The Pseudo-Science of Astrology

To the Editor of the Evening News:

It is an unfortunate fact that every man who seeks to disseminate knowledge must contend not only against ignorance itself, but against false instruction as well. No sooner do we deem ourselves free from a particularly gross superstition, than we are confronted by some enemy to learning who would set aside all the intellectual progress of years, and plunge us back into the darkness of mediaeval disbelief.

As a lover of Astronomy, and a writer on that subject, I was the other day very much pained and shocked to see in the Evening News an article on the pseudo-science of Astrology, which has ever been the bane of the seeker after truth. While I entertain no doubt as to the sincerity of the author, a Mr. Hartmann, [it is impossible] for me to comprehend how any person of judgment and education can now give credence to the doctrines of a false and ridiculous system completely exploded over 200 years ago. In this age of enlightenment it ought not be necessary to shew the utter absurdity of the idea that our daily affairs can be governed by the mere apparent motions of infinitely distant bodies whose seeming arrangements and configurations, on which the calculations of judicial astrology are based, arise only from perspective as seen from our particular place in the universe. It seems very provoking that astronomers and other men of sense should be obliged to waste their time and energy in proving Astrology to be false, when there exists not the slightest reason to believe any part of it true; yet the perverse sophistry of certain misguided individuals still raises up such a body of specious evidence in favour of it, that we must needs attack again what we had thought finally conquered. The fallacies of Astrology are like the many heads of the Lernean Hydra; chop off one, and two grow in its place.


DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Science versus Charlatanry,” which was engendered by the appearance of J. F. Hartmann’s article “Astrology and the European War” in the Providence Evening News, Lovecraft dismisses astrology as an ignorant and ridiculous superstition.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Science versus Charlatanry.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 3, Hippocampus Press, 2005, pp. 260-1.

Advertisements

All Very Nice in a Lowly Way

I am glad you found my stories worth reading—especially “Polaris”, which was written in 1918 before I ever read a word of Dunsany’s. That tale is a favourite with Galpin & Long, though it is so connected with certain facts of science—astronomical, geological, & physiographical—that it lacks the advantages of simplicity and clearness. Weird Tales has printed another thing of mine—“The Hound”—& the editor has just written me a most flattering letter assuring me that I am a fixture with his magazine, & one of his two “star writers”—the other being Seabury Quinn, whose work you may have noticed. All very nice in a lowly way—if W.T. lasts.


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to Clark Ashton Smith, a writer and poet who would, in time, become one of his closest friends, Lovecraft claims that Edwin Baird, the editor of Weird Tales, considered him to be one of his two “star writers,” the other favored writer being Seabury Quinn.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Clark Ashton Smith.” 25 Jan. 1924. 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. 65-8.

The Nightmare of Nightmares

Nyarlathotep is a nightmare—an actual phantasm of my own, with the first paragraph written before I fully awaked. I have been feeling execrably of late—whole weeks have passed without relief from headache and dizziness, and for a long time three hours was my utmost limit for continuous work. (I seem better now.) Added to my steady ills was an unaccustomed ocular trouble which prevented me from reading fine print—a curious tugging of nerves and muscles which rather startled me during the weeks it persisted. Amidst this gloom came the nightmare of nightmares—the most realistic and horrible I have experienced since the age of ten—whose stark hideousness and ghastly oppressiveness I could but feebly mirror in my written phantasy. . . . The first phase was a general sense of undefined apprehension—vague terror which appeared universal. I seemed to be seated in my chair clad in my old grey dressing-gown, reading a letter from Samuel Loveman. The letter was unbelievably realistic—thin, 8½ X 13 paper, violet ink signature, and all—and its contents seemed portentous. The dream-Loveman wrote:

“Don’t fail to see Nyarlathotep if he comes to Providence. He is horrible—horrible beyond anything you can imagine—but wonderful. He haunts one for hours afterward. I am still shuddering at what he showed.”

I had never heard the name NYARLATHOTEP before, but seemed to understand the allusion. Nyarlathotep was a kind of itinerant showman or lecturer who held forth in publick halls and aroused widespread fear and discussion with his exhibitions. These exhibitions consisted of two parts—first, a horrible—possibly prophetic—cinema reel; and later some extraordinary experiments with scientific and electrical apparatus.


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Rheinhart Kleiner, Lovecraft describes the nightmare that inspired his story “Nyarlathotep.”

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Rheinhart Kleiner.” 14 Dec. 1921. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, vol. 1, Arkham House, 1965, pp. 160-2.

My First Word of the Discovery

When Lake had satisfied the first keen edge of his curiosity he scribbled a message in his notebook and had young Moulton run back to the camp to dispatch it by wireless. This was my first word of the discovery, and it told of the identification of early shells, bones of ganoids and placoderms, remnants of labyrinthodonts and thecodonts, great mososaur skull fragments, dinosaur vertebrae and armour-plates, pterodactyl teeth and wing-bones, archaeopteryx debris, Miocene sharks’ teeth, primitive bird-skulls, and skulls, vertebrae, and other bones of archaic mammals such as palaeotheres, xiphodons, dinocerases, eohippi, oreodons, and titanotheres. There was nothing as recent as a mastodon, elephant, true camel, deer, or bovine animal; hence Lake concluded that the last deposits had occurred during the Oligocene age, and that the hollowed stratum had lain in its present dried, dead, and inaccessible state for at least thirty million years.


