The Weekly Machen
The following article presents us with an odd potpourri of literary marginalia as both Mary L Penered (1858-1940) and Douglas Goldring (188-1960) are minor writers who have not survived in the public consciousness. In the case of the latter, we may be reminded of Machen’s empathy towards lesser poets, with his summation of Goldring’s verse being perhaps more poetic than the excerpted examples. In any case, this piece allows us an opportunity, one of many, to find Machen remarking upon his favorite author, and one who is not forgotten – Charles Dickens. The following article is not listed in the bibliography by Goldstone & Sweester.
The Book of Common Joys
With a Note on the Original “Silas Wegg”
April 8, 1916
Boffin, the Golden Dustman, as all know, hired Silas Wegg, a literary man with a wooden leg, to read Roman history to him and Mrs. Boffin. The work selected was “Decline and Fall of the Rooshan Empire,” as Mr. Boffin said. It was in reality Gibbon’s immortal masterpiece, and so Mr. Boffin became involved in the decadence of imperial Rome, and “Commodus, under the appellation Commodious, unworthy of his English origin and ‘not to have acted up to his name’ in his government of the Roman people.”
“And if that wasn’t enough,” reflected Mr. Boffin, “Vittle-us (and well-named too) eats six millions’ worth, English money in seven months … And even now that Commodious is strangled, I don’t see a way to our bettering ourselves.”
And so forth; and who has not dismissed Wegg and his readings as one of Dickens’s amusing and unfounded extravagances? But there was a real Wegg, and his name was Tam Fleck and he lived in Peebles about a hundred years ago.
“Weel, Tam, what’s the news the nicht?” would old Geordie Murray say as Tam entered with his “Josephus” under his arm, and seated himself at the family fireside.
Tam and Titus
The protracted and severe famine which was endured by the besieged Jews was a theme which kept several families in a state of agony for a week; and when Tam, in his reading, came to the final conflict and destruction of the city by the Roman general there was a perfect paroxysm of horror.
Tam, it is clear, was Wegg, a sort of “shot” at Wegg on the part of nature; the creation to be done more perfectly by Dickens afterwards.
I have been quoting from the very agreeable “Book of Common Joys,” by Mary L. Pendered (Dent); the account of Tam and his readings being by the author from the “Memoir of Robert Chambers.”
Mrs. Pendered’s book, is, as I have said, agreeable. It discourses on many simple things in a pleasant way; it speaks of “The Delight in Reading,” “The Delight of Kindnesses,” “The Joys of Country Life,” “The Delights of Town Life,” and so forth. All is very pleasant and amiable and worthy; and if there is no very original point of view, if there is nothing of real illumination in the book, let it be remembered that there is sometimes a Delight in Small Beer, a refreshing beverage which we moderns know as “Pilsener” or “Light Lager.”
Poems of Town and Country
“On the Road, a Book of Travel Songs” and “In the Town, a Book of London Verses,” are both by Douglas Goldring, are published by Selwyn and Blount, and show a very distinct and fine quality. Thus the poem called “Roads” has undoubtedly in it the heart of poetry; and, that is as much as to say, the heart of life itself.
Long roads that stretch out hard and white,
Long roads that climb into the sky,
They haunt me in this London night:
I knew them well in days gone by-
Knew them and loved them! Bright they shone –
They led to that enchanting land,
where all the throneless gods live on
And where men go, who understand;
Where hills too lovely to be true
Rise dazzling, in diviner air,
And under heavens for ever blue
Love grows to friendship fine and rare!
Far from a bitter world of toil
They led, those roads of long ago;
They climbed the skies to fairy soil,
They glittered like a line of snow.
Love Finer Than Friendship
There is one false note in the poem. Love is a finer thing than friendship; or, one might say, friendship is a paler, dimmer love; and those hills that are “too lovely to be true” are surely in the region of transcendence, of all things exalted to the uttermost. In the gardens of that land all the roses are aflame.
Good also, in a different manner, is “In France,” also in “On the Road.”
A clean town, a white town,
A town for you and me-
With a little café in the square,
And Schooners at the quay;
And the terrasse of a small hotel
That looks upon the sea!
There gay sounds and sweet sounds
And sounds of peace come through-
The cook sings in the kitchen,
The idle ring-doves coo:
And Julien brings the Pernods
That are bad for me and you!
Excellent; but again: a flaw. The Pernods are not bad for me and you; they are very good for me and you if we don’t drink too many of them.
I prefer on the whole the “Travel Songs” to the “London Verses”; but in this volume there is a curious success of atmosphere. I would almost say that Mr. Goldring transmutes London into a dusky wood, murmurous and amorous with lovers’ voices. The sun has gone down red, and there is one clear silver star in the sky.
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