We Cast Off All Allegiance to Modern Things

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.

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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.

The Source and Focus of Our Civilisation

It is difficult to describe the sensations afforded by a first sight of the Old World’s misty shores. Dreams seem to be taking a tangible form, and legend to be crystallising into fact. The ancient cliffs of England breathe a homecoming, and we feel close to the source and focus of our civilisation. Southampton remains in memory as a scene of bustle and excitement—of customs inspection, and of embarkation on the London-bound train, so tiny to American eyes. From the train-window one might see the delectable English landscape outspread in rich summer greenness—the fields, hills, and hedgerows of that Mother Land which shapes our thoughts and imaginations through centuries of continuous life. Here and there a graceful country seat or village spire was glimpsed amid the hills or caught outlined against the sky, and one could not but note the many vestiges of mediaevalism inherent in the aspect of the cottages and in the fortress-like architecture of the older manor-houses.


DESCRIPTION: In his essay “European Glimpses,” which recounts a trip his ex-wife, Sonia H. Greene, took in 1932, Lovecraft describes how an American tourist might feel upon arriving in England, a country the author loved and admired.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “European Glimpses.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 4, Hippocampus Press, 2005, pp. 232-52.

The Ideal of Gentlemanly Carelessness

The gentlemen constituting this profound and permanent civilisation were almost without exception planters of rice and cotton—the latter having begun to replace indigo as a major staple. They were probably more maturely and mellowly cultivated than the corresponding class of fox-hunting squires in Virginia—the latter generally taking to civick and political pursuits rather than to the nicer elegancies of learning. This difference was doubtless largely due, as previously hinted, to the long urban season made necessary by the inland fever and malaria. Mercantile pursuits were abandon’d by good families after the Revolution, and left to new men from England and Scotland—a bourgeois class corresponding to that in Richmond which produced the Galts and Allans, amongst whom Poe’s childhood was spent. These persons had a separate club and social life of their own, and have not much mixt with the planter class even to this day. Publick education was promoted about this time, tho’ scholarship continu’d to have far more of aristocratick individuality than in Boston, New-York, Philadelphia, and other centres where insincere and conventionalised standards had begun to spring up. Favourite authors, besides the dominant Graeco-Roman classicks, were Shakespeare and Montaigne—an happy contrast to the sour-mouth’d and meaningless divines and quibblers pored over by the cramp’d neo-Puritans of the Massachusetts-Bay. Coaches now appear in frequent use, and on every hand we behold the ideal of gentlemanly carelessness (as oppos’d to peasant calculativeness, greed, shrewdness, and practicality) uppermost. No man of culture knew how much he was worth in cash, or indeed saw much actual currency. Trade and calculation were largely left to hirelings from the North, call’d “factors”. It was a common jest, that a gentleman cou’d read Homer and explain the constitution, but cou’d not do a sum in vulgar fractions. Personal honour was very carefully guarded, and duelling was frequent despite much sentimental opposition.


DESCRIPTION: In his essay “An Account of Charleston, in His Majᵗʸ’ˢ Province of South-Carolina,” Lovecraft describes, in glowing terms, the aristocratic culture of antebellum Charleston.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “An Account of Charleston, in His Majᵗʸ’ˢ Province of South-Carolina.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 4, Hippocampus Press, 2005, pp. 70-105.

Only the Veriest Clod Could Remain Unmoved

To leave a world of such fascinating historical vestiges is hard, but at last—accelerated by my illness—the parting had to come. Hospital, boat train, glimpses of ancient countryside, spires of Rouen—and finally the limitless Atlantic and the topless towers of Manhattan once more.

There may be those who will think my modest jaunt a sadly hackneyed coursing in the beaten paths, but to them I can only reply that no path is truly purged of its glamour so long as any ancient memories or overtones of fancy still cling around its sights and impressions. Europe’s common sights, imbibed for the first time, have enchanted me with the magic of such memories and such overtones; hence I have no apologies to make, except so far as I have failed to transmit the magic in these inevitably prosy and inadequate notes. Only the veriest clod could remain unmoved before the familiar ancestral shrines of modern Western civilisation.


