The Three Impostors, or The Transmutations. - Arthur Machen 1895 - John Lane, London - First Edition And Mr. Joseph Waters is going to stay for the night?’

The tantalising and disturbing opening line to this cult collection of short stories containing interweaving plots of a dark conspiracy unravelling in the heart of London... calling upon themes such as paganism, occultism, and metaphysics, the novel is remembered for its slow, seeping tone of dread which will unsettle even the most seasoned horror and mystery aficionados.

A bright copy, in the covers designed by Aubrey Beardsley, and with the bookplate of England rugby player Piercy Henderson ‘Dolly’ Morrison, who was selected for the first Barbarian’s tour of 1890.

The Three Impostors follows the lives of three members of a secret society, Machen based two of his characters on writer William Butler Yeats and infamous occultist Alistair Crowley, a fact which both delighted and polarised readers in equal measure. The work was later cited by H. P. Lovecraft as an influence for the setting of his own collection of short stories: The Call of Cthulhu, and is listed among critic Julian Symons’ 100 Best Crime & Mystery Books.

Publisher John Lane of The Bodley Head, wary of the atmosphere following the trial of Oscar Wilde, asked Machen to expurgate his manuscript; Machen refused. Ultimately, however, Machen agreed to revise the description of the final scene of the book, in order to purge one word that Lane had found to be too explicit; the word was ‘entrails’.

‘We both wondered whether these contradictions that one can't avoid if one begins to think of time and space may not really be proofs that the whole of life is a dream, and the moon and stars bits of nightmare.’
  In Things Near and Far (1923) Machen wrote: ‘It was in the early spring of 1894 that I set about the writing of the said "Three Impostors," a book which testifies to the vast respect I entertained for the fantastic, "New Arabian Nights" manner of R. L. Stevenson, to those curious researches in the byways of London which I have described already, and also, I hope, to a certain originality of experiment in the tale of terror.

Arthur Machen (1863-1947): The literary twin of both Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft, Machen was much admired by authors such as William Butler Yeats, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Oscar Wilde. A voracious reader by the age of ten, Machen was captivated by the subject of Alchemy throughout his pre-teenage years, which would influence much of his later work. He attempted to study medicine in university, but upon failing to meet the requirements he worked as a publisher’s clerk, a children’s tutor, and a freelance journalist. He continued to pursue his interest in the supernatural, and became a prominent member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Machen began to write full-time in his early thirties, and was initially published with much success, though disagreements with his various publishers eventually led to a literary hiatus for much of his life.

Provenance: Formerly owned by England rugby winger, and member of the first Barbarians touring team in 1890, Piercy Henderson ‘Dolly’ Morrison (1868-1936) with his bookplate. Small blind embossed ‘W. H. Smith’ stamp.

References: Symons,
Bloody Murder, 97. The Guardian [web].

Octavo (20 x 13 cm). pp. [8] 290, 14 (John Lane ‘Keynote Series’ catalogue), 16 (John Lane Catalogue). In publisher’s blue cloth, spine lettered in gilt with motif of key in white, front board lettered and decorated in white, key and date in white to rear board.
  Condition: Near fine, light rubbing to corners and spine ends, toning to endpapers, light postting to edges and first and last few pages.   Ref: 108984   Price: HK$ 4,800