I am providence the life.., p.102

I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft (2 VOLUMES), page 102


I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft (2 VOLUMES)

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  As we have seen, Wright indeed asked Lovecraft to resubmit the tale and then accepted it for $165.00; it appeared in the February 1928 issue. The amusing thing is that Lovecraft’s letter to Wright accompanying the tale—the landmark letter of July 5, 1927, in which he enunciated his theory of extraterrestrialism—casually mentioned the acceptance of “The Colour out of Space” by Amazing, thereby unwittingly fostering Wandrei’s charade! This did not, of course, prevent Wright from rejecting “The Strange High House in the Mist” (it was “not sufficiently clear for the acute minds of his highly intelligent readers”[58]) and “The Silver Key” later in the summer; but in both cases he asked to see them again. “The Silver Key” was accepted the next year for $70.00, but, although Wright specifically asked to see it in the summer of 1929, Lovecraft did not immediately resubmit “The Strange High House” because it had been promised for the second issue of Cook’s Recluse;[59] by 1931, however, when it was clear that the Recluse was defunct, Lovecraft let Wright have it for $55.00. It appeared in October 1931.

  Wandrei, meanwhile, continued on from Chicago through Fort Wayne, Indiana, Wooster, Ohio, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and finally New York City. Initially, of course—in spite of Lovecraft’s furious rants about the loathsomeness of the place—Wandrei was overwhelmed and captivated; and yet, in some ways his response was not dissimilar to Lovecraft’s: “So far, I have been fascinated by the city, its immensity, and wealth, and speed. But, like you, I hate the people. I have been through good districts only as yet, but everywhere are mongrel anthropoid types, the scum of Europe and Asia. I can not imagine what the slums contain.”[60] But there was always the gang: he met Long, Loveman, Kirk, and the rest, and did all the things that a tourist of his type would do—bookstore hunting, museum going, reading his fellow writers’ works in progress, and the like. Lovecraft had sent him a long letter detailing some of the high spots (in his view) that he should see, including some of the unspoiled suburbs, particularly Flushing and Hempstead; but it does not appear as if Wandrei had much of an opportunity to follow Lovecraft’s suggestions. Lovecraft also gave him detailed instructions on how to reach his home once he got to Providence, supplying also the telephone number of 10 Barnes (DExter 9617). (It was not his private line, but that of his landlady, Florence Reynolds.)

  On July 12 Wandrei arrived in Providence, staying till the 29th. Lovecraft had arranged for him to stay in an upstairs room at 10 Barnes for $3.50 a week. Very shortly after his arrival Lovecraft began squiring him to what had by now become the customary sights in both Providence and the surrounding area. On the 13th the two went to Newport, where Wandrei could indulge his lifelong wish to look out over the open sea. The next few days were spent in Quinsnicket and Roger Williams Parks, where Wandrei relates an amusing occurrence:

  One afternoon he put the morning mail and writing supplies in a cardboard portmanteau, and we went to Roger Williams Park where he sat on a bench using the back of the portmanteau as a writing surface. I climbed up on a huge outcrop of rock nearby, and fell asleep in the warm sun. About two hours later I wakened, to find Lovecraft casting an anxious eye in my direction. I quite mistook his meaning, and when I clambered down assured him I was a light sleeper and in no danger of falling off the giant boulder. But he blandly and without malice informed me that he was not at all concerned about my safety; anyone able to nap on solid rock was unlikely to fracture so thick a hide by a mere tumble to lesser rocks below; the sun was westering, however, and since he had no topcoat he was anxious to return home before the evening chill set in.[61]

  Wandrei goes on to note that Lovecraft had written a dozen or so letters and postcards during this period, as well as several pages of a “bulky reply” to Long. Even the advent of a guest could not allow Lovecraft an intermission from his customary “wrestling” with correspondence, lest he fall hopelessly behind.

  On the 16th Lovecraft and Wandrei set out for Boston, staying over at the YMCA, and the next day went to Salem and Marblehead. The Boston excursion was somewhat of a disappointment, in spite of their taking in the superb Museum of Fine Arts and some of the colonial sites. Lovecraft had been especially keen on showing Wandrei the sinister, decaying North End where “Pickman’s Model” was set, but was mortified to find that “the actual alley & house of the tale [had been] utterly demolished; a whole crooked line of buildings having been torn down.”[62] (Copp’s Hill, of course, being an historic cemetery, still flourishes in its spectral way.) This remark is of interest in indicating that Lovecraft had an actual house in mind for Pickman’s North End studio.

