A Finer Man than I

In prideful scorn I watch’d the farmer stride
With step uncouth o’er road and mossy lane;
How could I help but distantly deride
The churlish, callous’d, coarse-clad country swain?

Upon his lips a mumbled ballad stirr’d
The evening air with dull cacophony;
In cold contempt, I shudder’d as I heard,
And held myself no kin to such as he.

But as he leap’d the stile and gain’d the field
Where star-fac’d blossoms twinkled thro’ the hay,
His lumb’ring footfalls oftentimes would yield,
To spare the flow’rs that bloom’d along the way.

And while I gaz’d, my spirit swell’d apace;
With the crude swain I own’d the human tie;
The tend’rest impulse of a noble race
Had prov’d the boor a finer man than I!

DESCRIPTION: In his poem “Brotherhood,” Lovecraft describes his impressions of a man he, initially, assumes to be a country boor.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Brotherhood.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, p. 119.

The Tyranny of Corporeal Enclosure

The general revolt of the sensitive mind against the tyranny of corporeal enclosure, restricted sense-equipment, and the laws of force, space, and causation, is a far keener and bitterer and better-founded one than any of the silly revolts of long-haired poseurs against isolated and specific instances of cosmic inevitability. But of course it does not take the form of personal petulance, because there is no convenient scape-goat to saddle the impersonal ill upon. Rather does it crop out as a pervasive sadness and unplaceable impatience, manifested in a love of strange dreams and an amusing eagerness to be galled by the quack cosmic pretensions of the various religious circuses. Well—in our day the quack circuses are wearing pretty thin despite the premature senilities of fat Chesterbellocs and affected Waste Land Shantih-dwellers, and the nostalgic and unmotivated “overbeliefs” of elderly and childhood-crippled physicists. The time has come when the normal revolt against time, space, and matter must assume a form not overtly incompatible with what is known of reality—when it must be gratified by images forming supplements rather than contradictions of the visible and measurable universe. And what, if not a form of non-supernatural cosmic art, is to pacify this sense of revolt—as well as gratify the cognate sense of curiosity?

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Frank Belknap Long, Lovecraft claims that, due to the decline of religious belief, weird fiction is now the only means left for sensitive people to “revolt against time, space, and matter” and satisfy their curiosity about the supernatural.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Frank Belknap Long.” Feb. 1931. Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Ohio University Press, 2000, pp. 257-60.

Unplumbed Marvels

I cannot tell why some things hold for me
A sense of unplumbed marvels to befall,
Or of a rift in the horizon’s wall
Opening to worlds where only gods can be.
There is a breathless, vague expectancy,
As of vast ancient pomps I half recall,
Or wild adventures, uncorporeal,
Ecstasy-fraught, and as a day-dream free.

It is in sunsets and strange city spires,
Old villages and woods and misty downs,
South winds, the sea, low hills, and lighted towns,
Old gardens, half-heard songs, and the moon’s fires.
But though its lure alone makes life worth living,
None gains or guesses what it hints at giving.

DESCRIPTION: In his poem “Expectancy,” Lovecraft describes the sense of mystery he feels when he encounters certain scenes, such as sunsets and city spires.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Expectancy.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, p. 91.

A Letter to the Editor

In accordance with your suggestion I am re-submitting “The Call of Cthulhu”, though possibly you will still think it a trifle too bizarre for a clientele who demand their weirdness in name only, and who like to keep both feet pretty solidly on the ground of the known and the familiar. As I said some time ago, I doubt if my work—and especially my later products—would “go” very well with the sort of readers whose reactions are represented in the “Eyrie”. The general trend of the yarns which seem to suit the public is that of essential normality of outlook and simplicity of point of view—with thoroughly conventional human values and motives predominating, and with brisk action of the best-seller type as an indispensable attribute. The weird element in such material does not extend far into the fabric—it is the artificial weirdness of the fireside tale and the Victorian ghost story, and remains external camouflage even in the seemingly wildest of the “interplanetary” concoctions. You can see this sort of thing at its best in Seabury Quinn, and at its worst in the general run of contributors. It is exactly what the majority want—for if they were to see a really weird tale they wouldn’t know what it’s all about. This is quite obvious from the way they object to the reprints, which in many cases have brought them the genuine article.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to editor Farnsworth Wright, Lovecraft differentiates between his tales of supernatural horror and the superficially weird tales popular with readers.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Farnsworth Wright.” 5 July 1927. Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Ohio University Press, 2000, pp. 208-10.

