The Weekly Machen

Book lovers rejoice! Arthur Machen returns with an extended reading list…nine book reviews in a single article. Whether Machen’s volume of reading is equal to or greater than the average reader of his time, I cannot say, but it certainly out-paces most people of our current day. However, I hope this fact is inspiring and encourages to us lay aside screens in order to create more time for books. Where possible, links to the mentioned texts have been provided.


The Critics and Mr. Henry James’s Style
Arthur Machen
March 25, 1914

odd-man-in-malta-245x325The Odd Man in Malta. By John Wignacourt. Illustrated by T. M. Salmond. (Chapman and Hall).

I wonder whether amongst those debates which was so hotly argued in the first-class carriages on suburban lines any passenger has ever raised the agitating question: “What lanaguage is spoken in Malta?”

This is the sort of topic which leads directly to the Enquiry Bureau of The Evening News. There it would be answered quickly and accurately; but how many of the tolerably well-educated could give the right reply? Speaking as one of this class, I confess that I should have said that the Maltese spoke a corrupt sort of Italian patois, I should have been wrong; Maltese is a Semitic dialect, akin to Hebrew and Arabic. This is only one of innumerable bits of interesting information contained in “The Odd Man in Malta,” one of the best books of travel that I have read for a very long time. It is not only that the author’s matter is highly attractive and new also—to most of us at any rate—but he has in a high degree two very rare talents; he knows what to see and how to describe what he has seen. And he possesses also another rarity; an instinct for character. There is a delightful chapter called “Laudator Temporis Acti.” It concerns a Maltese country gentleman, whose name, strangely enough, was F. Attard-Bolingbroke. This gentleman owned an estate rich in dolmens, menhirs, and rock-dwellings, and interesting himself in little else than such matters had become a kind of Don Quixote of remote antiquity in place of knight-errant. He was the soul of hospitality, and pressed on his visitors as they took their leave valuable gold pieces coined by the Order which once ruled the island. It is to be presumed, by the way, that Wignacourt is a pseudonym; it was the name of one of the most illustrious Masters of the Order of St. John.

The Practice of Christianity. By the author of “Pro Christo et Ecclesia.” (Macmillan.)

lossless-page1-331px-LilyDougall1900.tifThe author of this book is at least consistent. We have many people amongst us who regard war as a crime and see nothing but damnation in Dreadnoughts and destroyers. But these very people have no word to say against the police, and allow that the civil magistrate should not hold the sword of justice in vain. The author of “The Practice of Christianity” thinks a gaoler to be almost as bad as a soldier; he denies the righteousness of all punishment, and its effectiveness also. He would urge, I imagine, that the Counsels of Perfection should become the law of the whole State, not only of the monastic life. One cannot see how this could by any possibility lead to happiness; as things are it would undoubtedly lead to the cruellest evil and oppression. And it is to be noted that even in the first enthusiasm of Christianity punishment was held to be the natural and altogether righteous consequence of evil doing.

Principles of Property. By John Boyd Kinnear. (Smith, Elder.)

There are some acute remarks in this book on the profound fallacies that underlie the Socialist hypothesis. The author, speaking of a plan entertained by some Socialists for the total abolition of money, and the substitution of tokens, comments, very justly: “It seems to be really supposed that a community will be made perfectly happy and contented if all its members are made recipients of mendicity tickets as a reward for performance of compulsory task work!” I should question whether Mr. Kinnear is altogether well-advised in hailing in the repeal of the Corn Laws a “legitimate and beneficial victory” of the manufacturing interests over the agricultural. The victory of Industrialism may well have been inevitable, but it made for what we knew too well as “Labour Unrest” not for happiness. Goldsmith wrote:—

          Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
          Where wealth accumulates and men decay.

This is true political economy, and the only political economy worth knowing.

A Father in God. The Episcopate of William West Jones, D.D., Archbishop of Capetown. By Michael H. MT. Wood, M. A., with an introduction by the Ven. W. H. Hutton, B.D. Illustrated. (Macmillan)

An amiable record of an amiable and able and excellent prelate. But this record extends nearly to 500 pages, and the biographer is under the impression that there is time in the world to read that on a certain December 26, 1874, “as the Metropolitan was riding past Rondebosch Church, a sudden gust of wind blew a large sheet of paper in front of his horse, which started violently, and threw him. Happily, however, he escaped with a few slight bruises.” And then on another occasion we hear that at Clanwilliam “the singing, if a little loud [was] yet thrilling and earnest,” and that thirty people came to church “at seven a.m. on a pouring wet Monday morning.” In the art of biography it is sometimes true that if you give all you give nothing.

