Selfish Saturday: Madness and Decadence

After a hard few weeks and a frustrating half-term break, I have finally been rewarded with an extremely fun Halloween night, which is just what I needed before I launch into NaNoWriMo (with a write-in kicking off on the stroke of midnight, less than an hour from now). I’ll be working on a story that has been percolating in the back of my mind practically since last year’s NaNo, and must be finished, or I’m sure I won’t like what my muse, temperamental at best, will do.

For the duration of the annual madness, there will be, as usual, no original posts. Instead, there will be another story from my beloved Arthur Machen: A Fragment of Life, another of those in-between states that the master did so well. Maybe some poetry from the so-called ‘Decadent’ school, as well. Those of you in a gothic mood (what better mood for November?), do stick around.

A Fragment of Life – Epilogue

It would be impossible to carry on the history of Edward Darnell and of Mary his wife to a greater length, since from this point their legend is full of impossible events, and seems to put on the semblance of the stories of the Graal. It is certain, indeed, that in this world they changed their lives, like King Arthur, but this is a work which no chronicler has cared to describe with any amplitude of detail. Darnell, it is true, made a little book, partly consisting of queer verse which might have been written by an inspired infant, and partly made up of ‘notes and exclamations’ in an odd dog-Latin which he had picked up from the ‘Iolo MSS.’, but it is to be feared that this work, even if published in its entirety, would cast but little light on a perplexing story. He called this piece of literature ‘In Exitu Israel,’ and wrote on the title page the motto, doubtless of his own composition, ‘Nunc certe scio quod omnia legenda; omnes historiae, omnes fabulae, omnis Scriptura sint de ME narrata.’ It is only too evident that his Latin was not learnt at the feet of Cicero; but in this dialect he relates the great history of the ‘New Life’ as it was manifested to him. The ‘poems’ are even stranger. One, headed (with an odd reminiscence of old-fashioned books) ‘Lines written on looking down from a Height in London on a Board School suddenly lit up by the Sun’ begins thus:–

One day when I was all alone
I found a wondrous little stone,
It lay forgotten on the road
Far from the ways of man’s abode.
When on this stone mine eyes I cast
I saw my Treasure found at last.
I pressed it hard against my face,
I covered it with my embrace,
I hid it in a secret place.
And every day I went to see
This stone that was my ecstasy;
And worshipped it with flowers rare,
And secret words and sayings fair.
O stone, so rare and red and wise
O fragment of far Paradise,
O Star, whose light is life! O Sea,
Whose ocean is infinity!
Thou art a fire that ever burns,
And all the world to wonder turns;
And all the dust of the dull day
By thee is changed and purged away,
So that, where’er I look, I see
A world of a Great Majesty.
The sullen river rolls all gold,
The desert park’s a faery wold,
When on the trees the wind is borne
I hear the sound of Arthur’s horn
I see no town of grim grey ways,
But a great city all ablaze
With burning torches, to light up
The pinnacles that shrine the Cup.
Ever the magic wine is poured,
Ever the Feast shines on the board,
Ever the song is borne on high
That chants the holy Magistry–
Etc. etc. etc.

From such documents as these it is clearly impossible to gather any very definite information. But on the last page Darnell has written–

‘So I awoke from a dream of a London suburb, of daily labour, of weary, useless little things; and as my eyes were opened I saw that I was in an ancient wood, where a clear well rose into grey film and vapour beneath a misty, glimmering heat. And a form came towards me from the hidden places of the wood, and my love and I were united by the well.’

A Fragment of Life – 4d

And at the same time he began to guess that if in the New Life there are new and unheard-of joys, there are also new and unheard-of dangers. In his manuscript books which professed to deliver the outer sense of those mysterious ‘Hidden Songs of Iolo Sant’ there was a little chapter that bore the heading: Fons Sacer non in communem Vsum convertendus est, and by diligence, with much use of the grammar and dictionary, Darnell was able to construe the by no means complex Latin of his ancestor. The special book which contained the chapter in question was one of the most singular in the collection, since it bore the title Terra de Iolo, and on the surface, with an ingenious concealment of its real symbolism, it affected to give an account of the orchards, fields, woods, roads, tenements, and waterways in the possession of Darnell’s ancestors. Here, then, he read of the Holy Well, hidden in the Wistman’s Wood–Sylva Sapientum–‘a fountain of abundant water, which no heats of summer can ever dry, which no flood can ever defile, which is as a water of life, to them that thirst for life, a stream of cleansing to them that would be pure, and a medicine of such healing virtue that by it, through the might of God and the intercession of His saints, the most grievous wounds are made whole.’ But the water of this well was to be kept sacred perpetually, it was not to be used for any common purpose, nor to satisfy any bodily thirst; but ever to be esteemed as holy, ‘even as the water which the priest hath hallowed.’ And in the margin a comment in a later hand taught Darnell something of the meaning of these prohibitions. He was warned not to use the Well of Life as a mere luxury of mortal life, as a new sensation, as a means of making the insipid cup of everyday existence more palatable. ‘For,’ said the commentator, ‘we are not called to sit as the spectators in a theatre, there to watch the play performed before us, but we are rather summoned to stand in the very scene itself, and there fervently to enact our parts in a great and wonderful mystery.’

