The Secret Glory, by Arthur Machen

18515164It is probable that all through those early years Ambrose’s father had been charming his son’s heart, drawing him forth from the gehenna-valley of this life into which he had fallen, as one draws forth a beast that has fallen into some deep and dreadful place. Various are the methods recommended. There is the way of what is called moral teaching, the way of physiology and the way of a masterly silence; but Mr. Meyrick’s was the strange way of incantation. He had, in a certain manner, drawn the boy aside from that evil traffic of the valley, from the stench of the turmoil, from the blows and the black lechery, from the ugly fight in the poisonous smoke, from all the amazing and hideous folly that practical men call life, and had set him in that endless procession that forever and forever sings its litanies in the mountains, going from height to height on its great quest. Ambrose’s soul had been caught in the sweet thickets of the woods; it had been bathed in the pure water of blessed fountains; it had knelt before the altars of the old saints, till all the earth was become a sanctuary, all life was a rite and ceremony, the end of which was the attainment of the mystic sanctity — the achieving of the Graal. For this — for what else? — were all things made. It was this that the little bird sang of in the bush, piping a few feeble, plaintive notes of dusky evenings, as if his tiny heart were sad that it could utter nothing better than such sorry praises. This also celebrated the awe of the white morning on the hills, the breath of the woods at dawn. This was figured in the red ceremony of sunset, when flames shone over the dome of the great mountain, and roses blossomed in the far plains of the sky. This was the secret of the dark places in the heart of the woods. This the mystery of the sunlight on the height; and every little flower, every delicate fern, and every reed and rush was entrusted with the hidden declaration of this sacrament. For this end, final and perfect rites had been given to men to execute; and these were all the arts, all the far-lifted splendor of the great cathedral; all rich carven work and all glowing colors; all magical utterance of word and tones: all these things were the witnesses that consented in the One Offering, in the high service of the Graal. (from Goodreads)

This book was quite a trippy reading. To be honest, I bought this book because it had a pretty cover (Edward Burne-Jones’ The beguiling of Merlin) and because the seller said “It’s the last remaining”.

I think the book could be easily separated in two parts: those chapters that were centered on Ambrose’s school years, dedicated to “mundane” subjects, and those where everything gets a lot more like what I copied from Goodreads above. The mundane chapters were a cynical and sarcastic critique of the British public school and academic system, which was very fun to read. The spiritual chapters were beautiful to read, the images described are literally out of this world, but I often felt that I wasn’t getting it. I’m not versed in Celtic anything, so it was mostly out of my league and I just sat and enjoyed the nice writing. There was also a strong critique of the Anglican church, made from the standpoint of the Roman church and the traditional celtic rites.

I believe this is the kind of book that is meant to be read more than once, twice or three times, and that each time is a whole different experience. I’m looking forward to read it again 🙂