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
by
Arthur Machen
January 23, 1913

d3585aThere 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.

  


The Weekly

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Introduction and supplementary material – Copyright 2022 by Christopher Tompkins. All rights reserved.

7 thoughts on “The Life Worth Living

  1. “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.”

    Arthur Machen was an old man when C. S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength was published in 1945. I don’t suppose he read it. He’d have appreciated the satirical picture of “progressive” planners who seek to destroy an English village and substitute charmless modern dwellings in its place.

    The destruction of some of the planners and their fellow-travellers by animals at the end has some affinities with Machen’s novella “The Terror.” Is Machen’s attitude (if he had one) to painful experimentation on living animals (vivisection) on record somewhere?

    “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.”

    This remark recalls the conclusion of Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet, the great scene when the viceroy of Malacandra has Weston, the spokesman for expeditions to Mars, explain his motives, and judges them. The “great aim” identified by Machen is just the motive of Weston, who is prepared to wipe out the Malacandrians so as to appropriate their world for earthlings, and is also prepared to alter human beings unrecognizably to enable them to thrive in alien environments if only they may continue to live in the distant future.

    Machen uses the expressions “the hero, a natural man.” By “natural man” he does not mean the unregenerate sinner as St. Paul does in 1 Corinthians 2:14 — the natural man cannot receive the things of God. Rather, Machen means, I think, the man who has a sense of what Lewis, in The Abolition of Man, calls the Tao, i.e. the Natural Law or objective morality. Because we are fallen it is hard for us to curb our inclinations to break this Law (and in fact we do break it, falling short repeatedly, or even daring to oppose it). Now one of the elements of the Natural Law is humility. It is pride, not humility, that seeks by social engineering of the sort denounced here to have man refashion himself according to a plan devised by graduates of the modern university who possess a CV of “impressive” credentials. Fixing defective drains is one thing, putting people into the hands of progressive social engineers another.

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    1. Thank you for consistently providing your insights on Lewis.

      As for vivisection, I have only discovered one mention of the practice by Machen so far. In an article covering threats made against vivisectors, Machen informs his readers not to be misunderstood by him. He states firmly that he is not concerned with attacking or defending vivisection. Very interesting! Was he truly neutral on the topic or chose to hold his opinions privately? The piece will be included in the upcoming volume “Mist and Mystery.”

      I agree with you that Machen’s use of “natural man” is akin to the views held by Lewis. I would suggest Machen viewed man as both “natural” and “supernatural” without contradiction.

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  2. Thank you for this! His name sounds familiar, but I am not sure that it is – or in what context I may have met it and him. Venturing forth, I find that there are an assortment of his many books in the Internet Archive, including a microfilm of The Man who would not be King, which looks a bit messily done, but in which the whole of the Prefactory Note looks clearly readable. WorldCat shows me that Victor Gollancz published a couple of his books – The Church, Impotent or Triumphant (1941) and The Red Bible (1942) (“Quotations showing a recurring and persistent social philosophy as set forth in the Bible”) – ! But also a couple books published by the Anti-Socialist and Anti-Communist Union, including The Tyranny of Socialism (1909). And I wish I could get a look at The War against God (“First printed, September, 1937; reprinted, February, 1938”: “An historical sketch of the war against God, and … a detailed account of the fight against faith … in Russia, in Mexico and in Spain, and … Germany and Italy”). His London (1924) – written in interaction with illustrations by Joseph Pennell – sounds from its Introduction like Machen might have enjoyed it, or that it is at least Machen-compatible (“it is above all things the city of Sam Weller”).

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    1. Ach, I had not seen that your giving the title was also a link! (I should have guessed!) But I’m glad to have browsed around among more of his books in the Internet Archive…

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    2. Thank you for listing more books by Dark. One of the pleasures of studying Machen is the discovery other figures, often quite obscure, who are interesting in themselves. I had considered appending Dark’s “Prefatory Note,” to this post, but I became busy with other tasks. Perhaps, I will still do that.

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  3. Having now read Dark’s preface, I think -he- actually did mean something pretty close to St. Paul’s “natural man,” since Dark approves of the “romance” of a husband falling in love with his neighbor’s wife and so on.

    Possibly Machen was inclined to condone such passions provided they didn’t lead to physical adultery in the ensuing misery. I think Machen was certainly inclined, in some of his remarks, to -overcorrect-; and you get an unreadable book like Dr. Stiggins as well as disappointing remarks here and there in other places.

    The key to the situation is to be unyielding in one’s affirmation of God’s Law, to apply it to the indulgences and laws of men, and to make the necessary discriminations.

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