The Weekly Machen

Though quite brief, the following article casts Arthur Machen in a fine light as both a journalist and a stylist. His depiction of wartime London, darkened and silenced, powerfully communicates to the reader the hushed fear and anxiety of the great city. By virtue of history, Machen’s story seems prophetic as Germany would begin bombing the capital and southern England three months later. This article was published a day before the original appearance of Machen’s story The Bowmen, which would ignite a different conflagration. 

Sunday Night in London
Arthur Machen
September 28, 1914

Half-past ten of a Sunday night in London; and far away the great guns are thundering.

We come out by the Haymarket exit of the Tube; and the first thing that we see is the bill of the Sunday Night Edition of The Times. Purple letters tell us that Zeppelin bombs have been thrown on a hospital. We buy the paper and find that by these bombs an old man of eighty-two has been mortally injured—which, to be sure, is brave warfare, and very worthy of the offensive scoundrels whom we have been fools enough to encourage in London for the past thirty years. We have all met them and listened to their talk; we have heard them snigger and sneer at everything that is honest and of good repute: it is not at all amazing that they should drop bombs on hospitals.

Shadowy Piccadilly

More amazing is the sight of Piccadilly-circus. Its brightness and its splendors have departed. In place of the cluster of radiant lamps in its centre only one now shines. It is all vague and shadowy; Piccadilly looks like a dim passage; and half of the arc lamps of Regent-street have been extinguished. The lower part of Regent-street and the Haymarket are black caverns, pierced here and there by points of light.

The Café Royal is full, almost to the last seat. It is full, too, of sound, or an eloquent noise of mingled French and English. Men in khaki are talking to Belgian officers in uniform; and there is a notice on the walls:


Outside as the clock draws on to eleven the gloom deepens. Lights go out in the taverns and the café, the blinds are drawn close, black masses of people stream into the dim streets. Leicester-square is blacked out into shadows, the way from it down to Trafalgar-square and Charing Cross is indistinct, obscure. Not a lamp seems to shine in Green-street, and here is the standard of a big arc light which in common times throws noonday on the pavement. Now its glass globe is a pale moon of a misty night, and on the standard hanging oil lamps, each showing a faint red eye of flame.

The Motor-car’s Blaze

A motor-car swings, snarling, out of a black side street, and its blazing headlights flame through the darkness as if this street of central London were a leafy, over-shadowed country lane. So Oxford-street is no longer a haze of amber lights, so its bye-ways make one think of the chimes at midnight in some quiet county town. Silence falls swiftly on the great city, and the voices die away, and people go scattering to their homes.

And as they go in the half-lights in the cloudy scene, from dimness to dimness, they appear like figures in some shadow show. And as the voices are hushed, one can imagine that one is behind the scenes of an awful world-drama. The lamps are low here, dying down to darkness, churches and buildings and streets are vague and indistinct with half-indicated forms; feet fall softly and men speak below their breath.

Below their breath, for they all know that beyond, on the dread stage of war, the flames and the fires of death are blazing, that the doom of the world hangs in the balance, that the thunders are uttering their voices.

The Weekly

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Introduction and supplementary material – Copyright 2023 by Christopher Tompkins. All rights reserved.

One thought on “Sunday Night in London

  1. Thank you for this vivid reporting, of London suddenly as dark as – how many years, or centuries, earlier? But now as deliberate precaution in some of the most modern sort of modern warfare!

    I wonder when Machen says “its bye-ways make one think of the chimes at midnight in some quiet county town. Silence falls swiftly on the great city” he is deliberately alluding to Falstaff conducting his country recruiting during the War of the Roses and saying to Justice Shallow, with his cousin, Justice Silence, “We have heard the chimes at midnight” in Henry IV, Part II, Act III, Scene II, after they have been reflecting that “Death, as the Psalmist says, is certain to all, all shall die”? Looking up the scene, I find lines I had forgotten: Peter Bullcalf trying to escape recruitment on account of “A whoreson cold, sir, a cough, sir, which I caught ringing in the King’s affairs upon his coronation day” – ! (And Falstaff’s dark and callous wordplay in reply, “We will have away thy cold, and I will take such order that thy friends shall ring for thee” – if first as campanological substitutes, more probably soon enough his death-knell as well.)

    My first thought at reading “the offensive scoundrels whom we have been fools enough to encourage in London for the past thirty years” was of Saki’s novel, When William Came: A Story of London Under the Hohenzollerns, which had been published some ten months earlier, but that “thirty years” then made me think back forty years and more, to George Tomkyns Chesney’s The Battle of Dorking: Reminiscences of a Volunteer (1871) with its admonitory pondering of German “fatal engines” and their willingness to use them.


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