DESCRIPTION: In his essay “European Glimpses,” which recounts a trip his ex-wife, Sonia H. Greene, took in 1932, Lovecraft claims that “only the veriest clod could remain unmoved before the familiar ancestral shrines of modern Western civilisation,” a parting jab that may have been meant, perhaps subconsciously, for his ex-wife.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “European Glimpses.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 4, Hippocampus Press, 2005, pp. 232-52.

The Disturbed Political State of Germany

During my stay of five days in Wiesbaden I had opportunities to observe the disturbed political state of Germany, and the constant squabbles between various dismally uniformed factions of would-be patriots. Of all the self-appointed leaders, Hitler alone seems to retain a cohesive and enthusiastic following; his sheer magnetism and force of will serving—in spite of his deficiencies in true social insight—to charm, drug, or hypnotise the hordes of youthful “Nazis” who blindly revere and obey him. Without possessing any clear-cut or well-founded programme for Germany’s economic reconstruction, he plays theatrically on the younger generation’s military emotions and sense of national pride; urging them to overthrow the restrictive provisions of the Versailles treaty and reassert the strength and supremacy of the German people. He is fond of such phrases as: “Germany, awaken and take your rightful heritage with your own strong hands!”—and when speaking of elections usually intimates that in case of defeat he will consider an armed march on Berlin corresponding to Mussolini’s Roman coup d’état of 1922.


DESCRIPTION: In his essay “European Glimpses,” which recounts a trip his ex-wife, Sonia H. Greene, took in 1932, Lovecraft describes her impressions, formed at a rally in Wiesbaden, of Adolf Hitler and his fellow National Socialists.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “European Glimpses.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 4, Hippocampus Press, 2005, pp. 232-52.

A Civilised Oasis

Further explorations in Flatbush, Flatlands, New Utrecht, and related regions yielded many highly picturesque glimpses of old farmhouses, churches, churchyards, and other reliques of better days. In some cases these were wholly surrounded by the incursions of decadent modernity, whilst in other cases small bits of contiguous farmyard or boskage lent a touch of redeeming congruity to the background. The region, as a whole, is doomed; for it is slowly being bought out by oily Jews fat with ill-got money, who are flocking out from the New-York Ghetto. Only certain parts in Flatbush proper, now zoned with fanatical strictness and held by families who have long liv’d there, will remain as a civilised oasis amidst this flood of ethnick and social putrefaction.


DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Observations on Several Parts of America,” Lovecraft denigrates Jewish immigrants, whose presence, he claims, has deprived western Long Island of its charm.

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.

Our Own Melancholy Age of Decay

And so Charleston has come down to our own melancholy age of decay, to meet the greatest test of all as the engulphing barbarism of mechanised life, democratick madness, quantitative standards, and schedule-enslaved uniformity presses in upon it from every side and seeks to stifle whatever of self-respecting humanity and aristocratick individualism remains in the world. Against all the inherited folkways which alone give us enough of the illusion of interest and purpose to make life worth living for men of our civilisation, there now advances a juggernaut of alien and meaningless forms and feelings which cheapens and crushes everything fine and delicate and individual which may lie in its path. Noise—profit—publicity—speed—time-tabled convict regularity—equality—ostentation—size—standarisation—herding. . . . . . The plague has swept all before it, saddling old New England with unassimilable and corrosive barnacles, extinguishing once-proud New York with a foetid flood of swart, cringing Semitism, and sapping even at old Virginia and the Piedmont Carolinas with a tawdry industrial Babbitry all the more blasphemous because working through normal Anglo-Saxons. Values evaporate, perspectives flatten, and interests grow pale beneath the bleaching acid of ennui and meaninglessness. Emotions grow irrelevant, and art ceases to be vital except when functioning through strange forms which may be normal to the alien and recrystallised future, but are blank and void to us of the dying Western civilisation. James Joyce . . . Erik Dorn . . . . Marcel Proust. . . . Brancusi. . . . . Picasso. . . . . . The Waste Land. . . . . Lenin. . . . . Frank Lloyd Wright. . . . . cubes and cogs and circles. . . . segments and squares and shadows. . . . . . . . . wheels and whirring, whirring and wheels. . . . purring of planes and click of chronographs. . . . . . milling of the rabble and raucous yells of the exhibitionist. . . . “comic” strips. . . . Sunday feature headings. . . . advertisements. . . . sports. . . . tabloids. . . . luxury . . . Palm Beach. . . . “sales talk”. . . . . rotogravures. . . . radio. . . . . Babel. . . . . Bedlam. . . . .


