The Weekly Machen
Anyone familiar with Arthur Machen’s war stories, such as The Bowmen or The Terror, recognizes 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
May 6, 1916
It 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.
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.
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