Life is a hideous thing, and from the background behind what we know of it peer daemoniacal hints of truth which make it sometimes a thousandfold more hideous. Science, already oppressive with its shocking revelations, will perhaps be the ultimate exterminator of our human species—if separate species we be—for its reserve of unguessed horrors could never be borne by mortal brains if loosed upon the world. If we knew what we are, we should do as Sir Arthur Jermyn did; and Arthur Jermyn soaked himself in oil and set fire to his clothing one night. No one placed the charred fragments in an urn or set a memorial to him who had been; for certain papers and certain boxed object were found, which made men wish to forget. Some who knew him do not admit that he ever existed.
DESCRIPTION: In a passage from the short story “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family” (1920), Lovecraft claims that recent scientific discoveries, specifically those related to human evolution, reduce the elevated status of the human race to an intolerable level.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family.” The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 1999, pp. 14-23.
“Mortal, ephemeral and bold,
In mercy keep what I have told,
Yet think sometimes of what hath been,
And sights these crumbling rocks have seen;
Of sentience old ere thy weak brood
Appear’d in lesser magnitude,
And living things that yet survive,
Tho’ not to human ken alive.
I AM THE VOICE OF MOTHER EARTH,
FROM WHENCE ALL HORRORS HAVE THEIR BIRTH.”
DESCRIPTION: In his poem “Mother Earth,” Lovecraft envisions Mother Earth as a frightening entity, one capable of exposing humanity’s insignificance and impermanence.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Mother Earth.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, pp. 60-1.
How do we know that that form of atomic and molecular motion called ‘life’ is the highest of all forms? Perhaps the dominant creature—the most rational and God-like of all beings—is an invisible gas! Or perhaps it is a flaming and effulgent mass of molten star-dust. Who can say that men have souls while rocks have none?
DESCRIPTION: In a letter to the Kleicomolo, Lovecraft argues that organic life, as commonly understood, may be inferior to forms of consciousness unknown to the human race.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Rheinhart Kleiner, Ira A. Cole, and Maurice W. Moe.” 8 Aug. 1916. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, vol. 1, Arkham House, 1965, pp. 24.
Of the various conceptions brought before the human mind by the advance of Science, what can be compared in strangeness and magnitude with that of eternity and infinity, as presented by modern astronomy? Nothing more deeply disturbs our settled egotism and self-importance than the realisation of man’s utter insignificance which comes with knowledge of his position in time and space.
DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Time and Space,” Lovecraft explains cosmicism, the view that the size and age of the universe render humanity insignificant.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Time and Space.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 5, Hippocampus Press, 2006, pp. 30-1. (Lovecraft 30).