  On Tuesday, July 19, Frank Long and his parents drove up from New York City, while simultaneously James F. Morton came down from Green Acre, Maine, where he had been visiting. Morton stayed at the Crown Hotel downtown, but the Longs put up at 10 Barnes in rooms directly across from Lovecraft’s on the first floor. There was the usual round of Providence sightseeing, and on the evening of the 20th C. M. Eddy joined the crowd for a gang meeting. The next day the entire crew went to Newport, where Morton, Wandrei, and Lovecraft went to the Hanging Rocks and wrote impromptu verses on Bishop George Berkeley, who had stayed briefly there and written his Alciphron; or, The Minute Philosopher (1732). (The verses are not extant.)

  On the 22nd the Longs left, continuing their voyage up to Cape Cod, Maine, and elsewhere. Morton then dragged Lovecraft and Wandrei to the rock quarry on which Lovecraft still held the mortgage, and for which he was still receiving his pittance of a payment ($37.08) every six months. The owner, Mariano de Magistris, set his men to hunting up specimens, while his son drove them home in his car. “That’s what I call real Latin courtesy!” Lovecraft remarked in a rare show of tolerance for non-Aryans.[63]

  On Saturday the 23rd occurred an historic pilgrimage—to Julia A. Maxfield’s in Warren, where Lovecraft, Morton, and Wandrei staged an ice-cream-eating contest. Maxfield’s advertised twenty-eight flavours of ice cream, and the contestants sampled them all:

  Each would order a double portion—two kinds—and by dividing equally would ensure six flavours each round. Five rounds took us all through the twenty-eight and two to carry. Mortonius and I each consumed two and one-half quarts, but Wandrei fell down toward the last. Now James Ferdinand and I will have to stage an elimination match to determine the champion![64]

  Wandrei notes that, even after “falling down,” he managed to dip his spoon into the remaining flavours so that he could at least say he had tasted them all. The three of them wrote out a statement saying that they had tried all twenty-eight flavours and signed their names; on later visits they were delighted to find that the statement had been framed and posted on the wall of the store!

  That afternoon a contingent from Athol, Massachusetts, arrived—W. Paul Cook and his protégé, H. Warner Munn (1903–1981). Lovecraft had no doubt heard something of Munn before. Munn’s “The Werewolf of Ponkert” (Weird Tales, July 1925) was apparently inspired by a comment in Lovecraft’s letter to Edwin Baird published in the March 1924 issue (“Take a werewolf story, for instance—who ever wrote a story from the point of view of the wolf, and sympathising strongly with the devil to whom he has sold himself?”). Although Munn failed to understand the thrust of Lovecraft’s remark, making the wolf lament his anomalous condition, the story proved popular and Munn went on to write several sequels to it. He contributed extensively to the pulps and over his long career wrote many supernatural and adventure novels; but perhaps his most distinguished works were historical novels written late in his career, notably Merlin’s Ring (1974) and The Lost Legion (1980). The latter, a long novel about a Roman legion that wanders to China, would have fired Lovecraft’s imagination. Lovecraft took to Munn readily, finding him “a splendid young chap—blond and burly”;[65] he would visit him frequently when passing through Athol.

  At some point during his stay Wandrei badgered Lovecraft to let him read his short novels of 1926–27, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, still untyped and destined to
remain so to the end of Lovecraft’s life. Wandrei thereby became the first person other than their creator to lay eyes on these texts; he gives no opinion of them in his subsequent letters or his later memoirs, but Lovecraft made a passing comment in a 1930 letter: “Wandrei read [the Dream-Quest] in manuscript & didn’t think much of it.”[66] And yet, Wandrei’s interest may be gauged by the fact that a few years later he offered to type them. Lovecraft, horrified at the prospect of someone undertaking this backbreaking toil on works whose value he greatly questioned, scuttled the idea.

