The second half of my outing, though, was the real climax—since this was nothing more or less than a trip to ancient Nantucket, which I had never seen before, though it lies only 90 miles (6 hrs. by coach & boat) from my own doorstep.
The folder I sent has probably given you some idea of the place. And what a place! Nowhere else—Charleston, Quebec, Salem, or Newport—has the past survived so perfectly. The old town is exactly as it was a century ago—cobblestoned streets with colonial houses, windmill, hitching-posts, horse-blocks, & silver doorplates, picturesque lanes & wharves—everything pertaining to the bygone days of whaling prosperity. The island was settled in 1660, & formed part of New York till 1692, since then it has belonged to Massachusetts. Whaling made it great, & the decline of that industry caused its decline. Summer vacationists have preserved & restored it. I explored all the old streets, museums, windmill, &c. minutely, & saw Saturn & his ring through the glass of the Maria Mitchell observatory. A bus trip around the island took me to the quaint former fishing village of Siasconset. In covering the suburbs of the town I used a hired bicycle—the first time I’d ridden a wheel in 20 years. It quite rejuvenated me! I had a 3d floor room during my week’s stay—with a fine view of town, harbour, & sea.
DESCRIPTION: In a letter to Clark Ashton Smith, a fellow writer and poet who was one of his closest friends, Lovecraft describes his recent trip to the island of Nantucket, one of many places along the Eastern Seaboard he visited in search of Colonial relics.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Clark Ashton Smith.” 8 Sept. 1934. 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. 565-7.
And now we cast off all allegiance to modern things; to change, and the rule of steel and steam, and the crumbling of ancient visions and simple impulses. The tar and concrete roads, and the vulgar world that bred them, have ended; and we wind rapt and wondering over elder and familiar ribbons of rutted whiteness which curl past alluring valleys and traverse old wooden bridges in the lee of green slopes. The nearness and intimacy of the little domed hills have become almost breath-taking. Their steepness and abruptness hold nothing in common with the humdrum, standardised world we know, and we cannot help feeling that their outlines have some strange and almost-forgotten meaning, like vast hieroglyphs left by a rumoured titan race whose glories live only in rare, deep dreams. We climb and plunge fantastically as we thread this hypnotic landscape. Time has lost itself in the labyrinths behind, and around us stretch only the flowering waves of faery. Tawdriness is not there, but instead, the recaptured beauty of vanished centuries—the hoary groves, the untainted pastures hedged with gay blossoms and the small brown farmsteads nestling amidst huge trees beneath vertical precipices of fragrant brier and meadow-grass. Even the sunlight assumes a supernal glamour, as if some special atmosphere or exaltation mantled the whole region. There is nothing like it save in the magic vistas that sometimes form the backgrounds of Italian primitives. Sodoma and Leonardo saw such expanses, but only in the distance, and through the vaultings of Renaissance arcades. We rove at will through the midst of the picture; and find in its necromancy a thing we have known or inherited, and for which we have always been vainly searching.
DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Vermont—A First Impression,” Lovecraft describes, in rapturous terms, his travels through southern Vermont in the summer of 1927.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Vermont—A First Impression.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 4, Hippocampus Press, 2005, pp. 13-5.
Ten miles from Arkham I had struck the trail
That rides the cliff-edge over Boynton Beach,
And hoped that just at sunset I could reach
The crest that looks on Innsmouth in the vale.
Far out at sea was a retreating sail,
White as hard years of ancient winds could bleach,
But evil with some portent beyond speech,
So that I did not wave my hand or hail.
Sails out of lnnsmouth! echoing old renown
Of long-dead times. But now a too-swift night
Is closing in, and I have reached the height
Whence I so often scan the distant town.
The spires and roofs are there—but look! The gloom
Sinks on dark lanes, as lightless as the tomb!
DESCRIPTION: In his poem “The Port,” Lovecraft describes the strange fate of Innsmouth, the imaginary city that appears in several of his fictional works.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Port.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, p. 83.
The thing, he said, would come that night at three
From the old churchyard on the hill below;
But crouching by an oak fire’s wholesome glow,
I tried to tell myself it could not be.
Surely, I mused, it was a pleasantry
Devised by one who did not truly know
The Elder Sign, bequeathed from long ago,
That sets the fumbling form of darkness free.
He had not meant it—no—but still I lit
Another lamp as starry Leo climbed
Out of the Seekonk, and a steeple chimed
Three—and the firelight faded, bit by bit.
