The Weekly Machen

In this second installment of “Among My Books,” we find a passage which could have been written by Machen himself, as it addressed many of his social concerns in the language of natural beauty and landscape. He also finds another opportunity to poke fun at the people and customs of the United States. Of course, Machen’s critique of America, often expressed in his essays, runs counter to the affection, goodwill and benefit he received from American admirers, as well as his approval of the New England stories of Mary Wilkins Freeman. Yet, in honesty, this criticism was often valid if sometimes stinging.

Among My Books
The Desire In Our Hearts for Colour
Arthur Machen
July 1, 1912


Until Trafalgar Square is made a garden, we can never boast that the dominion of the devil-god Drab is broken in England.”

That is a specimen sentence of good, sound common sense from Mr. Francis Stopford’s “Life’s Great Adventure” (Duckworth), and it is only one amongst many other excellent and wise dicta that are contained in this quiet and persuasive book.

Is it for nothing [asks the author] that the blush of dawn rests every springtime on the orchard? Is it for nothing that the scarlet poppies flare on the hill-slopes, and the gorse flings its wild gold over the commons, and the moorlands are cloaked in purple? Is it for nothing that autumn lights a flaming pyre among the beech woods, and bare winter girdles herself with jewels of bare berries? For generations we have dwelt among these joyous sights, and the love and desire of their brightness are in the marrow of our bones.

Then, as the essayist goes on to explain, we “discerned sin in colour . . . so colour was crushed out of our churches, out of our amusements, out of our lives, but they could not crush the desire of it out of our hearts.”

The Demands of the Spirit

This is common sense indeed, and the pity of it is that it is also such uncommon sense. If the truth that Mr. Stopford expounds so well were really common, it would be much better for us all, individually and collectively; there would be less labour unrest and less millionaire unrest, fewer angry strikes, fewer “freak-dinners” and “pink lunches” given to bejewelled pug dogs.

Sound, sturdy, practical common sense, I say it again; and yet, how many men who think themselves hard-headed would condemn these maxims as mere drivelling sentimentality. Yet man hungers and thirsts for colour and beauty just as truly as he hungers and thirsts for meat and drink. Lack of the latter means disaster to the body; lack of the former means disaster to the spirit. And Mr. Stopford notes, wisely again, that here we have the explanation of the modern curse of alcoholism. There have been individual drunkards in all ages, but endemic alcoholism is a distinctively modern disease. And the reason is that men will have colour somehow—even if they have to obtain it from a patent still.

American Notes

In form “An American Wooing” by Florence Drummond (Grant Richards) is a novel; it tells how Elspeth and Moira, two Scotch girls, paid a visit to the United States, and how Moira got engaged to a local millionaire.

But in reality the book is a picture of the life led by well-to-do Americans in the Eastern States, and a criticism of that life.

Now the authoress is almost pathetically anxious to do justice to our cousins; she is constantly praising them for their ready friendliness, their warm greetings, their quick acceptance of any point of view that may be laid before them, their supreme tactfulness. Thus, when Moira got engaged to her millionaire, the elder sister, who tells the tale, observes:—

Anthony and I had been rather apt to find the occasions when our engagement had been “played up to” a little awkward and disconcerting—seldom beautified by public sympathy—but here everyone seemed to know how to do the right thing. No one chaffed. No one ignored. They accepted the realities, and celebrated them in the most perfectly dramatic way—which is probably the only right way.

Well I don’t know. To the English mind the celebration of an engagement to marry by telegraphing for flowers and creepers and florists’ assistants to hang them on the walls, and the lighting of fairy lights seems to verge on the ridiculous.

“No autumn tints had been admitted. ‘It is autumn outside, but spring in our hearts, and in our hearts is the only reality,’ Mr. Linton said.”

What He Would Not Say

We might feel like that in England, but we would not utter the thought aloud—unless we happened to be playing in the last act of a sentimental melodrama.

And another touch:

Montagu produced a large basket, which he proceeded to cover with green crinkled paper and decorate with ribbons from Mrs. Wise’s ribbon-box; this, he explained, was to hold all the letters and telegrams, and, above all, newspaper cuttings, relating to the important event.

“Guess we’ll see some good headlines.” he said. “You wait. ‘Mandell Rayne to wed Scotch Beauty,’ ‘Miss Moira Menzies of Scotland, secures American millionaire.’ ‘Cupid’s Busy Day at Bar Harbour.’”

And Mrs. Dare Worthington, meeting the Scotch girls for the first time, “said almost at once . . . that she hoped we would love her.”

Altogether the impression produced on my mind by the book is that of amiable lunacy, and I think that in her heart the authoress would confess that that was her impression also.

The repression and the grim severity of New England Puritanism has come to full reaction: the stern, silent lips are now, it is true, wreathed in smiles; but the laughter and the lightness are both somewhat vacuous.

In Good Company

Let us drop into poetry. “Spindrift,” by E. G. Buckeridge (Stock) is full of verses musically and skilfully turned. But this is the stanza that has charmed me. It is contained in the poem called “The Ballade of Dead Cities.”

Old dream cities wrought on the dusk,
Glimmer again as in years a-gone—
Lamps a-gleam in Caerleon upon Usk.
Love and laughter in Babylon,
Karnac, girdled with sand and sun.
Atlantis, drowned in the cool sea streams,
Sardis and Ophir and Ilion.
Old dream cities builded of dreams.

The lines are good, but it is a personal feeling that draws me to them. I never thought that I should see my native city, Caerleon on Usk, matched with Babylon, Atlantis, and Ilion; noble, antique, and storied towns. And I am grateful to Mr. Buckeridge for this attention to old Caerleon.

The Weekly

Previous: The Queer Creation of a Child of Three


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

4 thoughts on “The Desire In Our Hearts For Colour

  1. Is it Hieroglyphics that Machen testifies to his esteem for the stories of Mary Wilkins Freeman — an author I’ve meant to look into some more?

    And did he also like The Country of the Pointed Firs, by Sarah Orne Jewett — as M. R. James did?



  2. Wow! Caerleon on Usk – a city I have delighted to visit with my future bride, back in the day! One of the ‘cities of the legions’ of Roman-British heritage.


    1. I did some quick browsing, and got the impression that while there are varieties of old buildings to see at Babylon (and a great gate in the museum in Berlin!), Karnak, and Troy – and that there is a village, Sart, next to the remains of Sardis, though I am not sure what would have been the case in all those places in 1912, Caerleon is the only still lively city among them!


    2. Regarding Atlantis, I wonder if Machen knew Robert Nisbet Bain’s Tales from Jókai (the Preface is dated “May, 1904”) which includes his translation of Jókai’s fascinating novel about Atlantis which it may not be too much of a spoiler to say identifies the Canary Islands as its remnants.(There a text in Project Gutenberg, and an audiobook at LibriVox).


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