The Weekly Machen

We close our month-long focus on Arthur Machen’s “home front” reporting where it began: the plight of Belgian refugees in England. By the end of November 1914, it had become clear that the war would last longer than previously assumed. Accordingly, the wave of exiles from the conflict were a physical and spiritual reminder to the insular British of the chaos across the Channel. While making a public plea for Christian charity, and one strengthened by his personal observance of the problem, Machen concludes the article with a Dickensian gloss that many of his readers would have appreciated.

The following article is not listed in the bibliography by Goldstone & Sweetser.

Joy for Belgian Children:
Our Christmas Treat for Little Refugees 
Arthur Machen
November 24, 1914

Nove 24 gr 2

Nove 24 gr 1The Countess of Limerick has made a most happy suggestion to The Evening News.

She says:—

Let us give the Belgian children a Christmas Tree laden with toys in order to make them forget for a little while the terrible tortures they have endured in their own country.

The Evening News has welcomed the suggestion with all its heart, and I for my part can welcome it too—for I have seen these poor children, and I have seen a more piteous sight. I have seen them landing at Folkestone all forlorn and amazed. They had been torn from their homes—those homes that to children are a part of eternity, are felt to be enduring and fixed for ever.

In a Strange Country

Some of them had seen these homes consumed with fire, a few had been at hand while their fathers were murdered by the horrible enemy. One knows what “father” means to a little child; it is incredible that anyone can rise up against him. And these poor children had seen all this; they had been torn out of their beds and taken across seas to a strange country, and here they stood on our shores bewildered; their world had come to an end.

And I have seen these children, too, in Aldwych, clustering about what kinsfolk remained to them; half-clothed, barefooted, sad, bewildered utterly, living as it were, amidst the ruins of that world that had once seemed so stable.

A Child’s Delight

One day they were fitting a little barefooted girl with shoes. The child beamed with delight and cried out: “Oh, mother, look how lovely! Wouldn’t father have been pleased!” And then she burst into tears: her father had been shot.

And, night by night, the boats and trains bring these refugee children by hundreds, by thousands; {illegible} of childhood is still thrown on our shores. They are overwhelmed with misery; let us do what we can to render their estate less unhappy. Sorrow has come to these children without a country, but the season of peace and goodwill draws on and draws near in the midst of the wild war; let us make an offering of peace and good will to the little exiles, and show them, even in those sad days, something of the meaning of “A Merry Christmas.”

Lady Limerick’s Gift

The Countess of Limerick’s plan could not be battered; and to-day she sends us a subscription of £50. {Editor’s note: £50 in 1914 is equivalent in purchasing power to about £6,818.50 in 2022.} We are sure that our readers will follow up the lead that has thus been given them and help deck the Christmas Tree with all manner of toys and dolls and wonders of childhood, to make it bright with many lights, to make it a portion of fairyland and happiness in the midst of darkness and bereavement and misery.

To Gradgrind and his fellows all these things seem of little consequence; they think that stout books and a good meal are everything; but sensible people know better than this. The Countess of Limerick has told us of the poor little refugee whom she saw at Victoria Station, clinging to her teddy bear, finding in it her only consolation, refusing to part with it, even for food and hot coffee. That teddy bear was the last relic of her ruined world: to that she would cling, whatever happened.

A Noble Christmas Tree

So let us give the Belgian children a noble Christmas Tree; let us cover it with toys of all sorts, let all the jovial beasts and comic monsters of the fairyland of toys lurk and nestle amongst the branches.

Let The Evening News, which has played many parts of benevolence, for this case put on the robes of the good wizard and summon with its incantation all golliwogs with fuzzy heads, all good brown bears with kindly eyes, all furry toy kittens with wild, amazed glass eyes, all glittering princess dolls in muslins and tinsels; these with eyes closed and dreaming, waiting for the awakening touch of the happy owner.

All these shall come—with our readers’ help—to the call of the enchanter; Punch shall not be lacking, Pierrot and his Folly shall duly answer to the citation that summons them.

And the mention of Punch reminds me: will the entertainers of London do what they can to help in the good work? I am sure that Codlia and Short would be most heartily welcome with their Punch and Judy and Dog Toby; and conjurers could do a great deal to amaze and delight.

What we want is to make a real merry Christmas for the exiled children; and puppet shows and conjuring tricks are a part of the model of Christmas that was set before us by Charles Dickens.

Nove 24 gr 3

The Weekly

Previous: Journal of the Lonely Soldier

Next: What Pays in Coventry

Introduction and supplementary material – Copyright 2022 by Christopher Tompkins. All rights reserved.

2 thoughts on “Joy for Belgian Children

  1. Thank you for this! I wonder how it all went? For instance, which “entertainers of London” did what, by way of their contributions? A fair bit of newspaper- /
    periodical-archive work would probably be needed to find the answer. Among the Dickens novels I have not yet read is The Old Curiosity Shop, so I did not immediately get the reference to (so Wikipedia tells me) “Thomas Codlin, proprietor of a travelling Punch and Judy show” and “Mr. Harris, called ‘Short Trotters’, the puppeteer of the Punch and Judy show”. But they must have been widely and well known as I traced them via “Punch and Judy” by Alfred T. Story in the October 1895 issue of The Strand Magazine (No. 58: part of vol. 10) where (p. 462, col. 2) he refers to Mr. Jesson “whom we may designate the ‘Short’ of the firm which ‘runs’ the Royal Punch and Judy, his son taking the part of ‘Codlin'” adding “it is not at all improbable that Mr. Jesson’s father was the original of Dickens’ ‘Short'”:

    I suppose John Masefield knew The Old Curiosity Shop – I wonder if Machen knew his wonderful Box of Delights, with its Punch and Judy man and Toby?


  2. From a glance at Wikipedia, it looks like the Evening News was a truly popular paper. Hence the small-looking amounts of some of the donations might indicate something a little more substantial, from the giver’s point of view, than we might suppose. A shilling might have bought a nice toy at the time.

    For perspective from the same period, consider the Everyman’s Library books, small but nice hardcovers.

    Joseph Malaby Dent (publisher) and Ernest Rhys (editor) launched the series in 1906. Rhys remembered Dent thus: “He had in him a strange mixture — book lover, artist, mystic, craftsman, small tradesman and rosy promiser. …Often in the course of one hour he would make a complete quick change from one role to another. In these mercurial moods he often became so wrought up that, in order to bring himself back to normal, he would clutch with two hands the front of his desk as if he were afraid of suddenly being whirled away into limbo.” Rhys added that Dent’s aspiration for the series was “based on his early memories of a time [in the Victorian period] when it was precious hard to find the money to buy the book he wanted to read, and on his sympathy for the man who could not afford to go beyond the Democratic Shilling.”

    The “democratic shilling” would buy an Everyman’s Library book then, I gather (12 pence).

    If I remember rightly, in Richard Church’s first volume of autobiography (Over the Bridge), when he got a job he found he could afford to buy one such book a week.

    By the way — off the subject — but I have been reading Darkly Bright’s enjoyable new Machen miscellany, Mist and Mystery. Therein I saw that Machen regarded the novel The Silence of Dean Maitland very highly, mentioning it along with The Scarlet Letter. Well, Church mentions that novel in Over the Bridge. Church says that it “so shattered my nerves that I was prostrate for days”! I have a copy coming on interlibrary loan and can’t wait to start it. I trust my nerves won’t be so shattered that I will cease to be able to comment here…….


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