H.P.L. BIOGRAPHY: PART THREE
THE WRITER EMERGES
At age twenty, Lovecraft was still
hibernating inside his mother's apartment. He continued his studies in
organic chemistry, in fact, in 1910, the only writing he seems to have
done was his chemistry journal and astronomy articles. During these years
of solitude, Lovecraft cultivated for himself the illusion of a "Boston
Brahman," America's answer to British aristocracy. Though only five feet,
ten and a half inches, Lovecraft's thin frame and broad face and shoulders
gave him the impression of height. He kept his hair short, his face clean-shaven,
and remained perpetually pale. He dressed very conservatively, taking his
style hints from the hand-me-down nineteenth century clothes of his father
and grandfather. He liked to wear grey-striped trousers, black coat, black
bow-tie, and high-buttoned shoes. Though this austere image would soften
some with age, HPL would never let himself go for the latest style. He
thought this old-style appearance gave him maturity and an aristocratic
But, alas, it was only an "air." With
a desire to be like his grandfather, Lovecraft turned to envying the lives
of such literary figures as Lord Dunsany and Robert W. Chambers who stood
out less as authors than as aristocrats of literary sets. Lord Dunsany
was a true nobleman with all the required attributes of wealth, popularity,
sportsmanship, education, and social standing. Robert Chambers, whose horror
stories impressed Lovecraft, was the American version: popular in New York
society, hugely successful as a writer, a member of literary societies
and social clubs in and about New York City, and the owner of a rambling
farm and hunting estate in upper New York state which had been handed down
to him from his wealthy ancestors.
Though Lovecraft dreamed of recovering
the family estate and making a name for himself in either science, his
lack of education, lack of social skills, and lack of income would prevent
his from ever successfully attaining his goals. He also failed at the sportsman
level, with a dislike for any dog, let alone a hunting hound. He preferred
cats. Though he never owned another cat after Nigger-Man deserted him,
he cultivated the friendship of the neighborhood cats, plying them with
milk and catnip. And, though he had inherited a fine gun collection, the
killing of a squirrel has put him forever off bloodsport. Citing eye trouble,
HPL gave up shooting altogether and slowly gave away his guns except a
show-piece flintlock musket.
Nor was he particularly sporting or
athletic. He slept away most of his days away and very seldom went out
to in the sun. A good example of his health habits is seen in 1911 when
he purposely missed the Thanksgiving supper at his Aunt Lillian Clark's
house. His mother awoke that morning to find a poem from HPL indicating
that she should go without him because he wanted to sleep late and would
she call him if she was going to stay there late so he would know to make
his own supper. He also preferred sweets and ice-cream to more substantial
HPL did keep up his few friendships,
notably Chester Munroe. Munroe's father, Addison, would later remember:
"He lived by a few houses from our house and was quite frequently over
here with our sons. I remember that we had a room fixed up in our basement
for the boys to use as a club room, which was a popular place with Howard.
The club, so called consisted of about a half-dozen of the neighborhood
boys, around twenty years of age, and when they had a so-called "banquet,"
improvised and usually self-cooked, Howard was always the speaker of the
evening and my boys always said he delivered addresses that were gems.
"Occasionally, I would have an opportunity
to talk with him and he always surprised me with the maturity and logic
of his talk. I remember one time in particular, when I was a member of
the R. I. Senate, 1911-1914, we had several important measures before that
body; Howard, being over here one evening, started to discuss some of these
measures, and I was astounded by the knowledge that he displayed in regard
to measures that ordinarily would be of no interest to a young fellow of
In 1912, at 22, Lovecraft was still
struggling with organic chemistry: "with its frightfully dull theoretical
problems, & involved cases of isomerism of hydrocarbon radicalsthe
benzene ring&c., &c., &c., I found myself so wretchedly bored
that I positively could not study for more than fifteen minutes without
acquiring an excruciating headache for the rest of the day."(3)
He dismantled his laboratory, "owing to my mother's nervousness at having
deadly poisons, corrosive acids, and potential explosives about the place.
One tangible memorial remainsa bulky manuscript entitled A Brief Course
in Inorganic Chemistry, by H. P. Lovecraft, 1910."(4)
The feeling of failure reached even to his astronomical interests. He ceased
going to the Ladd Observatory at Brown University. If he couldn't be a
student and professor of astronomy, he felt uncomfortable being seen there
In imitation of his mother and aunt,
Lovecraft tried to develop a career in the pictorial arts. Though he found
himself lacking as a artist and, as always, unable to follow someone else's
regimen, he decided he didn't have what it took, though he would constantly
illustrate his letters to friends with wonderful self-portraits.