  On the 29th Wandrei finally left, heading up to Athol via Worcester. After that he went to West Shokan, New York, where he stayed a day or two with Bernard Austin Dwyer. Then he began the long trek home, finally reaching St Paul on the 11th of August and writing Lovecraft a one-word postcard: “Home!!!”[67] Lovecraft clearly enjoyed Wandrei’s visit: almost every one of his letters and postcards to Wandrei over the next few years expresses the wish that he return, but Wandrei did not have the opportunity to do so until 1932.

  Lovecraft’s own travels were, however, by no means over. On August 19 he went up to Worcester, where Cook picked him up and brought him back to Athol for a brief stay. The next day (his thirty-eighth birthday) Cook took Lovecraft to Amherst and Deerfield, the latter town of which Lovecraft found extraordinarily captivating. On Sunday the 21st they went to Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire, where Cook’s sister lived. From here they made an unexpected detour into Vermont to visit the amateur poet Arthur Goodenough. A decade before, Goodenough had praised Lovecraft in a poem (“Lovecraft—an Appreciation”) containing the grotesque image, “Laurels from thy very temples sprout.” Lovecraft had thought Goodenough was spoofing him, and Cook had difficulty preventing Lovecraft from writing some devastating reply; instead, he wrote a poem in return, “To Arthur Goodenough, Esq.” (Tryout, September 1918). Now, when meeting him, Lovecraft was captivated by Goodenough, and especially by the archaic and rustic charm of his dress and demeanour:

  Goodenough is a typical old-time rustic of a pattern almost extinct today. He has never seen a city of any size, & seldom goes even to the adjacent small town of Brattleboro. In speech, dress, & manner he reflects an admirable though vanished phase of American life . . . His stately courtesy & hospitality are worthy of the 17th century to which he intellectually belongs . . .[68]

  He exclaimed to Cook, “Why, the man is genuine!” Cook replied, “Howard, you are yourself genuine, although different from Arthur.”[69]

  Lovecraft later wrote a rhapsodic essay on his entire Vermont visit, “Vermont—A First Impression,” which appropriately enough appeared in Coates’s Driftwind for March 1928. I shall have more to say of this visit, and of the essay, farther on.

  After a few more days in Athol, Lovecraft went on a lone tour first to Boston on the 24th and then, the next day, to Portland, Maine. He spent two days in Portland and enjoyed the town immensely: although it was not as rich in antiquities as Marblehead or Portsmouth, it was scenically lovely—it occupies a peninsula with hills at the eastern and western ends, and has many beautiful drives and promenades—and at least had things like the two Longfellow houses (birthplace and principal residence), which Lovecraft explored thoroughly. On the 26th he took a side-trip to Yarmouth, a colonial town thirteen miles northeast of Portland on the coast, and on the 27th he took a cheap excursion to the White Mountains in New Hampshire—the first time Lovecraft saw “real mountains”[70] (if one can so refer to eminences less than 6300 feet above sea level).

  Sunday the 28th found Lovecraft in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and the next day he returned to Newburyport, Massachusetts, which he had not seen since 1923. He stayed there until the 30th, at which time he went to Amesbury and Haverhill, stopping by at the home of his old amateur friend C. W. Smith. He would write up his travels in a very compressed and, frankly, not very interesting essay called “The Trip of Theobald,” which Smith would publish in the Tryout for September 1927. Wednesday the 31st he returned to Newburyport, thence moving on to Ipswich and then to Gloucester. He had not been to the latter place since 1922 (when he went with Sonia), and found it much more stimulating this time:

  Pre-Revolutionary houses are more numerous than I expected, & there is a ghoulish hidden graveyard just off a side street. An 1805 belfry dominates the skyline. I climbed a high hill & had a stupendous view. Gloucester has an active maritime atmosphere not possessed by any other town I have seen. Its whole community life is unique & local, & the main street retains most of its Georgian brick buildings.[71]

  He spent two days in Gloucester, after which he passed through Manchester, Marblehead, and Salem, finally coming home on September 2. This two-week trek through four states was entirely delightful; in “The Trip of Theobald” he wrote: “The trip, as a whole, exceeded all others I have taken in general pleasure and picturesqueness, and will surely be difficult to improve upon in future years.” And yet, each spring and summer for the next eight years would see trips of increasing scope, so that he would be inclined to repeat that last statement after almost every one of them.

