This Refuge for the Demented

In relating the circumstances which have led to my confinement within this refuge for the demented, I am aware that my present position will create a natural doubt of the authenticity of my narrative. It is an unfortunate fact that the bulk of humanity is too limited in its mental vision to weigh with patience and intelligence those isolated phenomena, seen and felt only by a psychologically sensitive few, which lie outside its common experience. Men of broader intellect know that there is no sharp distinction betwixt the real and the unreal; that all things appear as they do only by virtue of the delicate individual physical and mental media through which we are made conscious of them; but the prosaic materialism of the majority condemns as madness the flashes of super-sight which penetrate the common veil of obvious empiricism.


DESCRIPTION: In this passage from the short story “The Tomb” (1917), Jervas Dudley claims that his story, which is so incredible that many believe him to be insane, involved supernatural phenomenon. 

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Tomb.” The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 2001, pp. 1-10.

 

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His Father’s Illness

In April, 1893, my father was stricken with a complete paralysis resulting from a brain overtaxed with study & business cares. He lived for five years at a hospital, but was never again able to move hand or foot, or to utter a sound. This tragedy dissolved all plans for permanent settlement in Auburndale, & caused the sale of the property recently acquired there. Permanently stricken with grief, my mother took me to the Phillips household, thereby causing me to grow up as a complete Rhode-Islander.


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Rheinhart Kleiner, Lovecraft claims, incorrectly, that, as a result of “study and business cares,” his father suffered a breakdown in 1893, which rendered him paralyzed.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Rheinhart Kleiner.” 16 Nov. 1916. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, vol. 1, Arkham House, 1965, pp. 29-42.

The Pursuit of Urbane Scholarship

Prof. McDonald believes, if we are to accept his verdict literally, that amateurdom’s attempts to attain a classical level of expression are the result of a misconception of our province. Averse to the thought that we should perfect ourselves in those tasteful modes of utterance which are eternal and universal in the conservative world outside, he urges that our papers descend to a realm of more intimate subjectivity and personality; including, to quote his own words, “more of the human and American.”

Not for a moment can this plea be permitted to pass unchallenged, since it is so likely to affect the multitude of crude and youthful writers who need little to discourage them from the pursuit of urbane scholarship. But in challenging it, one need not impugn in any way the contention that informal and subjective expression is desirable or even necessary in amateurdom. It will be sufficient to insist that such expression belongs solely to the epistolary branch of our activities, leaving our printed publications free for more ambitious experiments in the formation of a real style and a real kinship with standard literature.


DESCRIPTION: In his essay “The Case for Classicism,” Lovecraft responds to an essay by Philip B. McDonald, a professor at the University of Colorado, who claims that amateur journalists should stop imitating classical forms.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Case for Classicism.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 2, Hippocampus Press, 2004, pp. 36-8.

The Sights That Shaped My Childhood Dreams

I never can be tied to raw, new things,
For I first saw the light in an old town,
Where from my window huddled roofs sloped down
To a quaint harbour rich with visionings.
Streets with carved doorways where the sunset beams
Flooded old fanlights and small window-panes,
And Georgian steeples topped with gilded vanes—
These were the sights that shaped my childhood dreams.

Such treasures, left from times of cautious leaven,
Cannot but loose the hold of flimsier wraiths
That flit with shifting ways and muddled faiths
Across the changeless walls of earth and heaven.
They cut the moment’s thongs and leave me free
To stand alone before eternity.


DESCRIPTION: In his poem “Background,” Lovecraft celebrates Providence’s colonial architecture, which had captivated him since childhood.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Background.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, p. 92.

The Abhorred Practice of Grave-Robbing

May heaven forgive the folly and morbidity which led us both to so monstrous a fate! Wearied with the commonplaces of a prosaic world, where even the joys of romance and adventure soon grow stale, St. John and I had followed enthusiastically every aesthetic and intellectual movement which promised respite from our devastating ennui. The enigmas of the Symbolists and the ecstasies of the pre-Raphaelites all were ours in their time, but each new mood was drained too soon of its diverting novelty and appeal. Only the somber philosophy of the Decadents could hold us, and this we found potent only by increasing gradually the depth and diabolism of our penetrations. Baudelaire and Huysmans were soon exhausted of thrills, till finally there remained for us only the more direct stimuli of unnatural personal experiences and adventures. It was this frightful emotional need which led us eventually to that detestable course which even in my present fear I mention with shame and timidity—that hideous extremity of human outrage, the abhorred practice of grave-robbing.