Notes of a Son and Brother. By Henry James. (Macmillan.)

The late Mr. George Wyndham once said, and said most beautifully and wisely, that there are certain things which, though perceived by the senses, must be effectually received and laid hold on by faith. These things were, I think, the flaming colour of a rose at dawn, the first kiss of the beloved, and the sudden appearance of an army in array of battle. And to these three objects to be apprehended by faith, I think I must add a fourth—the style of Mr. Henry James. All the best judges vow that “Notes of a Son and Brother” is perfect loveliness and beauty. I believe and tremble; but I cannot read and enjoy. Thus Mr. James on impressions as contrasted with, scientific knowledge:

     This failure, then, to take one’s stand in the connection could but come from the troubled view that they were naught without a backing, a stout, stiff, hard-gained underside that would hold them together, and of which the terrible name was simply science, otherwise learning and learning exclusively by books, which were at once the most beautiful and the most dreadful things in the world, some of them right, strikingly, showily right, some of them disgracefully and almost unmentionably wrong, that is grossly irrelevant, as, for instance, a bound volume of Once a Week would be, but remarkable above all for overwhelming number and in general for defiance of comprehension.

The Mind at Work: A Handbook of Applied Psychology. Edited by Geoffrey Rhodes. (Murby.)

Mr. Rhodes has an interesting theory of dreams, which, to me, at all events, is new. Aristotle held that the object of drama was to purge the passions by pity and terror. He did not mean by this phrase that men, seeking the ruin that overtook a proud man in the play, would be thereby warned against pride; he meant that the spectator of the tragedy identifies himself with the characters, and becomes himself a proud man, a revengeful man, a bloody-thirsty man, and thus works off the superfluity of his passions in an orgy of the imagination, and leaves the theatre a quiet and law-abiding citizen. There is something analogous with this in Mr. Rhodes’s theory of dreams. “Our unconscious wishes,” he says, “those which are impracticable, or which are painful, shameful, or otherwise intolerable, and thus are driven from our conscious waking minds—are fulfilled for us in sleep. And, biologically considered the functions of dreams—that they satisfy and allay mental activities which otherwise would disturb sleep.” In other words, I (naturally) wish to murder a critic who doesn’t like my books. I cut the vile fellow’s throat in a happy dream—and shake hands cheerfully when I meet him next day, feeling that justice has been satisfied.

The Secret of Charlotte Bronte. By Frederika Macdonald, D.Litt. Illustrated. (Jack.)

pg41105.cover.mediumHe is rather like Punch,” I said, “but better looking, of course; and not so good tempered.” That was the author’s impression of her new professor, given in confidence, to her brother. And the professor was that M. Heger to whom Charlotte Brontë wrote impassioned and melancholy letters, whom she is supposed to have pictured as Paul Emmanuel in “Villette.” Mrs. Macdonald was a pupil of M. Heger’s in the ‘sixties. She found the professor a wonderful teacher, and delightful when he taught. Out of the class-room he was irritable, arbitrary, and more than a little unjust; and it was his wife’s task to calm the indignation and soothe the grief aroused by M. Heger’s violence of reproach. The author found in her a kind friend and a wise counsellor.

As to the literary problem, Dr. Frederika Macdonald—who writes deplorably, in spite of her doctorate—is, I think, right. M. and Mme. Heger are, and yet are not, M. Paul Emmanuel and Mme. Beck. The actual people suggested the characters in the story, but the characters in the story are by no means portraits of the actual people; Mme. Heger was a kind and sensible woman, not a cold, relentless schemer, and M. Heger was a very able teacher, but not a hero.

There can be no doubt that Charlotte Brontë thought of him in the terms of a romantic, disappointed passion; fortunately, as Dr. Frederika Macdonald says, she transmuted the anguish of her soul into the art of “Villette.”

So the World Wags. By Keble Howard. (Chapman and Hall.)

