Sherlock Holmes and the English Opium Eater

Last year I wrote about the literary connections between Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Machen in The Baker Street Journal. This year I write about the influence of Thomas De Quincey on Conan Doyle.

Founded in 1946 by Edgar W. Smith, the BSJ is the preeminent journal of Sherlockian scholarship.

My essay, “Sherlock Holmes and the English Opium Eater” appears in the Autumn 2019 issue on newsstands now.

Subscribe to The Baker Street Journal here.

Machen on Architecture

In 1987, The Prince of Wales famously excoriated the shortsighted city planners and developers who rebuilt London after the Second World War. “You have to give this much to the Luftwaffe” he said. “When it knocked down our buildings, it didn’t replace them with anything more offensive than rubble. We did that.”

Decades earlier the weird-fiction writer and sometime Londoner Arthur Machen expressed similar sentiments. In the Spring 2019 issue of Faunus, R.B. Russell quotes a letter by Machen to Montgomery Evans around the end of the War. Machen writes:

And that brings me to the confession that I don’t curse the Germans very fiercely for their London destruction so far as the new buildings are concerned. It is we who destroyed London & wrecked the Strand, pulled down the Adelphi, abolished Clifford’s Inn (pre-Great Fire), built flats where Clements Inn once stood with green lawns. You can remember the old Café Royal: it wasn’t Germans who ruined it. And as for the Wren churches in the City: it was with great difficulty that the Bishop of London was restrained from pulling many of them down & selling the sites 20 years ago.

Remembering Sir John Betjeman

Betjeman1

Sir John Betjeman left a towering legacy as a poet and preservationist. He wrote about the touchstones of British life, both grand and homely. As an Anglican Christian, who credited his conversion in part to Arthur Machen’s novel The Secret Glory, he was particularly concerned with English cathedrals and parish churches. W.H. Auden described him as a man who was “at home with the provincial gaslit towns, the seaside lodgings, the bicycle, the harmonium.” Betjeman defended the branch line railways that fell to Beeching’s Axe in the 1960s. He was an advocate for Victorian architecture, which was deeply unpopular during most of the twentieth century. It is largely thanks to his campaigning that the magnificent St Pancras Station and Midland Grand Hotel were saved from demolition in the 1960s.

My favorite account of Betjeman comes from the Australian actor Barry Humphries. In The Telegraph, he writes:

John described himself not as a poet but as a ‘senior journalist’, and in his book-cluttered sitting-room, lined with green William Morris wallpaper and hung with pictures by Conder, Laura Knight and Max Beerbohm, he dispensed generous late-morning drinks, usually ‘bubbly’ in pewter tankards, to friends such as Osbert Lancaster, Philip Larkin, Kingsley Amis and, not seldom, an Anglican priest or two.

It was a heady company into which I, a callow colonial, had been agreeably plunged. After a few drinks, and in an exalted mood, we would all repair to Coleman’s chophouse, in Aldersgate Street, where the atmosphere and appointments were immutably pre-war, and remained so until the enlightened mid-1960s, when the entire eastern side of that old thoroughfare was razed and replaced by council houses in the Brutalist style, now woefully shabby.

At Coleman’s we would all tuck into roast beef and Brussels sprouts, and drink more champagne. John always insisted on paying, which was just as well. His Collected Poems was a bestseller, and his masterpiece, the poetic autobiography Summoned by Bells, was a huge popular success, in spite of a few sniffy and envious reviews.

John was fond of exclaiming, with great merriment and that high, exultant cackle that his friends remember with such heart-rending affection, ‘Thanks to the telly, I’m as rich as Croesus!’ The poacher’s pockets in his jacket bulged with books and round canisters of Player’s cigarettes, which he liked to smoke because the ‘art work’ on the tins hadn’t changed in 30 or more years.

Sir John Betjeman’s former home at 43 Cloth Fair, overlooking Great Saint Bart’s, is owned by the Landmark Trust, which rents it out to holidaymakers.

