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Arthur Machen A Novelist of Ecstasy and Sin   By: (1886-1974)

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A Novelist of Ecstasy and Sin



With Two Uncollected Poems by


Chicago Walter M. Hill 1918


With singular unanimity critics for thirty years have slighted the work of Arthur Machen. A line suffices for him in Holbrook Jackson's "The Eighteen Nineties," and Mr. Blaikie Murdoch ignores him completely in "The Renaissance of the Nineties"; yet those are the standard works on the period to which, chronologically, at least, Machen belongs. Mr. Turquet Milnes, with greater appreciation, gives him a half chapter in his scholarly work, "The Influence of Baudelaire," but even that is made up largely of quotations from "The Hill of Dreams," to prove Machen a descendent of Baudelaire an error to which I subscribed until Machen himself disillusioned me, although the assertion is still partially true.

Because, in my opinion, Arthur Machen is the outstanding artist of his time, and one of the great masters of all time, I wrote the following paper, which first appeared in Reedy's Mirror for October 5, 1917. That issue is not now obtainable, and, as calls for it continue to come to me and to the publisher, I find ground for a belief that Machen may, at length, be coming into his own, a tardy phenomenon which I am happy to hasten so far as it lies within my power. Mr. Walter M. Hill shares this feeling and this brochure is the result.

I am indebted to Mr. William Marion Reedy for permission to reprint those parts of the article which appeared in his journal.



Some thirty odd years ago a young man of twenty two, the son of a Welsh clergyman, fresh from school and with his head full of a curiously occult mediaevalism, privately acquired from yellowed palimpsests and dog eared volumes of black letter, wrote a classic. More, he had it published. Only one review copy was sent out; that was to Le Livre , of Paris. It fell into the hands of Octave Uzanne, who instantly ordered Rabelais and Boccaccio to "shove over" on the immortal seats and make room by their side for the author. The book was "The Chronicle of Clemendy"; the author, Arthur Machen.

Three years ago, about, not long after the great war first shook the world, a London evening newspaper published inconspicuously a purely fictional account of a supposed incident of the British retreat from Mons. It described the miraculous intervention of the English archers of Agincourt at a time when the British were sore pressed by the German hordes. Immediately, churchmen, spiritualists, and a host of others, seized upon it as an authentic record and the miracle as an omen. In the hysteria that followed, Arthur Machen, its author, found himself a talked of man, because he wrote to the papers denying that the narrative was factual. Later, when his little volume, "The Bowmen and Other Legends of the War," appeared in print, it met with an extraordinary and rather impertinent success.

But what had Machen been doing all those long years between 1885 and 1914?

In a day of haphazard fiction and rodomontade criticism, the advent of a master workman is likely to be unheralded, if, indeed, he is fortunate enough to find a publisher to put him between covers. Mr. Machen is not a newcomer, however, as we have seen; no immediate success with a "best seller" furnishes an incentive for a complimentary notice. He is an unknown, in spite of "Clemendy," in spite of "The Bowmen," in spite of everything. For thirty years he has been writing English prose, a period ample for the making of a dozen reputations of the ordinary kind, and in that time he has produced just ten books... Continue reading book >>

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