  In September Wilfred B. Talman visited Lovecraft in Providence and hectored him to coordinate and expand his genealogical data. Talman was an indefatigable genealogist, and his enthusiasm infected Lovecraft at least to the degree of ascertaining his coat of arms (Arms: Vert, a Chevron engrailed, Or, between three Foxes’ Heads, erased, Or; Crest: On a wreath, a Tower, Or; Motto: Quae amamus tuemur) and in hypothesising some frivolously recherché connexions to certain distinguished individuals. Through a Welsh ancestor, Rachel Morris, he found a link to David Jenkins of Machynlleth (“get that, Arthur?”); through the Fulford line he hooked up to the Moretons (“Shades of Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett! I don’t know what—if any—the relationship is, but I’m now calling Dunsany ‘Cousin Ned’”);[72] an even more remote connexion linked him to Owen Gwynedd, Prince of North Wales. “Now GWYNEDD is obviously the source of the modern name Gwinnett . . . and thus I am very clearly a second or third or three-thousandth cousin of my fellow-fantaisiste Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce! . . . No use talking—all us Machyns and Moretons and Gwynetts jes’ nachelly take to imaginative writing. It’s in the blood—ya can’t stop us!”[73] All this is good fun; but, even though the Gwynedd/Gwinnett connexion is meant in fun, Lovecraft probably did not know that Bierce’s father took the name Ambrose Gwinnett from a pseudonymously published pamphlet of 1770 entitled The Life and Strange, Unparallel’d, and Unheard-of Voyages and Adventures of Ambrose Gwinet.[74] Strangely enough, the pseudonym used for this publication was Isaac Bickerstaffe, which Lovecraft himself had used in 1914.

  Meanwhile various prospects for the book publication of Lovecraft’s stories were developing. As early as the summer of 1926, the redoubtable J. C. Henneberger reemerged on the scene with importunate requests to be allowed to market a collection of Lovecraft’s stories; Lovecraft did so, “to keep him quiet,”[75] but clearly nothing came of this improbable venture.

  A more serious possibility began taking shape late that year when Farnsworth Wright broached the idea of a collection. Lovecraft noted: “. . . one of the business backers of W.T. says he is going to show certain things of mine to publishers; but I don’t really think anything will come of it.”[76] This project would keep Lovecraft dangling for several years before finally collapsing. The reasons for this are perhaps not far to seek. Sometime in 1927 Weird Tales (under its official imprint, the Popular Fiction Publishing Company) issued The Moon Terror by A. G. Birch and others; it contained the title novelette, which was wildly popular when it appeared as a two-part serial in May and June 1923, along with other stories from early issues (“Ooze” by Anthony M. Rud, “Penelope” by Vincent Starrett, and “An Adventure in the Fourth Dimension” by Farnsworth Wright). For whatever reason, the book was a complete commercial disaster, remaining in print nearly as long as Weird Tales itself was in existence (1954). And, of course, the onset of the depression hit the magazine very hard, and for various periods in the 1930s it w
as forced to adopt a bimonthly schedule; at this time the issuance of a book was the last thing on the publishers’ minds.

  Nevertheless, in late December 1927 negotiations were still serious enough for Lovecraft to write a long letter giving his own preferences as to the contents. The collection was planned for about 45,000 words, and Lovecraft considered the “indispensable nucleus” to consist of the following stories: “The Outsider,” “Arthur Jermyn,” “The Rats in the Walls,” “The Picture in the House,” “Pickman’s Model,” “The Music of Erich Zann,” “Dagon,” “The Statement of Randolph Carter,” and “The Cats of Ulthar.” This, according to Lovecraft’s count, would come to 32,400 words. He then wished one of the following three longer stories to be included—“The Colour out of Space,” “The Call of Cthulhu” (not yet published), or “The Horror at Red Hook,” with preference for “Colour”—and, as “fillers,” some of his shorter tales, such as “The Festival,” “The Unnamable,” or “The Terrible Old Man.”

  On the whole, this would have made a very worthy collection—certainly it would have contained much of the best that Lovecraft had written up to this time. It would have been better, perhaps, to have included both “Colour” and “Cthulhu,” but the volume still would have been substantial. One remark made in Lovecraft’s long letter is worth quoting: “As for a title—my choice is The Outsider and Other Stories. This is because I consider the touch of cosmic outsideness—of dim, shadowy non-terrestrial hints—to be the characteristic feature of my writing.”[77]

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