Lovecraft continued his general self-education
through reading. He read the Bible cover to cover. He read the works of
Shakespeare, Poe, H.G. Wells, and Jules Verne. It is said that he put such
gusto into his readings of Shakespeare to his mother that the neighbors
through they were fighting. The novel Journey to the Centre of the Earth
inspired a lifelong interest in Iceland and polar regions.(5)
He read the Gothic novelists of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth
centuries: Walpole, Maturin, Beckford, and Mrs. Radcliffe. These he wrote
about with relish in his later work The Supernatural in Literature
and would claim to have much more been influenced by them than by his contemporaries.
But he did follow contemporary literature,
often in the form of the lurid fiction magazines of his day. "I had formed
the reprehensible habit of picking up cheap magazines like The Argosy
to divert my mind from the tedium of reality."(6)
These weekly, male-oriented magazines included:
The Argosy, All-Story
Magazine, and The Cavalier. In 1912, All-Story Weekly
began to run a six-part serial entitled "Under the Moons of Mars," by "Norman
Bean." Bean was actually Edgar Rice Burroughs and this tale launched the
successful John Carter of Mars series.
And he returned to his literary bent,
though, unfortunately, in the single vein that most mars his reputation.
"In 1912 my first bit of published
verse appeared in [March 4] The
Evening Bulletin. It is a 62-line satire in the usual heroic couplet,
ridiculing a popular movement on the part of the Italians of the Federal
Hill slums to change the name of their main street from "Atwells' Avenue"
to "Columbus Avenue". I pictured Providence in 2000 A.D., with all
the English names changed to foreign appellations. This piece received
considerable notice of a minor sort, I am told, though I doubt if it had
much effect in silencing the Italians' clamour. The idea was so foolish
that it probably died of its own weakness."(7)
Lovecraft, like so many uneducated and unsophisticated people of his time,
cloistered in their "white Anglo-Saxon Protestant" world, feared the influx
and economic expansion of those races and religions which they had, in
the past, exploited: the Africans, Irish, Italians, and Chinese to name
a few. From this came the turn-of-the-century notion of Aryan genetic superiority.
Of course, this was before ethnologists and archaeologists realized that
Aryans were actually not blond or blue eyed but migrants from Asia. He
followed this verse up with one called "New England Fallen" in April.
By 1913, Lovecraft began to feel his
health was improving though he still complained: "Adulthood is hell."(8)
Though he continued his racial tirade with the poem "The Creation of Niggers,"
he did become incited by another of his conservative ideals: "One of the
authors [Fred Jackson] in [The Argosy] so much excited my contempt
that I wrote a letter to the editor in quaint Queen-Anne prose, satirizing
the offending novelist. This letter, which was printed in the September
number, aroused a veritable tempest of anger amongst the usual readers
of the magazine. I was assailed & reviled by innumerable letters, which
appeared in the editorial department. Among these hostile compositions
was a piece of tetrameter verse by one John Russell, of Tampa, Fla., which
had in it so much native wit, that I resolved to answer it. Accordingly
I sent The Argosy a 44-line satire in the manner of Pope's Dunciad.
This was duly printed in January, 1914, & it created an immense sensation
(of hostile character) amongst the Argosy readers. The editorial
department had nothing but anti-Lovecraft letters the following month!
And then I composed another satire, flaying all my tormentors in
stinging pentameter. This, too, was printed, till the storm of fury waxed
high. Russell's replies were all rather clever, & well worth answering.
Finally I sent Russell a personal communication which led to an ultimate
peacea peace established just in time, for T. N. Metcalf, the editor of
Argosy had intimated that the poet's war must soon end, since correspondents
were complaining of the prominence of our verses in their beloved magazine.
They feared we were usurping all the extra space! So Russell & I officially
closed the affair with a composite poemmy part of which was in heroics;
his in anapest. This farewell to The Argosy took place in October,
1914, & I have never since beheld that worthy organ of popular literature.
. . . Amateur journalism has many eyes, & long before this momentous
conflict passed into history it was being watched by no less a celebrity
than Hon. Edward F. Daas of Milwaukee, Wis. This gentleman, then official
editor, communicated with Russell & with me in March, 1914, which resulted
in my advent to the United on April 6. . . . "(9)
Edward Daas, a resident of Milwaukee,
Wisconsin, was editor of the United Amateur, the magazine of an
amateur journalists club. The amateur journalist movement was networking
young writers, poets, essayists, and publishers together in an attempt
to get their material published. From these clubs would come the small
literary magazines of the twentieth century. Certain these two fiery writers
would be good for the club, Daas stopped in Providence on his way to New
York to convince him to join his faction of the United Amateur Press Association
(the UAPA had split into two groups both keeping the same name).
