The Weekly Machen
One of the great joys of curating material from the large corpus of Machen’s journalism is the discovery and widening of the author’s reading list. Indeed, Machen’s incisive book reviews have proven to be among the most popular installments of this weekly feature. Knowing the reading habits of a great author informs us about his world-view and experience as I hope A Reader of Curious Books and Mist and Mystery have illustrated. Such discoveries illuminate our understanding of Machen’s fictional work and may even disabuse us of false assumptions.
In light of all the above, for the next six weeks, I will post examples of Machen’s irregular review column “Among My Books.” As with similar articles previously posted, I will link to online sources of the reviewed books when possible. May it encourage us to spread our literary nets further afield.
Among My Books
A Queer Creation of a Child of Three
June 18, 1912
It is odd how deceptive books sometimes are. I rather pride myself on the faculty of judging a volume by a few quick glances, by turning a leaf here and a leaf there. But the method sometimes fails.
I tasted “The Barmecide’s Feast,” by John Gore (Lane) on this system the other day, and felt sure that I had found that good and rare thing, a really comic book.
Here are the passages by which I formed my opinion:—
I have only to range in quest of sport, through the scrubby bushes (or “Bush,” as these Barbarians ungrammatically describe them; for there are several) . . . .
I have only to look from my window over the bare expanse of prairie grass, and watch the kangaroos browsing and bounding on the bush herbage (in the latter action how strangely these dumb animals resemble their human masters. . . .
“If you don’t require a certain 30 per cent on your invested capital for the rest of your life, secured and absolutely guaranteed, put your nose in crêpe, for your brain’s dead.” (From a prospectus.)
These extracts struck me as highly promising, so I read “The Barmecide’s Feast” through—and discovered that chance had led my eyes to the only funny things in the book. The bulk of it is too extravagant to be amusing, and “Oxford College” is an old joke.
A Baby’s Imagination
Now, here is a very odd book indeed.
“Behind the Night Light” (Murray) is a picture of a child’s fantastic imagination, or in the words of the sub-title, it is “The By-World of a Child of Three.”
The child in question is Miss Joan Maude, and her dreams have been faithfully recorded by her mother, Miss Nancy Price.
Miss Price says in her preface:
I will attempt no psychological explanation as to how and whence the names, etc., came; I can only repeat that they issued from her brain alone, without suggestion of any kind other than her own imagination.
Now I have friends who would stoutly affirm that “Behind the Night-Light” is a sober and trustworthy record of facts—or, as they would say, I think, “objective phenomena.”
These ingenious persons, who are generally known as “occultists,” would tell us that when Miss Joan Maude says that she saw the Hibbertoo, the Bulf-Coo, the Boo-choo, the Haymass, and the Fritchet, or Kickmas, she is absolutely “veridical.” For the Hibbertoo and his companions are clearly, according to occult science, nothing more or less than Elementals.
They are strange creatures, these beasts seen in the child’s vision.
The Queeze is a Moncke. He has no wings, but he can walk in the air without fairies—any Moncke can do that.
He is very thin—you can see the sky through him—and he’s dreadfully bouncy. He can’t keep on the ground at all without he’s held. Hibbertoo lets him sleep under his red chair at night, and Joc-Jag ties his sash to the leg of it, else he might bounce away and get burst.
Probable Origin of the “Queeze”
Now I think I know who the Queeze is. He is just one of those inflated coloured balloons that children carry by a length of string.
So the name Caragal was probably suggested by a visit to the Zoo, and the mention of the caracul; Bulf-Coo, who “is not quite a cow but a little green bull,” is a variant of bull cow; and the Fritchet is compounded of “fret” and “fidget”—”he can’t ever keep still, and all the other animals get tired when he’s at home.” Miss Maude herself gives the derivation of the Fritchet’s second name: “kicking and wriggling all day long, he is sometimes called Kickmas.”
An odd little book, as I say, but I don’t think it contains much of the genuine primitive human consciousness which is sometimes manifested in young children.
