The Wild Cubists of a Later Age

The skill’d Apelles, by his Prince decreed
To paint with living line the panting steed,
Employ’d in vain each trick and study’d grace,
The likeness of the charger’s foam to trace.
At length, in pique, his dripping brush he flung
Against the canvas horse before him hung—
When lo! by chance there spatter’d o’er each part
The painted lather that defy’d his art!
Thus the wild cubists of a later age
With freakish toil their fancies seek to cage,
Tho’ their poor daubings all would nobler be
Should they splash paint as aimlessly as he!


DESCRIPTION: In his poem “Futurist Art,” Lovecraft lampoons Cubism, which he derides as less artistic than the efforts of Apelles of Kos, the Greek painter who, according to legend, actually improved his picture of a “panting steed” by splashing paint on it.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Futurist Art.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, p. 231.

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Next Came “Dagon”

I am glad your friend likes “Dagon”—which was written in 1917, & is the second story I wrote that year, after a nine years’ silence. In 1908, when I was 18, I was disgusted by my lack of technical experience; & burned all my stories (of which the number was infinite) but two; resolving (amusing thought!) to turn to verse in the future. Then, years later, I published these two yarns in an amateur paper; where they were so well received that I began to consider resumption. Finally an amateur editor & critic named W. Paul Cook (Loveman can tell you about him) egged me on to the point of actual production, & “The Tomb”—with all its stiffness—was the result. Next came “Dagon”—& it chagrins me to admit that I’ve hardly been able to equal it since. My favourite three tales are “Dagon”, “Randolph Carter”, & “The Cats of Ulthar.” I only wish the hyperbole of your friend—touching on Poe & Bierce—were true; but realistic observation hath given me abounding humility. If ever the things reach Sterling’s eye, let me pray for more leniency than they deserve!


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to Clark Ashton Smith, a writer and poet who would, in time, become one of his closest friends, Lovecraft discusses some of his earliest short stories and the circumstances that compelled him to resume writing fiction.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Clark Ashton Smith.” 11 Jan. 1923. Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith. Edited by David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2017, pp. 43-5.

All Very Nice in a Lowly Way

I am glad you found my stories worth reading—especially “Polaris”, which was written in 1918 before I ever read a word of Dunsany’s. That tale is a favourite with Galpin & Long, though it is so connected with certain facts of science—astronomical, geological, & physiographical—that it lacks the advantages of simplicity and clearness. Weird Tales has printed another thing of mine—“The Hound”—& the editor has just written me a most flattering letter assuring me that I am a fixture with his magazine, & one of his two “star writers”—the other being Seabury Quinn, whose work you may have noticed. All very nice in a lowly way—if W.T. lasts.


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to Clark Ashton Smith, a writer and poet who would, in time, become one of his closest friends, Lovecraft claims that Edwin Baird, the editor of Weird Tales, considered him to be one of his two “star writers,” the other favored writer being Seabury Quinn.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Clark Ashton Smith.” 25 Jan. 1924. Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith. Edited by David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2017, pp. 65-8.

Making Concessions in Writing

As you may see, I disagree totally & violently with your belief in making concessions in writing. One concession leads to another—& he who takes the easiest way never comes back. They all say they mean to come back some day—but they never do. Belknap is gone. If Sultan Malik ever pulls out of charlatanry it will be purely the individual & non-representative triumph of a singularly keen objective intellect. Abe Merritt—who could have been a Machen or Blackwood or Dunsany or de la Mare or M. R. James (they never gave in & truckled to the Golden Calf! . . . . why should one if he can get food & decent clothing & warmth & shelter in any less ignominious way?) if he had but chosen—is so badly sunk that he’s lost the critical faculty to realise it. And so on—& so on. The road does not lie through any magazines . . . . that is, the road for a fantastic writer. The “slicks” are just as tawdry & insincere as the “pulps”—with merely a different kind of tawdriness & insincerity—& the reputable magazines (Harpers, Scribners, Story &c.) virtually never handle fantasy. The road to print for the serious fantaisiste is through book-publication alone—save for those incidental magazine placements which lie along the way. And if one can’t make the book grade in the end, he is better off with his work largely unpublished—able to look himself in the face & know that he has never cringed nor truckled nor sold his intellectual & aesthetic integrity. He may go down, but he’ll go down like a free & unbroken gentleman with sword untarnished & colours defiantly flying. Britons never shall be slaves! Actually, all technical training for the popular magazines is in precisely the wrong direction so far as aesthetic expression is concerned. The better magazine hack one is, the less chance one has of ever doing anything worth doing. Every magazine trick & mannerism must be rigidly unlearned & banished even from one’s subconsciousness before one can write seriously for educated mental adults. That’s why Merritt is lost—he learned the trained-dog tricks too well, & now he can’t think & feel fictionally except in terms of the meaningless & artificial clichés of 2¢-a-word romance. Machen & Dunsany & James would not learn the tricks—& they have a record of genuine creative achievement beside which a whole library-full of cheap “Ships of Ishtar” & “Creep, Shadows” remains essentially negligible. It is much better never to have anything published than to cringe to cheap tradesmen—yet in practice the determined anti-concessionist often lands a story. True, he doesn’t land as many as the truckler lands—but that was never his object. He wrote what he wrote because he wanted to write it—& the feat of mood-crystallisation itself was its own reward. If he had merely written what some grasping editorial clown wanted, where would his satisfaction have been? When it comes to a question of industrial production to suit a market demand, it’s rather more dignified to let the commodity be something staple & useful—wheat, oranges, coal, furniture, & so on—than to let one’s production-programme mock & parody the basic human impulse of aesthetic creation.