On April 6, 1914, Lovecraft joined
the United Amateur Press Association. Suddenly, Lovecraft found himself
in amongst a group of people like himself, not yet successful in their
writing field and certain they had what it takes. Daas introduced him by
mail to Maurice W. Moe who taught high-school English in Appleton, Wisconsin.
Moe introduced him to Ira Cole, the cowboy-poet, of Kansas and the young
intellectual Alfred Galpin. These four would continue a correspondence
and later friendship for much of Lovecraft's life.
Once in, Lovecraft was sent an assortment
of amateur publications to criticize by amateur publisher Edward H. Cole
of Somerville, Massachusetts. Though he claimed to be cautious about criticizing
others work, Lovecraft revelled in the chance to play the part of "professor"
to amateur "students." Lovecraft soon discovered there was a Providence
Amateur Press Club. Here was a challenge for HPL: "the members are recruited
from the evening high school, and are scarcely representative of the intellectual
life of Providence. Their environment has been distinctly plebeian, and
their literary standards should not at this time be criticized too harshly.(10)
As he grew more involved in the amateur
journalist movement, HPL began to notice a writer who he felt had great
poetic talent, Samuel Loveman, a Jewish bookseller in Cleveland. Since
Loveman's UAPA membership had run out and he seemed disinclined to renew
it, Lovecraft decided it was his place to reinstall Loveman for the sake
of the poetic world. He wrote Kleiner: "Loveman has become reinstated in
the United through me. Jew or not, I am rather proud to be his sponsor.
... His poetical gifts are of the highest order. ... His variety of ideas,
facility of expression, & background of classical & antiquarian
knowledge, place him in the front rank."(11)
Unfortunately this did not fully reverse Lovecraft's anti-semitism when
he later called Loveman "a glorious pagan and a Jew by race." (12)
His affection for Loveman, though, as a writer and a person, would grow
over the years. In a way, Lovecraft made an exception of Loveman's heritage
rather than a rule, as Lovecraft would also do with his wife, Sonja Greene.
In November of 1914, Lovecraft's archaic
verses began to appear in the amateur press, notably: "To General Villa"
and "To Members of the Pin-Feathers." He also began column called the "Department
of Public Criticism" which would run for sixteen installments between November,
1914, and May, 1919. He still continued his astronomy articles for Providence
Evening News and published six satirical "Bickerstaffe" pieces in
Lovecraft was coming out of his shell,
if not his lair. In 1915, Lovecraft was exploding with literary energy.
His friend Chester Munroe had moved to Asheville, North Carolina where
he went into the hotel business. Munroe suggested HPL write some astronomical
articles for his local
Gazette-News. Lovecraft produced 18 articles
for them explaining the month's facts and myths related to them. Even an
attack of chicken pox and the sudden death of his beloved replacement for
his grandfather, Aunt Lillian's husband, Dr. Franklin Clark, on April 26
did not slow Lovecraft's "amateur" fervor. He passed his stamp collection
on to Phillips Gamwell, his cousin. He tried to tutor Phillips in science
but found he'd forgotten so much that he had to retutor himself ahead of
the lessons. Anyway, amateur journalism now took precedence over science.
Lovecraft took on the job of producing
Providence Amateur for the local club, which he hoped to educate to
his style of thinking and writing. This ambition did not last, he jumped
ship in 1917. And he began his own magazine, The Conservative. The
first issue came out in April in a run of 210 copies. He took on his two
pet peeves: proper (archaic) English and racial relations. This second
topic is presented in the editorial, "The Crime of the Century." It presents
the old rubbish which later Nazi leaders would expound: "The Teuton is
the summit of evolution. That we may consider intelligently his place in
history we must cast aside the popular nomenclature which would confuse
the names "Teuton" and "German," and view him not nationally but racially."
Well, Lovecraft was wrong. And he, himself, would be sorry he had ever
written such garbage: "Yuggoth, but I'd pay blackmail to keep some of my
essays & editorials of 20 or more years ago from being exhumed &
The next issues of The Conservative
had similar diatribes of close-minded logic. The July issue had an article
on "Metrical Regularity" which attacked modern forms of verse. He also
attacked the publisher of another amateur magazine In a Minor Key,
Charles D. Isaacson of Brooklyn, New York, as much for his leftist Socialist
ideals as his race: "Mr. Isaacson's views on racial prejudice . . . are
too subjective to be impartial. He has perhaps resented the more or less
open aversion to the children of Israel, which had ever pervaded Christendom,
. . . Race prejudice is a gift of nature, intended to preserve in purity
the various divisions of mankind which the ages have evolved."(14)
Isaacson returned fire with a sharper
projectile: "There comes a musty smell as of old books with the reading
of he Conservative; the imagination unconsciously rushes to the days of
Raleigh, Elizabeth and Lovelace. . . . I have said that Mr. Lovecraft's
writings smell of the library. They are literary. They are of the playworld.
