Disgusted at Much of My Older Work

I am at a sort of standstill in writing—disgusted at much of my older work, and uncertain as to avenues of improvement. In recent weeks I have done a tremendous amount of experimenting in different styles and perspectives, but have destroyed most of the results. The one tale I have finished—“The Thing on the Doorstep”—is now starting on a circulation round which will include you. You’ll get it from Smith, and can forward it to Price. During the summer the Knopf firm broached the idea of issuing a book of my stuff, but it all fell through like the Putnam fiasco of 1931. More recently a man in Asotin, Wash.—one F. Lee Baldwin—has proposed the publication of my “Colour Out of Space” as a separate booklet. I have gladly acquiesced, though I doubt if much will come of the matter.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend and fellow writer Robert E. Howard, Lovecraft expresses his dissatisfaction with his “older work” and laments his inability, despite his best efforts, to write anything better.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Robert E. Howard.” 2 Nov. 1933. A Means to Freedom: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. Edited by S. T. Joshi, David E. Schultz, and Rusty Burke, vol. 2, Hippocampus Press, 2009, pp. 654-86.


A Touch of Grippe

Commiserations on the cold weather in Averoigne—a cold which I see has extended as far south as Los Angeles. Our Eastern winter has so far been very warm—temperatures of 60° & over extending well into January. However, I’ve been feeling rather on the bum—an early exposure to cold having started my old-time winter foot-swelling, & a combination of indigestion & general weakness (perhaps a touch of grippe) being superadded to that.

DESCRIPTION: In his last letter to Clark Ashton Smith, a writer, poet, and fellow contributor to Weird Tales, Lovecraft refers, in passing, to the illness that would take his life a month later.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Clark Ashton Smith.” 5 Feb. 1937. 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. 657-66.

All Very Nice in a Lowly Way

I am glad you found my stories worth reading—especially “Polaris”, which was written in 1918 before I ever read a word of Dunsany’s. That tale is a favourite with Galpin & Long, though it is so connected with certain facts of science—astronomical, geological, & physiographical—that it lacks the advantages of simplicity and clearness. Weird Tales has printed another thing of mine—“The Hound”—& the editor has just written me a most flattering letter assuring me that I am a fixture with his magazine, & one of his two “star writers”—the other being Seabury Quinn, whose work you may have noticed. All very nice in a lowly way—if W.T. lasts.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to Clark Ashton Smith, a writer and poet who would, in time, become one of his closest friends, Lovecraft claims that Edwin Baird, the editor of Weird Tales, considered him to be one of his two “star writers,” the other favored writer being Seabury Quinn.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Clark Ashton Smith.” 25 Jan. 1924. 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. 65-8.

A World of Opiate Phantasy and Horror

I trust you will pardon the liberty taken by an absolute stranger in writing you, for I cannot refrain from expressing the appreciation aroused in me by your drawings and poetry, as shown me by my friend, Mr. Samuel Loveman, whom I am now visiting in Cleveland. Your book, containing matter only chronologically classifiable as juvenilia, impresses me as a work of the most distinguished genius; and makes me anxious to see the new volume which I understand is in course of preparation.

Of the drawings and water-colours I lack a vocabulary adequate to express my enthusiastic admiration. What a world of opiate phantasy and horror is here unveiled, and what an unique power and perspective must lie behind it! I speak with especial sincerity and enthusiasm, because my own especial tastes centre almost wholly around the grotesque and the arabesque. I have tried to write short stories and sketches affording glimpses into the unknown abysses of terror which leer beyond the boundaries of the known, but have never succeeded in evoking even a fraction of the stark hideousness conveyed by any one of your ghoulishly potent designs.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to Clark Ashton Smith, a writer and poet who would, in time, become one of his closest friends, Lovecraft expresses his admiration for Smith’s weird poetry, which he enthusiastically describes as a “work of the most distinguished genius.”

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Clark Ashton Smith.” 12 Aug. 1922. 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, p. 35.

Six of My Tales Accepted & Awaiting Publication

Glad you liked the tales. Odd—but I had an idea you hadn’t seen “Polaris”. I know there must be somebody who hasn’t but wants to—but can’t think who it is, so will have to wait till he asks again. Under separate cover I’m sending a new one you haven’t seen—“The Horror at Red Hook”—which Wright has just accepted for Weird Tales. I don’t vastly care for it, & am a bit surprised at its hearty acceptance. Have I sent you “The Shunned House”? If not, I will. The tale of a sunken continent will probably be written during the coming week, & you shall certainly be the first to see it. Glad that Wright took some Baudelaire matter, but sorry he didn’t use “Yondo”. He is provokingly finicky about the element of plot, & seems to think he can’t take anything in which description or atmosphere predominates. He also rejected my “Polaris” (submitted in the same mail with “Yondo”) on the ground that it is a prose-poem. Personally I am very fond of poetic & atmospheric prose, & look forward eagerly to that future volume of yours. Weird Tales now has six of my tales accepted & awaiting publication: “The Tomb”, (to appear in Jany.) “The Cats of Ulthar”, (for Feby.) “The Moon-Bog”, “He”, “The Outsider”, & “The Horror at Red Hook”. Wright rejected “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” & is very dubious about “From Beyond”. “In the Vault” he rejected because he feared its gruesomeness would get him into trouble with the censors—O Gawd! O Montreal!