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to fellow writer C. L. Moore, Lovecraft argues that writers should, for the sake of their artistic and intellectual integrity, remain true to their own aesthetic vision instead of making concessions to the demands of editors and the public they represent.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To C. L. Moore.” 7 Feb. 1937. Letters to C. L. Moore and Others. Edited by David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2017, pp. 205-23.

The Fruits, Not the Mechanism

I’m all for personal merit, & used to revere aristocracy because it developed personal merit. Just as you revere your kindly plutocrats, so did I revere my kindly & honourable agrarian squires. But seven depression years in a hotbed of blind reactionaries has taught me things! . . . What some of these birds call argument & logick!! Now I’m beginning to wake up & see that what I used to respect was not really aristocracy, but a set of personal qualities which aristocracy then developed better than any other system . . . a set of qualities, however, whose merit lay only in a psychology of non-calculative, non-competitive disinterestedness, truthfulness, courage, & generosity fostered by good education, minimum economic stress, & assumed position, & JUST AS ACHIEVABLE THROUGH SOCIALISM AS THROUGH ARISTOCRACY. It was the fruits, not the mechanism, which were worthy of respect—& today the decadent mechanism functions in vacuo, pavoninely proud of its mere skeletal essence, & no longer producing the fruits which once justify’d its existence. Hell! I’m done with it & its pretences.


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to fellow writer C. L. Moore, Lovecraft explains why he favors socialism over aristocracy, a system he once “revered” for its ability to develop personal merit.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To C. L. Moore.” 20 Oct. 1936. Letters to C. L. Moore and Others. Edited by David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2017, pp. 175-85.

A World of Opiate Phantasy and Horror

I trust you will pardon the liberty taken by an absolute stranger in writing you, for I cannot refrain from expressing the appreciation aroused in me by your drawings and poetry, as shown me by my friend, Mr. Samuel Loveman, whom I am now visiting in Cleveland. Your book, containing matter only chronologically classifiable as juvenilia, impresses me as a work of the most distinguished genius; and makes me anxious to see the new volume which I understand is in course of preparation.

Of the drawings and water-colours I lack a vocabulary adequate to express my enthusiastic admiration. What a world of opiate phantasy and horror is here unveiled, and what an unique power and perspective must lie behind it! I speak with especial sincerity and enthusiasm, because my own especial tastes centre almost wholly around the grotesque and the arabesque. I have tried to write short stories and sketches affording glimpses into the unknown abysses of terror which leer beyond the boundaries of the known, but have never succeeded in evoking even a fraction of the stark hideousness conveyed by any one of your ghoulishly potent designs.


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to Clark Ashton Smith, a writer and poet who would, in time, become one of his closest friends, Lovecraft expresses his admiration for Smith’s weird poetry, which he enthusiastically describes as a “work of the most distinguished genius.”

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Clark Ashton Smith.” 12 Aug. 1922. Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith. Edited by David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2017, p. 35.

Six of My Tales Accepted & Awaiting Publication

Glad you liked the tales. Odd—but I had an idea you hadn’t seen “Polaris”. I know there must be somebody who hasn’t but wants to—but can’t think who it is, so will have to wait till he asks again. Under separate cover I’m sending a new one you haven’t seen—“The Horror at Red Hook”—which Wright has just accepted for Weird Tales. I don’t vastly care for it, & am a bit surprised at its hearty acceptance. Have I sent you “The Shunned House”? If not, I will. The tale of a sunken continent will probably be written during the coming week, & you shall certainly be the first to see it. Glad that Wright took some Baudelaire matter, but sorry he didn’t use “Yondo”. He is provokingly finicky about the element of plot, & seems to think he can’t take anything in which description or atmosphere predominates. He also rejected my “Polaris” (submitted in the same mail with “Yondo”) on the ground that it is a prose-poem. Personally I am very fond of poetic & atmospheric prose, & look forward eagerly to that future volume of yours. Weird Tales now has six of my tales accepted & awaiting publication: “The Tomb”, (to appear in Jany.) “The Cats of Ulthar”, (for Feby.) “The Moon-Bog”, “He”, “The Outsider”, & “The Horror at Red Hook”. Wright rejected “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” & is very dubious about “From Beyond”. “In the Vault” he rejected because he feared its gruesomeness would get him into trouble with the censors—O Gawd! O Montreal!