A New Essay in ‘The Baker Street Journal’

I had the opportunity to write about two of my favorite literary subjects—Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Machen—for The Baker Street Journal. Founded in 1946 by Edgar W. Smith, the BSJ is the preeminent journal of Sherlockian scholarship.

My essay, “A Crime Scene in ‘The Resident Patient’ and The Three Imposters” looks at the influence of Conan Doyle on Machen. It appears in the Autumn 2018 issue on newsstands now.

Subscribe to The Baker Street Journal here.

A New Essay in ‘Faunus’ 37

Throughout the 1920s, the great weird fiction writer Arthur Machen held garden parties at his home in St John’s Wood. He served his guests a cocktail that he called Dog and Duck punch. One friend described it as a “golden, harmless, seductive, suave, crystalline compound, drunk in beakers,” that “crept up quietly and sandbagged you from behind, without warning.”

What was in it? My essay on Dog and Duck punch (and Machen’s parties more generally) appears in the Spring 2018 issue of Faunus: The Journal of the Friends of Arthur Machen. If you are a member of the Friends, you have your copy. If not, join here. More on the contents at Wormwoodiana.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Arthur Machen on Their Own Best Work

In 1924 the Milton scholar and weird fiction writer E.H. Visiak asked a number of authors to select their own best works for an article in John o’London’s Weekly, entitled “My Best Book: Famous Authors Name Their Favourites for John o’London.” Some of the replies have been collected at Wormwoodiana. Here are Algernon Blackwood, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (being contrarian), Arthur Machen, and Rafael Sabatini:

Algernon Blackwood

Mr. Algernon Blackwood selects the Centaur, as having expressed most of himself.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

“I think Sir Nigel my best novel, and The White Company second.”

Arthur Machen

“I should think that on the whole The Hill of Dreams is my most successful experiment in literature… [sic]

“Whatever merit the book may have is perhaps due to the fact that it is a reflection of the impressions of my native county, Gwent, or Monmouthshire, which I gathered when I was a boy.

“I am a great believer in the doctrine that a man of letters knows everything vital that he is to know by the time he is 18.

“When I read that Mr. Thingumbob has gone to Penzance or Pernambuco ‘to get local colour for his new novel’ I know that Mr. Thingumbob, is, roughly speaking, a rotter.”

Rafael Sabatini

“In my own opinion Scaramouche is the best novel I have written. At least, in Scaramouche I was less conscious than usual when the work was done of a gap between the aim and the achievement.”

Read more at Wormwoodiana.

Arthur Machen’s Bookplate

Over at Wormwoodiana, Boyd White writes an interesting piece about the ex libris of Arthur Machen, which Vincent Starrett called, “one of the great rarities in its field.”

There were four known examples of the bookplate, designed by Herbert Jones, who was chief librarian of Kensington around the fin de siècle. Recently, White tracked down a fifth at the British Library, in a copy of John Henry Parker’s An Introduction to the Study of Gothic Architecture, given to Machen as a Christmas present by his father.

Machen_Bookplate

Remembering Arthur Machen

arthur-machen (1)

Arthur Llewelyn Jones-Machen was born in Caerleon, Wales in March of 1863 to the Anglican clergyman John Edward Jones and his wife, Janet. The shortened form of Machen, which Arthur used for most of his life, was a surname from his mother’s side of the family. He grew up in Llanddewi Fach, a rural parish outside of Caerleon, where his father was vicar. The area had a rich history intertwined with Welsh myth and folklore. The earliest legends of King Arthur placed the seat of his kingdom not in Camelot but in Caerleon. The landscape would influence Machen’s future work in fantasy and weird fiction.

In the 1870s, archaeologists began to uncover remnants of Roman settlements in the region: stonework and pagan idols. Machen’s own grandfather, who had been the vicar of Caerleon, was a well-regarded local antiquary, who had discovered Roman stones in his own churchyard. The sense that strangeness and the supernatural permeated the very land would remain with Machen. That countryside with its Roman ruins and fairy glens would reoccur often in his fiction. Much later, he wrote:

I shall always esteem it as the greatest piece of fortune that has fallen to me, that I was born in that noble, fallen Caerleon-on-Usk, in the heart of Gwent. . . . For the older I grow the more firmly I am convinced that anything which I may have accomplished in literature is due to the fact that when my eyes were first opened in earliest childhood they had before them the vision of an enchanted land.

