The Ideal of Gentlemanly Carelessness

The gentlemen constituting this profound and permanent civilisation were almost without exception planters of rice and cotton—the latter having begun to replace indigo as a major staple. They were probably more maturely and mellowly cultivated than the corresponding class of fox-hunting squires in Virginia—the latter generally taking to civick and political pursuits rather than to the nicer elegancies of learning. This difference was doubtless largely due, as previously hinted, to the long urban season made necessary by the inland fever and malaria. Mercantile pursuits were abandon’d by good families after the Revolution, and left to new men from England and Scotland—a bourgeois class corresponding to that in Richmond which produced the Galts and Allans, amongst whom Poe’s childhood was spent. These persons had a separate club and social life of their own, and have not much mixt with the planter class even to this day. Publick education was promoted about this time, tho’ scholarship continu’d to have far more of aristocratick individuality than in Boston, New-York, Philadelphia, and other centres where insincere and conventionalised standards had begun to spring up. Favourite authors, besides the dominant Graeco-Roman classicks, were Shakespeare and Montaigne—an happy contrast to the sour-mouth’d and meaningless divines and quibblers pored over by the cramp’d neo-Puritans of the Massachusetts-Bay. Coaches now appear in frequent use, and on every hand we behold the ideal of gentlemanly carelessness (as oppos’d to peasant calculativeness, greed, shrewdness, and practicality) uppermost. No man of culture knew how much he was worth in cash, or indeed saw much actual currency. Trade and calculation were largely left to hirelings from the North, call’d “factors”. It was a common jest, that a gentleman cou’d read Homer and explain the constitution, but cou’d not do a sum in vulgar fractions. Personal honour was very carefully guarded, and duelling was frequent despite much sentimental opposition.

DESCRIPTION: In his essay “An Account of Charleston, in His Majᵗʸ’ˢ Province of South-Carolina,” Lovecraft describes, in glowing terms, the aristocratic culture of antebellum Charleston.

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.


Manifestly Inartistic

Now this is manifestly inartistic. To write to order, to drag one figure through a series of artificial episodes, involves the violation of all that spontaneity and singleness of impression which should characterise short story work. It reduces the unhappy author from art to the commonplace level of mechanical and unimaginative hack-work. Nevertheless, when one needs the money one is not scrupulous—so I have accepted the job!

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Frank Belknap Long, Lovecraft describes the writing of his story “Herbert West—Reanimator” as hackwork.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Frank Belknap Long.” 8 Oct. 1921. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, vol. 1, Arkham House, 1965, pp. 157-9.

Take Me Home

The daemon said that he would take me home
To the pale, shadowy land I half recalled
As a high place of stair and terrace, walled
With marble balustrades that sky-winds comb,
While miles below a maze of dome on dome
And tower on tower beside a sea lies sprawled.
Once more, he told me, I would stand enthralled
On those old heights, and hear the far-off foam.

All this he promised, and through sunset’s gate
He swept me, past the lapping lakes of flame,
And red-gold thrones of gods without a name
Who shriek in fear at some impending fate.
Then a black gulf with sea-sounds in the night:
“Here was your home,” he mocked, “when you had sight!”

DESCRIPTION: In his poem “Homecoming,” Lovecraft describes how his speaker was tricked by a demon, who promised to restore him to his childhood home.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Homecoming.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, p. 82.

Only the Veriest Clod Could Remain Unmoved

To leave a world of such fascinating historical vestiges is hard, but at last—accelerated by my illness—the parting had to come. Hospital, boat train, glimpses of ancient countryside, spires of Rouen—and finally the limitless Atlantic and the topless towers of Manhattan once more.

There may be those who will think my modest jaunt a sadly hackneyed coursing in the beaten paths, but to them I can only reply that no path is truly purged of its glamour so long as any ancient memories or overtones of fancy still cling around its sights and impressions. Europe’s common sights, imbibed for the first time, have enchanted me with the magic of such memories and such overtones; hence I have no apologies to make, except so far as I have failed to transmit the magic in these inevitably prosy and inadequate notes. Only the veriest clod could remain unmoved before the familiar ancestral shrines of modern Western civilisation.

DESCRIPTION: In his essay “European Glimpses,” which recounts a trip his ex-wife, Sonia H. Greene, took in 1932, Lovecraft claims that “only the veriest clod could remain unmoved before the familiar ancestral shrines of modern Western civilisation,” a parting jab that may have been meant, perhaps subconsciously, for his ex-wife.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “European Glimpses.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 4, Hippocampus Press, 2005, pp. 232-52.