Arthur Machen (OH 1874 - 1878)
19/09/2012
ARTHUR MACHEN b. 3.3.1863 d. 15.12.1947

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Arthur Machen was a leading Welsh author of the 1890s. He is best known for his influential supernatural, fantasy and horror fiction. He also is well known for his leading role in creating the legend of the Angels of Mons.

Born Arthur Llewelyn Jones, in Caerleon, now part of Newport, Gwent, his father, John Edward Jones became vicar of the tiny local church of Llandewi Fach so Arthur was brought up at the rectory there. His father had adopted his wifes’ maiden name, Machen in order to inherit a legacy, legally becoming "Jones-Machen". As a result, Arthur was baptised under this new name, but later shortened it to Arthur Machen as a pen-name.

At the age of eleven, Machen became a boarder at HCS, where he received an excellent classical education. Family poverty however ruled out attendance at university, and Machen was sent to London where he sat exams to attend medical school but failed to get in. Machen, however, showed literary promise, publishing in 1881 a long poem "Eleusinia" on the subject of the Eleusinian Mysteries. Returning to London, he lived in relative poverty, attempting to work as a journalist, as a publisher's clerk, and as a children’s tutor while writing in the evening and going on long rambling walks across London.

Machen's love of the beautiful landscape of Monmouthshire with its associations with Celtic, Roman and medieval history made a powerful impression on him, which is at the heart of many of his works.

In 1884, he published his second work, the pastiche The Anatomy of Tobacco, and secured work with the publisher and bookseller George Redway as a cataloguer and magazine editor. This led to further work as a translator from French, including Heptameron of Marguerite de Navarre, Le Moyen de Parvenir (Fantastic Tales) of Béroalde de Verville and the Memoirs of Casanova. Machens’ translations in a spirited English style became standard ones for many years.

In 1887, Machen married Amy Hogg, an unconventional music teacher with a passion for the theatre, who had literary friends in Londons’ Bohemian circles. Amy had introduced Machen to the writer and occultist A. E. Waite, who was to become one of Machen's closest friends. Machen also made the acquaintance of other literary figures, such as M. P. Shiel and Edgar Jepson. Soon after his marriage, Machen began to receive a series of legacies from Scottish relatives that allowed him to gradually devote more time to writing.

Literary decadence in the 1890s - Around 1890 Machen began to publish in literary magazines, writing stories influenced by the works of Robert Louis Stevenson, some of which used gothic and fantastic themes. This led to his first major success, "The Great God Pan". It was published in 1894 by John Lane in the noted Keynotes Series, which was part of the growing aesthetic movement of the time. Machen’s story was widely denounced for its sexual and horrific content and subsequently sold well, going into a second edition.

Following the scandal surrounding Oscar Wilde later that year, Machens’ association with works of decadent horror made it difficult for him to find a publisher for new works. Thus, though he would write some of his greatest works over the next few years, some were published much later. These included The Hill of Dreams, Hieroglyphics, A Fragment of Life, the story " The White People " and the stories which make up Ornaments in Jade.

Tragedy and acting: 1899–1910 - In 1899, Machen’s wife Amy died of cancer after a long period of illness. This had a devastating effect on him. He only gradually recovered from his loss over the next year, partially through his close friendship with A. E. Waite. It was through Waite’s influence that Machen joined at this time the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Machen’s recovery was further helped by his sudden change of career, becoming an actor in 1901 and a member of Frank Benson's company of travelling players, a profession which took him round the country. This led in 1903 to a second marriage, to Dorothie Purefoy Hudleston, which brought Machen much happiness. He managed to find a publisher in 1902 for his earlier written work Hieroglyphics, an analysis of the nature of literature, which concluded that true literature must convey ecstasy. In 1906 Machen’s literary career began once more to flourish as the book The House of Souls collected his most notable works of the 1890’s and brought them to a new audience.

The Holy Grail - Machen also was at this time investigating Celtic Christianity and King Arthur. Publishing his views in Lord Alfred Douglas's The Academy, for which he wrote regularly, Machen concluded that the legends of the Holy Grail actually were based on dim recollections of the rites of the Celtic Church. These ideas also featured strongly in the novel The Secret Glory, which he wrote at this time, marking the first use of the idea in fiction of the Grail surviving into modern times. This idea has been utilised ever since by such authors as Charles Williams, Dan Brown and in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. In 1907, The Hill of Dreams, generally considered Machen’s masterpiece, was finally published, though it was not recognized much at the time.

Journalism and the Great War: 1910–1921 - Finally Machen accepted a full-time journalist’s job at the Evening News. In February 1912 his son Hilary was born, followed by a daughter Janet in 1917. The coming of war in 1914 saw Machen return to public prominence for the first time in twenty years due to the publication of " The Bowmen " and the subsequent publicity surrounding the "Angels of Mons" episode. He published a series of stories capitalizing on this success, most of which were morale-boosting propaganda, but the most notable, The Great Return (1915), and the novella The Terror (1917), were more accomplished.

In general, Machen thoroughly disliked work at the newspaper, and it was only the need to earn money for his family which kept him there. His earnings allowed him to move in 1919 to a bigger house with a garden in St John’s Wood which became a noted location for literary gatherings attended by friends like the painter Augustus John, Wyndham Lewis and Jerome K. Jerome. Machen’s dismissal from the Evening News in 1921 came as a relief in one sense, though it caused financial problems. He was by then however recognized as a great Fleet Street character by his contemporaries, and remained in demand as an essay writer for much of the 1920’s.

The Machen Boom of the Twenties - The year 1922 also saw a revival in Machen’s literary fortunes. The Secret Glory was finally published, as was his autobiography Far Off Things, and new editions of Casanova, The House of Souls and The Hill of Dreams all came out. Machen’s works had now found a new audience and publishers in America, and a series of requests for republications of books started to come in

A sign of his rising fortunes were shown by publication in 1923 of a collected edition of his works and a bibliography. That year also saw the publication of a recently completed second volume of autobiography, Things Near and Far—the final volume, The London Adventure, being published in 1924. Machen’s earlier works suddenly started becoming much sought after collectors items at this time, a position they have held ever since. During this period of prosperity Machen's home saw many visitors and social gatherings and he made new friends such as Oliver Stonor.

His final years: 1926–1947
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