As a boy, Machen was intelligent, reserved, and solitary. Fred Hando, in his volume of local history, The Pleasant Land of Gwent, attributes Machen’s interest in the occult to an article about alchemy that he read in an old issue of Charles Dickens’s magazine, Household Words, when he was eight years old. Hando elaborates on Machen’s youthful reading habits: “He bought De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater at Pontypool Road Railway Station, The Arabian Nights at Hereford Railway Station, and borrowed Don Quixote from Mrs. Gwyn, of Llanfrechfa Rectory. In his father’s library he found also the Waverley Novels, a three-volume edition of the Glossary of Gothic Architecture, and an early volume of Tennyson.” By the time he was sent to study at Hereford Cathedral School at the age of eleven, he showed an interest in history and literature. His family might have sent him on to Oxford, where his father had studied, but they lacked the resources. Instead, he decided to pursue a career in journalism.

Machen moved to London in the early 1880s. He did not immediately attempt to establish himself in Fleet Street. Instead he lived on little and spent his time wandering and exploring the city. He observed the strange juxtaposition of old and new, as Victorian development encroached upon the often dilapidated remains of ancient London.

In 1881, shortly before moving to London, he published Eleusinia, a poetic treatment of the Greco-Roman mystery cult. He published his second book, The Anatomy of Tobacco, in 1884. This was a whimsical appreciation of pipe-smoking. Through his publisher, George Redway, Machen was hired as an editor at the magazine Walford’s Antiquarian. During this period he undertook several translations from French literature, including a multi-volume edition of Casanova’s Memoirs, and produced his first novel, The Chronicle of Clemendy.

In 1887, at the age of twenty-four, Machen married a young music teacher named Amy Hogg. His father died the same year, leaving an inheritance that allowed Machen to write full time. He had developed a mature style of prose by the end of the decade. His writing reflected a sense of nostalgia and an interest in supernatural and occult themes. His first major achievement was a short novel, The Great God Pan, for which he is still best known. The story, about a woman born of pagan ritual and occult science, caused a stir with its suggested horrors and perverse sexuality. The Great God Pan was published by John Lane in 1890 as part of the “Keynotes” series. It marked Machen’s arrival as a member of the literary Decadent movement. He became acquainted with other major figures of the genre, including Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley. He and Amy were living in a cottage in the Chilterns in southeast England. There he wrote another book, The Three Imposters, which was also published by Lane. It is a portmanteau novel which follows two bohemian friends as they try to learn the identity of a young man in spectacles who was seen throwing a Roman coin—”the gold Tiberius”—into the street as he ran terrified into the night. Along the way they hear many strange stories.

Machen’s rise in the literary world was cut short by a scandal that did not involve him. The Decadent Movement was widely repudiated in the mid-1890s when Oscar Wilde was put on trial for sodomy and gross indecency. Machen continued to write over the next decade but did not publish. Fortunately, he still had his inheritance to live upon. He wrote two novellas, The White People and A Fragment of Life, both of which evoked the mystical Welsh countryside of his childhood, as well as a novel, The Hill of Dreams, during this period. He also wrote a series of prose poems, which were later collected in Ornaments of Jade. In addition to writing, Machen took an editorial position at the magazine Literature in 1898. Though he did not remain there long, he had the opportunity to develop his own ideas on the subject of literary theory, which he outlined in the book, Hieroglyphics, in 1902.

