Tuesday, February 17, 2015

New Walter de la Mare work

The latest issue of The Walter de la Mare Society Magazine (Number 16) includes several treats for enthusiasts of this most subtle and enigmatic of writers in the supernatural fiction field. Giles de la Mare introduces 'The Idealists', a previously unpublished continuation from the original manuscript of Walter de la Mare's story 'A Beginning'. He explains that the piece (about six pages long in the magazine) was probably intended to be included in the collection A Beginning and Other Stories (1955) but in the end not used. He adds that it "can more or less stand up on its own" but only makes full sense if you have read 'A Beginning'.

The piece, as so often in de la Mare, achieves a finely shaded mingling of interior and exterior landscapes, in which the narrator's keen observation of natural forces reflects also their own reveries and emotions: "Wind and rain, and my heart is lost under the low grey clouds, when the trees hang their heads and the water calls in the hollows. I grow dark and sullen and tomorrow seems but the ashes of a burned out hope...It is to you I turn as one in a far country turns towards home".

The magazine also includes three stanzas omitted at the proof stage from de la Mare's celebrated poem 'The Traveller' (1945), and a letter from T.S. Eliot about the poem, a transcript of a spoken introduction de la Mare made to a set of 78rpm records, Some Recent English Poetry (1946), and a previously unpublished letter by de la Mare.

In addition to this rare and original material by de la Mare, the 48pp magazine includes studies of his work: a survey of 'The Concept of Time in Walter de la Mare's Work' by Giles de la Mare; and a companion essay by Joe Griffiths on 'Time's Winged Chariot'; 'Alice on Wheels' by Richard Lowndes, which looks at de la Mare's links with Lewis Carroll; and my own essay 'Whisperings and Mumblings', an exploration of 'Seaton's Aunt'.

Mark Valentine

Sunday, February 8, 2015

'Strange is the Gift of Visiak' - Ernest Marriott's Poetic Tribute

E.H. Visiak (1878-1972) was a dedicated man-of-letters who is known now mainly for three things. He was an early champion of the work of David Lindsay, whom he befriended, and wrote about him (with Colin Wilson and J.B. Pick) in The Strange Genius of David Lindsay (1970). He was the author of a seafaring fantasy, Medusa (1929), frequently reprinted, and a few fantastical short stories. And he was also an eminent Milton scholar and editor.

However, earlier in his literary career, Visiak was known, if at all, as a poet. He published five volumes of verse: Buccaneer Ballads (1910, with an introduction by John Masefield); Flints and Flashes (1911); The Phantom Ship (1912); The Battle Fiends (1916); and Brief Poems (1919). As most of these titles suggest, Visiak often wrote swashbuckling pieces about pirates and the high seas, and these and other verses also had a gleefully macabre aspect to them.

Visiak was a conscientious objector during the Great War, and his views are expressed in the latter two of these poetry volumes. When a worthy on a tribunal considering his case for exemption from military service queried why he wrote about bloodthirsty naval fights if he were really a pacifist, Visiak pointed out that Milton wrote about demons but was hardly a diabolist.

The delight in Visiak’s pirate verses and grim themes is expressed in a poetic tribute to him, ‘The Verses of Visiak’ by Ernest Marriott, which has perhaps not been noticed before. This was published in the modernist magazine The Egoist: An Individualist Review, Vol 2 No 12, December 1st, 1915, edited by Harriet Shaw Weaver.

The author was probably the Manchester librarian and essayist Ernest Marriott (1882-1918), whose life and work has been commemorated in a monograph, ‘A Tricksy Sprite’ by Bryan Haworth (with Stewart Platts) published by the city’s Portico Library. This records that “Marriott was only twenty when appointed Librarian at the Portico in March 1903” and worked there until 1912.

Ernest Marriott was an artist, who illustrated an edition of stories from Don Quixote and wrote an early study of the art of Jack B. Yeats. He also wrote travel essays, published in Manchester journals, on wanderings in the Low Countries. After he left the Library, he joined the theatre director Gordon Craig in a tour of Europe, helping to design sets, and writing about some of their performances.

