London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co., Ltd., 1915. First edition. Small octavo (6 1/2 inches tall), original slate-blue pictorial boards, printed in dark blue, blue endpapers. Early owner's neat signature on the title page, very faint toning and staining to bright, slightly bowed, boards. A nearly fine copy. Item #1462
"ALL AGES AND NATIONS HAVE CHERISHED THE THOUGHT THAT SPIRITUAL HOSTS MAY COME TO THE HELP OF EARTHLY ARMS"
First book edition of Arthur Machen's controversial tale of "the Angels of Mons"—where "St. George brought his Agincourt bowmen to help the English" in an early battle of the Great War. A handsome copy.
Recalling the improbable English victory over the French at the battle of Agincourt in October 1415 (Saint Crispin's Day), Machen's contemporary account of the Battle of Mons in August 1914 "was easily his most influential work of fiction, in ways he never predicted."
First published in the Evening News shortly after the battle, it told how "British troops, their retreat cut off by the Germans, were miraculously rescued by a ghostly St. George and his bowmen of Agincourt. Widely accepted as true or as a genuine legend, the incident is regularly referred to even today, in books of occult lore and oral histories of the Great War" (Sullivan). Consists of The Bowmen / The Soldiers Rest / The Monstrance / The Dazzling Light / The Bowmen and Other Ghosts (by "The Londoner").
The stories are bracketed with a lengthy explanatory Introduction and a brief Postscript. Distinguishing between the popular English belief in Angels and the more "Popish" belief in Saints, Machen suggests that it was churchmen ("the pulpits both of the Church and of Nonconformity have been busy") who were responsible for spreading supernatural delusions. Machen "might have abandoned literature entirely had it not been for the Great War and the controversy sparked by the appearance of his hastily penned potboiler The Bowmen. This tale of the ghostly archers of Agincourt coming to the aid of the retreating tommies was retold by a nurse on the western front to cheer her wounded charges, and was repeated orally from one soldier to the next until it found its way back to the British papers as a statement of fact" (Richard Stanley). Ashley. Who's Who in Horror and Fantasy; Fiction; Barron. Fantasy Literature; Bleiler. The Guide to Supernatural Fiction; Goldstone & Sweetser, 14a; Sullivan. The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural; Stanley. The Guardian (Oct. 30, 2004).