The Weekly Machen

Unfortunately, I have not yet been able to track down Part III of Arthur Machen’s Wandering Week. No doubt, it survives in some form, and I would be appreciative of any information concerning the fugitive’s whereabouts. Yet, though a bit be missing from the middle, we still have a conclusion. The following article is not listed in the bibliography by Goldstone & Sweester.


My Wandering Week:
Part IV – From Glastonbury to Dunster
by
Arthur Machen
July 30, 1913

800px-Dunster_Castle_frontage

Dunster Castel in 2011

From Glastonbury I went to Dunster.

I don’t quite know why. I had never heard of Dunster–to my loss–a week ago. And the guide-book information as to “Perp.,” “Dec.,” and “E. E.” could not be called alluring, since such details belong to most churches in most English towns.

But it will be remembered that my journeys were from the beginning wanderings without a why; and on reflection I believe I received light from a gentleman in the Swan smoking-room at Wells.

He was travelling about–as aimlessly and cheerfully as myself, I gathered–and I found that he never journeyed without a volume of Dickens in his pocket. I saw he was of the true faith, and was bold to say that the black, rough-hewn beams in the ceiling improved the taste of the beer.

Quite right,” he replied, and with a logic which was subtle, but, as I know see, superb, he added. “You must go to Dunster; you will like it.”

That settled the matter. So, my pilgrimage to Avalon accomplished, I set for Dunster.

The first stage was from Glastonbury to Highbridge, and the railway passes through the moor. Here I suspect Hobson Jobson. The moor is not a bit like a Yorkshire moor; but it was once was a “mor” or sea, and is so still after a few days’ rain. The moor-men, I gathered from Glastonbury talk, are even now something of a race apart. They are freeholders, many of them–I was glad to hear it–and some of them live in “wretched hovels, no better than pig-styes, just because their fathers and grandfathers lived in them.”

On this the inmost bar got up a pretty argument as to whether a man could be turned out of his own freehold, on the ground that the said house was unfit fro human habitation. They appealed to me, these Ancients of Avalon, and I knew nothing about it. Besides, I was listening to an old farmer who sat all apart and talked about apples–to himself, for nobody seemed to heed him. I was amused at what I must call, though inelegantly, the incidence of coincidence. For, to avoid giving the farmer’s real name, it was as if Mr. Plummer, of Plumstoke, gossiped about plums.

PURPLE ISLAND.”

But as to the moormen’s house: they are, I learned, built on hillocks, or artificially raised ground, and a boat is an indispensable belonging. For the autumn rains open the gates of the old sea, and the water rises, and deepens if the rains continue, so that it gets hedge-top high. Then it swells over the hillock and pours in at the door, and the man of the mere and his family betake them to their upper story, where peat has been stored against the coming of the flood. I saw some of the boats used in this inland sea; queer looking craft, with sharply pointed bow and stern high out of the water.

They were moored in the “rhines” or courses of stagnant water which intersect this region; the crops harvested here are willow withies, and peat and coarse hay–“dear at thirty-five shillings a ton,” as an authority declared to me. There are stacks of light brown and dark brown peat set out all along beside the railway; some in squares, some piled in an odd conical shape; and these rings of dark cones look at a little distance like the memorials of a forgotten race. And the light and colour of this land are given by the creamy, fragrant meadowsweet, by the willow-herb of our “Purple Island” in the Strand. Of this latter there are great pomps and processions, splendid and glowing purples flaming amongst dim greens.

From Highbridge to Taunton, which, in spite of some goodly remnants of antiquity, struck me, as a dull, fat, prosperous place, in the middle of a country that is neither flat or hilly, but merely comfortable. It was market day, and the train that led by the Quantocks to Dunster was full of farmers.

GOLDEN SUNLIGHT.

They were cheerful men. They did not grumble about everything in the manner of the farmer of popular convention. They certainly were not like the poor husbandmen of Norfolk, who, I see from The Daily Mail, are being ruined for want of sunlight.

Sunlight! It poured upon us, and made the pleasant land all golden, and glittered on the ripples of the rushing brooks as the steeps of the Quantocks closed in upon us. The farmers allowed that they could do with a drop of rain, but their eyes twinkled and their hearts were evidently set to cheerfulness. They were praising one of their number who had harvested his last crop.

He was a perfect gentleman.”

He was indeed, a gentleman farmer; for he was a gentleman and a farmer.” “He was a good sort.” “A friendly man. He said to old Sam, ‘Have’ee got plenty of cider” There’s a lot of work to be done, Sam, and ‘ee’ll want a lot of cider!’”

The last and the fattest farmer spoke with emotion, and summed up the panegyric of the dead.

What he didn’t know about wheat wasn’t worth knowing.”

There was no more to be said.

The farmers dropped out one by one. We passed station after station, and all the way the hills grew higher and more beautiful. There was a glimpse of the sea and of fishing boats lying in the harbour at Watchet, and a little further on I got out at Dunster; and looked about to see where Dunster might be. There were rich fields of corn beside the railway, a lane leading down a hill, smoke from the chimneys of a farmhouse; and nothing else, save that a huge conical hill, deeply green with woods, showed on its a summit a round tower; a very manifest piece of sham picturesque, a “folly” of the eighteenth century.

EXMOOR IN THE DISTANCE.

I went down the lane and up the lane and down again, and there was Dunster before me. The “folly” was now at my back; before me the little valley; in the midst of it the octagonal yarn-market, last repaired in the ‘forties of the seventeenth century.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Yarn Market

Beyond, another wooded height, suddenly arising, and amidst ancient oaks and yews and cedars the towers and battlements of Luttrell Castle; the home of the Luttrells now and for the last six hundred years.

