Our Own Melancholy Age of Decay

And so Charleston has come down to our own melancholy age of decay, to meet the greatest test of all as the engulphing barbarism of mechanised life, democratick madness, quantitative standards, and schedule-enslaved uniformity presses in upon it from every side and seeks to stifle whatever of self-respecting humanity and aristocratick individualism remains in the world. Against all the inherited folkways which alone give us enough of the illusion of interest and purpose to make life worth living for men of our civilisation, there now advances a juggernaut of alien and meaningless forms and feelings which cheapens and crushes everything fine and delicate and individual which may lie in its path. Noise—profit—publicity—speed—time-tabled convict regularity—equality—ostentation—size—standarisation—herding. . . . . . The plague has swept all before it, saddling old New England with unassimilable and corrosive barnacles, extinguishing once-proud New York with a foetid flood of swart, cringing Semitism, and sapping even at old Virginia and the Piedmont Carolinas with a tawdry industrial Babbitry all the more blasphemous because working through normal Anglo-Saxons. Values evaporate, perspectives flatten, and interests grow pale beneath the bleaching acid of ennui and meaninglessness. Emotions grow irrelevant, and art ceases to be vital except when functioning through strange forms which may be normal to the alien and recrystallised future, but are blank and void to us of the dying Western civilisation. James Joyce . . . Erik Dorn . . . . Marcel Proust. . . . Brancusi. . . . . Picasso. . . . . . The Waste Land. . . . . Lenin. . . . . Frank Lloyd Wright. . . . . cubes and cogs and circles. . . . segments and squares and shadows. . . . . . . . . wheels and whirring, whirring and wheels. . . . purring of planes and click of chronographs. . . . . . milling of the rabble and raucous yells of the exhibitionist. . . . “comic” strips. . . . Sunday feature headings. . . . advertisements. . . . sports. . . . tabloids. . . . luxury . . . Palm Beach. . . . “sales talk”. . . . . rotogravures. . . . radio. . . . . Babel. . . . . Bedlam. . . . .

DESCRIPTION: In his essay “An Account of Charleston, in His Majᵗʸ’ˢ Province of South-Carolina,” Lovecraft condemns modernity and the socioeconomic trends accompanying it, including immigration, industrialization, capitalism, and Modernism, which he claims have deprived Western civilization of the charm, beauty, and purpose it once possessed.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “An Account of Charleston, in His Majᵗʸ’ˢ Province of South-Carolina.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 4, Hippocampus Press, 2005, pp. 70-105.


The Key to those Vague Visions

I do not know what windings in the waste
Of those strange sea-lanes brought me home once more,
But on my porch I trembled, white with haste
To get inside and bolt the heavy door.
I had the book that told the hidden way
Across the void and through the space-hung screens
That hold the undimensioned worlds at bay,
And keep lost aeons to their own demesnes.

At last the key was mine to those vague visions
Of sunset spires and twilight woods that brood
Dim in the gulfs beyond this earth’s precisions,
Lurking as memories of infinitude.
The key was mine, but as I sat there mumbling,
The attic window shook with a faint fumbling.

DESCRIPTION: In his poem “The Key,” Lovecraft describes his speaker’s sense of triumph when he learns, with the help of a stolen grimoire, how to transcend space and time.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Key.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, p. 81.

As I Sit on Charleston’s Battery

Just now—as I sit in the sun on Charleston’s Battery, I am being pestered by dozens of coal-black pickaninnies of the average age of eight, who want (a) to dance a jig for my benefit in exchange for a penny, and (b) to black my already-blacked boots. Dey des nochally ca’n’t un’erstan’ wha de genmum ruther write letters than improve his personal appearance or advance his choreographic education! Damn hard little wasps to shoo off—but one doesn’t want to be cross with them.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to an unknown acquaintance named Mr. Bantz, Lovecraft describes his trip to Charleston, South Carolina, and his interaction with the local African Americans there.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Mr. Bantz.” Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and James Turner, vol. 5, Arkham House, 1976, p. 178.