The Truth about Democracy

Democracy—as distinguished from universal opportunity and good treatment—is today a fallacy and impossibility so great that any serious attempt to apply it cannot be considered as other than a mockery and a jest…. Government “by popular vote” means merely the nomination of doubtfully qualified men by doubtfully authorised and seldom competent cliques of professional politicians representing hidden interests, followed by a sardonic farce of emotional persuasion in which the orators with the glibbest tongues and flashiest catch-words herd on their side a numerical majority of blindly impressionable dolts and gulls who have for the most part no idea of what the whole circus is about.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to fellow writer Robert E. Howard, Lovecraft describes modern democracy as a farce, which conceals the power of hidden interests from the masses.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Robert E. Howard.” 7 Nov. 1932. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and James Turner, vol. 4, Arkham House, 1965, pp. 101-8.

A Finer Man than I

In prideful scorn I watch’d the farmer stride
With step uncouth o’er road and mossy lane;
How could I help but distantly deride
The churlish, callous’d, coarse-clad country swain?

Upon his lips a mumbled ballad stirr’d
The evening air with dull cacophony;
In cold contempt, I shudder’d as I heard,
And held myself no kin to such as he.

But as he leap’d the stile and gain’d the field
Where star-fac’d blossoms twinkled thro’ the hay,
His lumb’ring footfalls oftentimes would yield,
To spare the flow’rs that bloom’d along the way.

And while I gaz’d, my spirit swell’d apace;
With the crude swain I own’d the human tie;
The tend’rest impulse of a noble race
Had prov’d the boor a finer man than I!

DESCRIPTION: In his poem “Brotherhood,” Lovecraft describes his impressions of a man he, initially, assumes to be a country boor.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Brotherhood.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, p. 119.

A Daemoniac Ecstasy of Bloodthirstiness

As Slater grew older, it appeared, his matutinal aberrations had gradually increased in frequency and violence; till about a month before his arrival at the institution had occurred the shocking tragedy which caused his arrest by the authorities. One day near noon, after a profound sleep begun in a whiskey debauch at about five of the previous afternoon, the man had roused himself most suddenly; with ululations so horrible and unearthly that they brought several neighbours to his cabin—a filthy sty where he dwelt with a family as indescribable as himself. Rushing out into the snow, he had flung his arms aloft and commenced a series of leaps directly upward in the air; the while shouting his determination to reach some ‘big, big cabin with brightness in the roof and walls and floor, and the loud queer music far away’. As two men of moderate size sought to restrain him, he had struggled with maniacal force and fury, screaming of his desire and need to find and kill a certain ‘thing that shines and shakes and laughs’. At length, after temporarily felling one of his detainers with a sudden blow, he had flung himself upon the other in a daemoniac ecstasy of bloodthirstiness, shrieking fiendishly that he would ‘jump high in the air and burn his way through anything that stopped him’. Family and neighbours had now fled in a panic, and when the more courageous of them returned, Slater was gone, leaving behind an unrecognisable pulp-like thing that had been a living man but an hour before. None of the mountaineers had dared to pursue him, and it is likely that they would have welcomed his death from the cold; but when several mornings later they heard his screams from a distant ravine, they realised that he had somehow managed to survive, and that his removal in one way or another would be necessary. Then had followed an armed searching party, whose purpose (whatever it may have been originally) became that of a sheriff’s posse after one of the seldom popular state troopers had by accident observed, then questioned, and finally joined the seekers.

DESCRIPTION: In this passage from the short story “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” (1919), the narrator describes Joe Slater’s mental breakdown and the manhunt that followed.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Beyond the Wall of Sleep.” The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 2001, pp. 11-20.

A Frank and Conscious Unintelligibility

The ultimate position of Dunsany in literature depends largely on the future course of literature itself. Our age is one of curious transition and divergence, with an increasing separation of art from the past and from all common life as well. Modern science has, in the end, proved an enemy to art and pleasure; for by revealing to us the whole sordid and prosaic basis of our thoughts, motives, and acts, it has stripped the world of glamour, wonder, and all those illusions of heroism, nobility, and sacrifice which used to sound so impressive when romantically treated. Indeed, it is not too much to say that psychological discovery, and chemical, physical, and physiological research have largely destroyed the element of emotion among informed and sophisticated people by resolving it into its component parts—intellectual idea and animal impulse. The so-called “soul” with all its hectic and mawkish attributes of sentimentality, veneration, earntestness, devotion, and the like, has perished on analysis. Nietzsche brought a transvaluation of values, but Remy de Gourmont has brought a wholesale destruction of all values. We know now what a futile, aimless, and disconnected welter of mirages and hypocrisies life is; and from the first shock of that knowledge has sprung the bizarre, tasteless, defiant, and chaotic literature of that terrible newer generation which so shocks our grandmothers—the aesthetic generation fo T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, James Joyce, Ben Hecht, Aldous Huxley, James Branch Cabell, and all the rest. These writers, knowing that life has no real pattern, either rave, or mock, or join in the cosmic chaos by exploiting a frank and conscious unintelligibility and confusion of values. To them it savours of the vulgar to adopt a pattern—for today only servants, churchgoers, and tired business men read things which mean anything or acknowledge any values.

DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Lord Dunsany and His Work,” Lovecraft speculates that scientific discovery and psychological research altered the way in which intellectuals viewed life and thus engendered Modernism, which rejects traditional art forms.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Lord Dunsany and His Work.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 2, Hippocampus Press, 2004, pp. 56-62.


