The Weekly Machen

Anyone familiar with Arthur Machen’s war stories, such as The Bowmen or The Terrorrecognizes that the writer believed that another battle was being fought “behind the war.” This interior front is the spiritual conflict waged by unseen forces both against man and for him. The concept took many forms in Machen’s work of this period. In the following, article, he grafts this concern for spiritual warfare onto his task of reviewing a book for the Evening News. Machen sees the role of the poet and the bishop to be the same, but clearly finds fault in the latter. This would not be first or last time that he would publicly criticize the hierarchy of the Church of England, of which he was a member.

L. P. Jacks (1860-1955), Unitarian minister and author, wrote a series of philosophical sketches which masqueraded as ghost stories.

The War Behind the War:
An Art-Lover See Beyond the Temporal Conflict
Arthur Machen
May 6, 1916

md9200626594It seems to me that a very great and singular privilege has been afforded to Mr. C. Lewis Hind, the author of a little book called “The Soldier Boy” (Burns and Oates). It is a collection of stories and essays – rather, of story-essays – which all deal with the war from far or near, and deal with it from a certain fixed point of view.

Mr. Hind regards the war as a lover of the everlasting beauties, as a hater of all the hells of ugliness and foulness. He looks upon the material battlefield as a veil of the spiritual battlefield, he sees that England is St. George, that the Prussian is the Dragon. He sees that the fight is, in fact, the fight – or part of it – that will only be ended when St. Michael the Standard Bearer shall prevail against the ancient enemy.

That, I gather, is the standpoint of “The Soldier Boy.” In the sketch that gives the collection its name – it appeared in The Evening News on St, George’s Day last year – the author tales the lad of nineteen, going to the wars, to see Donatello’s picture of St. George.

He stared at the figure of England’s patron saint. It was his hour of consecration. Even then the red badge of St. George was being woven by invisible hands beneath his khaki tunic, and I have full faith that he will go into battle one of the great band, linked together through the protecting presence of the Soldier-Saint.”

The Spirit of “Tipperary.”

And in an open letter “To a Subaltern” the author writes: “It is hard, I know, soldier, to be conscious always that behind the brutality and stupidity of war the lights of the City of the Soul shine unquenchable.” In the same spirit – which is the entirely right spirit – is interpreted the famous “Tipperary”: “We don’t laugh at the words… “It’s a long, long way to Tipperary – we all know what that means.”

Brothers, it’s a long, long way, strewn with the brave, our beloved, who have died for us; but we shall be – there. We may not yet see this City of a song, but a light shines above the spires, and the Sentinel is with us all they way.”

The author would almost seem to say – and I do not think he would say amiss – Tipperary que sursum est libera, que mater omnium.

So all through the book Mr. Hind sees the temporal conflict as the mere veil of the eternal battle; and thus, I say, that he has been afforded a great and singular privilege: that is, he has written the book which our Bishops should have written.

Bishops’ War-Work

Presumably; it is their business, or a chief part of their business, as pontiffs of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church to discern things eternal in things temporal, to proffer the clear lamp of eternal light to those who go down into the thick darkness of the battle. However, they have not quite seen their duty in this aspect. They have spoken warmly in behalf of the Conscientious Objector. One Bishop has said that the Conscientious Objector before the tribunals reminds him strongly of Faithful arraigned before the High Court of the Devil in Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress.” Another prelate had “sacred memories” of the Kaiser. Another hints that we deserve all the horrors of the war because we don’t like long sermons.

Naturally, therefore, these persons did not write “The Soldier Boy.” I am only too glad that Mr. Hind has done their work for them.

So much concerning – what should be – the work of a Bishop in the Church of God. And now, as it happens, the next book on my shelf is a volume of poetry, and opening it at haphazard, I come upon some lines which lead me to a paradoxical conclusion indeed: that there is a very great similarity between the office of a bishop and the office of a poet. And I really do not know to which of the two this conclusion will seem the more distasteful.

Still; here is the case. My volume is “Poems,” by Edward Shanks (Sidgwick and Jackson), and the lines that arrested me called “Walking At Night.”

The Poet’s True Business

The moon poured down on tree and field,
The leaf was silvered on the hedge,
The sleeping kine were half revealed,
Half shadowed at the pasture’s edge.

By steep inclines and long descents,
Amid the inattentive trees,
You spoke of the four elements,
The four eternal mysteries.

