Show Summary Details

Page of
PRINTED FROM Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. © Oxford University Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single article in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy).

Machen, Arthur Llewelyn Joneslocked

(1863–1947)
  • Roger Dobson

Machen, Arthur Llewelyn Jones (1863–1947), writer, was born on 3 March 1863 at 3 High Street, Caerleon, Monmouthshire, the only child of the Revd John Edward Jones (1831/2–1887), rector of Llanddewi Fach, and his wife, Janet Robina Machen (1826/7–1885), whose maiden name was adopted by the family in order to please her Scottish relatives. He was educated at Hereford Cathedral school (1874–80). The splendours of the landscape surrounding Llanddewi rectory, his boyhood home near Caerleon, and his passion for romantic literature inspired him to begin writing. His début in print was Eleusinia (1881), a mystical poem. The mystery and wonder it expressed also characterized all his later creations.

His father's poverty prevented Machen from attending university, and his attempt at a medical career proved short-lived when he failed the preliminary examination of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1880. In 1881 he moved to London, trying unsuccessfully to enter journalism. Living in poverty, he wrote while variously employed as a tutor, publishers' clerk, and cataloguer of occult books. His early works included The Anatomy of Tobacco (1884), a translation of The Heptameron (1886), and The Chronicle of Clemendy (1888). On 31 August 1887 he married Amelia (d. 1899), daughter of Frederick Metcalfe Hogg, of Worthing, Sussex. After her death from cancer Machen briefly sought solace in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, an occult society, but ultimately found its teachings sterile.

In the next decade Machen translated Casanova's Memoires (1894) and composed some of his finest fiction. The Great God Pan (1894) and The Three Impostors (1895), his early ventures into the macabre, appeared in the Bodley Head's Keynotes series. The Hill of Dreams, one of the period's most lyrical and decadent novels, was completed in 1897, but remained unpublished for ten years.

Machen joined Frank Benson's Shakespeare repertory company as an actor in 1901, and subsequently toured with several theatrical companies. He resumed writing between stage engagements. His literary theories were trenchantly expressed in Hieroglyphics (1902), and his supernatural tales were collected in The House of Souls (1906). On 25 June 1903 Machen married one of the actresses in Benson's company, Dorothie Purefoy Hudleston (1878–1947), the daughter of Colonel Josiah Hudleston, formerly of the Madras staff corps. They had a son, Hilary (1912–1987), and a daughter, Janet (b. 1917).

From 1910 to 1921 Machen worked as a reporter for the London Evening News. Although he detested journalism, his Johnsonian manner and compelling character established him as one of Fleet Street's most charismatic figures. The Evening News carried several of his wonder stories, and the appearance in September 1914 of his wartime fantasy 'The Bowmen' brought him to public attention. The tale of St George and phantom archers from Agincourt aiding British troops was widely accepted as factual, and by the summer of 1915 the legend of the ‘angels of Mons’ had swept the country.

In the 1920s, having been neglected by the British literary establishment for forty years, Machen attracted a coterie of admirers in the United States. Writers such as Vincent Starrett and Carl Van Vechten, extolling his powerful prose, proclaimed him a mystagogue of the secrets of life and art in the tradition of Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Machen's reminiscences, Far Off Things (1922) and Things Near and Far (1923), movingly recaptured his youth in Monmouthshire and his struggles as a writer during the fin de siècle, and revealed the depth of his dedication to literature.

By the end of the 1920s, as the vogue for his books diminished, Machen encountered renewed financial hardship. He and his family moved to Amersham, Buckinghamshire, where he produced essays, reviews, innumerable letters, and a final crop of stories. In 1932 he received a civil-list pension. In old age he maintained a relish for life in defiance of tribulations and failing health, and his geniality and goodness made him the centre of a circle of faithful friends and admirers. Machen died in St Joseph's Nursing Home, Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, on 15 December 1947, and was buried in the municipal cemetery at Amersham.

No critical consensus regarding Machen exists. Some critics view him as a literary curiosity, while others revere him as a unique talent. Praised by writers as diverse as H. P. Lovecraft, Jorge Luis Borges, and John Betjeman, he remains a pioneering cult author in the horror and fantasy fields. Central to his artistic philosophy is the concept of the numinous underlying the ordinary: in his words, 'the sense of the eternal mysteries, the eternal beauty hidden beneath the crust of common and commonplace things' (Machen, London Adventure, 75). An American Arthur Machen Society was established in 1948, and was succeeded by a British appreciation society in 1986. Much of Machen's work has been kept alive in both countries by the small press; John Gawsworth's biography of Machen, written in the 1930s, was published in 2005.

Sources

  • A. Reynolds and W. Charlton, Arthur Machen: a short account of his life and work (1963)
  • W. D. Sweetser, Arthur Machen (1964)
  • A. Machen, Far off things (1922)
  • A. Machen, Things near and far (1923)
  • A. Goldstone and W. D. Sweetser, A bibliography of Arthur Machen (1965)
  • M. Murphy, ed., Starrett vs. Machen: a record of discovery and correspondence (1977)
  • private information (2004)
  • A. Machen, The London adventure (1924)

Archives

  • McGill University, McLennan Library, literary MSS and press notices
  • Newport Central Library, Monmouthshire, corresp.
  • NL Wales, letters
  • Ransom HRC, MS of Madam Favart and notebook
  • BL, corresp. with Society of Authors, Add. MS 56743
  • Harvard U., Houghton L., letters to Cyril Clemens and papers
  • Newport Central Library, Monmouthshire, letters to Leslie Millar
  • NL Wales, letters to A. Addams-Williams
  • NL Wales, corresp. with Harry Spurr
  • Ransom HRC, corresp. with John Lane
  • U. Aberdeen L., letters to J. B. Chapman

Sound

  • Radio Wales (?), BBC Sound Archives

Likenesses

  • photograph, 1890–99, repro. in E. Jepson, Memories of an Edwardian and neo-Georgian (1937)
  • E. O. Hoppé, photographs, 1900–40
  • Baron Scotfield, silhouette, 1913, repro. in A. Machen, The bowmen and other legends of the war (1915)
  • E. Walters, oils, 1940–49, NL Wales

Wealth at Death

£1333 2s. 8d.: probate, 9 Feb 1948, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

Calendars of the grants of probate … made in … HM court of probate [England and Wales]