ipassed from unknown to unknown, my way marked by lamps like stars, and oneither band was an unknown world where myriads of men dwelt and slept, streetleading into street, as it seemed to world's end. At first the road by which Iwas travelling was lined with houses of unutterable monotony,—a wall of graybrick pierced by two stories of windows, drawn close to the very pavement. Butby degrees I noticed an improvement: there were gardens, and these grew larger.The suburban builder began to allow himself a wider scope; and for a certaindistance each flight of steps was guarded by twin lions of plaster, and scentsof flowers prevailed over the fume of heated bricks. The road began to climb ahill, and, looking up a side street, I saw the half moon rise over plane-trees,and there on the other side was as if a white cloud had fallen, and the airaround it was sweetened as with incense; it was a may-tree in full bloom.
 
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Extollager

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Here (below), in Machen's "Strange Occurrence in Clerkenwell" portion, we have an explicit reference to one of the authors proposed for discussion in this thread. (NB The "strange occurrence" is not a story of its own, but one of the numerous Impostors bridges.)

Withall the enthusiasm of his accomplished labor still working in his brain, he putaway his papers, and went out, pacing the pavement at first in that rare moodof exultation which finds in every stone upon the way the possibilities of amasterpiece. It was growing late, and the autumn evening was drawing to a closeamidst veils of haze and mist, and in the stilled air the voices, and theroaring traffic, and incessant feet seemed, to Dyson like the noise upon thestage when all the house is silent. In the square, the leaves rippled down asquick as summer rain, and the street beyond was beginning to flare with thelights in the butcher's shops and the vivid illumination of the green-grocer.It was a Saturday night, and the swarming populations of the slums were turningout in force; the battered women in rusty black had begun to paw the lumps ofcagmag, and others gloated over unwholesome cabbages, and there was a briskdemand for four-ale. Dyson passed through these night-fires with some relief;he loved to meditate, but his thoughts were not as De Quincey's after his dose....
 

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I referred above

http://www.sffchronicles.co.uk/forum/547803-literary-forbears-of-arthur-machen-2.html#post1807154

to Machen writing about good food. Below, I paste a portion of a piece published four years ago in the excellent Tolkien 'zine Beyond Bree; the passages it quotes are from what must be one of the last things that Arthur Machen wrote for publication!

I've been browsing a little in We Shall Eat and Drink Again: A Wine and FoodAnthology edited by Louis Golding and AndreSimon (London: Hutchinson, 1944). Printed on poor-quality wartime paper,it celebrates gourmet dining, i.e. mostly French or other foreigngastronomy. Golding opens the book with an observation that kept thingsin perspective: "Seeing that [a luncheon he'd just described] was takingplace during the fifth year of the greatest war in history, we were doingextremely well." Still, he counted on better times coming soon;"victory was inevitable ... within a year, or two at most" -- then"there would be as much butter as one cares for, eggs and cream, sugar andspice. Wine would flow again," etc. .....

Arthur Machen's essay .... "Gray's InnCoffee House" starts with a description not of food, but of taverns heknew as recently as 25 years ago, "snug places where you could get goodmeat and good drink, and enjoy the flavour of a long tradition with yourfood." ..... Machen praises the "'Christmas Beef' of the old days, beef thathad been fattened for the feast," and YorkshirePudding -- "not a solid and a greasy and a viscous slab, sodden anddetestable, but a dish that seemed to have gone through some great convulsionof nature and the oven, and to have emerged triumphant. There were goldenplains and valleys all smiling before you; but here and again internal heatshad blown the smooth regions into volcanic and mountainous appearancesblackened as by hidden fires. Below all this, bland delight, fit tomingle with the full flavours of the smoking beef. ... For vegetables, potatoes, in the brown jackets of the yeomanry, huge, stout fellows, which,broken, fall in a dry, white flour on the plate; and, if all this is notenough, you may add a dish of Jerusalem artichokes, simple in themselves,without sauce, save, perhaps, for a dab or two of butter, added when they arelaid in the dish." There should behorseradish, "fresh dug from the kitchengarden," then "pounded and compounded and made velvety withcream" for a condiment.

Such enormously satisfying food was something to remember, not enjoy, inwartime England and for years thereafter.
 

