The Pseudo-Science of Astrology

To the Editor of the Evening News:

It is an unfortunate fact that every man who seeks to disseminate knowledge must contend not only against ignorance itself, but against false instruction as well. No sooner do we deem ourselves free from a particularly gross superstition, than we are confronted by some enemy to learning who would set aside all the intellectual progress of years, and plunge us back into the darkness of mediaeval disbelief.

As a lover of Astronomy, and a writer on that subject, I was the other day very much pained and shocked to see in the Evening News an article on the pseudo-science of Astrology, which has ever been the bane of the seeker after truth. While I entertain no doubt as to the sincerity of the author, a Mr. Hartmann, [it is impossible] for me to comprehend how any person of judgment and education can now give credence to the doctrines of a false and ridiculous system completely exploded over 200 years ago. In this age of enlightenment it ought not be necessary to shew the utter absurdity of the idea that our daily affairs can be governed by the mere apparent motions of infinitely distant bodies whose seeming arrangements and configurations, on which the calculations of judicial astrology are based, arise only from perspective as seen from our particular place in the universe. It seems very provoking that astronomers and other men of sense should be obliged to waste their time and energy in proving Astrology to be false, when there exists not the slightest reason to believe any part of it true; yet the perverse sophistry of certain misguided individuals still raises up such a body of specious evidence in favour of it, that we must needs attack again what we had thought finally conquered. The fallacies of Astrology are like the many heads of the Lernean Hydra; chop off one, and two grow in its place.

DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Science versus Charlatanry,” which was engendered by the appearance of J. F. Hartmann’s article “Astrology and the European War” in the Providence Evening News, Lovecraft dismisses astrology as an ignorant and ridiculous superstition.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Science versus Charlatanry.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 3, Hippocampus Press, 2005, pp. 260-1.


We Cast Off All Allegiance to Modern Things

And now we cast off all allegiance to modern things; to change, and the rule of steel and steam, and the crumbling of ancient visions and simple impulses. The tar and concrete roads, and the vulgar world that bred them, have ended; and we wind rapt and wondering over elder and familiar ribbons of rutted whiteness which curl past alluring valleys and traverse old wooden bridges in the lee of green slopes. The nearness and intimacy of the little domed hills have become almost breath-taking. Their steepness and abruptness hold nothing in common with the humdrum, standardised world we know, and we cannot help feeling that their outlines have some strange and almost-forgotten meaning, like vast hieroglyphs left by a rumoured titan race whose glories live only in rare, deep dreams. We climb and plunge fantastically as we thread this hypnotic landscape. Time has lost itself in the labyrinths behind, and around us stretch only the flowering waves of faery. Tawdriness is not there, but instead, the recaptured beauty of vanished centuries—the hoary groves, the untainted pastures hedged with gay blossoms and the small brown farmsteads nestling amidst huge trees beneath vertical precipices of fragrant brier and meadow-grass. Even the sunlight assumes a supernal glamour, as if some special atmosphere or exaltation mantled the whole region. There is nothing like it save in the magic vistas that sometimes form the backgrounds of Italian primitives. Sodoma and Leonardo saw such expanses, but only in the distance, and through the vaultings of Renaissance arcades. We rove at will through the midst of the picture; and find in its necromancy a thing we have known or inherited, and for which we have always been vainly searching.

DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Vermont—A First Impression,” Lovecraft describes, in rapturous terms, his travels through southern Vermont in the summer of 1927.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Vermont—A First Impression.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 4, Hippocampus Press, 2005, pp. 13-5.

A Genuine Pagan

When about seven or eight I was a genuine pagan, so intoxictated with the beauty of Greece that I acquired a half-sincere belief in the old gods and Nature-spirits. I have in literal truth built altars to Pan, Apollo, Diana, and Athena, and have watched for dryads and satyrs in the woods and fields at dusk. Once I firmly thought I beheld some of these sylvan creatures dancing under autumnal oaks; a kind of “religious experience” as true in its way as the subjective ecstasies of any Christian.

DESCRIPTION: In his essay “A Confession of Unfaith,” Lovecraft claims that, when he was a child, he once saw dryads and satyrs in the woods near his home.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “A Confession of Unfaith.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 5, Hippocampus Press, 2006, pp. 145-8.

My Reason for Writing

My reason for writing stories is to give myself the satisfaction of visualising more clearly and detailedly and stably the vague, elusive, fragmentary impressions of wonder, beauty, and adventurous expectancy which are conveyed to me by certain sights (scenic, architectural, atmospheric, etc.), ideas, occurrences, and images encountered in art and literature. I choose weird stories because they suit my inclination best—one of my strongest and most persistent wishes being to achieve, momentarily, the illusion of some strange suspension or violation of the galling limitations of time, space, and natural law which for ever imprison us and frustrate our curiosity about the infinite cosmic spaces beyond the radius of our sight and analysis. These stories frequently emphasise the element of horror because fear is our deepest and strongest emotion, and the one which best lends itself to the creation of nature-defying illusions. Horror and the unknown or the strange are always closely connected, so that it is hard to create a convincing picture of shattered natural law or cosmic alienage or “outsideness” without laying stress on the emotion of fear. The reason why time plays a great part in so many of my tales is that this element looms up in my mind as the most profoundly dramatic and grimly terrible thing in the universe. Conflict with time seems to me the most potent and fruitful theme in all human expression.

DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Notes on Writing Weird Fiction,” Lovecraft states that he writes supernatural horror because he finds the limitations of natural law “galling” and thus enjoys exploring an alternative reality in which they have been suspended.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Notes on Writing Weird Fiction.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 2, Hippocampus Press, 2004, pp. 175-8.

A Fat, Shock-Headed Gentleman Named Morton

Naturally I did not omit the town of Paterson from my itinerary, but was very congenially entertain’d by the head of the local Musaeum there; a fat, shock-headed gentleman named Morton, with whom I had had considerable previous acquaintance. James Ferdinand, I may remark, is an ideal host; and his establishment is a marvel of accomplishment and effective administration. A building all too small is utilis’d with the greatest ingenuity conceivable, and the system of arrangement and labelling wou’d do credit to the most veteran practitioner of the curatorial art. The mineral collection, which covers the entire exhibition part of the second floor, is one of the most ample and well-classify’d in these colonies; and is due entirely to the keen skill and unremitting vigilance and activity of our genial colleague. Mortonius also shew’d me as much of the local scenery as limited time wou’d permit; taking me to the top of Garrett Mountain, whence is observable as fine a prospect of Paterson [as] one cou’d ask—a prospect which removes much of the grimy sordidness habitual to the town as seen closely.

DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Observations on Several Parts of America,” Lovecraft describes his visit to Paterson, New Jersey, during which he was entertained by his longtime friend and fellow amateur James F. Morton.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Observations on Several Parts of America.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 4, Hippocampus Press, 2005, pp. 16-30.

The Oldest and Strongest Emotion

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. These facts few psychologists will dispute, and their admitted truth must establish for all time the genuineness and dignity of the weirdly horrible tale as a literary form. Against it are discharged all the shafts of a materialistic sophistication which clings to frequently felt emotions and external events, and of a naively insipid idealism which deprecates the aesthetic motive and calls for a didactic literature to uplift the reader toward a suitable degree of smirking optimism. But in spite of all this opposition the weird tale has survived, developed, and attained remarkable heights of perfection; founded as it is on a profound and elementary principle whose appeal, if not always universal, must necessarily be poignant and permanent to minds of the requisite sensitiveness.

DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature,” Lovecraft claims that the weird tale, despite the objections of its critics, is a legitimate form of artistic expression.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Supernatural Horror in Literature.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 2, Hippocampus Press, 2004, pp. 82-125.

Informal Studies

My health prevented college attendance; but informal studies at home, and the influence of a notably scholarly physician-uncle, helped to banish some of the worst effects of the lack. In the years which should have been collegiate I veered from science to literature, specialising in the products of that eighteenth century of which I felt myself so oddly a part. Weird writing was then in abeyance, although I read everything spectral that I could find—including the frequent bizarre items in such cheap magazines as The All-Story and The Black Cat. My own products were largely verse and essays—uniformly worthless and now relegated to eternal concealment.

DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Some Notes on a Nonentity,” Lovecraft describes the extent of his informal education.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Some Notes on a Nonentity.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 5, Hippocampus Press, 2006, pp. 207-11.

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.

The Source and Focus of Our Civilisation

It is difficult to describe the sensations afforded by a first sight of the Old World’s misty shores. Dreams seem to be taking a tangible form, and legend to be crystallising into fact. The ancient cliffs of England breathe a homecoming, and we feel close to the source and focus of our civilisation. Southampton remains in memory as a scene of bustle and excitement—of customs inspection, and of embarkation on the London-bound train, so tiny to American eyes. From the train-window one might see the delectable English landscape outspread in rich summer greenness—the fields, hills, and hedgerows of that Mother Land which shapes our thoughts and imaginations through centuries of continuous life. Here and there a graceful country seat or village spire was glimpsed amid the hills or caught outlined against the sky, and one could not but note the many vestiges of mediaevalism inherent in the aspect of the cottages and in the fortress-like architecture of the older manor-houses.

DESCRIPTION: In his essay “European Glimpses,” which recounts a trip his ex-wife, Sonia H. Greene, took in 1932, Lovecraft describes how an American tourist might feel upon arriving in England, a country the author loved and admired.

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

Dime-Novel Theatricalism

A good interplanetary story must have realistic human characters; not the stock scientists, villainous assistants, invincible heroes, and lovely scientist’s-daughter heroines of the usual trash of this sort. Indeed, there is no reason why there should be any “villain”, “hero”, or “heroine” at all. These artificial character-types belong wholly to artificial plot-forms, and have no place in serious fiction of any kind. The function of the story is to express a certain human mood of wonder and liberation, and any tawdry dragging-in of dime-novel theatricalism is both out of place and injurious. No stock romance is wanted. We must select only such characters (not necessarily stalwart or dashing or youthful or beautiful or picturesque characters)  as would naturally be involved in the events to be depicted, and they must behave exactly as real persons would behave if confronted with the given marvels. The tone of the whole thing must be realism, not romance.

DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Some Notes on Interplanetary Fiction,” Lovecraft argues that science-fiction writers should, when developing characters, eschew romance in favor of realism.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Some Notes on Interplanetary Fiction.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 2, Hippocampus Press, 2004, pp. 178-82.