DESCRIPTION: In his essay “An Account of Charleston, in His Majᵗʸ’ˢ Province of South-Carolina,” Lovecraft condemns modernity and the socioeconomic trends accompanying it, including immigration, industrialization, capitalism, and Modernism, which he claims have deprived Western civilization of the charm, beauty, and purpose it once possessed.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “An Account of Charleston, in His Majᵗʸ’ˢ Province of South-Carolina.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 4, Hippocampus Press, 2005, pp. 70-105.

Gen. Washington’s Country-Seat

On the 14th I visited Gen. Washington’s country-seat of Mt. Vernon, on the river below Alexandria, and left not a corner of house or grounds unexamin’d. It were trite to speak in detail of this well-known scene, but I may mention that the house was built in 1743 by Lawrence Washington, half-brother to the General, and that the latter inherited it in 1752, upon the death of Lawrence and his daughter. It was call’d Hunting Creek Estate till its builder renam’d it in honour of Admiral Vernon, the inventor of “grog”, under whom he had serv’d against Spain. The house is low and spacious, most of the rooms being rather smaller than one wou’d expect in an edifice of such pretensions. The grounds, sloping down from a high bluff to the river with many a wooded ravine and willow-lin’d path, display the finest taste in selection. Stables and other outbuildings comport with the mansion house in style and beauty; the whole forming as sightly a plantation as any gentleman in Virginia cou’d reasonably demand. The elegance of the lower rooms, in point of architectural ornament, is carry’d almost to excess; but the upper rooms are singularly austere. I beheld the bed upon which the General dy’d, together with innumerable other objects connected with him. In walking thro’ the grounds I came upon his tomb, and stood but a few feet from the body (in its sarcophagus beyond the grating) which even now must bear some resemblance to the living gentleman, so perfectly was it embalm’d. In the 1830’s, when it was transferr’d from its original resting-place on the river bluff to this mausoleum, a person who gaz’d upon the features declar’d them but little impaired by the more than three decades of internment. I descended to the river, view’d all the buildings, and in general familiaris’d myself with the whole estate. I cannot praise it too highly, or hope too strongly that it may always be preserv’d with unremitting diligence as a specimen of good architecture and ideal type of southern gentleman’s seat.


DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Observations on Several Parts of America,” Lovecraft describes his trip to Mount Vernon, one of many historic sites he visited during the summer of 1928.

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.

The Southern New-Englander Enters Vermont

With such a mood, softened perhaps by the beauty of the hills and river-bends which flank the gateway, the southern New-Englander enters Vermont. He has seen its hills for some time across the Connecticut, domed and undulant, and shining with a clear emerald light unmarred by vapour or defacement. Then comes a sweeping downward curve, and beyond limpid water the climbing terraces of an old town loom into sight, as a loved, remembered picture might appear when the leaves of a childhood volume are slowly turned. It is plain from the first that this town is not quite like those one has left behind. Roofs and steeples and chimneys, prosaic enough in the telling, here cluster together on the green river-bluff in some magical collocation that stirs dim memories. Something in the contours, something in the setting, has power to touch deep viol-strings of feeling which are ancestral if one by young and personal if one be old. The whole scene vaguely brings us a fleeting quality we have known before. We have seen such towns long ago, climbing above deep river-valleys and rearing their old brick walls beside sloping, cobbled streets. Grandeur may be wanting, but the marvel of rekindled vision is there. Something is alive that is dead elsewhere; something that we, or the blood that is in us, can recognise as more closely akin to ourselves than anything in the busy cosmopolis to the southward. This, in fine, is a surviving fragment of the old America; it is what our other towns used to be in the days when there were most themselves, the days when they housed their own people and gave birth to all the little legends and bits of lore which make them glamorous and significant in the eyes of their children.


DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Vermont—A First Impression,” Lovecraft describes the bittersweet emotions evoked by the rural scenes that he encountered in the summer of 1927 while traveling through southern Vermont.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Vermont—A First Impression.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 4, Hippocampus Press, 2005, pp. 13-5.