Thursday, January 22, 2015

AND I'D BE THE KING OF CHINA


AND I’D BE THE KING OF CHINA
The Strange Life of Charles Welsh Mason

Mark Valentine

The astonishing story of the Eighteen Nineties writer who tried to make himself King of China – as a prelude to seizing the throne of the United Kingdom.

“There was such genius in his letters,” a contemporary wrote, “such brooding energy, such hate of life, such an uncanny suggestion of terrific power, that I treasured every word he wrote to me.” He was “fascinating, mysterious and demonic…the most romantic of all men I have met in the spirit”. To this commentator, he was a figure more striking even than D.H. Lawrence, Aleister Crowley, George Bernard Shaw, Frank Harris or Augustus John.

Mark Valentine’s essay tells the story of Charles Welsh Mason, who was thrown out of China for trying to lead an armed revolt, and returned to England to take up decadent literature, writing under three different names. His first book, collecting stories of his Chinese experiences, was compared to Kipling and Conan Doyle. His semi-autobiographical Max, published in 1897 by the modish Nineties imprint of John Lane, caused critics to invoke De Quincey for its descriptions of opium addiction.

The mysteries of Charles Welsh Mason do not end there. He took part in the Yukon gold rush, may have returned to China for the Boxer Rebellion, loved a youthful cup-bearer he called Gazelle Eyes, wrote a now lost book on Chinese torture, was last known as a roadman in the USA, and then vanished – but not before leaving a book of confessions.

This first literary study of an extraordinary character pieces together what is known from his memoirs and his books. A flavour of his work is also offered in a vignette, “A Little Chinese Party”, and there is a checklist of his publications.

Update: the book is now out of print but copies may be available from Mark Ziesing in the USA.

9 comments:

  1. Fascinating, but what's a "roadman"?

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  2. Was "Gazelle Eyes" male or female?

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  3. Sounds intriguing, Mark. I wonder if an alternative purchasing option is available?

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  4. Good one. Am also researching Mason's gunrunning case for a biography of one of his associates. I found Chinese Confessions filled with self-loathing and disgust for the consequences of his actions (almost all of Mason's Chinese connections were executed in the aftermath of his arrest, including "Gazelle Eyes"). For the rest of his life, every time Mason made a go of things – his marriage, his journalism, his time as a soldier in WWI – he acted as if he didn't deserve success and walked away from it.

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  5. Thanks for these questions and comments. A "roadman" is a tramp or hobo. "Gazelle Eyes" was male. The book is due to be available via some book dealers in the fantasy field.

    Great to hear, Anonymous of February 21, of your book about an associate of CWM - that should be fascinating. Yes, the Confessions do suggest exactly what you say: but interestingly, in the semi-autobiographical novels, there is often a different, bolder tone.

    Mark V

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    1. "Anonymous" here again. Book about Mason's associate is published, and have been doing some follow-up research on Mason. In April 1922 Mason returned to Britain and settled outside High Halden, Kent, on a property called Brookwood. After publishing a few more magazine stories and the Chinese Confessions, he lived pretty much as a hermit and died, aged 86 (!), in 1951, leaving £142 16s to Valda Welsh Mason Vaughn, either his daughter or granddaughter.

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  6. Thank you very much for this interesting information. Mason certainly lived to a ripe old age after all his exotic adventures!

    Mark

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    1. ...oh, and I found a photo. Would you like a copy?

      david

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  7. Thanks, David, I certainly would. That's most kind. My email address is lostclub[at]btopenworld[dot]com.

    Mark

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