Here you have in a different form that vision of the eternal through the temporal and in the temporal of which we spoke in considering “The Soldier Boy.” And, it is the true business of the poet to discern these eternities which are all about us in their temporal and material cloaks and disguises. The poet (?) says the sage… (?) everything in universals not merely particulars; we must (?) the permanent element which underlies all the changes of this (?) world.

And thus, it appears to me, we have the paradox demonstrated; poets and bishops are of the same kind; their energies are – or should be – directed on the same tracks.

But, that doctrine apart, there are many fine things in this volume. Here is the ending of a sonnet in a sequence of “Sonnets of Separation” –

And we are prone beneath the flooding sun,
So drenched, so soaked in the unceasing light,
That colours, sounds, and your presence are one,
A texture woven up of all delight,
Whose shining threads my hands may not undo,
Yet one thread runs through the whole bright garment through.

What is “Intelligence”?

I doubt if we shall ever be able to produce an intelligent definition of intelligence,” says Professor Jacks in “The Brain of Fools,” which is one of a collection of essays called “From the Human End” (Williams and Norgate). Well, the task is, no doubt, difficult; but yet some sort of a definition must be furnished – if we are to talk about intelligence at all.

Professor Jack’s essay, for example, is full of interesting and suggestive points, but it is largely spoilt for me because I don’t quite know what the author means by “intelligence,” and how he distinguishes it – as he does distinguish it – from what he calls “brains”: another dubious term which seems to call for definition, and to be confused in the writer’s mind with “the brain,” the physical organ – a very different thing.

But one point is very clearly made. The author is discussing the size of the brain, and replies to an imaginary opponent:-

I hold myself free to suspect that your large and highly developed brain is the organ of a large and highly developed mistake – like the German policy in the present war. Assuming that you are wrong, a big brain would be precisely what you need to carry off the enormity of your error by the invention of ingenious self-deceptions.”

But is not all reasoning from the physical bulk and capacity of the brain to the wisdom, or even to the mere intelligence of the possessor of the brain, very precarious? The cubic capacity indeed; but, yet the ant is marvellously intelligent.

The Sign of the Dolphin in Gough-square, Fleet-street, has sent out “Shakespeare Day,” a book for the observance of the Shakespeare Tercentenary.

It is a really beautiful piece of typography, and a fit souvenir of a great centenary.

The Weekly

Previous: Some Thoughts on Robert Louis Stevenson


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

8 thoughts on “The War Behind the War

  1. I pause in reading this essay to urge anyone interested in the concept of spiritual warfare to read Gregory Boyd’s God at War.

    Boyd takes seriously the material in, for example, the Old Testament book of Daniel, that deals with unseen cosmic struggle.

    I’ll look for my long-ago review of Boyd’s book, but, in the meantime, here’s a question. A character in Machen’s “Great God Pan” is interested in evidence for the existence of the Devil, but I’m not sure that the story does assume his existence. And elsewhere I don’t recall evidence that Machen believed the Devil existed. Did he?

    I don’t think one can have a high regard for the New Testament and not believe that a “personal Devil” exists. The Devil is there in the Gospels, the Epistles, and the Revelation.

    But I’m not sure — this is a distinct topic — how important the Bible was to Machen as a thinker. It was important to him, certainly, in his imagination, as the Latin riff on Galatians 4:26, in the present essay, shows. (Machen generally prefers to cite the Latin Bible.)

    By the time Machen had come of age, the Anglican Church allowed disbelief in the Devil, if I’m not mistaken. I wonder if, by the time Machen was an adult, belief in the reality of a “personal Devil” was uncommon among Anglican clergymen. Would it have been seen as a peculiarity of the adherents of the church’s Evangelical wing? But seen by people in the Broad Church wing and perhaps by the Anglo-Catholics as kind of primitive and in bad taste?


    1. This is a deep and difficult topic and perhaps we can find no solid answer. I’m certainly not qualified to dip too deeply here. For Machen, it may be that Pan is a cypher for the enemy of mankind. Possibly. Unlike modern man, the ancient Christians understood the pagan gods not as fictions, but fallen angels. Perhaps it is my bias, but I sense something similar to this traditional view within the pages of The Great God Pan.

