Academic journal article Folklore

Rumours of Angels: A Response to Simpson

Academic journal article Folklore

Rumours of Angels: A Response to Simpson

Article excerpt

I am grateful to Jacqueline Simpson for highlighting the problem that is central to the interpretation of the Angel of Mons rumours summarised in my paper published in Folklore (Clarke 2002, 151-73). We agree on this point: Arthur Machen's claim that his fantasy, The Bowmen, was the original source for all the subsequent rumours stands or falls upon the value placed upon the date 5 September 1914 that appears on a letter by Brigadier-General John Charteris. This reads:

   Then there is the story of the "Angel of Mons" going
   strong through the II Corps of how the angel of the
   Lord on the traditional white horse, and clad all in
   white with flaming sword, faced the advancing Germans
   at Mons and forbade their further progress. Men's
   nerves and imagination play weird pranks in these
   strenuous times. All the same the angel at Mons interests
   me. I cannot find out how the legend arose (Charteris
   1931, 25-6).

If this date is genuine and contemporaneous, it predates The Bowmen by 14 days (the story was published in the London Evening News on 29 September 1914, not 24 September as cited by Simpson). In my paper I questioned the reliability of the date on the basis of my interpretation of another passage in Charteris's book, dated 11 February 1915, which reads:

   ... I have been at some trouble to trace the rumour to
   its source. The best I can make of it is that some
   religiously minded man wrote home that the Germans
   halted at Mons, AS IF an Angel of the Lord had
   appeared in front of them. In due course the letter
   appeared in a Parish Magazine, which in time was sent
   out to some other men at the front. From them the story
   went back home with the 'as if' omitted, and at home it
   went the rounds in its expurgated form (Charteris 1931,
   75).

I believe this entry is a direct reference to the story attributed to "Miss Marrable" that was published in a parish magazine in May 1915. If my contention is correct, this could not have been referred to by Charteris in a letter dated February of that year, hence the entry must have been written at a later date. In her contribution, Simpson questions my assumption that Charteris must be alluding to a parish magazine published in May, and requests evidence to support my claim that the entries in question were completed at a later date (Simpson 2003, 114).

At the time of writing the paper my inquiries into the provenance of the Charteris evidence were at an early stage, but I am now able to expand my argument further. First, I must point out that my original paper was based on two extensive surveys of national and regional newspapers and journals, from September 1914 through October 1915. [1] The most important outcome of these surveys relates to the provenance of the phrase "Angel of Mons"/"Angels at Mons." The surveys established that the earliest reference to "angels at Mons" occurred on 3 April 1915 when a regional weekly, The Hereford Times, published the "Miss Marrable" story under the heading "A Troop of Angels." In a subsequent issue, the editor notes that "... the story of the Troop of Angels at Mons first appeared in the Hereford Times and has been copied in many publications" (Hereford Times, 3 July 1915, 3).

The most influential and widely reprinted version of the "Troop of Angels" appeared in The All Saints (Clifton) Parish Magazine, Bristol, in May 1915. This was the medium that brought the "new" version to the attention of a number of London newspapers and magazines. In June both the Daily Chronicle and the Evening News published the story, which they attributed to the Clifton parish magazine.

Also of significance is a passage that appears in the introduction to the first edition of Machen's book, The Bowmen and Other Legends of the War. This reports how, shortly after the publication of his fantasy, Machen's editor at the Evening News received inquiries from a number of "parish magazines" who requested permission to reprint the story (Machen 1915, 14). …

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