Friday, January 4, 2019

The Chronicle of Clemendy by Arthur Machen

My first encounter with Arthur Machen’s world occurred when I read the story The Great God Pan many years ago. This led me to The Hill of Dreams, his acknowledged masterpiece. Over time I became quite enamored with Machen’s prose and I sought out his many lesser known works. I am not an expert on Machen, and you should think of me only as a fan and avid reader, but Machen offers a heady brew and I recommend an exploration of his works. I own two copies of this first edition, both signed by Machen. The Chronicle of Clemendy was privately printed by the Society of Pantagruelists in 1923 with a print run of 1050, all signed by the author. I own copies 236 and 321. The book was not made well, with an embossed spine and featuring a few interior illustrations. However, the paper was cheap pulp paper and does not hold up well, and the sheets were not cut sequentially to measurement which offers a jagged edge. The book is fairly common with antiquarian book dealers and not all that expensive, depending on the overall condition. One of my copies is rather battered, and the other is much better. In keeping with the intent of pantagruelism, the sections are intended as satirical or comedic discourses with a serious intent. Machen indulges himself here. This is a thick book of 321 pages, comprised of 20 sections. Similar to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, this is essentially a fictional rendering as told by Master Gervase Perrot which documents “amorous inventions and facetious tales;” the highlights being Machen’s sensual prose. He commences with “Master Perrot’s Discourse of Ale,” perhaps the finest piece of satirical writing about beer I have encountered. Machen’s intellect, command of language, and forays into history are evident throughout. I think Machen was having fun here, exercising his mind and allowing the tales and gossip and sometimes the silliness get the better of him. His intention may have been serious, but the result is satirical. Machen’s humor, however, may well be lost on the modern rake, imbiber, scoundrel, clergyman, or reader of Silurian Mythologies. The long pages recount a medieval tryst, a dandy countryside of bumblebees, errant Knights, and sly kisses for a maiden on a summer’s day. This is not an easy book to read, but the reason to press onward is simply to enjoy Machen’s command of English, and to appreciate his great wit. As an oddity, and because I am a Machen fan (a strange breed to be sure), I recommend wading through The Chronicle of Clemendy whilst barefoot. At last he will write an epilogue, and bid you farewell with a wink: “I have to part also with my sweet companion, who has come all the way to Cock-Loft Land to help me and to whisper strange stories in my ear: I mean no less a one than the Merry Muse of Gwent.” The contents included are:
Epistle Dedicatory
The Preparations
With Strange Story of a Red Jar
The Spigot Clerk’s First Tale
How the Folk of Abergavenny Were Pestered by an Accused Knight
The Lord Maltworm’s First Tale
How a Man of Caerleon Found a Great Treasure
The Rubrican’s First Tale – What Fell Out in the Ancient Keep of Caldicot
The Tankard Marshall’s First Tale – The Quest of the Dial and the Vane
By the Way
The Spigot Clerk’s Second Tale – How a Knight of Uske Kept Guard Over a Tree
The Portreeve’s Solemnity
The Tale Told by the Seigneur of La Roche Nemours – The Quant History of a Lord of Gwent and How His Wife Desired to Smell a Rose
The Journey Homeward
Signor Piero Latini’s Tale – How the Duke of San Giuliano Made Build a High Wall
The Lord Maltworm’s Second Tale – The Affair Done at the House with the Lattice
The Rubrican’s Second Tale – The Triumph of Love

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