      As for the influence of the Bible on Machen, a few things can be said. He did view it through an aesthetic lens and contributed to “The Literary Merit of the English Bible” (1931). Yet, he used biblical passages in various essays and news articles as proofs to certain arguments. So, I would say that the Bible did contribute to his thinking. Finally, there is evidence that he took scripture to heart. There is a beautiful passage from The London Adventure where he discusses a profound spiritual experience due the Magnificat. The excerpt can be found in Dreamt in Fire. Unsurprisingly, this instance is not discussed like the more vague and unexplained experience recounted in Things Near and Far… also in Dreamt in Fire.


  2. Possibly relevant — listen from about 37:00 here:

    The invisible, spiritual warfare of which Boyd writes, and of which Machen had an inkling, may have entered a new phase. I have been reading Brighton’s patient commentary on Revelation (Concordia Publishing House). Brighton contends that, with Christ’s incarnation and ministry as a Man, there was effected the binding of Satan, who is to be unbound shortly before the end of the present heavens and earth. I find myself wondering today if, perhaps from centuries back, along with “innocent” human curiosity and the desire to help with difficulties of the human condition, people involved with science and technology may, in some cases, have been influenced by the Devil, who was and is guiding certain lines of inquiry towards the situation we see now relating to “the emergence of artificial intelligence” and so on, which could be a means by which he effects a bogus “incarnation” into the physical world.

    Put a different way: we are at a point of two things that are converging. (1) We have unparalleled and ever-growing scientific and technological activity and achievement. (2) We are experiencing a systematic, patient decoupling of our existing institutions and norms from their Christian elements. Government, law, entertainment, norms of manners, public education, and so on are with increasing openness not merely non- but anti-Christian.

    Cui bono?

    God so loved the world (mundum) that He gave his only Son. Perhaps the evil one would appropriate as much of that world as possible by encouraging and even directing a “counter-world” that people will impose on the real world, through various kinds of deconstruction (of language, of so-called “gender,” etc.), rebellion, and utopian politics and science. The object of the evil one could be not only to deface and (in a sense) replace the real world, but to become “incarnate” in the world.

    In a “virtual” world Satan and humans might be able to meet on a kind of equal footing. Of course the evil one has no interest in human beings as his equals, but it might seem to humans to be in some sense an equal relationship.

    But it may be possible for human beings to assist at the “unbinding” of the Devil, beyond as always being his proxies as we sin.

    However, I may be much mistaken in some of what I have written here. This is offered to encourage cautious reflection.


  3. Thank you for this – and for linking the books reviewed!

    As Dale Nelson noted, Machen plays with St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians 4:26, “Illa autem, quae sursum est Jerusalem, libera est, quae est mater nostra.” ‘Tipperary which is above is free, which is the mother ovinium.’ I cannot ‘get’ the “ovinium” reference. I could imagine a use of ‘ovium’ – as in the Letter to the Hebrews 13: 20, “pastorem magnum ovium, […] Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum” (“the great pastor of the sheep, our Lord Jesus Christ”), but “ovinium” quite eludes me.

    I should think belief in the reality of a “personal Devil” among – some? many? – Anglo-Catholics was common (and still is!), though not among others.


    1. Thanks for pointing out “ovinium,” which was a mistake on my part. I corrected the text to “omnium,” which makes more sense. The source for this article is in poor condition. Later in the article, a few phrase are illegible, which I marked with (?).


      1. Thank you! Those question-mark readings reminded me of transcriptions of ancient and mediaeval inscriptions and manuscripts – but it did not occur to me that “ovinium” might be a conjectural transcription – it is so clearly a Latin word, I assumed Machen’s erudition was its source! If my memory had been sharper – or I’d done my ‘homework’ better – I might have guessed – as the Book of Common Prayer for the Epistle of the Fourth Sunday in Lent (which is ‘ Mothering Sunday’ in this very context) has “But Jerusalem which is above is free; which is the mother of us all.” And now turning to the 1930 copy of Nestle’s Greek and Latin New Testament next to my desk, I find that lots of Greek manuscripts have ‘pantoon’ there – so I suppose various Latin translations have ‘omnium’ though the Douay Rheims Bible Online which has the Vulgate as well and which I checked had only “nostra” without ‘omnium’. My 1910 Roman Missal has only “nostra” in that Lesson, too – I should try to see what Sarum has… That relation of earthly cities to the Heavenly Jerusalem seems very characteristic of Charles Williams, too – as far as I remember in poetry from the Nineteen-‘Teens: an interesting parallel with Machen, here, at least…


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