Ancient Nantucket

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.

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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.

A Grand Tour in the Ancient Manner

Had I a year to idle thro’,
With cash to waste and no restriction,
I’d plan a programme to outdo
The wildest feats of travel fiction.

On steamship guides I’d slake my thirst,
And railway maps would make me wiser—
America consider’d first
To please the local advertiser.

O’er England and the Continent
I’d chart a course to shame the sages,
In each cathedral town intent
To catch the colour of the ages.

Paris and Rome I would not miss;
Without the Rhine I’d be no planner,
For one must make a jaunt like this
A Grand Tour in the ancient manner!

But Europe is a trifle trite,
So I would spare no pains in learning
How best to scan in casual flight
The East, where sheiks and sands are burning.

I’d look up ferries on the Nile,
And ’bus fares for the trip to Mecca;
Have chemists test in proper style
The drinking-fountain of Rebecca.

The route of ev’ry Tigris barge
I’d note, and find how much they’d ask us;
What good hotels in Bagdad charge,
And yellow taxis in Damascus.

And I would surely have on hand
The folders of that great excursion,
The Golden Road to Samarcand,
Thro’ Bahai bow’rs and gardens Persian.

Beyond, the Pullman rates I’d get
For Kiao-chan and Yokohama,
Arranging passage thro’ Thibet
To dally with the Dalai Lama.

In tropic isles I’d plan to stay
Till South Sea melodies would bore me,
And for the North Pole book a day,
Where only Peary went before me.

Thus might I scheme—till in the end
The year would slip away unheeded,
My money safe with me to spend,
And the wild outing scarcely needed!


DESCRIPTION: In his poem “A Year Off,” Lovecraft celebrates the power of imagination by envisioning a trip around the world so grand that the planning involved is more satisfying than the trip itself.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “A Year Off.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, pp. 178-9.

My Forebears in the 18th Century

My maternal grandfather—born in 1833—and his generation seemed much closer to me than the generation of my parents, uncles, and aunts, born around the ’60’s; while my forebears in the 18th century (periwigged Devonshire squires and rural Anglican vicars on my father’s side, and New-England planters on my mother’s side) seemed closest of all. That sense of immediate personal kinship with the 18th century—its costume, architecture, literary style, thought, etc.—has never left me or even diminished. It’s that which sends me rambling around the country looking for Vieux Carré’s and Charlestons and Natchezes and Salems and Annapolises and Quebecs!


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend and fellow writer E. Hoffmann Price, Lovecraft describes the affinity, the “sense of immediate personal kinship,” he feels for his maternal grandfather’s generation and for his ancestors in the eighteenth century.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To E. Hoffmann Price.” 15 Feb. 1933. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and James Turner, vol. 4, Arkham House, 1976, pp. 149-54.

Marblehead’s Hoary Magick

I came to Marblehead in the twilight, and gazed long upon its hoary magick. I threaded the tortuous, precipitous streets, some of which an horse can scarce climb, and in which two wagons cannot pass. I talked with old men and revell’d in old scenes, and climb’d pantingly over the crusted cliffs of snow to the windswept height where cold winds blew over desolate roofs and evil birds hovered over a bleak, deserted, frozen tarn. And atop all was the peak; Old Burying Hill, where the dark headstones clawed up thro’ the virgin snow like the decay’d fingernails of some gigantick corpse.


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Rheinhart Kleiner, Lovecraft describes his discovery of Marblehead, Massachusetts, an ancient seaport so well preserved that it seems to defy the passage of time.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Rheinhart Kleiner.” 11 Jan. 1923. Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Ohio University Press, 2000, pp. 112-4.

A Dream-Thing of Faint Grey

I spent the five-hour journey reading Dunsany and peering at way-stations. New-London is a dingy little burg—a Victorian relic. New-Haven seems alert and metropolitan from the station angle. Ditto for Bridgeport. Shortly before three p.m., the train reached the lofty and colossal Harlem River viaduct (Only by chance did I secure the unique panorama—because the train was a Washington, D.C. express. Ordinary N.Y. trains go by a tamer route and into the Grand Central Station), and  saw for the first time the Cyclopean outlines of New-York. It was a mystical sight in the gold sun of late afternoon; a dream-thing of faint grey, outlined against a sky of faint grey smoke. City and sky were so alike that one could hardly be sure that there was a city—that the fancied towers and pinnacles were not the merest illusions. It was ten miles away, approximately—that is, the skyscraper region was. Actually, the train had crossed to Long Island, there to move south till a tunnel should take it under the East River and the streets of Manhattan to the Pennsylvania Station.


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Maurice W. Moe, Lovecraft describes his first impressions of New York, a city that he would grow to despise.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Maurice W. Moe.” 18 May 1922. H. P. Lovecraft: Letters from New York. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Night Shade Books, 2005, pp. 1-16.

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 Sight of Marblehead

God! Shall I ever forget my first stupefying glimpse of MARBLEHEAD’S huddled and archaick roofs under the snow in the delirious sunset glory of four p.m., Dec. 17, 1922!!! I did not know until an hour before that I should ever behold such a place as Marblehead, and I did not know until that moment itself the full extent of the wonder I was to behold. I account that instant—about 4:05 to 4:10 p.m., Dec. 17, 1922—the most powerful single emotional climax experienced during my nearly forty years of existence. In a flash all the past of New England—all the past of Old England—all the past of Anglo-Saxondom and the Western World—swept over me and identified me with the stupendous totality of all things in such a way as it never did before and never will again. That was the high tide of my life.


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend James F. Morton, Lovecraft describes the sense of ecstasy he felt when seeing the perfectly preserved city of Marblehead for the first time.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To James F. Morton.” 12 Mar. 1930. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, vol. 3, Arkham House, 1971, pp. 123-9.

The Scottish Rite

Washington itself—mostly the older Georgetown section—claimed considerable of my attention. Of the newer buildings I think I was most impressed by the imposing temple of the Scottish Rite Masons at 16th and S. Sts. I saw this first at night; and something about the Cyclopean windowless façade, with its guardian Sphinxes and cryptical twin braziers burning beside the great bronze door, gave me an ineffably poignant sense of brooding, transmitted mystery—of terrible secrets and obscure arcana of an elder earth, handed down in nocturnal incantations amongst the ancient and privileged group whose meeting-place the temple is. I could understand the sensation of awe, sometimes amounting to fear and aversion, with which the masonic fraternity was generally regarded by outsiders in naiver ages than the present.


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to Zealia Bishop, Lovecraft describes his impressions of the Masonic Hall in Georgetown.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Zealia Bishop.” 28 July 1928. Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Ohio University Press, 2000, pp. 241-3.

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.