My Gaze Was Ever Upward

. . . In the summer of 1903 my mother presented me with a 2½ astronomical telescope, and thenceforward my gaze was ever upward at night. The late Prof. Upton of Brown, a friend of the family, gave me the freedom of the college observatory, (Ladd Observatory) & I came & went there at will on my bicycle. Ladd Observatory tops a considerable eminence about a mile from the house. I used to walk up Doyle Avenue hill with my wheel, but when returning would have a glorious coast down it. So constant were my observations, that my neck became affected by the strain of peering at a difficult angle. It gave me much pain, & resulted in a permanent curvature perceptible today to a close observer.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Rheinhart Kleiner, Lovecraft describes his nearly lifelong fascination with astronomy, a love he traced back to a gift from his mother.

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.

My Mode of Play

I derived the most extreme pleasure from my toys—of which I had  profuse variety, since our really straitened circumstances date only from 1904. My favourite toys were very small ones, which would permit of their arrangement in widely extensive scenes. My mode of play was to devote an entire table-top to a scene, which I would proceed to develop as a broad landscape . . . . helped by occasional trays of earth or clay. I had all sorts of toy villages with small wooded or cardboard houses, and by combining several of them would often construct cities of considerable extent and intricacy. (Do they make these toy villages now? There were even steepled churches!) Toy trees—of which I had an infinite number—were used with varying effect to form parts of the landscape . . . . even forests (or the suggested edges of forests). Certain kinds of blocks made walls and hedges, and I also used blocks in constructing large public buildings.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend J. Vernon Shea, Lovecraft describes how, as a child, he would build elaborate cities out of wooden blocks and other small toys.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To J. Vernon Shea.” 8 Nov. 1933. Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Ohio University Press, 2000, pp. 18-24.

As to “Sherlock Holmes”

As to “Sherlock Holmes”—I used to be infatuated with him! I read every Sherlock Holmes story published, and even organised a detective agency when I was thirteen, arrogating to myself the proud pseudonym of S.H. This P.D.A.—whose members ranged between nine & fourteen in years, was a most wonderful thing—how many murders & robberies we unravelled! Our headquarters were in a deserted house just out of the thickly settled area, and we there enacted, and “solved”, many a gruesome tragedy. I still remember my labours in producing artificial “bloodstains on the floor!!!” But in conformity with our settled policy of utter candour, I must admit to you that the entire venture was more dramatic than psychological in objects & essence; and that our “deductions” were generally pretty well provided for in advance.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Alfred Galpin, Lovecraft describes his early infatuation with Sherlock Holmes, which led him, at the age of thirteen, to organize the Providence Detective Agency.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Alfred Galpin.” 27 May 1918. Letters to Alfred Galpin. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Hippocampus Press, 2003, pp. 14-23.

Forced to Vacate

But my progress had received its severest blow in the spring of 1904. On March 28th of that year my beloved grandfather passed away as the result of an apoplectic stroke, & I was deprived of my closest companion. I was never afterward the same. His death brought financial disaster besides its more serious grief. As President of the Owyhee Land & Irrigation Co., an Idaho corporation with Providence offices, he had struggled hard to achieve vast success in the reclamation of Western land. He had weathered many calamities such as the bursting of his immense dam on Snake River; but now that he was gone, the company was without its brains. He has been a more vital & important figure than even he himself had realized; & with his passing, the rest of the board lost their initiative & courage. The corporation was unwisely dissolved at a time when my grandfather would have persevered—with the result that others reaped the wealth which should have gone to its stockholders. My mother & I were forced to vacate the beautiful estate at 454 Angell Street, & to enter the less spacious abode at 598, three squares eastward. The combined loss of grandfather & birthplace made me the most miserable of mortals. My grandfather was a cheerful man, whose conversation always brightened me; but it was to be heard no more. My home had been my ideal of Paradise & my source of inspiration—but it was to be profaned & altered by other hands. Life from that day has held for me but one ambition—to regain the old place & reëstablish its glory—a thing I fear I can never accomplish. For twelve years I have felt like an exile.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Rheinhart Kleiner, Lovecraft describes the “financial disaster” engendered by his maternal grandfather’s sudden death.

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 Embroidered Robes of Myth

Perhaps it was natural for him to dream a new name; for he was the last of his family, and alone among the indifferent millions of London, so there were not many to speak to him and remind him who he had been. His money and lands were gone, and he did not care for the ways of people about him, but preferred to dream and write of his dreams. What he wrote was laughed at by those to whom he shewed it, so that after a time he kept his writings to himself, and finally ceased to write. The more he withdrew from the world about him, the more wonderful became his dreams; and it would have been quite futile to try to describe them on paper. Kuranes was not modern, and did not think like others who wrote. Whilst they strove to strip from life its embroidered robes of myth, and to shew in naked ugliness the foul thing that is reality, Kuranes sought for beauty alone. When truth and experience failed to reveal it, he sought it in fancy and illusion, and found it on his very doorstep, amid the nebulous memories of childhood tales and dreams.