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to Clark Ashton Smith, a writer and poet who would, in time, become one of his closest friends, Lovecraft discusses his recent submissions to Weird Tales, six of which were accepted for publication.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Clark Ashton Smith.” 4 Nov. 1925. Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith. Edited by David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2017, pp. 85-7.

The Chief Indictment of a Capitalistic Ideal

But the chief indictment of a capitalistic ideal is perhaps something deeper even than humanitarian principle—something which concerns the profound, subtle & pervasive hostility of capitalism, & of the whole essence of mercantilism, to all that is finest & most creative in the human spirit. As mentioned in the preceding pages, business & capital are the fundamental enemies of human worth in that they exalt & reward the shrewdly acquisitive rather than the intrinsically superior & creative. Pro-capitalists are prone to slobber over the “free competition” in economics which “rewards the worthy & punishes the shiftless”. Very well. Let’s see how the worthy are rewarded. Let us list a few of the most incontestably superior minds & personalities in the modern capitalistic world & see whether capitalism has given them its highest rewards. Albert Einstein. Romain Rolland. Bertrand Russell. H. G. Wells. George Santayana. Thomas Mann. John Dewey. W. B. Yeats. George Bernard Shaw. M. & Mme. Curie-Joliot. Heisenberg. Planck. Eddington. Jeans. Millikan. Compton. Ralph Adams Cram. Sigmund Freud. Ignacio Zuloaga. Theodore Dreiser. Julian & Aldous Huxley. Prof. G. Elliot Smith. Are these the word’s richest people today? And in the past did capitalism award its highest benefits to such admittedly superior persons as Poe, Spinoza, Baudelaire, Shakespeare, Keats, & so on? Or is it just possible that the real beneficiaries of capitalism are not the truly superior, but merely those who choose to devote their superiority to the single process of personal acquisition rather than to social service or to creative intellectual or aesthetic effort . . . . . those, & the lucky parasites who share or inherit the fruits of their narrowly canalised superiority?


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to fellow writer C. L. Moore, Lovecraft criticizes capitalism for rewarding those who “devote their superiority to the single process of personal acquisition” instead of those who contribute to the arts and sciences.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To C. L. Moore.” 20 Oct. 1936. Letters to C. L. Moore and Others. Edited by David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2017, pp. 175-85.

A Most Unusual & Brilliant Character

I’ve recently come into touch with Finlay, & find him a most unusual & brilliant character. He’s only 22, & a resident of his native city of Rochester, N.Y. He is a poet of no mean attainments as well as an artist—though of course pictorial art is his primary medium. In future years I feel certain that he will become an artist of distinction, so that the WT group will feel very proud of having known him in his youth. . . . All of Finlay’s WT work is good—especially the designs for your “Lost Paradise” & Bloch’s “Faceless God”. Bloch tells me that Wright considers the latter the finest illustration ever drawn for WT, & that the original hangs framed in the office.


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to fellow writer C. L. Moore, Lovecraft describes his impressions of Virgil Finlay, an artist who often illustrated stories for Weird Tales and other pulp magazines.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To C. L. Moore.” 20 Oct. 1936. Letters to C. L. Moore and Others. Edited by David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2017, pp. 175-85.

My Forebears in the 18th Century

My maternal grandfather—born in 1833—and his generation seemed much closer to me than the generation of my parents, uncles, and aunts, born around the ’60’s; while my forebears in the 18th century (periwigged Devonshire squires and rural Anglican vicars on my father’s side, and New-England planters on my mother’s side) seemed closest of all. That sense of immediate personal kinship with the 18th century—its costume, architecture, literary style, thought, etc.—has never left me or even diminished. It’s that which sends me rambling around the country looking for Vieux Carré’s and Charlestons and Natchezes and Salems and Annapolises and Quebecs!


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend and fellow writer E. Hoffmann Price, Lovecraft describes the affinity, the “sense of immediate personal kinship,” he feels for his maternal grandfather’s generation and for his ancestors in the eighteenth century.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To E. Hoffmann Price.” 15 Feb. 1933. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and James Turner, vol. 4, Arkham House, 1976, pp. 149-54.