A Highly Dangerous Character

Joe Slater, who came to the institution in the vigilant custody of four state policemen, and who was described as a highly dangerous character, certainly presented no evidence of his perilous disposition when first I beheld him. Though well above the middle stature, and of somewhat brawny frame, he was given an absurd appearance of harmless stupidity by the pale, sleepy blueness of his small watery eyes, the scantiness of his neglected and never-shaven growth of yellow beard, and the listless drooping of his heavy nether lip. His age was unknown, since among his kind neither family records nor permanent family ties exist; but from the baldness of his head in front, and from the decayed condition of his teeth, the head surgeon wrote him down as a man of about forty.

From the medical and court documents we learned all that could be gathered of his case. This man, a vagabond, hunter, and trapper, had always been strange in the eyes of his primitive associates. He had habitually slept at night beyond the ordinary time, and upon waking would often talk of unknown things in a manner so bizarre as to inspire fear even in the hearts of an unimaginative populace. Not that his form of language was at all unusual, for he never spoke save in the debased patois of his environment; but the tone and tenor of his utterances were of such mysterious wildness, that none might listen without apprehension. He himself was generally as terrified and baffled as his auditors, and within an hour after awakening would forget all that he had said, or at least all that had caused him to say what he did; relapsing into a bovine, half-amiable normality like that of the other hill-dwellers.

DESCRIPTION: In this passage from the short story “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” (1919), the narrator describes Joe Slater, a “vagabond, hunter, and trapper” from the backwoods.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Beyond the Wall of Sleep.” The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 2001, pp. 11-20.

The Wrongs of the Masses

In accordance with this attitude, I am distinctly opposed to visibly arrogant and arbitrary extremes of government—but this is simply because I wish the safety of an artistic and intellectual civilisation to be secure, not because I have any sympathy with the coarse-grained herd who would menace the civilisation if not placated by sops. Surely you can see the profound and abysmal difference between this emotional attitude and the emotional attitude of the democratic reformer who becomes wildly excited over the “wrongs of the masses”. This reformer has uppermost in his mind the welfare of those masses themselves—he feels with them, takes up a mental-emotional point of view as one of them, regards their advancement as his prime objective independently of anything else, and would willingly sacrifice the finest fruits of the civilisation for the sake of stuffing their bellies and giving them two cinema shows instead of one per day. I, on the other hand, don’t give a hang about the masses except so far as I think deliberate cruelty is coarse and unaesthetic—be it toward horses, oxen, undeveloped men, dogs, niggers, or poultry.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Woodburn Harris, Lovecraft claims that contemporary reformers care only about the daily needs of Americans while he, in comparison, cares only about the “safety of an artistic and intellectual civilisation.”

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Woodburn Harris.” 25 Feb. 1929. Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Ohio University Press, 2000, pp. 226-9.

Life in an Asylum

I have said that I am a constant speculator concerning dream life, and from this you may judge of the eagerness with which I applied myself to the study of the new patient as soon as I had fully ascertained the facts of his case. He seemed to sense a certain friendliness in me; born no doubt of the interest I could not conceal, and the gentle manner in which I questioned him. Not that he ever recognised me during his attacks, when I hung breathlessly upon his chaotic but cosmic word-pictures; but he knew me in his quiet hours, when he would sit by his barred window weaving baskets of straw and willow, and perhaps pining for the mountain freedom he could never enjoy again. His family never called to see him; probably it had found another temporary head, after the manner of decadent mountain folk.

DESCRIPTION: In this passage from the short story “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” (1919), the narrator describes his relationship with Joe Slater, a sporadically violent mental patient.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Beyond the Wall of Sleep.” The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 2001, pp. 11-20.

A Reversion to Savagery

The most alarming tendency observable in this age is a growing disregard for the established forces of law and order. Whether or not stimulated by the noxious example of the almost sub-human Russian rabble, the less intelligent element throughout the world seems animated by a singular viciousness, and exhibits symptoms like those of a herd on the verge of stampeding. Whilst long-winded politicians preach universal peace, long-haired anarchists are preaching a social upheaval which means nothing more or less than a reversion to savagery or mediaeval barbarism. Even in this traditionally orderly nation the number of Bolsheviki, both open and veiled, is considerable enough to require remedial measures. The repeated and unreasonable strikes of important workers, seemingly with the object of indiscriminate extortion rather than rational wage increase, constitute a menace which should be checked.

DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Bolshevism,” Lovecraft recommends that the government suppress working-class agitation in order to prevent “social upheaval” and class warfare.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Bolshevism” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 5, Hippocampus Press, 2006, p. 37.

Eating Forbidden Things

Why shouldn’t rats eat a de la Poer as a de la Poer eats forbidden things? … The war ate my boy, damn them all … and the Yanks ate Carfax with flames and burnt Grandsire Delapore and the secret … No, no, I tell you, I am not that daemon swineherd in the twilit grotto! It was not Edward Norrys’ fat face on that flabby, fungous thing! Who says I am a de la Poer? He lived, but my boy died! … Shall a Norrys hold the lands of a de la Poer? … It’s voodoo, I tell you … that spotted snake … Curse you, Thornton, I’ll teach you to faint at what my family do! … ’Sblood, thou stinkard, I’ll learn ye how to gust … wolde ye swynke me thilke wys?

DESCRIPTION: In this passage from the short story “The Rats in the Walls” (1923), Delapore, driven to madness by what he has uncovered beneath Exham Priory, rants about the death of young Edward Norrys.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Rats in the Walls.” The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 1999, pp. 89-108.