The Hill of Dreams, which was written between 1895 and 1897, but not published until 1907, was his last word in the Decadent genre. It is widely regarded as his finest work, a judgment that he did not dispute. Machen told the writer E.H. Visiak, “I should think that on the whole The Hill of Dreams is my most successful experiment in literature.” An annotated bibliography prepared by The Friends of Arthur Machen describes the haunting and ambiguous story as follows:

Lucian Taylor, the hero, is damned, either through contact with an erotically pagan ‘other’ world or through something degenerate in his own nature, which he thinks of as a ‘faun’. He becomes a writer, and when he moves to London he becomes trapped by the increasing reality of the dark imaginings of this creature within him, which become increasingly real. Machen drew copiously on his own early years in Wales and London, and the book as a whole is an exploration through imagination of a potential fate which he personally avoided. One of the first explorations in fiction of the figure of the doomed artist, who is biographically so much a part of the decadent 1890s.

As the turn of the twentieth century approached, Machen suffered a terrible loss. After a long illness, his wife, Amy, died of cancer in 1899. Machen was overwhelmed with grief and suffered a nervous breakdown. Friends encouraged him to recover by cultivating his spiritual life. Through Arthur Edward Waite, he joined the occult society, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Though Machen shared the group’s interest in the Western Mystery Tradition his own spiritual awakening was leading him in a different direction.

Machen was a lifelong Anglican Christian. Following the death of his wife, he experienced a religious epiphany. He would later write that during the “autumn of 1899-1900 . . . the two worlds of sense and spirit were admirably and wonderfully mingled, so that it was difficult, or rather impossible, to distinguish the outward and sensible glow from the inward and spiritual grace.” He was a high churchman who favored the catholic inheritance of the Church of England over the reformed inheritance. But he identified the catholicity of Anglicanism with a Celtic Christianity that predated the arrival of missionaries from the Church of Rome.

He found other ways to work through the heartbreak of Amy’s death as well. In 1901, he made the perhaps unexpected—but to anyone who knows the healing potential of theater, not surprising—decision to become an actor. He joined Frederick Benson’s theater company. Touring and performing gave Machen a source of optimism and confidence, which spilled over into the rest of his life. Though previously extremely reserved, he now became more outgoing and gregarious.

Four years after Amy’s death, Machen married for the second time, to Dorothie Purefoy Hudleston. Purefoy, as she was called, was a fellow member of Benson’s company. The couple frequently toured with the troupe and enjoyed a rather bohemian lifestyle. Purefoy encouraged Machen in both his faith and his writing. In 1906, at last, he published a collection of old and new pieces, The House of Souls. The following year, he published his a masterwork of literary Decadence, The Hill of Dreams. However, the times had changed, as had Machen himself. He largely abandoned the themes of paganism and evil that had characterized his works of the fin de siècle.

A new purpose appeared in his writings from the early 1900s onward. His interest in Celtic Christianity and mysticism came to define his work. He began to write for The Academy, a conservative literary journal, run by Lord Alfred Douglas, in which Machen explored the legends of King Arthur and the Holy Grail, placing them in the context of Celtic Christianity. Machen’s writings on religion emphasized ritual and the imagination. During this time, he translated his interest in the Holy Grail to fiction in the novel, The Secret Glory, about a young orphan who achieves salvation and martyrdom on a modern quest for the Grail.

Toward the end of the decade, Machen ran into financial difficulties. To make ends meet, he returned to a career in journalism. He joined the staff of the Daily Mail in 1908 then transferred to The Evening News in 1910. As an experienced writer, he was asked to report on a variety of important subjects, including the funeral of renowned explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott. Most of his regular pieces, however, focused on religion or on the arts. Though The Evening News offered Machen a good, reliable income, he chaffed at the constraints of full-time employment.

Despite his dissatisfaction with the job, it gave him his first real taste of fame. In August of 1914, at the outset of the First World War, the British and German armies fought at Mons in Belgium. The battle ended in a strategic retreat by the British, a demoralizing opening gambit to the war. Machen responded with a newspaper story that combined fiction and fact, imagining that angelic archers had appeared over the battlefield and fought alongside the British. This piece, “The Bowmen,” soon caused mass confusion. Machen’s previous stories for the paper had not included fiction, and the piece resembled the first-person accounts of soldiers frequently published by The Evening News. On top of this, censorship from the battlefield made it difficult for those at home to know exactly what had really taken place at the front. Many people believed that the story was true. Machen always maintained that it was a fiction. Nevertheless, the story of the “the Angels of Mons” spread and became legendary, with soldiers confirming that they had seen the vision with their own eyes, and readers refusing to believe that Machen had made it all up.