DESCRIPTION: In a passage from the novella At the Mountains of Madness (1931), Lovecraft describes, using scientific terminology, Lake’s discoveries in Antarctica.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “At the Mountains of Madness.” The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 2001, pp. 246-340.

A Fat, Shock-Headed Gentleman Named Morton

Naturally I did not omit the town of Paterson from my itinerary, but was very congenially entertain’d by the head of the local Musaeum there; a fat, shock-headed gentleman named Morton, with whom I had had considerable previous acquaintance. James Ferdinand, I may remark, is an ideal host; and his establishment is a marvel of accomplishment and effective administration. A building all too small is utilis’d with the greatest ingenuity conceivable, and the system of arrangement and labelling wou’d do credit to the most veteran practitioner of the curatorial art. The mineral collection, which covers the entire exhibition part of the second floor, is one of the most ample and well-classify’d in these colonies; and is due entirely to the keen skill and unremitting vigilance and activity of our genial colleague. Mortonius also shew’d me as much of the local scenery as limited time wou’d permit; taking me to the top of Garrett Mountain, whence is observable as fine a prospect of Paterson [as] one cou’d ask—a prospect which removes much of the grimy sordidness habitual to the town as seen closely.


DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Observations on Several Parts of America,” Lovecraft describes his visit to Paterson, New Jersey, during which he was entertained by his longtime friend and fellow amateur James F. Morton.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Observations on Several Parts of America.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 4, Hippocampus Press, 2005, pp. 16-30.

Life is Hideous

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.

Intolerable Bondage

Time, space, and natural law hold for me suggestions of intolerable bondage, and I can form no picture of emotional satisfaction which does not involve their defeat—especially the defeat of time, so that one may merge oneself with the whole historic stream and be wholly emancipated from the transient and the ephemeral.


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend and fellow writer August Derleth, Lovecraft describes the sense of oppression he feels when contemplating the limitations imposed on humanity by natural law.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To August Derleth.” 21 Nov. 1930. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, vol. 3, Arkham House, 1971, pp. 220-2.

Forbidden Knowledge

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the pace and safety of a new dark age.


DESCRIPTION: In a passage from the short story “The Call of Cthulhu” (1926), Lovecraft claims that, in the near future, humanity’s collective psyche will be unable to bear the revelations of science.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Call of Cthulhu.” The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 1999, pp. 139-69.

Feelings about Romance

About romance and affection I never have felt the slightest interest; whereas the sky, with its tale of eternities past and to come, and its gorgeous panoply of whirling universes, has always held me enthralled. And in truth, is this not the natural attitude of an analytical mind? What is a beauteous nymph? Carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, a dash or two of phosphorus and other elements—all to decay soon. But what is the cosmos? What is the secret of time, space, and the things that lie beyond time and space?


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Rheinhart Kleiner, Lovecraft compares his lack of interest in romance to his fascination with science and scientific discovery.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Rheinhart Kleiner.” 23 Jan. 1920. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, vol. 1, Arkham House, 1965, pp. 106-7.

A Frank and Conscious Unintelligibility

The ultimate position of Dunsany in literature depends largely on the future course of literature itself. Our age is one of curious transition and divergence, with an increasing separation of art from the past and from all common life as well. Modern science has, in the end, proved an enemy to art and pleasure; for by revealing to us the whole sordid and prosaic basis of our thoughts, motives, and acts, it has stripped the world of glamour, wonder, and all those illusions of heroism, nobility, and sacrifice which used to sound so impressive when romantically treated. Indeed, it is not too much to say that psychological discovery, and chemical, physical, and physiological research have largely destroyed the element of emotion among informed and sophisticated people by resolving it into its component parts—intellectual idea and animal impulse. The so-called “soul” with all its hectic and mawkish attributes of sentimentality, veneration, earntestness, devotion, and the like, has perished on analysis. Nietzsche brought a transvaluation of values, but Remy de Gourmont has brought a wholesale destruction of all values. We know now what a futile, aimless, and disconnected welter of mirages and hypocrisies life is; and from the first shock of that knowledge has sprung the bizarre, tasteless, defiant, and chaotic literature of that terrible newer generation which so shocks our grandmothers—the aesthetic generation fo T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, James Joyce, Ben Hecht, Aldous Huxley, James Branch Cabell, and all the rest. These writers, knowing that life has no real pattern, either rave, or mock, or join in the cosmic chaos by exploiting a frank and conscious unintelligibility and confusion of values. To them it savours of the vulgar to adopt a pattern—for today only servants, churchgoers, and tired business men read things which mean anything or acknowledge any values.


DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Lord Dunsany and His Work,” Lovecraft speculates that scientific discovery and psychological research altered the way in which intellectuals viewed life and thus engendered Modernism, which rejects traditional art forms.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Lord Dunsany and His Work.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 2, Hippocampus Press, 2004, pp. 56-62.