Very light, entertaining, and cheerful dialogue about all sorts of people and all sorts of things. I note especially the agreeable contrast between a proposal of marriage in 1813 and 1913. Thus Richard of 1813:—

Ah, Kathleen, my heart melts within me when these gentle tones fall softly upon my ear. I dare scarcely hope, and yet I must—aye, I must speak. Kathleen, you are to me the embodiment of all beauty, all grace, all virtue, all tenderness! If it be true that you have any regard for me, may I speak to your father? . . .

KATHLEEN: I am overwhelmed by the honour that you have done me, Richard.

Very different is the manner of Dick and Kitty of 1913

Dick: Then may I?
Kitty: What?
Dick: You know.
Kitty : I don’t.
Dick: Shall I tell you?
Kitty : If you like.
Dick: That. (Kisses her neck.) Nice?
Kitty: Duffer!

The Cost of Wings. By Richard Dehan. (Heinemann.)

Clotilde_Augusta_Inez_Mary_Graves“Richard Dehan” has collected in this volume twenty-six clever short stories. They are all well-designed, brightly—now and then perhaps over-brightly—written, and the authoress has a very clear conception of the value of the climax; she can keep her secret if necessary to the last line of her tale. All this is high praise, and yet “The Cost of Wings” does not, in fact, reach high excellence. My feeling as I read the stories was chiefly, “I have been here before,” not in the sense with which one beholds, clearly revealed, a wonderland of enchantment that has been long dimly surmised, but rather in the spirit of a man who, promised the sight of an undiscovered country, finds himself looking at a landscape which, is accustomed and familiar. In a sense, these stories are original, mechanically original, that is; and yet I can’t help feeling that I have read them all before. The devices are new, but the atmosphere of the book is stale.

Letters from a Living Dead Man. Written down by Elsa Barker. (Eider.)

In an imagined American version of “Hamlet,” it was Laertes, I think, who cried out, ‘‘My notice goes up” when he received the poisoned stroke, while the dying Hamlet replied, “Me for the Golden Shore.” Well, here we have a carefully written description of that Golden Shore by a disembodied man named “X,” who communicated, “automatically,” with Miss Elsa Barker, a gifted American lady, who brought the Holy Gospels up to date a few years ago in her “Son of Mary Bethel.” “X” met a bright boy named Lionel on the Golden Shore.

He wants to go back and fly in an aeroplane. I tell him that he can fly here without one, but that does not seem to be the same thing to him. He wants to get his fingers on machinery.

There is a “pattern world,” it seems, far, far away. It contains the thought-forms of machines as yet uninvented here below; new flying machines, and model cities, and so forth. “The progress of mechanical invention is evidently only begun,” says “X.” This is, indeed, a consoling thought.


The Weekly

Previous: In a Kentish Hop-Garden


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

7 thoughts on “The Critics and Mr. Henry James’s Style

  1. The Malta book was “one of the best books of travel that I have read for a very long time.” I wish I knew more about other travel books Machen had read and what he thought of each when he’d read it.

    Good to see that Machen evidently had read C. Bronte’s Villette. There should be a Books Around Machen column on that novel one of these days.


      1. No — and from Machen’s comment I’m not likely to read that one. But a Books Around Machen on Villette, yes, you shall have it if I can help it!


      2. It just goes to show that a negative review — even one written over a hundred years ago — is still potent!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Machen’s last paragraph here intrigues me – is he right to agree with her? How much, or how, I would read (or browse) Dr. Macdonald’s book is a worthwhile question – I say, having skimmed over it very quickly, which mostly left me wanting to read Charlotte Bronte’s letters, first. (But, if letters first, it would only make sense for me finally to read Villette, second! Having lived this while in the Low Countries and read a bit of early 19th-c. Belgian history, I am intrigued by both those prospects – and by that of reading Dr. Macdonald’s account of her own experiences, for that matter!)


  2. The idea of James’s autobiography – of Henry writing about William – is appealing, but with Machen’s sample paragraph the description of Guedalla comes to mind: “James I, James II, and The Old Pretender”. I certainly enjoyed What Maisie Knew (1897), The Turn of the Screw (1898), and, recently, The Birthplace (1903), but the thought of the revisions of the New York Edition (1907-9) is off-putting (I wonder which versions I read, though?). I suppose I should just, like Machen, give it a try and see if I can – or “cannot read and enjoy”.


  3. Tantalizing that two of the most positively reviewed, by ‘John Wignacourt’ and Keble Howard, seem to be nowhere online!


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