I strolled down the village, and saw how nearly every house had hundreds of years upon it, how nearly every door and window was curiously protected by a penthouse, tiled or slated with shingles.

Turning to the right, there was a portion of the old priory buildings, in perfect preservation. One storey swells out above the other, and the whole front is faced with shingles, and the oak beams are sturdy still, and evidently good to the heart.

This is the way to the church: a minster in miniature, with its priory choir and its parochial choir and its chapels of the saints, and, above all, its exquisite rood-screen, perfect, without stain or varnish or colouring of any kind, as it left the hands of the artist who carved it, who set gladness into his free and flourished ornament, who has made on its cornice the vine bear rich fruit.

And when at last I came out, and turned myself about, as it were, I perceived that fortune had once more led me aright.

Hills rose in solemn splendour on every side of the valley. Here a high, sharp escarpment, here a vast and swelling dome, fern-covered; here the woods rose steep like a wall. And in the distance Exmoor loomed; vague, gigantic.

Dunster_st_georges_ext

Priory Church of St. George


The Weekly

Previous: My Wandering Week. Part II

Next: Concerning Mr. Wells


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

4 thoughts on “My Wandering Week, Part IV

  1. Thank you for bringing this good piece to daylight, Christopher.

    The reference to a “Purple Island” brought to mind the epigraph of George MacDonald’s Phantastes. It’s taken from a long poem (1633) by Fletcher called The Purple Island and supplied MacDonald with his romance’s title. “Phantastes from ‘their mount’ all shapes deriving, / In new habiliments can quickly dight.” I don’t know why “their mount” is in quotation marks. If I were to guess, I’d paraphrase this passage as saying something like this: “Fantastic images may be rapidly produced by their source, the poetic faculty, in ever-new forms.” Phantastes (the book by MacDonald) was important to C. S. Lewis, as many people know, also to Owen Barfield, his friend; and I have the vaguest impression that Arthur Machen himself may have mentioned Phantastes also, and in a favorable way, somewhere.

    Then the discussion Machen mentions, about the alleged unhygienic conditions of old English village houses, brings to mind a passage in what I suppose is my favorite novel, in a lifetime of reading, C. S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. In it a young sociologist is being drawn into the corrupt and powerful toils of the National Institute for Co-ordinated Experiments, a government agency. Among other goals of the NICE is the demolition of such homes, allegedly on the grounds of sanitation, but, as we suspect, largely because they suggest a traditional way of life that the NICE intends to eradicate. The disregard for the sentiment of the people who live there by a “progressive” and legally-empowered bureaucracy will remind some readers of certain recent events.

    I was reminded also of a poem by one of my favorite 20th-century poets, Ruth Pitter.

    They have murdered my village,
    My tree is cut down.
    Over the tillage
    Advances the town.
    My father’s gone cadging,
    My mother is dead; I try to imagine
    What she would have said.

    “A cut tree can grow faster.
    Towns come and go.
    Both saver and waster
    Get buried in snow.
    Go on, naked Pity,
    All bleeding and sore,
    Till you come to the City
    Where change is no more.

    Believe me, Ruth Pitter is one of us, if you love the Inklings and Machen. I wondered, by the way, what would’ve happened if (say) Charles Williams had brought Machen to an Inklings session. I’d like to think that the group might have put Machen at his ease and let him quickly see that they were not dry-hearted careerist scholars and snobs but men who loved good talk and good beer and who might’ve loved the old man with his laughter, his love of old England, his Latin tags and his Dickens quotations.

    But, alas, such a meeting seems never to have happened, just as the meeting of Dickens and Dostoevsky that, briefly, was announced as having happened in London, never did…

    Like

    1. Thanks again for a lovely comment. It always enriches the space. It is a wonderful thought exercise to consider a hypothetical meeting between Machen and the Inklings. It is true that Machen distrusted academics and preferred the company of actors to literary men, but AM and the Inklings shared First Principles. I imagine them as the “last men standing” in their respective generations. In particular, I often find the words of Machen and Lewis as prophetic in regards to culture and Church in our woeful days.

      I must investigate Pitter.

      Like

      1. Yes, you must! The ideal way would be to get hold of three books and spend lots of unhurried time with them.

        1.Sudden Heaven: this is her collected poetry, edited by Don W. King; I wouldn’t say you should start reading at the beginning with her earliest verse, not to depreciate it, but try instead, say, A Mad Lady’s Garland, A Trophy of Arms and The Bridge (collections reprinted in this omnibus volume). I’ve wanted to have two or three earlier editions of her poetry as signed by herself. These weren’t very expensive when I bought them. One of the books in my Pitter collection, a selection by herself of her poems, is called Urania. Its cover design, an engraving by Joan Hassall, is perhaps the dustjacket design that, of all my books, I consider the most beautiful.

        2.Hunting the Unicorn, the biography by King.

        3.The Letters of Ruth Pitter, edited by King.

        Further to entice you: RP was personally acquainted with John Gawsworth, who was a friend of Arthur Machen and wrote a biography of him. I wonder if RP ever met Machen through him. She was a friend of George Rostrevor Hamilton, poet and author of a good critique of certain modern poets called The Tell-Tale Article; Hamilton was, I believe, friend of E. R. Eddison, whose fantasy The Worm Ouroboros is not forgotten. On one occasion, referring to his friend Ruth Pitter, C. S. Lewis said to someone that he was not one to marry (though he later did marry), but if he were he’d marry Ruth Pitter. Mervyn Peake (Titus Groan, Gormenghast, illustrator of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, etc.) drew her portrait. Orwell tried to seduce her. She won the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry.

        Like

      2. Thanks for the information on Pitter. Placing her life and work in context is helpful. She seems to represent one of the lesser-known voices in modern Christian literature.

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s