The story was published in a collection of wartime fiction, which sold very well. Machen was encouraged to turn his attention back to creative writing, publishing a number of new stories. The relative financial security that he enjoyed at this point helped support a growing family. He and his wife had two children. But his career in journalism ended abruptly in a bizarre episode in 1921. That year he published an obituary of his former editor at The Academy, Lord Alfred Douglas. In the obituary he alluded to the homosexual affair between Lord Alfred and Oscar Wilde, which had been the cause of Wilde’s trial and disgrace. Awkwardly for Machen, Lord Alfred was not, in fact, dead. He sued The Evening News. Machen was fired. He responded to his exile from Fleet Street with a quotation from the Psalms in Latin: “Eduxit me de lacu miseriae, et de luto faecis” (“He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay,” in the King James Version). One has to wonder whether he sabotaged his own career intentionally, or at least subconsciously.

Machen saw a resurgence in the popularity of his early fiction in the 1920s. His horror stories had been discovered in the United States. This led to a reappraisal of his work in Britain. He was frequently republished on both sides of the Atlantic throughout the decade. During the 1920s the Machens lived in St John’s Wood where their house was the center of a literary salon and many parties. In the 1930s Arthur and Purefoy moved out of London, retiring to Amersham in Buckinghamshire, where they lived peacefully until Machen’s death in 1947.

The importance of Arthur Machen and the range of his influence cannot be overestimated. Every significant writer of weird fiction in the twentieth century was influenced by him. H.P. Lovecraft considered him one of the very few “modern masters” of the genre. As a Christian thinker he had a profound influence on the Anglican mystic Evelyn Underhill. His book, The Secret Glory, read as a teenager, inspired the Christian faith of Sir John Betjeman.

“Here then is the pattern in my carpet,” Machen once wrote, “the sense of the eternal mysteries, the eternal beauty hidden beneath the crust of common and commonplace things; hidden and yet burning and glowing continually if you care to look with purged eyes.”

See also: The Only Known Recording of Arthur Machen.

Sources:

Anderson, Douglas A. (May 23, 2015) “Best Books,” Wormwoodiana. http://wormwoodiana.blogspot.com/2015/05/best-books.html

Hando, Fred. (1945) The Pleasant Land of Gwent. Newport: R H Johns Ltd.

Machen, Arthur. (1923) The Works of Arthur Machen (Caerleon Edition). London: Martin Secker.

Machen, Arthur. (1924) The London Adventure, or The Art of Wandering. London: Martin Secker.

Sweetster, Wesley; Goldstone, Adrian. (1960) Arthur Machen. Llandeilo: St Albert’s Press.

Valentine, Mark. (1995) Arthur Machen. Bridgend: Seren Books.

Wilson, A.N. (June 6, 2005) “Angels were on his side,” The Telegraph. London. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/personal-view/3617433/World-of-books.html

“The Life of Arthur Machen.” http://www.arthurmachen.org.uk/machbiog.html

“Arthur Machen’s Writings: Annotated Bibliography.” http://www.arthurmachen.org.uk/machwork.html

The Only Known Recording of Arthur Machen

Arthur Machen (1863-1947) left a broad body of work. In addition to his superlative tales of the outré (The Great God Pan, The Hill of Dreams, “The White People,” et. al.), Machen was a prolific Fleet Street journalist. Given the length and breadth of his career it is somewhat surprising that almost no recordings of him exist. In 1934 he wrote to friend Montgomery Evans, “nor do I imagine that the B.B.C. has heard of me.”

He did eventually record at least one program for the BBC in March of 1937. A three-and-a-half minute fragment of the broadcast survives. It may be the only surviving record of Machen’s voice. On the program he discusses Charles Dickens, of whom he was a great admirer. It is a remarkable treasure for anyone who loves Machen as I do. Listen here.