I am providence the life.., p.17

I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft (2 VOLUMES), page 17


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

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  Still more startling is a notice in the issue of October 22, 1905: “Since we have started, others are constantly copying, there is a new paper just out that is a direct copy. PAY NO ATTENTION to these but to the GENUINE.” Lovecraft’s schoolmates at Hope Street were apparently offering him the sincerest form of flattery, but Lovecraft did not appreciate it. The later issues of his journal bear a stamped notice, “ORIGINAL COPY,” to ensure the genuineness of the paper.

  One of Lovecraft’s imitators was Chester Pierce Munroe, although he wisely did not emulate Lovecraft in the realm of science. the Rhode Island Journal of Astronomy for April 30, 1905, announces the establishment of the East Side News, C. P. Munroe, Editor. The price is the same as for Lovecraft’s journal (1¢ per issue, 25¢ for six months, 50¢ for a year). This magazine—described by Lovecraft in the issue of May 21, 1905, as “a very superior sort of paper, . . . which, besides local news, contains much of general interest”—suffered considerably greater vicissitudes in issuance than Lovecraft’s. The paper was suspended for the summer of 1905, but resumed in September when the Munroe family returned from vacation. Shortly thereafter the paper is renamed the Providence Times; Lovecraft “personally recommends the ‘TIMES’ as the best paper of it’s kind published anywhere” (September 17, 1905). But by October 8, 1905, there is the following announcement: “PROVIDENCE TIMES! BIG NOTICE! We have not been able to continue this paper and have failed! We hope sometime to resume it, or the East Side News.” This was probably written by Chester. The paper did in fact resume in early 1906, but by July it had sold out to the Blackstone News, a paper begun by Chester’s brother Harold in May 1905. It is not clear how long this paper continued to run.

  One new enthusiasm that emerged around the fall of 1905 was meteorology. This interest had initially developed toward the end of 1903, as notices in the Scientific Gazette suggest. The issue of January 24, 1904, announced a new “Climatological Station” that “belongs to the publishers [sic] of this paper”; it had “6 circular windows with shutters, in case of severe storm. The instruments have not all arrived yet . . . Although the station is not, as yet, fully equipped, it can do much practice-work, for the storm glass is very accurate, and the wet-bulb thermometer, which was made by the observer works to perfection.” We can probably connect this with another surviving juvenile item, a “Providence Observatory Forecast” for April 5, 1904, made on the 4th. This is a single sheet giving a prediction of the weather for the next day (“no clouds will cross the sky—excepting a few sunset strata”).

  Whipple’s death halted this work for at least a few months, but then we learn in the Rhode Island Journal for September 3, 1905, that Lovecraft has entered a contest by a New York lawyer, F. R. Fast, for the best weather forecasts. He adds smugly that his “forecasts have been right 1/3 more times than the local weather station since October [1904?].” There is no announcement that he won the prize, so presumably he did not. But Lovecraft went on to state that daily forecasts would be issued after October 15 for 50¢ a year. There seems to have been some hiatus in the forecasts (probably in November and December 1905, which is likely to have been the time of the onset of his “near-breakdown” of 1906), for the January 1906 issue of the Rhode Island Journal states that the forecasts will now resume. In February we learn that a great many new instruments have now been added to the meteorological observatory, including a barometer, a maximum and minimum thermometer, a dry bulb thermometer, a wet thermometer, a rain gauge, a hair hygrometer, a storm-glass, and other things. The April 1906 issue informs us that Lovecraft has “just constructed a new wind-vane for the station. It was Finished on March 28, and works finely.” But in May 1906 it is announced that “Of late many accidents have happened to the instruments at our station, so the records are badly broken.” These were evidently repaired, and later such things as a quadrant, sundial, and magnetic compass were added. A small pamphlet dating to this period—Third Annual Report of the Prov. Meteorological Station (dated January 16, 1907)[67]—clearly suggests that there were two previous annual reports, now non-extant.

  Lovecraft was also continuing to add to his astronomical collection as well: his 3" telescope was obtained on September 14, 1906, and somewhat earlier he acquired a 12" celestial globe and a Barritt-Serviss Planet Finder. The generosity of Lovecraft’s family—for these items could only have come from his mother or aunts or uncle—even in their relatively straitened circumstances cannot be overstressed.