DESCRIPTION: In this passage from the short story “The Hound” (1922), the narrator explains how ennui drove him and his friend St. John to rob graves.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Hound.” The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 1999, pp. 81-8.

The Most Hideous of Connexions

I found myself by names and terms that I had heard elsewhere in the most hideous of connexions—Yuggoth, Great Cthulhu, Tsathoggua, Yog-Sothoth, R’lyeh, Nyarlathotep, Azathoth, Hastur, Yian, Leng, the Lake of Hali, Bethmoora, the Yellow Sign, L’mur-Kathulos, Bran, and the Magnum Innominandum—and was drawn back through nameless aeons and inconceivable dimensions to worlds of elder, outer entity at which the crazed author of the Necronomicon had only guessed in the vaguest way. I was told of the pits of primal life, and of the streams that had trickled down therefrom; and finally, of the tiny rivulet from one of those streams which had become entangled with the destinies of our own earth.


DESCRIPTION: In this passage from the short story “The Whisperer in Darkness” (1930), Albert Wilmarth describes the occult knowledge he gains from corresponding with Henry Akeley.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Whisperer in Darkness.” The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 1999, pp. 200-67.

Minutely Typical of Old New England

You’ll notice that although my yarns reach out into the nameless abyss, they always take off from the springboard of a realistic setting. Poe has his haunted regions nameless, and peopled by mysterious beings with unknown pasts—but I make mine minutely typical of old New England, and give my characters (by implication and sometimes in detail) characteristic New England genealogies. I don’t weave dreams absolutely out of nothing, (i.e., out of material wholly in the subconscious) but need the spur of some actual scene or object or incident to set me off.


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Maurice W. Moe, Lovecraft explains why, despite the example of his idol Poe, he prefers to use a realistic setting in all of his weird stories.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Maurice W. Moe.” 26 Mar. 1932. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and James Turner, vol. 4, Arkham House, 1976, pp. 31-3.

A Sort of Frozen Hell

When the January tempest sweeps across the barren hill,
And life itself can scarce withstand the marrow-piercing chill,
When the snows drift o’er the pastures and choke the dreary dell,
Then the cold New England country seems a sort of frozen hell.

When the sky’s nocturnal splendour mocks the frigid earth below,
And Orion and the Dog-Star in the sterile silence glow,
When not all the fires in heaven can the winter’s cold dispel,
Then we eye the cruel stars in vain, and call the land a hell.

When the mad, malignant billows rage along the rocky coast,
And the ship with ice-clad rigging in the ocean storm is toss’d;
Then the anxious seaport cottagers look on the treach’rous swell,
And, thinking of the absent, call the savage clime a hell.

But when the North awakes in spring, and white gives way to green,
And crystal brooks begin to flow, and flow’rs bedeck the scene;
When rushes fringe the placid pool and leaflets shade the dell,
Then we revel in the welcome warmth, without a thought of hell.


DESCRIPTION: In his poem “New England,” Lovecraft contrasts the region’s hellish winters with its delightful summers.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “New England.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, pp. 273-4.

 

Meagre Literary Contents

I had turned to a neighbouring shelf and was examining its meagre literary contents—an eighteenth-century Bible, a Pilgrim’s Progress of like period, illustrated with grotesque woodcuts and printed by the almanack-maker Isaiah Thomas, the rotting bulk of Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americana, and a few other books of evidently equal age—when my attention was aroused by the unmistakable sound of walking in the room overhead.


DESCRIPTION: In this passage from the short story “The Picture in the House” (1920), the narrator describes the books he discovers when, during a storm, he takes refuge in a seemingly abandoned house.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Picture in the House.” The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 1999, pp. 34-42.