Wednesday, May 10, 2017
Guest Post: A Note on the Location of a Machen Tavern by R B Russell
At the start of The London Adventure Arthur Machen is sitting in a tavern in St John’s Wood, London. In other places this establishment has been identified as The Knights of St John (7 Queen’s Terrace) and The Eyre Arms Tavern (1 Finchley Road), but I would like to suggest that the Princess Royal (11 Circus Road) is also a candidate. In Hair Under a Hat (Chaterson, 1949), J.P. Hogan claimed to know the exact location:
‘I wondered a long time about the whereabouts of this tavern. … The long and the short of it is that on a warm Sunday evening in early September I found myself in Clifton Hill, St. John’s Wood. I had had some correspondence with Mr Machen a year or two before his death; and he had assured me that this particular tavern (he gave no guarantee as to others) was not fabulous; he had even given me exact details as to its whereabouts. And it all fitted in, at least on the material level, with the description in his book.
But ... Here, in what Mr Machen’s spirit had made an oasis for his body, I found only confusion and decay, peeling stucco and peeling standards of inward living, the dreariness and drabness of a suburb that has ceased to hold the impulse that built it. St John’s Wood, it seemed to me as I hesitated outside the unobtrusive tavern, was all rats and flats: rats in the bombed houses and flats in the rest. I did not enter the tavern; I should have felt like Pascal at a bacchanal.
Thus one learns the lesson, so tersely set down for us in the Tao, that ‘without going out of the door one can see the whole world’. It would have been wiser, on that torpid Sunday evening, to have stayed in my garden and re-read The London Adventure. For then the ‘remote tavern’ would have remained a reality (and a satisfying one at that), whereas by rushing in where an angel would hesitate I had merely seen with my own eyes a chimaera.'
And so, annoyingly, Hogan does not reveal the location of the tavern.
In Morocco Bound (Farrar & Rinehart), 1929, Edwin Valentine Mitchell specifically mentions The Eyre Arms, but states that ‘Arthur Machen’s pub, the Princess Royal, is only a few streets away.’And in The Life of Arthur Machen (FoAM/Redonda/Tartarus, 2005) John Gawsworth writes of this period:
'… he had changed his tavern to the Princess Royal, where a new band gathered around him, Captain Kenneth Rivington of the family of publishers, Frederick Carter, who had deserted Liverpool for St John’s Wood to continue his studies in symbolism, Philip Sergeant, the historical biographer, secretary of the Jacobite Society, and several of the fraternity of arts and letters who owned studios and flats in the neighbourhood. Machen enjoyed six years of what for him was prosperity; an urban and urbane host, his hospitality is remembered by many who enjoyed it.'
Sadly, the buildings housing both The Eyre Arms and The Princess Royal have both been rebuilt, and The Knights of St John is now closed, so we cannot visit any of these establishments today in the hope of finding Machen’s ‘pleasant and retired spot’. But, as Hogan suggests, perhaps it would be wisest to simply re-read The London Adventure, and not chase chimeras.
(Pictures: The Eyre Arms (top), The Knights of St John (below))