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to Clark Ashton Smith, a writer and poet who would, in time, become one of his closest friends, Lovecraft discusses his recent submissions to Weird Tales, six of which were accepted for publication.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Clark Ashton Smith.” 4 Nov. 1925. 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. 85-7.

The Ruthless Discouraging of True Merit

I recently took one phase of this subject—the influence of commercialism on art—up with young Finlay, the brilliant new WT artist, who thought Grandpa was too severe on the editorial rats who have gnawed most of the merit out of the coming crop of writers. Finlay thought that the obstacles put in the way of good writing form a stimulating “challenge” . . . . . God! As if the ruthless discouraging of true merit & systematic encouragement of cheap & tawdry charlatanism had anything beneficial in it! As I told Finlay, the “challenge” offered by commercialism is not the true challenge of harder conditions in the right line of development, but is simply a demand for aesthetically harmful departures from the right line of development. What is valued & insisted upon by commercial editors is precisely what has no place whatever in authentic literary expression. Whoever consents to aim for tawdry effects demanded by commerce, is deliberately checking & perhaps permanently injuring his ability in an effort to achieve certain cheap results alien & antagonistic to literature. The literary ruin of brilliant figures like Long, Quinn, Price, Merritt, & Wandrei speaks for itself. No really fine story would ever be accepted by a modern pulp editor if submitted without the name of a prominent author. I have no hesitancy in saying that “The Willows”, anonymously submitted, would draw a rejection slip from every penny-dreadful editor in England & America combined. When a half-decent story does get printed in a pulp magazine, it is generally because of some irrelevant element wholly unrelated to its real merit. The really best stories of the same author would be promptly rejected—as the experience of Klarkash-Ton eloquently proves. The one effect of commerce on the writer is to make him stop trying to write good stuff & begin trying to tailor trash to order in conformity with some cheap & anti-artistic formula. This is no proper challenge. The real challenges are those offered by the various problems of aesthetic expression—the problems of achieving this or that different effect in genuine artistry. Concrete embodiments of these real challenges are things like Nobel & Pulitzer Prizes, & the standards set by “quality” magazines & the more substantial & dignified publishing houses . . . standards based on intellectual reputation, not on sales. Those, of course, are a far cry from rampant commercialism. That, indeed, is an unmitigated evil which has ruined more potential authors than any other single influence. It is useless to point out that a few tremendously vigorous authors like Two-Gun Bob do somehow find a way to circumvent commercialism in part, & to get a few good stories published in spite of Mammon-standards. Even in this case a cruel waste of energy & ability—which might have gone into aesthetic creation—is involved, & the net output of the author is just so much less excellent than it would have been in the absence of commercial pressures. . . .

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to fellow writer C. L. Moore, Lovecraft criticizes the commercialism of the publishing industry, which encourages writers to conform to a “cheap & anti-artistic formula.”

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To C. L. Moore.” 20 Oct. 1936. Letters to C. L. Moore and Others. Edited by David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2017, pp. 175-85.

A New Acquaintance

—Extra! Special! The postman just arrived with the latest bunch of forwarded mail, and guess who that Auburn, Cal. letter was from? CLARK ASHTON SMITH, the author of “The Star-Treader”, “Odes and Sonnets”, “The Hasheesh-Eater”, etc., and the artist who drew the unutterably hideous pictures I sent you! I had written him at Loveman’s suggestion, but never thought he would answer. He’s a good fellow—he has seen one of my stories (“Beyond the Wall of Sleep”, which Loveman sent him), praises it effusively, and wants to see more. I shall accommodate him, you can bet! Did I tell you—or A. E. P. G.—that I have both of his already published works? Galpin (generous little divvle!) gave me “The Star-Treader”, whilst George Kirk (benevolent soul!) gave me “Odes and Sonnets” (deluxe edition, price $6.00) out of his regular stock. As you know, Kirk is a bookseller . . . Smith is a genius. As a poet he is on par with Loveman, and as an artist he is alone in his field. He is going to give me his new book when it is out. I have lent “Odes and Sonnets” to little Longlet, and the child is transported with Smith’s devastating horror.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his aunt Lillian D. Clark, Lovecraft describes his reaction upon receiving a letter from Clark Ashton Smith, a poet who would, in time, become one of his closest friends.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Lillian D. Clark.” 1 Sept. 1922. H. P. Lovecraft: Letters from New York. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Night Shade Books, 2005, pp. 18-9.

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.

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.

Clark Ashton Smith

He is very kindly and likeable, and incredibly brave in his lifelong struggle against illness, poverty, and misunderstanding. He has at times helped out his revenues by fruit-picking, but is always forced to struggle hard. His home is a very small one, with no running water—just a primitive well outside. He writes in the open a great deal—at a table in his front yard—and takes many walking trips in the picturesque mountains of his region. The responsibility of his aged parents (who are inclined to domineer a bit) has kept him chained rather closely at home—if it were not for them, he would probably manage to see more of the world. Perhaps, though, his localism has been a blessing in disguise—his limited acquaintance with this world (San Francisco being the only metropolis he knows) giving his imagination all the keener force in depicting other worlds and other universes!

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend F. Lee Baldwin, Lovecraft describes his friend and fellow writer Clark Ashton Smith.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To F. Lee Baldwin.” 27 Mar. 1934. Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Ohio University Press, 2000, pp. 254-6.