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.

A Dream-Thing of Faint Grey

I spent the five-hour journey reading Dunsany and peering at way-stations. New-London is a dingy little burg—a Victorian relic. New-Haven seems alert and metropolitan from the station angle. Ditto for Bridgeport. Shortly before three p.m., the train reached the lofty and colossal Harlem River viaduct (Only by chance did I secure the unique panorama—because the train was a Washington, D.C. express. Ordinary N.Y. trains go by a tamer route and into the Grand Central Station), and  saw for the first time the Cyclopean outlines of New-York. It was a mystical sight in the gold sun of late afternoon; a dream-thing of faint grey, outlined against a sky of faint grey smoke. City and sky were so alike that one could hardly be sure that there was a city—that the fancied towers and pinnacles were not the merest illusions. It was ten miles away, approximately—that is, the skyscraper region was. Actually, the train had crossed to Long Island, there to move south till a tunnel should take it under the East River and the streets of Manhattan to the Pennsylvania Station.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Maurice W. Moe, Lovecraft describes his first impressions of New York, a city that he would grow to despise.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Maurice W. Moe.” 18 May 1922. H. P. Lovecraft: Letters from New York. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Night Shade Books, 2005, pp. 1-16.

My Reason for Writing

My reason for writing stories is to give myself the satisfaction of visualising more clearly and detailedly and stably the vague, elusive, fragmentary impressions of wonder, beauty, and adventurous expectancy which are conveyed to me by certain sights (scenic, architectural, atmospheric, etc.), ideas, occurrences, and images encountered in art and literature. I choose weird stories because they suit my inclination best—one of my strongest and most persistent wishes being to achieve, momentarily, the illusion of some strange suspension or violation of the galling limitations of time, space, and natural law which for ever imprison us and frustrate our curiosity about the infinite cosmic spaces beyond the radius of our sight and analysis. These stories frequently emphasise the element of horror because fear is our deepest and strongest emotion, and the one which best lends itself to the creation of nature-defying illusions. Horror and the unknown or the strange are always closely connected, so that it is hard to create a convincing picture of shattered natural law or cosmic alienage or “outsideness” without laying stress on the emotion of fear. The reason why time plays a great part in so many of my tales is that this element looms up in my mind as the most profoundly dramatic and grimly terrible thing in the universe. Conflict with time seems to me the most potent and fruitful theme in all human expression.

DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Notes on Writing Weird Fiction,” Lovecraft states that he writes supernatural horror because he finds the limitations of natural law “galling” and thus enjoys exploring an alternative reality in which they have been suspended.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Notes on Writing Weird Fiction.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 2, Hippocampus Press, 2004, pp. 175-8.

Informal Studies

My health prevented college attendance; but informal studies at home, and the influence of a notably scholarly physician-uncle, helped to banish some of the worst effects of the lack. In the years which should have been collegiate I veered from science to literature, specialising in the products of that eighteenth century of which I felt myself so oddly a part. Weird writing was then in abeyance, although I read everything spectral that I could find—including the frequent bizarre items in such cheap magazines as The All-Story and The Black Cat. My own products were largely verse and essays—uniformly worthless and now relegated to eternal concealment.

DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Some Notes on a Nonentity,” Lovecraft describes the extent of his informal education.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Some Notes on a Nonentity.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 5, Hippocampus Press, 2006, pp. 207-11.

Little Sam Perkins

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.


An Indifferent Cosmos

Contrary to what you may assume, I am not a pessimist but an indifferentist—that is, I don’t make the mistake of thinking that the resultant of the natural forces surrounding and governing organic life will have any connexion with the wishes or tastes of any part of that organic life-process. Pessimists are just as illogical as optimists; insomuch as both envisage the aims of mankind as unified, and as having a direct relationship (either of frustration or of fulfillment) to the inevitable flow of terrestrial motivation and events. That is—both schools retain in a vestigial way the primitive concept of a conscious teleology—of a cosmos which gives a damn one way or the other about the especial wants and ultimate welfare of mosquitoes, rats, lice, dogs, men, horses, pterodactyls, trees, fungi, dodos, or other forms of biological energy.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend James F. Morton, Lovecraft describes himself, not as an optimist or a pessimist, but as an “indifferentist,” someone who recognizes that the universe is indifferent to humanity’s welfare.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To James F. Morton.” 30 Oct. 1929. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, vol. 3, Arkham House, 1971, pp. 39-55.

Momentary Vistas

Sometimes I stumble accidentally on rare combinations of slope, curved street-line, roofs & gables & chimneys, & accessory details of verdure & background, which in the magic of late afternoon assume a mystic majesty & exotic significance beyond the power of words to describe. Absolutely nothing else in life now has the power to move me so much; for in these momentary vistas there seem to open before me bewildering avenues to all the wonders & lovelinesses I have ever sought, & to all those gardens of eld whose memory trembles just beyond the rim of conscious recollection, yet close enough to lend to life all the significance it possesses. All that I live for is to recapture some fragment of this hidden & just unreachable beauty …

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Donald Wandrei, Lovecraft describes the meaning of his life as an attempt to capture beauty.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Donald Wandrei.” 21 Apr. 1927. Mysteries of Time and Spirit: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Donald Wandrei. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Night Shade Books, 2002, pp. 84-93.