  Still another activity in which Lovecraft engaged was amateur printing. This, too, had begun as early as 1902, as an ad in the Rhode Island Journal for January 3, 1904, has a notice for a “Providence Printing Co. / Card & Job Work at Low Rates / Estab. 1902.” Not much is heard of this until 1905, when another ad (April 30, 1905) states: “We have re-opened at our old location with a new press, type, and outfit. We now do card work only but we do it in a way much superior to that which we used last year. ALL COLOURS SAME RATES.” In the issue of October 22, 1905, we learn that the Providence Printing Co. has “re-opened with new double cylinder rotary press! Jobs done also hecto. work.” The issue of November 12, 1905 informs us that H. P. Lovecraft, Printer, successor of the Prov. Printing Co., is now equipped with three presses and five new styles of type. Cards only 5¢ per dozen. A very professional-looking printed card is affixed to the last page of the Rhode Island Journal for January 1906:

  It would seem likely, given Lovecraft’s vigorous ad campaign, that he was actually receiving offers for small-scale printing from friends and family. But by April 1906 Lovecraft “permanently discontinued” his card printing owing to “the stress of the R.I. Journal,” whatever that may have been; he referred patrons to Mr Reginald Miller, 7 Irving Avenue, and offered all his presses, types, and supplies for sale.

  Lovecraft, then, was making a game effort to resume his normal life and writing after his grandfather’s death and the move to 598 Angell Street. And perhaps his friends lent their assistance. One of the first things they did was to re-establish “New Anvik” in the vacant lot next door:

  This was my aesthetic masterpiece, for besides a little village of painted huts erected by myself and Chester and Harold Munroe, there was a landscape garden, all of mine own handiwork. I chopped down certain trees and preserved others, laid out paths and gardens, and set at the proper points shrubbery and ornamental urns taken from the old home. My paths were of gravel, bordered with stones, and here and there a bit of stone wall or an impressive cairn of my own making added to the picture. Between two trees I made a rustic bench, later duplicating it betwixt two other trees. A large grassy space I levelled and transformed into a Georgian lawn, with a sundial in the centre. Other parts were uneven, and I sought to catch certain sylvan or bower-like effects. The whole was drained by a system of channels terminating in a cess-pool of my own excavation. Such was the paradise of my adolescent years, and amidst such scenes were many of my early works written.[68]

  Lovecraft kept this up till the age of seventeen, when he realised “with horror” that he was growing too old for such an enterprise; he turned it over to a younger boy who lived across the lot from him.

  The Providence Detective Agency was similarly revived in 1905 or thereabouts. In the Rhode Island Journal of Astronomy for May 7, 1905, appears this announcement: “The Providence Detective Agency has again opened for business. Rates etc. same as before. All civil or criminal cases quickly attended to. Low Prices. H. P. Lovecraft, C. P. Munroe, Detectives.” Then, however, in the issue of May 21, 1905, there appear two separate ads, one for “H. P. Lovecraft, Priv. Detec., Formerly with the P.D.A.,” and a similar one for Chester Munroe. Was there some sort of schism? If so, it does not appear to have been of long duration, for the very next issue (May 28, 1905) lists something called the “East Side Detective Agency / Organised—May 1905” (“Best on the East Side”); no names are mentioned, but surely Lovecraft and Munroe had teamed up again. An amusing announcement in the Rhode Island Journal for June 1906 states that the P.D.A. has r
esumed: “It is the same as before. Beware of imitators. Carter & Brady, Mgrs.” Are these two new boys? Hardly: Lovecraft and Chester Munroe have clearly adopted as pseudonyms the names of two of the most illustrious of the dime-novel detectives, Nick Carter and Old King Brady. But, as with the rank imitators of the Rhode Island Journal, the P.D.A. apparently spawned its share of copycats; the July 1906 issue declares huffily that “a cheap agency is trying to compete with us. BEWARE!!!” As no more such notices appear, we can be confident that the temerity of these imitators was roundly upbraided.

  The Blackstone Orchestra likewise resumed. the Rhode Island Journal of Astronomy for April 16, 1905, prints an ad listing H. P. Lovecraft and C. P. Munroe as the leaders (“Fine music cheap”). The ads continue to appear as late as October 1906. In January 1906 we learn of its “New Repertoire—Tenor & Baritone Solos” as well as “Phonograph Concerts.” Can it be that Lovecraft was actually attempting to sing? It certainly seems that way; consider a letter of 1918:

  Something over a decade ago I conceived the idea of displacing Sig. Caruso as the world’s greatest lyric vocalist, and accordingly inflicted some weird and wondrous ululations upon a perfectly innocent Edison blank. My mother actually liked the results—mothers are not always unbiased critics—but I saw to it that an accident soon removed the incriminating evidence. Later I tried something less ambitious; a simple, touching, plaintive, ballad sort of thing a la John McCormack. This was a better success, but reminded me so much of the wail of a dying fox-terrier that I very carelessly happened to drop it soon after it was made.[69]

