To have lived to my age without producing more than two really good stories (Colour—Zann) or more than ten even fair ones, is to have demonstrated rather lamentably that fiction isn’t in one’s line. I was probably right in 1908 when I decided that systematic good production was beyond me, and destroyed all but two of the tales written up to then.
DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his young friend J. Vernon Shea, Lovecraft dismisses his own work, which, in his opinion, consists of only “two really good stories” and no more than ten “fair ones.”
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To J. Vernon Shea.” 19 Nov. 1931. Letters to J. Vernon Shea, Carl F. Strauch, and Lee McBride White. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Hippocampus Press, 2016, p. 81.
I may be as thoroughly played out as Blackwood now appears to be. I don’t know—and there’s nothing to do but experiment .… and keep as clear as possible of external criticisms and rebuffs. That’s why I don’t submit the Doorstep to Wright. For the present, then, I am a reader and appreciator rather than a writer. God knows I want a job—but I want it to be anything—elevator man, pickaxe artist, night-watchman, stevedore, what the hell—except writing. Anything except a parody on the only thing in life that means anything to me.
DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his fellow writer E. Hoffmann Price, Lovecraft expresses his dissatisfaction with his own writing.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To E. Hoffmann Price.” 15 Aug. 1934. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and James Turner, vol. 5, Arkham House, 1976, pp. 17-20.
The ancient garden seems tonight
A deeper gloom to bear,
As if some silent shadow’s blight
Were hov’ring in the air.
With hidden griefs the grasses sway,
Unable quite to word them—
Remembering from yesterday
The little paws that stirr’d them.
DESCRIPTION: In his poem “Little Sam Perkins,” Lovecraft describes his emotions after learning that one of his favorite cats had died.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Little Sam Perkins.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, p. 439.
I saw him on a sleepless night when I was walking desperately to save my soul and my vision. My coming to New York had been a mistake; for whereas I had looked for poignant wonder and inspiration in the teeming labyrinths of ancient streets that twist endlessly from forgotten courts and squares and waterfront to courts and squares and waterfronts equally forgotten, and in the Cyclopean modern towers and pinnacles that rise blackly Babylonian under waning moons, I had found instead only a sense of horror and oppression which threaten to master, paralyse, and annihilate me.
DESCRIPTION: In a passage from the short story “He” (1925), Lovecraft describes his dissatisfaction with New York City and his realization that moving there had been a mistake.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “He.” The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 1999, 119-29.
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.
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.
In everything I do there is a certain concreteness, extravagance, or general crudeness which defeats the vague but insistent object I have in mind. I start out trying to find symbols expressive of a certain mood induced by a certain visual conception …, but when I come to put anything on paper the chosen symbols seem forced, awkward, childish, exaggerated, & essentially inexpressive. I have staged a cheap, melodramatic puppet-show without saying what I wanted to say in the first place.
DESCRIPTION: In a letter to fellow writer Clark Ashton Smith, Lovecraft expresses doubts about the value of his writing.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Clark Ashton Smith.” 13 Dec. 1933. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and James Turner, vol. 4, Arkham House, 1965, pp. 328-36.
O’er the midnight moorlands crying,
Thro’ the cypress forests sighing,
In the night-wind madly flying,
Hellish forms with streaming hair;
In the barren branches creaking,
By the stagnant swamp-pools speaking,
Past the shore-cliffs ever shrieking;
Damn’d daemons of despair.
Once, I think I half remember,
Ere the grey skies of November
Quench’d my youth’s aspiring ember,
Liv’d there such a thing as bliss;
Skies that now are dark were beaming,
Gold and azure, splendid seeming
Till I learn’d it all was dreaming—
Deadly drowsiness of Dis.
But the stream of Time, swift flowing,
Brings the torment of half-knowing—
Dimly rushing, blindly going
Past the never-trodden lea;
And the voyager, repining,
Sees the grisly death-fires shining,
Hears the wicked petrel’s whining
As he helpless drifts to sea.
DESCRIPTION: In his poem “Despair,” which was written shortly after his mother’s nervous breakdown, Lovecraft uses weird imagery to symbolize his feelings of hopelessness.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Despair.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, pp. 61-2.
There is much relief from the burden of life to be derived from many sources. To the man of high animal spirits, there is the mere pleasure of being alive; the Joi de vivre, as our Gallick friends term it. To the credulous there is religion and its paradisal dreams. To the moralist, there is a certain satisfaction in right conduct. To the scientist there is the joy in pursuing truth which nearly counteracts the depressing revelations of truth. To the person of cultivated taste, there are the fine arts. To the man of humour, there is the sardonic delight of spying out pretensions and incongruities of life. To the poet there is the ability and privilege to fashion a little Arcadia in his fancy, wherein he may withdraw from the sordid reality of mankind at large. In short, the world abounds with simple delusions which we may call “happiness”, if we be but able to entertain them.
DESCRIPTION: In a letter to the Kleicomolo, Lovecraft claims that, though happiness is a delusion, people can still enjoy the pleasures that life has to offer.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Rheinhart Kleiner, Ira A. Cole, and Maurice W. Moe.” Oct. 1916. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, vol. 1, Arkham House, 1965, pp. 25-9.