Everything is so unreal about everything in the Conservative's writings."
As L. Sprague de Camp said: "Isaacson
had put his finger on Lovecraft's main weakness as a thinker. Although
erudite, Lovecraft was wont to pontificate on subjects of which he had
the merest literary smattering, without the correctives of firsthand knowledge
or worldly experience. The friends to whom he expounded his half-baked
notions were usually too awed by his learning to contradict him. His long
seclusion had instilled in him (in the words of my colleague Fletcher Pratt)
'that haste to form judgements and that lack of critical sense in testing
them, which are often the result of self-education conducted by immense
and unsystematic reading.'"
Throughout the rest of the year, Lovecraft
produced similar articles: The Conservative and His Critics (July; October);
The Youth of Today (October); The Renaissance of Manhood (October); Liquor
and Its Friends (October); More "Chain Lightning" (December); Systematic
Instruction in the United (December)
All the while, HPL was pounding out
the verse: The Power of Wine (January); March (March); The Simple Speller's
Tale (April); Elegy on Franklin Chase Clark (April); The Bay-Stater's Policy
(June); The Crime of Crimes (July); Fragment on Whitman (July); On Receiving
a Picture of Swans (September); Unda, or The Bride of the Sea (September);
Gems from "In a Minor Key" (October); The State of Poetry (October); The
Magazine Poet (October); A Mississippi Autumn (November); On the Cowboys
of the West (December); To Samuel Loveman (December).
And his letter writing continued to
take the majority of his time. One of the most interesting forms was suggested
by Moe. With Cole, Lovecraft, and Kleiner, he formed a round-robin letter
circuit which was called the Kleicomolo. A letter was passed from one member
to the next who added his own material and passed it on to the third. In
this manner, all members of the circle got to read all the letters and
responses of their friends.
Lovecraft would claim to have suffered
another "nervous collapse"(16) in 1916,
but overall he was opening up and letting more of the world in. His penpal
Kleiner stopped off in Providence on his way to an amateur journalist convention
in Boston. Lovecraft went to the train station to meet him. Kleiner says:
"[Lovecraft] was still somewhat young in looks then, and, as I thought,
of a very prepossessing appearance. What struck me was his extreme formality
of manner and the highly complimentary style of his approach..."
Lovecraft also "laboured with a "literary"
club of Micks (the Providence Amateurs) who dwelt in the dingy "North End"
of the city. The biggest of them was an odd bigoted fellow named Dunn,
two years older than I. He hated England & was violently pro-German!
I was foolish enough to waste time trying to convert him as if an Irishman
could reason!!" Actually, Dunn was a plumber with strong ideals. In 1917
he resisted the draft as a conscientious objector and was jailed. This
was the end of the Providence Amateurs. Dunn went on to become a priest
and remembered Lovecraft as a member who sat rigid at meetings, only turning
his head when he was speaking to someone. According to Dunn, the other
members considered him a bit of a joke. They even got someone's sister
to call Lovecraft to ask him if he'd take her out. Lovecraft reportedly
said that he's have to ask his mother and never called the woman back.
Despite his anti-Irish feelings, Lovecraft did write a poem for Dunn's
sister to read at her graduation from the Rhode Island Hospital's School
of Nurses. This poem was published in the Tryout, Feb. 1917.(17).
Through the United, he began to leave
Providence to attend meetings in Boston. There he came in contact with
two women who would become part of his circle of friends and correspondents:
Miss Winifred V. Jackson and Mrs. Anne Renshaw.
But 1916 was even a greater landmark
in Lovecraft's growth. Paul Cook and George W. Macauley had been constantly
urging Lovecraft to try writing fiction again. In January, Lovecraft wrote
Kleiner: "Only four persons in the association have seen any of my fictionthese
being Misses Ballou and Hefner, and Messrs. Fritter and Geo. Schilling.
The story they saw is my unpublished credential The Alchemist, which,
having been sent to Miss Ballou, then Secretary, was shown to Miss Hefner
and Mr. Fritter. Later I sent Schilling a revised copy for publication
in a paper he was finally forced to abandon. The tale was written 11 years
ago, yet it is my latest attempt at fiction."(18)
Lovecraft was at that point trying unsuccessfully to write mystery fiction.
His life would change drastically when, in its November, 1916 issue, The
United Amateur printed The Alchemist, the first published horror
work of Howard Phillips Lovecraft.