The Old Days

It so happens that I am unable to take pleasure or interest in anything but a mental re-creation of other & better days—for in sooth, I see no possibility of ever encountering a really congenial milieu or living among civilised people with old Yankee historic memories again—so in order to avoid the madness which leads to violence & suicide I must cling to the few shreds of old days & old ways which are left to me. Therefore no one need expect me to discard the ponderous furniture & paintings & clocks & books which help to keep 454 always in my dreams. When they go, I shall go, for they are all that make it possible for me to open my eyes in the morning or look forward to another day of consciousness without screaming in sheer desperation & pounding the walls & floor in a frenzied clamour to be waked up out of the nightmare of “reality” & my own room in Providence. Yes—such sensitivenesses of temperament are very inconvenient when one has no money—but it’s easier to criticise than to cure them. When a poor fool possessing them allows himself to get exiled & sidetracked through temporarily false perspective & ignorance of the world, the only thing to do is let him cling to his pathetic scraps as long as he can hold them. They are life for him.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to Lillian Delora Clark, Lovecraft describes his attachment to the past.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Lillian D. Clark.” 8 Aug. 1925. H. P. Lovecraft: Letters from New York. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Night Shade Books, 2005, pp. 167-9.


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.

Looking to the Past

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.

Life in New York

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.

I Am Providence

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.

Eating Enough

As to my dietary programme—bosh! I am eating enough! Just you take a medium-sized loaf of bread, cut it in four equal parts, & add to each of these ¼ can (medium) Heinz beans & a goodly chunk of cheese. If the result isn’t a full-sized, healthy day’s quota of fodder for an Old Gentleman, I’ll resign from the League of Nations’ dietary committee! It only costs 8¢—but don’t let that prejudice you! It’s good sound food, & many vigorous Chinamen live on vastly less. Of course, from time to time I’ll vary the “meat course” by getting something instead of beans—canned spaghetti, beef stew, corned beef, &c. &c. &c.—& once in a while I’ll add a dessert of cookies or some such thing. Fruit, also, is conceivable.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his aunt, Lillian Delora Clark, Lovecraft insists that, despite his aunt’s apprehensions, his diet is nutritionally adequate.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Lillian D. Clark.” 11 Apr. 1925. H. P. Lovecraft: Letters from New York. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Night Shade Books, 2005, pp. 118-22.

To Live is to Dream

Now, of course, I do not have frequent chances for the special literary conversation I then had—but after all, that formed but a small part of life. It is more important to live—to dream and to write—than to talk, and in New York I could not live. Everything I saw became unreal and two-dimensional, and everything I thought and did became trivial and devoid of meaning through lack of any points of reference belonging to any fabric of which I could conceivably form a part. I was stifled—poisoned—imprisoned in a nightmare—and now not even the threat of damnation could induce me to dwell in the accursed place again.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Donald Wandrei, Lovecraft describes the sense of cultural isolation he experienced while living in New York City.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Donald Wandrei.” 10 Feb. 1927. Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Ohio University Press, 2000, pp. 197-201.

The Foreign Colossus

But one ought to be warned in advance that all life in New York is purely artificial and affected—values are forced and arbitrary, mental fashions are capricious, pathological, or commercial rather than authentic, and literary activity and conversation are motivated by a shallow pose, a sophistical concealment of ignorance, and a morbidly charlatanic egotism and cheap assertiveness far removed from the solid aesthetic intensity which ought to underlie a life of art and letters. New York has, by force of sheer wealth and glitter and advertising, captured the reputation of a literary capital, but it is not a true one in the sense that Boston once was. The “aesthetes” of New York are less interested in art and beauty than in themselves; and their smart badinage and discussion savour much more of psychological exhibitionism and social gesture than of actual artistic insight, vision, and devotion. It is a case of inferior people trying to be conspicuous somehow, and choosing art as a form of ballyhoo more convenient and inexpensive than business or evangelism or sword-swallowing. Of the genuine flow of life, or the sincere recording of life and dreams which is literature, I can discern scarcely a trace. Whatever of value is produced there is merely the outcropping of things elsewhere nourished—except of course in the case of those few real native New Yorkers who survive in sadness from the dead and lovely old city that was; the gracious, glamorous elder New York of dignity and poise, which lies stark and horrible and ghoul-gnawed today beneath the foul claws of the mongrel and misshapen foreign colossus that gibbers and howls vulgarly and dreamlessly on its site.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Donald Wandrei, Lovecraft describes New York as a dead city, incapable of authentic artistic expression.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Donald Wandrei.” 10 Feb. 1927. Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Ohio University Press, 2000, pp. 197-201.

The Slums

They took me slumming, where gaunt walls of brick
Bulge outward with a viscous stored-up evil,
And twisted faces, thronging foul and thick,
Wink messages to alien god and devil.
A million fires were blazing in the streets,
And from flat roofs a furtive few would fly
Bedraggled birds into the yawning sky
While hidden drums droned on with measured beats.

I knew those fires were brewing monstrous things,
And that those birds of space had been Outside
I guessed to what dark planet’s crypts they plied,
And what they brought from Thog beneath their wings.
The others laughed—till struck too mute to speak
By what they glimpsed in one bird’s evil beak.

DESCRIPTION: In his poem “The Pigeon-Flyers,” Lovecraft describes an urban slum, whose evil residents practice occult rituals.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Pigeon-Flyers.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, p. 84.

Impressions of New York

Here exist assorted Jews in the absolutely unassimilated state, with their ancestral beards, skull-caps, and general costumes—which makes them very picturesque, and no nearly so offensive as the strident, pushing Jews who affect clean shaves and American dress. In this particular section, where Hebrew books are vended from pushcarts, and patriarchal rabbins totter in high hats and frock coats, there are far less offensive faces than in the general subways of the town—probably because most of the pushing commercial Jews are from another colony where the blood is less pure.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his aunt Lillian D. Clark, Lovecraft describes his impressions of a community of Orthodox Jews.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Lillian D. Clark.” 29-30 Sept. 1924. H. P. Lovecraft: Letters from New York. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Night Shade Books, 2005, pp. 63-76.