Biography of Arthur Machen

Arthur Llewellyn Machen (1863-1947) was a British novelist born March 3, 1863, at Carleon-on-Usk, Wales, who became one of the leading authors of English occult fiction, but was undeservedly neglected during his lifetime. He is best known for his influential supernatural, fantasy, and horror fiction. He also is well known for his leading role in creating the legend of the Angels of Mons.

In 1887, Machen married Amy Hogg, an unconventional music teacher with a passion for the theatre, who had literary friends in London's Bohemian circles. Hogg had introduced Machen to the writer and occultist A. E. Waite, who was to become one of Machen's closest friends. Machen also made the acquaintance of other literary figures, such as M. P. Shiel and Edgar Jepson. Soon after his marriage, Machen began to receive a series of legacies from Scottish relatives that allowed him to gradually devote more time to writing.

In 1899, Machen’s wife Amy died of cancer after a long period of illness. This had a devastating effect on Machen. He only gradually recovered from his loss over the next year, partially through his close friendship with A. E. Waite. It was through Waite’s influence that Machen joined at this time the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

Machen, brought up as the son of a Church of England clergyman, always held Christian beliefs, though accompanied by a fascination with sensual mysticism; his interests in paganism and the occult were especially prominent in his earliest works. Machen was well read on such matters as alchemy, the kabbalah, and Hermeticism, and these occult interests formed part of his close friendship with A. E. Waite.

Machen also was at this time investigating Celtic Christianity, the Holy Grail and King Arthur. Publishing his views in Lord Alfred Douglas’s The Academy, for which he wrote regularly, Machen concluded that the legends of the Grail actually were based on dim recollections of the rites of the Celtic Church.

His books include: The Great God Pan (1894), The House of Souls (1906), The Hill of Dreams (1907), The Great Return (1915), and The Terror (1917). In addition to his powerful stories on occult themes, he also published a number of volumes of essays and translations.

One of Machen's short stories brought a legend to real life. On September 29, 1914, his story "The Bowmen" appeared in the London Evening News. The story describes how British troops, hopelessly outnumbered in the French trenches of World War I, are miraculously rescued by phantom English archers from Agincourt, led by St. George. Many people read it as a factual account of what had happened, and a few months after publication, a number of eyewitness accounts of the Angels of Mons began to appear. Throughout the twentieth century people have believed the events actually occurred.

Machen reiterated that his story was fiction in the introduction to the later publication of his story in the book The Bowmen and Other Legends of the War (London, 1915), but the actual semi-miraculous retreat of the British from Mons had such an overpowering effect on the British public that they seemed to want to believe in divine intervention.

Arthur Machen died December 15, 1947, at Beaconsfield, England.