The Growth of the Cthulhu Mythos

Long has alluded to the Necronomicon in some things of his—in fact, I think it is rather good fun to have this artificial mythology given an air of verisimilitude by wide citation. I ought, though, to write Mr. O’Neail and disabuse him of the idea that there is a large blind spot in his mythological erudition! Clark Ashton Smith is launching another mock mythology revolving around the black, furry toad-god Tsathoggua, whose name had variant forms amongst the Atlanteans, Lemurians, and Hyperboreans who worshiped him after he emerged from inner Earth (whither he came from Outer Space, with Saturn as a stepping-stone). I am using Tsathoggua in several tales of my own and of revision-clients—although Wright rejected the Smith tale in which he originally appeared. It would be amusing to identify your Kathulos with my Cthulhu—indeed, I may so adopt him in some future black allusion.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to fellow writer Robert E. Howard, Lovecraft discusses the expansion of his imaginary mythology, now known as the Cthulhu Mythos.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Robert E. Howard.” 14 Aug. 1930. Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Ohio University Press, 2000, pp. 207-8.

To Live is to Dream

Now, of course, I do not have frequent chances for the special literary conversation I then had—but after all, that formed but a small part of life. It is more important to live—to dream and to write—than to talk, and in New York I could not live. Everything I saw became unreal and two-dimensional, and everything I thought and did became trivial and devoid of meaning through lack of any points of reference belonging to any fabric of which I could conceivably form a part. I was stifled—poisoned—imprisoned in a nightmare—and now not even the threat of damnation could induce me to dwell in the accursed place again.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Donald Wandrei, Lovecraft describes the sense of cultural isolation he experienced while living in New York City.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Donald Wandrei.” 10 Feb. 1927. Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Ohio University Press, 2000, pp. 197-201.

The Foreign Colossus

But one ought to be warned in advance that all life in New York is purely artificial and affected—values are forced and arbitrary, mental fashions are capricious, pathological, or commercial rather than authentic, and literary activity and conversation are motivated by a shallow pose, a sophistical concealment of ignorance, and a morbidly charlatanic egotism and cheap assertiveness far removed from the solid aesthetic intensity which ought to underlie a life of art and letters. New York has, by force of sheer wealth and glitter and advertising, captured the reputation of a literary capital, but it is not a true one in the sense that Boston once was. The “aesthetes” of New York are less interested in art and beauty than in themselves; and their smart badinage and discussion savour much more of psychological exhibitionism and social gesture than of actual artistic insight, vision, and devotion. It is a case of inferior people trying to be conspicuous somehow, and choosing art as a form of ballyhoo more convenient and inexpensive than business or evangelism or sword-swallowing. Of the genuine flow of life, or the sincere recording of life and dreams which is literature, I can discern scarcely a trace. Whatever of value is produced there is merely the outcropping of things elsewhere nourished—except of course in the case of those few real native New Yorkers who survive in sadness from the dead and lovely old city that was; the gracious, glamorous elder New York of dignity and poise, which lies stark and horrible and ghoul-gnawed today beneath the foul claws of the mongrel and misshapen foreign colossus that gibbers and howls vulgarly and dreamlessly on its site.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Donald Wandrei, Lovecraft describes New York as a dead city, incapable of authentic artistic expression.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Donald Wandrei.” 10 Feb. 1927. Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Ohio University Press, 2000, pp. 197-201.

A Cerebral Life

Matrimony may be more or less normal, and socially essential in the abstract, and all that—but nothing in heaven or earth is so important to the man of spirit and imagination as the inviolate integrity of his cerebral life—his sense of utter integration and defiant independence as a proud, lone entity face to face with the illimitable cosmos. And if he has the general temperament that usually goes with such a mental makeup, he will not be apt to consider a haughty celibacy any great price to pay for this ethereal inviolateness. Independence, and perfect seclusion from the futile herd, are things to necessary to a certain type of mind that all other issues become subordinate when brought into comparison with them. Probably this is so with me.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Maurice W. Moe, Lovecraft explains why he prefers the life of the mind to matrimony.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Maurice W. Moe.” 2 July 1929. Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Ohio University Press, 2000, pp. 193-7.

The Red Tide

Virtually all the reputable authors & critics in the United States are political radicals—Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson, Hemingway, Dos Passos, Eastman, O’Neill, Lewis, Maxwell Anderson, MacLeish, Edmund Wilson, Fadiman—but the list is endless…. The cream of human brains—the sort of brains not wrapped up in personal luxury & immediate advantage is slowly drifting away from the blind class-loyalty toward a better-balanced position in which the symmetrical structure & permanent stability of the whole social organism is a paramount consideration.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to fellow writer C. L. Moore, Lovecraft describes the spread of socialism among the nation’s intellectuals.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To C. L. Moore.” 7 Feb. 1937. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and James Turner, vol. 5, Arkham House, 1976, pp. 393-408.

The Family Library

In 1898 I commenced a school career, much interrupted by ill health, and supplemented by home reading and private instruction. It was my favourite diversion to spend hours in the midst of the family library, browsing chiefly over books over a century old, and insensibly forming a taste for eighteenth-century style and thought which will never leave me.

DESCRIPTION: In his essay “The Brief Autobiography of an Inconsequential Scribbler,” Lovecraft describes the beginnings of his lifelong interest in the eighteenth century.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Brief Autobiography of an Inconsequential Scribbler.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 5, Hippocampus Press, 2006, pp. 143-4.