The Portico monograph describes how Marriott returned to England at the outbreak of the Great War. He became a quartermaster at the Brabyns Military Hospital, near Marple, Cheshire, where he also taught and gave talks on art to the troops. He died of heart failure on March 8, 1918.

E.H. Visiak lived in Manchester for a while when he was a clerk in the Indo-European Telegraph Company, and seems to have been there at more or less the same period that Marriott was the Librarian at the Portico. He would certainly have mingled in the literary circles in the city, as he was already a highly bookish young man trying to write. The likelihood is, therefore, that the two got to know each other and that ‘The Verses of Visiak’ is a homage to a friend. Sources show that Marriott had a lively wit and imagination, and enjoyed irreverent pastiche, and this piece is another charming example of that.

Ernest Marriott also contributed two more poems to The Egoist (Vol 3 No 10, October 1916), both with a late-decadent flavour: ‘Slain Roses’ and ‘Tædium Vitæ’, both somewhat in the vitiated style of Ernest Dowson or Arthur Symons. His poems in the magazine have not been noticed before, and, though perhaps somewhat tongue-in-cheek, the work has a wistful piquancy which adds to our picture of this spirited individual.

Here are the three poems by Ernest Marriott:

The Verses of Visiak

Drops of poetic essence
Distilled in queer little jars,
Dusky blossoms from gardens
That burn under lunatic stars.

Impish magical fiddles
Sobbing in dream-bazaars
Where boggle-boes and hobgoblins
Ramp in Rococo cars.

Blazing beaches and coral
Fifes and tum-tummy guitars
Fleering hints of the horrible lives
Of pirates and gashed old tars.

Strange is the gift of Visiak
When singing of sailors and spars ;
Strange is his talent for garnering
Such rummy particulars.

Tædium Vitæ

Sodden yellow leaves
Drift all about the town
I slink under the eaves
And smirk like a foolish clown.

I am deep-soaked in dolour
I rejoice in the fall of the leaf
These murky roads of squalor
Pander to my grief.

Gur-r-r, you’ll see me jut out my tongue
With a swollen purple grin when I’m hung
To the lamp with my neckerchief.

Slain Roses

Pale roses
From the green brier scattered
Your moist young petals are flung
Broken in creamy snow among
The undergrowth.
I see you torn and slain,
Dashed from the flexible stems
By the silver diagonal rain.

Your perturbing dim odour floats by
Returns and vanishes
Lingers, advances again,
Then surrounds me, almost—
Hesitating and doubtful—
Like a chaste
Shy ghost.

(Mark Valentine)

Friday, February 6, 2015

Invoking the Angels - Machen's Original Vegetarian Restaurant?

In his story ‘The Bowmen’, which gave rise to the Angels of Mons legends, Arthur Machen uses an unusual device to invoke the ghostly archers of Agincourt who come to the aid of the hard-pressed Allied soldiers at Mons.

One of the British soldiers “remembered – he says he cannot think why or wherefore – a queer vegetarian restaurant in London where he had once or twice eaten eccentric dishes of cutlets made of lentils and nuts that pretended to be steak. On all the plates in this restaurant there was printed a figure of St. George in blue, with the motto, Adsit Anglis Sanctus Georgius – May St. George be a present help to the English. This soldier happened to know Latin and other useless things, and now, as he fired at his man in the grey advancing mass – 300 yards away – he uttered the pious vegetarian motto.”

As he uttered the invocation, Machen writes, the soldier “felt something between a shudder and an electric shock pass through his body”. And then he hears the medieval cries of the bowmen…

Machen returns to the origin of the spectral warriors in the last lines of his story: “But the man who knew what nuts tasted like when they called themselves steak knew also that St.George had brought his Agincourt Bowmen to help the English.”