Here and there, one comes across traces of something of the kind. Thus, it is said of Jonket that “he is always standing by anyone when they put their feet in mustard-and-water.” This is quite in the atmosphere of primitive belief; but most of these pages merely record the manner in which a fanciful little girl has embroidered the things that she has heard and seen.
Carlyle once said something which he meant to be very disparaging about the novels and romances of Sir Walter Scott. He declared that they were just the sort of books that seemed to be written to amuse an idle man lying on a sofa; there was no “doctrine” in them, nothing but a sort of soothing draught or opiate for brains too tired and too feeble to grapple with predestination and election and such weighty matters.
Now, of course, Carlyle was all wrong about one of the best romance-writers that the world has ever known.
A Book for Idle Days
But, beyond this, I resent the form of his disparagement; I declare that everybody ought to be idle now and then, and everybody ought at those times to lie on a sofa, lounge in a deck-chair, or swing in a hammock under a pleasant shade.
And given these pleasant and necessary and healthful conditions, I can very cordially recommend Mr. H. B. Marriott Watson’s “The Tomboy and Others.” (Lane.)
It is a collection of stories; little, light, “airy fairy” tales, delicately and skilfully invented with just as much plot as is good for them, and never any excess of this element.
Just now I was speaking of hammocks and deck chairs, and of such agreeable supports for idle flesh. And I am reminded that some men think that such circumstances are not rounded, perfect and complete unless a glass of some cooling compound stands within easy reach.
And here again Mr. Marriott Watson’s book is suggested. It is like nothing so much as a skilfully concocted cup, a glass of golden fluid that breathes a dew on the outside of the crystal, that charms the eye in advance with its one red berry floating in the gold, with its delicate green herbs.
And the clinking of the ice is as the music of the author’s cheery wit.
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10 thoughts on “A Queer Creation of a Child of Three”
H. B. Marriott Watson’s Wikipedia article includes, “Although now largely forgotten, Marriott Watson’s contribution to Gothic horror during the latter part of the nineteenth century is notable for its romantic decadence. The stories which appeared in such collections as Diogenes of London (1893) and The Heart of Miranda (1898) bear favourable comparison with those produced by fellow contemporaries Arthur Machen, Vincent O’Sullivan and M. P. Shiel” – ! Certainly more than “largely forgotten” as far as I am concerned (as far as I recall…). And prolific: with at least some books scanned in the Internet Archive – including Diogenes of London: so, if we cannot easily try The Tomboy and Others, we can try that. Also in the Internet Archive, a copy of Magazine Of Horror, volume 2, number 1 (January 1965), which includes a story of his (reprinted from Diogenes) together with (among others) Poe’s “Oblong Box” and “The Shuttered Room” as by ” H.P. Lovecraft & August Derleth”. His Wikipedia article links assorted other short stories, but not what it describes as “one of his most memorable” – “the vampire story The Stone Chamber published only a year after Bram Stoker’s Dracula.”
Wikipedia’s ” Punch (drink)” identifies ( without footnotes) a ‘ Cup’ as “a style of punch, traditionally served before the departure of a hunting party in England. It is served at a variety of social events such as garden parties, cricket and tennis matches, and picnics. Cups are generally lower in alcohol content than other punches and usually use wine, cider, sloe gin, or liqueurs as the base. They often include quantities of fruit juices or soft drinks.
“A well-known cup is the Pimm’s Cup, using Pimm’s No.1 (which contains gin) and British-style lemonade at a ratio of 1:2; a squeeze of lemon; then add orange, lemon and apple slices; a couple of cucumber wedges; and decorate with borage flowers.” Dreaming of June in February…
Wow. Thank you for this bonus information. It seems that Marriott Watson is a writer to investigate. I was unaware of him before this article. Pimm’s No. 1 is going on an index card for summer sipping!
Ah, the Pimm’s Cup! It is a staple for me. A beloved traveling companion introduced it to me years ago. I never enjoy one without thinking of her. The beauty of the Pimm’s Cup is that it is so easy to make. I simply use two oz. of Pimm’s, then slice up whatever fruit is available (strawberries are wonderful), then top off with lemonade. I was at a little pub in the Peak District where the proprietor believed the addition of cucumber slices was his idea-which he dubbed the “Jimm’s Cup.” The Pimm’s Cup is the signature drink of the Napoleon House in New Orleans, and you should never leave there without one of their souvenir etched Pimm’s Cup glasses.