DESCRIPTION: In this passage from the short story “Celephaïs” (1920), the narrator describes how Kuranes, by distancing himself from modern civilization, finds beauty and meaning in his dreams.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Celephaïs.” The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 1999, pp. 24-30.

The Iridescent Past

There had been no decay, nor even vandalism. Tables stood about as of yore, pictures we knew still adorned the walls with unbroken glass. Not an inch of tar paper was ripped off, & in the cement hearth we found still embedded the small pebbles we stamped in when it was new & wet—pebbles arranged to form the initials G.M.C.C. Nothing was lacking—save the fire, the ambition, the ebulliency of youth in ourselves; & that can never be replaced. Thus two stolid middle-aged men caught for a moment a vision of the aureate & iridescent past—caught it, & sighed for days that are no more.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his aunt, Annie E. P. Gamwell, Lovecraft describes the sense of nostalgia he felt when, as an adult, he found his childhood clubhouse unchanged by time.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Annie E. P. Gamwell.” 19 Aug. 1921. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, vol. 1, Arkham House, 1965, pp. 144-7.

Unfulfilled Dreams

In studies I was not bad—except for mathematics, which repelled and exhausted me. I passed in these subjects—but just about that. Or rather, it was algebra which formed the bugbear. Geometry was not so bad. But the whole thing disappointed me bitterly, for I was then intending to pursue astronomy as a career, and of course advanced astronomy is simply a mass of mathematics. That was the first major setback I ever received—the first time I was ever brought up short against a consciousness of my own limitations. It was clear to me that I hadn’t brains enough to be an astronomer—and that was a pill I couldn’t swallow with equanimity.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to fellow writer Robert E. Howard, Lovecraft describes the depression he experienced when he realized that, due to his inability to master algebra, he could never become an astronomer.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Robert E. Howard.” 29 Mar. 1933. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and James Turner, vol. 4, Arkham House, 1976, pp. 167-73.

Losing the Family Home

My mother & I moved into a 5-room-&-attic flat two squares farther east (598 Angell St., where I dwelt till 1924) & for the first time I knew what a congested, servantless home—with another family in the same house—was…. I felt that I had lost my entire adjustment to the cosmos—for what indeed was HPL without the remembered rooms & hallways & hangings & staircases & statuary & paintings … & yard & walks & cherry-trees & fountain & ivy-grown arch & stable & gardens & all the rest? How could an old man of 14 (& I surely felt that way!) readjust his existence to a skimpy flat & new household programme & inferior outdoor setting in which almost nothing familiar remained? It seemed like a damned futile business to keep on living. No more tutors—high school next September which would probably be a devilish bore, since one couldn’t be as free & easy in high school as one had been during brief snatches at the neighbourly Slater Ave. school…. Oh, hell! Why not slough off consciousness altogether?

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend J. Vernon Shea, Lovecraft describes the sense of loss he felt when, shortly after the death of his maternal grandfather, he and his mother were forced to leave 454 Angell Street and move into a smaller home at 598 Angell Street.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To J. Vernon Shea.” 4 Feb. 1934. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and James Turner, vol. 4, Arkham House, 1976, pp. 351-71.


And then it was that my former high spirits received their damper. I began to have nightmares of the most hideous description, peopled with things which I called “night-gaunts”—a compound word of my own coinage. I used to draw them after waking (perhaps the idea of these figures came from an edition de luxe of Paradise Lost with illustrations by Doré, which I discovered one day in the east parlor). In dreams they were wont to whirl me through space at a sickening rate of speed, the while fretting & impelling me with their detestable tridents. It is fully fifteen years—aye, more—since I have seen a “night-gaunt”, but even now, when half asleep & drifting vaguely along over a sea of childhood thoughts, I feel a thrill of fear … & instinctively struggle to keep awake. That was my own prayer back in ’96—each night—to keep awake & ward off the night-gaunts!

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Rheinhart Kleiner, Lovecraft describes the nightmares he experienced after the death of his maternal grandmother.

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.

Childhood Home

… I was born in the year 1890 in a small town, & in a section of that town which during my childhood lay not more than four blocks (N. & E.) from the actually primal & open New England countryside, with rolling meadows, stone walls, cart-paths, brooks, deep woods, mystic ravines, lofty river-bluffs, planted fields, white antient farmhouses, barns, & byres, gnarled hillside orchards, great lone elms, & all the authentick marks of a rural milieu unchanged since the 17th & 18th centuries…. My house, tho’ an urban one on a paved street, had spacious grounds & stood next to an open field with a stone wall … where great elms grew & my grandfather had corn & potatoes planted, & a cow pastured under the gardener’s care.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Frank Belknap Long, Lovecraft describes his childhood home at 454 Angell Street.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Frank Belknap Long.” 27 Feb. 1931. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, vol. 3, Arkham House, 1971, pp. 290-342.