Extollager

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This Machen passage ("Young Man with Spectacles") sounds like a pastiche or even a parody of De Quincey:


……For my part I chose the glorious career of scholar inits ancient sense; I longed to possess encyclopædic learning, to grow oldamongst books, to distil day by day, and year after year, the inmost sweetnessof all worthy writings. I was not rich enough to collect a library, and I wastherefore forced to betake myself to the Reading-Room of the British Museum.
O dim, far-lifted and mighty dome, Mecca of manyminds, mausoleum of many hopes, sad house where all desires fail. For there menenter in with hearts uplifted, and dreaming minds, seeing in those exaltedstairs a ladder to fame, in that pompous portico the gate of knowledge; andgoing in, find but vain vanity, and all but in vain. There, when the longstreets are ringing, is silence, there eternal twilight, and the odor ofheaviness. But there the blood flows thin and cold, and the brain burns adust;there is the hunt of shadows, and the chase of embattled phantoms; a strivingagainst ghosts, and a war that has no victory. O dome, tomb of the quick;surely in thy galleries where no reverberant voice can call, sighs whisperever, and mutterings of dead hopes; and there men's souls mount like mothstowards the flame, and fall scorched and blackened beneath thee, O dim,far-lifted, and mighty dome.
 

Extollager

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In Far-Off Things, Machen wrote about his adolescent poem Eleusinia (see quotation below). I wonder if Machen encountered Coventry Patmore's review of Thomas Woolner's Tiresias in the St. James's Gazette for 17 April 1886, which begins with some remarks about the Eleusinian mysteries. The Patmore piece is reprinted in Courage in Politics, mentioned earlier in these postings.

http://www.sffchronicles.co.uk/forum/547803-literary-forbears-of-arthur-machen-2.html#post1805478

Of his early poem, Machen wrote:

[FONT=&quot]The classic "poem" was finished some time in the winter of 1880-81, and then I performed a bold action. I sent the manuscript—I can see it now, written in a sprawly hand on both sides of ordinary letter paper—to a Hereford stationer, and bade him print me one hundred copies thereof. He, strangely enough, did so, and I saw myself in print for the first time. I have been looking at my copy of this work, I should think the only copy in existence, and wondering whether I would quote a few lines from it. I have decided against this course. But, after all, I was only seventeen when I wrote "Eleusinia."[/FONT]
 
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Extollager

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From "Decorative Imagination" may be salvaged this:
Actually, this:


Before us is unfolded the greatest spectacle the worldhas ever seen,—the mystery of the innumerable unending streets, the strangeadventures that must infallibly arise from so complicated a press of interests.Nay, I will say that he who has stood in the ways of a suburb and has seen themstretch before him all shining, void, and desolate at noonday, has not lived invain. Such a sight is in reality more wonderful than any perspective of Bagdador Grand Cairo. ….Look out into the street; you can catch a view of it, if youcrane your neck from that chair of yours. Is it not charming? The double row oflamps growing closer in the distance, the hazy outline of the plane-tree in thesquare, and the lights of the hansoms swimming to and fro, gliding andvanishing; and above, the sky all clear and blue and shining.
 

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From the three-part poem "North-West Passage" in Stevenson's Child's Garden of Verses:

2. Shadow March

All around the house is the jet-black night;
It stares through the window-pane;
It crawls in the corners, hiding from the light,
And it moves with the moving flame.

Now my little heart goes a beating like a drum,
With the breath of the Bogies in my hair;
And all around the candle the crooked shadows come,
And go marching along up the stair.

The shadow of the balusters, the shadow of the lamp,
The shadow of the child that goes to bed—
All the wicked shadows coming tramp, tramp, tramp,
With the black night overhead.
 

Extollager

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In Things Near and Far, Machen wrote: "...he who cannot find wonder, mystery, awe, the sense of a new world and in undiscovered realm in the places by the Gray's Inn Road will never find those secrets elsewhere, not in the heart of Africa, not in the fabled hidden cities of Tibet."

I mean later today to quote a couple of other authors who express related sentiments.
 

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Here we go:

"The real Moon, if you could reach it and survive, would in a deep and deadly snese be just like anywhere else. You would find cold, hunger, hardship, and danger, and after the first few hours they would be simply cold, hunger, hardship, and danger as you might have met them on Earth. ...No man would find an abiding strangeness on the Moon unless he were the sort of man who could find it in his own back garden." (C. S. Lewis, "On Stories," 1947)

"There is no foreign land; it is the traveller only that is foreign and now and again, by a flash of recollection, lights up the contrasts of the earth." (Robert Louis Stevenson, The Silverado Squatters, chapter called "The Return")

I don't mean to imply that these quotations say the same thing. The degree to which they do and that to which they don't might be worth discussing.
 
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