As a lifelong vegetarian and Machen enthusiast, I have always found this passage rather peculiar. Machen himself was far from vegetarian and could have chosen any number of other sources for the Latin quotation – from a school motto, perhaps, or a coat-of-arms seen in a church or ancient house. The very particularity of the passage made me think that Machen was here writing from personal experience – that he actually had seen plates in a vegetarian restaurant with just such a design.

Now an article in the latest Newsletter (No 73, January 2015) of the Edward Thomas Fellowship, may provide the solution to this little mystery. Shahed Power & Shaun Theobald, in ‘Edward Thomas Dining With Friends in London’, present a survey of places that the poet and essayist is known to have frequented.

Amongst these, they describe St George’s Restaurant, a vegetarian venue owned by the real tennis champion Eustace Miles, who, they discovered, also ran the Pure Food Stores. St George’s was, it appeared, a regular haunt of literary figures, journalists and bohemians, and they note Thomas often went there on his weekly visits to London looking for reviewing and other work. Thomas, the article notes, described the restaurant to his friend the American poet Robert Frost as in St Martin’s Lane and upstairs, while another poet, Ralph Hodgson, told Frost it was “next to the Coliseum in St Martin’s Lane close by Trafalgar Square”.

The essayists have also uncovered a description of St George’s in Dinners and Diners: Where and How to Dine in London (1899) by Lt.Col. [Nathaniel] Newnham- Davis. Davis was also the author of Jadoo (1898), a now rare novel of Indian sorcery, as well as comic novels and other books on food. He evokes the eating place as follows: “a red brick building of an Elizabethan type, with leaded glass windows and with a sign, whereon was inscribed “The famous house for coffee,” swinging from a wrought-iron support. The windows on the ground floor had palms in them, and the gaze of the vulgar was kept from the inner arcane by neat little curtains….The room on the first floor was a nice bright little room, with white overmantels to the fireplaces, with one corner turned into a bamboo arbour, with painted tambourines and little mandolins and pictures, and an oaken clock on the light-papered walls, with red-shaded candles on the tables…”.

The article notes that Edward Thomas’s diaries show that he had tea at St George’s at various times with “Ralph Hodgson, Arthur Ransome, W.H. Hudson, W.H. Davies, Walter de la Mare…Rupert Brooke, Robert Frost and D.H. Lawrence” and they conclude that the restaurant must have been a “de facto salon” for writers. When Machen was himself a working journalist and keen to find other literary work, in the years just before the Great War, perhaps he might, after all, have mingled there too.

There were certainly not many vegetarian restaurants in London in that period and it is hard to resist the conclusion that St George’s must have been the place Machen and his fictional soldier had in mind in the story of ‘The Bowmen’. But whether they had such plates as Machen describes, or they were his own invention, we cannot yet say. Perhaps somewhere there still survives an old piece of crockery with a blue St George and a Latin inscription…

Mark Valentine

Thursday, February 5, 2015


We reported earlier about a serious risk to the unique Arthur Machen Collection at Newport Library, which was faced with closure proposals. The local newspaper, the South Wales Argus, reported on 4 February that the Library and Museum and Art Gallery building "could be saved but services reduced as revised plans are drafted following consultation with the public."

The new proposal, to be considered by Newport council, would keep the building open, though opening hours and the range of services and events would be reduced to save money. If this proposal is accepted, it would mean that for the time being the Arthur Machen Collection would at least be safeguarded and continue to be preserved in Machen country.

The newspaper reports: "The council received a “significant” number of responses regarding the Arthur Machen Collection from places such as Yorkshire, London, Glasgow, Birmingham, France, Germany, Denmark, the USA and Australia." It is clear that the huge international support for the Collection has played a major part, along with local views, in helping the council to appreciate the importance of this heritage, and rethink their plans.

Although final decisions are still to be made, the position looks much more promising. Many thanks to Friends of Arthur Machen and Wormwood supporters across the world for adding your voices to this campaign and making a difference.