Then at the door that cautious rattling came—
And the mad truth devoured me like a flame!
DESCRIPTION: In his poem “The Messenger,” Lovecraft responds to Bertrand K. Hart’s playful suggestion that Lovecraft, who had used Hart’s residence in one of his stories, deserved to be haunted.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Messenger.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, p. 80.
So if at last a callous age must tear
These jewels from the old town’s quiet dress,
I think the harbour streets will always wear
A puzzled look of wistful emptiness.
And strangers, staring spaciously along
An ordered green that ponderous pylons frame,
Will always stop to wonder what is wrong,
And miss some vital thing they cannot name.
DESCRIPTION: In his poem “The East India Brick Row,” Lovecraft laments the city of Providence’s decision to demolish a row of ancient warehouses along the waterfront.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The East India Brick Row.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, pp. 308-9.
Well—the train sped on, & I experienced silent convulsions of joy in returning step by step to a waking & tri-dimensional life. New Haven—New London—& then quaint Mystic, with its colonial hillside & landlocked cove. Then at last a still subtler magick fill’d the air—nobler roofs & steeples, with the train rushing airily above them on its lofty viaduct—Westerly—in His Majesty’s Province of RHODE-ISLAND & PROVIDENCE-PLANTATIONS! GOD SAVE THE KING!! Intoxication follow’d—Kingston—East Greenwich with its steep Georgian alleys climbing up from the railway—Apponaug & its ancient roofs—Auburn—just outside the city limits—I fumble with bags & wraps in a desperate effort to appear calm—THEN—a delirious marble dome outside the window—a hissing of air brakes—a slackening of speed—surges of ecstasy & dropping of clouds from my eyes & mind—HOME—UNION STATION—PROVIDENCE!!!!
DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Frank Belknap Long, Lovecraft describes the exhilaration he felt when, having spent two years in New York City, he returned home to Providence, Rhode Island.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Frank Belknap Long.” 1 May 1926. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, vol. 2, Arkham House, 1968, pp. 44-9.
In a colourless or monotonous environment I should be hopelessly soul-starved—New York almost finished me, as it was! I find that I draw my prime contentment from beauty & mellowness as expressed in quaint town vistas & in the scenery of ancient farming & woodland regions. Continuous growth from the past is a sine qua non—in fact, I have long acknowledged archaism as the chief motivating force of my being.
DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Donald Wandrei, Lovecraft describes how important tradition is to his psychological wellbeing.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Donald Wandrei.” 27 Mar. 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. 60-8.
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.
To all intents & purposes I am more naturally isolated from mankind than Nathaniel Hawthorne himself, who dwelt alone in the midst of crowds, & whom Salem knew only after he died. Therefore, it may be taken as axiomatic that the people of a place matter absolutely nothing to me except as components of the general landscape & scenery…. My life lies not among people but among scenes—my local affections are not personal, but topographical & architectural…. I am always an outsider—to all scenes & all people—but outsiders have their sentimental preferences in visual environment. I will be dogmatic only to the extent of saying that it is New England I must have—in some form or other. Providence is part of me—I am Providence … Providence is my home, & there I shall end my days if I can do so with any semblance of peace, dignity, or appropriateness…. Providence would always be at the back of my head as a goal to be worked toward—an ultimate Paradise to be regain’d at last.
DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his aunt, Lillian Delora Clark, Lovecraft explains his attachment to New England and his desire to return home to Providence, Rhode Island.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Lillian D. Clark.” 29 Mar. 1926. H. P. Lovecraft: Letters from New York. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Night Shade Books, 2005, pp. 287-90.
I cannot tell why some things hold for me
A sense of unplumbed marvels to befall,
Or of a rift in the horizon’s wall
Opening to worlds where only gods can be.
There is a breathless, vague expectancy,
As of vast ancient pomps I half recall,
Or wild adventures, uncorporeal,
Ecstasy-fraught, and as a day-dream free.
It is in sunsets and strange city spires,
Old villages and woods and misty downs,
South winds, the sea, low hills, and lighted towns,
Old gardens, half-heard songs, and the moon’s fires.
But though its lure alone makes life worth living,
None gains or guesses what it hints at giving.
DESCRIPTION: In his poem “Expectancy,” Lovecraft describes the sense of mystery he feels when he encounters certain scenes, such as sunsets and city spires.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Expectancy.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, p. 91.