Ancient Nantucket

The second half of my outing, though, was the real climax—since this was nothing more or less than a trip to ancient Nantucket, which I had never seen before, though it lies only 90 miles (6 hrs. by coach & boat) from my own doorstep.

The folder I sent has probably given you some idea of the place. And what a place! Nowhere else—Charleston, Quebec, Salem, or Newport—has the past survived so perfectly. The old town is exactly as it was a century ago—cobblestoned streets with colonial houses, windmill, hitching-posts, horse-blocks, & silver doorplates, picturesque lanes & wharves—everything pertaining to the bygone days of whaling prosperity. The island was settled in 1660, & formed part of New York till 1692, since then it has belonged to Massachusetts. Whaling made it great, & the decline of that industry caused its decline. Summer vacationists have preserved & restored it. I explored all the old streets, museums, windmill, &c. minutely, & saw Saturn & his ring through the glass of the Maria Mitchell observatory. A bus trip around the island took me to the quaint former fishing village of Siasconset. In covering the suburbs of the town I used a hired bicycle—the first time I’d ridden a wheel in 20 years. It quite rejuvenated me! I had a 3d floor room during my week’s stay—with a fine view of town, harbour, & sea.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to Clark Ashton Smith, a fellow writer and poet who was one of his closest friends, Lovecraft describes his recent trip to the island of Nantucket, one of many places along the Eastern Seaboard he visited in search of Colonial relics.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Clark Ashton Smith.” 8 Sept. 1934. Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith. Edited by David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2017, pp. 565-7.


My Forebears in the 18th Century

My maternal grandfather—born in 1833—and his generation seemed much closer to me than the generation of my parents, uncles, and aunts, born around the ’60’s; while my forebears in the 18th century (periwigged Devonshire squires and rural Anglican vicars on my father’s side, and New-England planters on my mother’s side) seemed closest of all. That sense of immediate personal kinship with the 18th century—its costume, architecture, literary style, thought, etc.—has never left me or even diminished. It’s that which sends me rambling around the country looking for Vieux Carré’s and Charlestons and Natchezes and Salems and Annapolises and Quebecs!

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend and fellow writer E. Hoffmann Price, Lovecraft describes the affinity, the “sense of immediate personal kinship,” he feels for his maternal grandfather’s generation and for his ancestors in the eighteenth century.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To E. Hoffmann Price.” 15 Feb. 1933. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and James Turner, vol. 4, Arkham House, 1976, pp. 149-54.

An Antiquarian Miracle

But the climate, O Sage, is only the beginning of the miracle from an antiquarian point of view. Indeed—there is nothing about the place so wholly important and distinctive as the astoundingly eighteenth century atmosphere—for in all verity I can say that Charleston is the best-preserv’d colonial city of any size, without exception, that I have ever encounter’d. Virtually, everything is just as it was in the reign of George the Third—indeed, ’tis easier to count the houses which are not colonial, than to attempt to count those which are.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Maurice W. Moe, Lovecraft describes, with joy, his impressions of Charleston, South Carolina, and its colonial architecture.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Maurice W. Moe.” 4 May 1930. Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Ohio University Press, 2000, pp. 247-9.

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.

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.

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.