Next Came “Dagon”

I am glad your friend likes “Dagon”—which was written in 1917, & is the second story I wrote that year, after a nine years’ silence. In 1908, when I was 18, I was disgusted by my lack of technical experience; & burned all my stories (of which the number was infinite) but two; resolving (amusing thought!) to turn to verse in the future. Then, years later, I published these two yarns in an amateur paper; where they were so well received that I began to consider resumption. Finally an amateur editor & critic named W. Paul Cook (Loveman can tell you about him) egged me on to the point of actual production, & “The Tomb”—with all its stiffness—was the result. Next came “Dagon”—& it chagrins me to admit that I’ve hardly been able to equal it since. My favourite three tales are “Dagon”, “Randolph Carter”, & “The Cats of Ulthar.” I only wish the hyperbole of your friend—touching on Poe & Bierce—were true; but realistic observation hath given me abounding humility. If ever the things reach Sterling’s eye, let me pray for more leniency than they deserve!


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to Clark Ashton Smith, a writer and poet who would, in time, become one of his closest friends, Lovecraft discusses some of his earliest short stories and the circumstances that compelled him to resume writing fiction.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Clark Ashton Smith.” 11 Jan. 1923. 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. 43-5.

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The Fruits, Not the Mechanism

I’m all for personal merit, & used to revere aristocracy because it developed personal merit. Just as you revere your kindly plutocrats, so did I revere my kindly & honourable agrarian squires. But seven depression years in a hotbed of blind reactionaries has taught me things! . . . What some of these birds call argument & logick!! Now I’m beginning to wake up & see that what I used to respect was not really aristocracy, but a set of personal qualities which aristocracy then developed better than any other system . . . a set of qualities, however, whose merit lay only in a psychology of non-calculative, non-competitive disinterestedness, truthfulness, courage, & generosity fostered by good education, minimum economic stress, & assumed position, & JUST AS ACHIEVABLE THROUGH SOCIALISM AS THROUGH ARISTOCRACY. It was the fruits, not the mechanism, which were worthy of respect—& today the decadent mechanism functions in vacuo, pavoninely proud of its mere skeletal essence, & no longer producing the fruits which once justify’d its existence. Hell! I’m done with it & its pretences.


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to fellow writer C. L. Moore, Lovecraft explains why he favors socialism over aristocracy, a system he once “revered” for its ability to develop personal merit.

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 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.

The Chief Indictment of a Capitalistic Ideal

But the chief indictment of a capitalistic ideal is perhaps something deeper even than humanitarian principle—something which concerns the profound, subtle & pervasive hostility of capitalism, & of the whole essence of mercantilism, to all that is finest & most creative in the human spirit. As mentioned in the preceding pages, business & capital are the fundamental enemies of human worth in that they exalt & reward the shrewdly acquisitive rather than the intrinsically superior & creative. Pro-capitalists are prone to slobber over the “free competition” in economics which “rewards the worthy & punishes the shiftless”. Very well. Let’s see how the worthy are rewarded. Let us list a few of the most incontestably superior minds & personalities in the modern capitalistic world & see whether capitalism has given them its highest rewards. Albert Einstein. Romain Rolland. Bertrand Russell. H. G. Wells. George Santayana. Thomas Mann. John Dewey. W. B. Yeats. George Bernard Shaw. M. & Mme. Curie-Joliot. Heisenberg. Planck. Eddington. Jeans. Millikan. Compton. Ralph Adams Cram. Sigmund Freud. Ignacio Zuloaga. Theodore Dreiser. Julian & Aldous Huxley. Prof. G. Elliot Smith. Are these the word’s richest people today? And in the past did capitalism award its highest benefits to such admittedly superior persons as Poe, Spinoza, Baudelaire, Shakespeare, Keats, & so on? Or is it just possible that the real beneficiaries of capitalism are not the truly superior, but merely those who choose to devote their superiority to the single process of personal acquisition rather than to social service or to creative intellectual or aesthetic effort . . . . . those, & the lucky parasites who share or inherit the fruits of their narrowly canalised superiority?


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to fellow writer C. L. Moore, Lovecraft criticizes capitalism for rewarding those who “devote their superiority to the single process of personal acquisition” instead of those who contribute to the arts and sciences.

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.

My God of Fiction

I used to write detective stories very often, the works of A. Conan Doyle being my model so far as plot was concerned. But Poe was my God of Fiction. I used to love the horrible and the grotesque—much more than I do now—and can recall tales of murderers, spirits, reincarnations, metempsychoses, and every shudder-producing device known to literature!


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Rheinhart Kleiner, Lovecraft describes his childhood infatuation with the works of Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allan Poe.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Rheinhart Kleiner.” 2 Feb. 1916. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, vol. 1, Arkham House, 1965, pp. 20-1.

A Genuine Pagan

When about seven or eight I was a genuine pagan, so intoxictated with the beauty of Greece that I acquired a half-sincere belief in the old gods and Nature-spirits. I have in literal truth built altars to Pan, Apollo, Diana, and Athena, and have watched for dryads and satyrs in the woods and fields at dusk. Once I firmly thought I beheld some of these sylvan creatures dancing under autumnal oaks; a kind of “religious experience” as true in its way as the subjective ecstasies of any Christian.