Continue reading ‘A Fragment of Life – 4d’

A Fragment of Life – 4c

From these great matters both in herself and in her husband Mary shrank back, afraid, perhaps, that if she began the question the answer might be too wonderful. She rather taught herself to be troubled over little things; she asked herself what attraction there could be in the old records over which she supposed Edward to be poring night after night in the cold room upstairs. She had glanced over the papers at Darnell’s invitation, and could see but little interest in them; there were one or two sketches, roughly done in pen and ink, of the old house in the west: it looked a shapeless and fantastic place, furnished with strange pillars and stranger ornaments on the projecting porch; and on one side a roof dipped down almost to the earth, and in the centre there was something that might almost be a tower rising above the rest of the building. Then there were documents that seemed all names and dates, with here and there a coat of arms done in the margin, and she came upon a string of uncouth Welsh names linked together by the word ‘ap’ in a chain that looked endless. There was a paper covered with signs and figures that meant nothing to her, and then there were the pocket-books, full of old-fashioned writing, and much of it in Latin, as her husband told her–it was a collection as void of significance as a treatise on conic sections, so far as Mary was concerned. But night after night Darnell shut himself up with the musty rolls, and more than ever when he rejoined her he bore upon his face the blazonry of some great adventure. And one night she asked him what interested him so much in the papers he had shown her.

Continue reading ‘A Fragment of Life – 4c’

A Fragment of Life – 4b

They were sitting thus together on the Friday evening of the week that had begun with that odd and half-forgotten visit of Mrs. Nixon, when, to Darnell’s annoyance, the door-bell gave a discordant peal, and Alice with some disturbance of manner came out and announced that a gentleman wished to see the master. Darnell went into the drawing-room, where Alice had lit one gas so that it flared and burnt with a rushing sound, and in this distorting light there waited a stout, elderly gentleman, whose countenance was altogether unknown to him. He stared blankly, and hesitated, about to speak, but the visitor began.

‘You don’t know who I am, but I expect you’ll know my name. It’s Nixon.’

He did not wait to be interrupted. He sat down and plunged into narrative, and after the first few words, Darnell, whose mind was not altogether unprepared, listened without much astonishment.

‘And the long and the short of it is,’ Mr. Nixon said at last, ‘she’s gone stark, staring mad, and we had to put her away to-day–poor thing.’

Continue reading ‘A Fragment of Life – 4b’

A Fragment of Life – 4a

In a haze as of a dream Darnell’s thoughts seemed to move through the opening days of the next week. Perhaps nature had not intended that he should be practical or much given to that which is usually called ‘sound common sense,’ but his training had made him desirous of good, plain qualities of the mind, and he uneasily strove to account to himself for his strange mood of the Sunday night, as he had often endeavoured to interpret the fancies of his boyhood and early manhood. At first he was annoyed by his want of success; the morning paper, which he always secured as the ‘bus delayed at Uxbridge Road Station, fell from his hands unread, while he vainly reasoned, assuring himself that the threatened incursion of a whimsical old woman, though tiresome enough, was no rational excuse for those curious hours of meditation in which his thoughts seemed to have dressed themselves in unfamiliar, fantastic habits, and to parley with him in a strange speech, and yet a speech that he had understood.

With such arguments he perplexed his mind on the long, accustomed ride up the steep ascent of Holland Park, past the incongruous hustle of Notting Hill Gate, where in one direction a road shows the way to the snug, somewhat faded bowers and retreats of Bayswater, and in another one sees the portal of the murky region of the slums. The customary companions of his morning’s journey were in the seats about him; he heard the hum of their talk, as they disputed concerning politics, and the man next to him, who came from Acton, asked him what he thought of the Government now. There was a discussion, and a loud and excited one, just in front, as to whether rhubarb was a fruit or vegetable, and in his ear he heard Redman, who was a near neighbour, praising the economy of ‘the wife.’

Continue reading ‘A Fragment of Life – 4a’

Month at a Glance

November 2015
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