And now that I have sufficiently enthused about Pimm’s Cups, I was agree that Mariott Watson is an author to investigate further!
This is not the first of these book review articles in which Machen attends to a book publishing the art or (here, purported) words of children. It got me rereading Daisy Ashford’s delightful The Young Visiters or Mister Salteena’s Plan, written when she was nine but published in 1919 when she was 38. (Do we know if Machen enjoyed her work?) Was this a sort of ‘area’ or ‘field’ of publishing ? It would be interesting to see an overview, with bibliography of such books.
Rob Stroud has a fine 2013 post where he discusses The Young Immigrunts, written as a sort of parody of such books by Ring Lardner – as if written by his four-year-old son, Ringgold Wilmer Lardner, Jr. It is the source of the famous “Shut up he explained” – in context, the answer during a drive to “Are you lost daddy I arsked tenderly.” Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is an example of such books-as-if-written-by, though Huck is a lot older. As is Edith Nesbit’s Bastable series, beginning with The Story of the Treasure Seekers (1899). Geoffrey Willans’ excellent Nigel Molesworth series is yet another example – the earliest installments of which Machen could have read in Punch from 1939-42. I wonder in how far these ‘fields’ are intertwined?
I read Machen’s “A Queer Creation of a Child of Three” this morning. As always, I read the comments and based on David Llewellyn Dodds’ investigations, I downloaded the book from Archive.org called “Diogenes of London and Other Fantasies and Sketches” by H B Marriett Watson. I copied the pdf to my iPad and read the first story, “Diogenes of London.” I expected it to be a horror story, but I could tell right away, by the end of the first paragraph, that I was mistaken. Yet, the story is quite short, at a mere ten pages, and the print is large, so I set out to finish reading this bit of prose that has become lost to time.
As I read the story, I came across many words that I did not know. My vocabulary isn’t deep, but I felt as though this author was taunting me, making me feel a bit, well, humble in my thoughts. Thankfully, the book had been OCRed by Archive.org and I was able to learn many of the words using the built-in “look up” option available in the iPad’s “Book” reader app. Even then, some of the word definitions were not the right ones and I had to look up some of them on the Internet to find the correct meaning because nearly all usages of the words I didn’t know are considered “outdated” or “archaic.”
I can’t say that I understood “Diogenes of London.” I think it is making fun of someone who is doubtful about and doesn’t believe in the sanctity of marriage. Yes, that must be it. I’m not familiar with too much writing from the late 1800s, but I believe the story was meant to sound antiquated to someone reading it at the time it was published. The story does have a dry sense of humor and, despite being unsure if I grasped its full meaning, I did enjoy it and found it funny.
I believe the story would have resounded with me more if I knew more about Diogenes the Cynic. Sure, the character in the story, Diogenes, is a cynic about marriage, but perhaps there is more to it than that bit of news. This story ends with Diogenes having a revelation about marriage, even though only his friend seems to see it for a change of heart.
I read H. B. Marriott Watson’s story “The Stone Chamber” this evening. It’s amongst the best horror stories I’ve read in quite some time. It moves quickly and makes excellent use of the first-person voice. I would say it’s a must-read.
Thanks for the recommendation!
Agreed. I read the story this weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it. It is well told and is a fine example of the Victorian horror story. I found it interesting that the family name “Bosanquet” was employed. It seems to me to be a rare name, but Machen reviewed a writer of that name in recently posted articles.
Christopher wrote, “Thank you for the rundown on Moore.” Do you mean the rundown on Watson’s story “The Stone Chamber?”
I did mean to add that “The Stone Chamber” seems modern and it reminded me of a King story, perhaps one written from either the “Night Shift” or “Skeleton Crew” collections. Now, some people might take that as a recommendation to read Watson’s story, while others might now hesitate to read it.
Sorry! I meant that comment for another page!