DESCRIPTION: In his essay “A Confession of Unfaith,” Lovecraft claims that, when he was a child, he once saw dryads and satyrs in the woods near his home.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “A Confession of Unfaith.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 5, Hippocampus Press, 2006, pp. 145-8.

A Little Lost World

Falling into a conversation with the chrysostomic gentleman of leisure above-mention’d, we learned much of local history; including the fact that the houses in Milligan Court were originally put up in the late 1700’s by the Methodist Church, for the poorer but respectable families of the parish. Continuing his expositions, our amiable Mentor led us to a seemingly undistinguished door within the court, and through the dim hallway beyond to a back door. Whither he was taking us, we knew not; but upon emerging from the back door we paus’d in delighted amazement. There, excluded from the world on every side by sheer walls and house facades, was a second hidden court or alley, with vegetation growing here and there, and on the south side a row of simple Colonial doorways and small-pan’d windows!! It was beyond words—it is still beyond words, and that is why I cannot do it justice here! Buried deep in the entrails of nondescript commercial blocks, this little lost world of a century and a quarter ago sleeps unheeding of the throng. Here stretch worn pavements which silver-buckled shoes have trod—here, hidden in cryptical recesses which no street, lane, or passageway connects with the Manhattan of today!


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his aunt Lillian D. Clark, Lovecraft describes how he and his wife discovered a hidden court one evening while exploring the historic district of Greenwich Village.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Lillian D. Clark.” 20 Aug. 1924. H. P. Lovecraft: Letters from New York. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Night Shade Books, 2005, pp. 59-62.

The Greatest Peril to Civilised Progress

The greatest peril to civilised progress—aside from an annihilative war—is some kind of basically reactionary system with enough grudging concessions to the dispossessed to make it really work after a fashion, & thus with the capacity to postpone indefinitely the demand of the masses for the real rights—education, social, & economic—as human beings in a world where the great resources should be cornered by none. Laissez-faire Hoover-Mills-Mellon-Menckenism is simply a joke which can be counted out. Unsupervised capitalism is through. But various Nazi & fascist compromises can be cooked up to save the plutocrats most of their spoils while lulling the growing army of the unpropertied with either a petty programme of panem et circenses, or else a system of artificially created & distributed jobs at starvation wages on the C.C.C. or W.P.A. idea. A regime of that sort, spiced with the right brand of hysterical flag-waving, sloganeering, & verbal constitution-saving, might conceivably be as stable & popular as Hitlerism—& that is what the younger & more astute babbitts of the Republican party are quietly & insidiously working toward. Preferring the more civilised alternative of socialism, I can’t say that I wish them luck!


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to fellow writer C. L. Moore, Lovecraft theorizes that a fascistic party could, by combining patriotism with “grudging concessions to the dispossessed,” win the support of the American working class and delay the seemingly inevitable triumph of socialism.

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.

My Greenwich Peregrinations

My Greenwich peregrinations included Abingdon Square, Grove St., Grove Court, Barrow & Commerce Sts., the Minettas, Milligan & Patchin Places, Gay St., Sheridan Square, & Charlton St., & embraced many marvellous glimpses of the old times. Once I saw a colonial doorway lighted up, the traceries of transom & side-lights standing out softly against the mellow yellow gleams inside. From Greenwich my route led south along Hudson St. to old New York, (across Lispenard’s Meadows & the filled-in swamp) & I noted the colonial square at the intersection of Canal. Later crossing to Greenwich St., I descended into the most ancient district; noting the Planters’ Hotel, Tom’s Chop House, & the like, & emerging on Broadway to salute St Paul’s & plunge down Ann St. into the heart of Golden Hill—Irving’s boyhood neighbourhood, & the seat of much disturbance during the late disastrous revolt against His Majesty’s government. I passed under the Brooklyn Bridge to Vandewater St., & noted with horror the replacement of a fine colonial row by a damnable new garage, (other excellent colonials have vanished in Greenwich, at Barrow & Hudson Sts.) & doubled back through New Chambers & Pearl, noting beside the former a colonial smithy which had always appealed to me. Proceeding along Pearl toward the Battery, I viewed all the ancient houses & waterfront panoramas as I passed them—remarking incidentally that the old Harpers publishing house has been newly razed. At Hanover-Square, seat of the best British gentry before the Revolution, I lifted my hat in honour of King George the Third; then passing on by the Queen’s Head Tavern—Fraunces’, that is—to those regions of Battery Park where one or two colonial mansions yet linger. It was now five o’ the morning, & I had so fully thrown off melancholy by my free & antique voyage, that I felt exactly in the humour for writing. The clouds were dissolving, & another day was done. Should I drag it away in New-York, & lose the keenness of my mood, or keep on in my dash for liberty—gaining fresh strength as I kicked aside the irritating fetters of the usual?


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his aunt Lillian D. Clark, Lovecraft describes his late-night walk through Greenwich Village, a journey that inspired him to write the short story “He” the following day.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Lillian D. Clark.” 13 Aug. 1925. H. P. Lovecraft: Letters from New York. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Night Shade Books, 2005, pp. 169-72.

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.