The Weekly Machen
As it will be made readily apparent by Machen’s unambiguous language in the following article, our correspondent found a philosophical sympathy with Sidney Dark (1874-1947). A prolific writer, Dark spent much of his career as an editor for the publication Church Times, an Anglo-Catholic weekly. There, and elsewhere, Dark wrote on a wide range of subjects and produced several biographies, including a volume on Charles Dickens in 1919. He dedicated less time to fiction, but produced two novels: The Man Who Would Not Be King, which Machen reviewed for the piece below, and Afraid. Though Machen and Dark shared a fair amount of opinions, the men did not align politically. As Dark’s work from Church Times attests, he favored left-wing policies, which interestingly, could only conflict with the points he made in the “Prefatory Note,” which earned such approval from Machen.
The Life Worth Living:
Mr. Sidney Dark’s Plea for the Natural Man
January 23, 1913
There is one thing that makes me sorry about the Prefatory Note with which Mr. Sidney Dark introduces his story, “The Man who would not be King” (Lane). That one thing is that I wish I had written every word of it myself. No; not quite every word; for I don’t believe that the Divorce Laws of Reno, U.S.A. make for merriment – save that of the sardonic kind.
But this one detail apart, I don’t know when I have read anything with which I agree so thoroughly and heartily as with this “Plea for the Common Natural Man.”
It is a violent and outspoken attack on most of the people whom I dislike, an attack on “the disgusting tyranny, ever-growing more grinding, exercised by politicians, philanthropists, social reformers, and other virtuous persons, over the lives of the great mass of everyday men and women who are bored by politics (except at elections), have no desire whatever to be reformed, and merely desire to live and love and have a good time.” Mr. Dark vehemently abhors the doctrines of Mr. Sidney Webb, of the Labour members, of the eugenists – eugenics he calls “the filthiest and most bestial doctrine ever propounded” – and above all of the Puritans. The Labour members are abstainers:
Not because they individually dislike beer or whiskey, but because they want to be examples, which means that they are prigs, posers, and Puritans. All the teetotal legislation proposed by rich men with wine cellars has the support of Mr. Macdonald and his fellows. They favour Sunday closing and local option. They voted for the iniquitous Children’s Act. They would doubtless vote for prohibition. That is to say, they would constantly interfere with the personal liberty of poor men who like beer and whiskey.
Against all such ways and methods Mr. Sidney raises an eloquent voice. Confusion, as he rightly says, is the rule and glory of nature: “the whole scheme of things is magnificent rollocking disorder”: and the notion that the life of man can be drawn to scale and strict measure and be made as regular as a mathematical demonstration is really a gigantic blasphemy against the universe and the Maker of the universe.
These propositions the author has illustrated and enforced in a fantastic and delightful tale; the hero, a natural man, is called upon to rule over “Slavington’s Peptenized Soup,” and over Slavingtonville, the “servile city” where it is made; where there is no such thing as a public-house, where the workers spend their evenings in “mutual improvement,” discussing the merits and demerits of State Insurance, the rival charms of Robert Browning and Walt Whitman, as to whether Mr. Bernard Shaw was, or was not, to be taken seriously. Fenimore Slavington fails gloriously as the king of this horrible community, resigns his kingship, and lives happily ever after. But this good tale, like other good tales, is meant, not to be criticised, but to be read and enjoyed.
The people whom Mr. Dark attacks so fiercely – and, I believe, so righteously – make one great mistake. They believe that life (or rather keeping alive) is in itself the great aim. Slavingtonville was sober, Slavingtonville paid the union rate of wages, Slavingtonville was hygienic in the highest degree, epidemics were, I am sure, unknown in the slave city. Hence many people would conclude that we should make all towns as like Slavingtonville as possible. So we should, if it were the end of man to keep alive. But it isn’t; the end of man is to live joyously; and in Slavingtonville there can be no joy, because the people of the city have, in Mr. Dark’s phrase, sold their souls for food and clothes. Propter vitam, etc.; in order to keep alive they have parted with everything that makes life worth living.
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