  Much as we might like to have such recordings—there is much doubt as to what Lovecraft’s voice actually sounded like—it is clear that they do not survive. Since Lovecraft in a 1933 letter rattles off many of the hit songs of 1906—“When the Whippoorwill Sings, Marguerite,” “When the Mocking-Bird Is Singing in the Wildwood,” “I’ll Be Waiting in the Gloaming, Genevieve,” “In the Golden Autumn Time, My Sweet Elaine”—we can imagine that these were the songs he both performed in public and recorded on the phonograph. Indeed, he adds in this letter: “. . . weren’t the Blackstone Military Band’s voices changing? . . . From bad to worse, as an impartial outsider might have observed with uncharitable accuracy. But how we howled & bellowed those damned old barber-shop tunes!”[70]

  This period was also the heyday of the Great Meadow Country Clubhouse. Lovecraft and his pals would ride on bicycles along the Taunton Pike (now State Road 44) to the rural village of Rehoboth, about eight miles from Providence just across the state line into Massachusetts. Here they found a small wooden hut with stone chimney and built an addition to it—“larger than the hut itself”[71]—where they could conduct whatever games they fancied. The hut and chimney had been built by an old Civil War veteran named James Kay, who probably also assisted them in building the addition.[72] When Lovecraft and Harold Munroe returned to this site in 1921, they found very little changed: “Tables stood about as of yore, pictures we knew still adorned the walls with unbroken glass. Not an inch of tar paper was ripped off, & in the cement hearth we found still embedded the small pebbles we stamped in when it was new & wet—pebbles arranged to form the initials G. M. C. C.”[73] I saw those pebbles myself about twenty-five years ago, although on a more recent trip I found them almost entirely scattered. Now, of course, only the stone chimney remains, and even that is disintegrating. In its day it must have been a sight. Lovecraft dates this entire episode to the ages of about sixteen to eighteen and mentions Ronald Upham, Stuart Coleman, and Kenneth Tanner as part of the gang along with the Munroes. One wonders how they stumbled upon Rehoboth as the locale of their adventures; perhaps one of the other boys had relations nearby.

  Also at this time Lovecraft himself developed an interest in firearms. Recall that during the initial creation of the Providence Detective Agency he himself, unlike the other boys, sported a real revolver. Lovecraft evidently amassed a fairly impressive collection of rifles, revolvers, and other firearms: “After 1904 I had a long succession of 22-calibre rifles, & became a fair shot till my eyes played hell with my accuracy.”[74] At this point Lovecraft seemed to lose interest, and ads like the following begin to appear in the Rhode Island Journal: “Wanted to Trade / Sharp 50-70 breech loading rifle carbine, new, for Astronomical goods” (May 7, 1905). A later issue (October 8, 1905) states that this rifle was originally purchased for $12.00 and is now going for $2.50. Also advertised for trade is a Stevens $5.00 Diamond Model .22 caliber target pistol, “only shot 2 or 3 times” (May 14, 1905). Even with Whipple Phillips’s fortune gone, whatever Lovecraft wanted, he got.

  Rifle-shooting was, however, the only sport that might remotely be said to have interested Lovecraft. Other team or individual sports he shunned with disdain as unfit for an intelligent person. Harold W. Munro (another high-school friend of Lovecraft’s, not to be confused with Harold Bateman Munroe) recounts that he and Lovecraft had frequent arguments in high school over the merits of athletics: “On one occasion I confidently observed that athletics develop better bodies which in turn develop better brains. Without a moment of hesitation Howard beamingly cited one of Hope’s foremost athletes whose classroom performances varied between disappointing and pathetic.” One wonders whether this anecdote can be connected with another one told by Munro: “Henry G. Marsh, Hope quarterback and third baseman, lived opposite Howard on Angell Street. Buoyed by school spirit, Henry once ventured to sell Howard a ticket to a championship game. There were no recriminations but the venture fell very flat. Henry never tried again. Howard and athletics just did not mix.”[75] This attitude persisted throughout Lovecraft’s life: nothing would inspire his scorn or disgust more quickly than an offer to play cards or do crossword puzzles or watch a sporting event.

  Interestingly, Lovecraft began to guide Chester and Harold Munroe into more academic interests, enlisting them as assistants and even colleagues in some of his own intellectual work. The Rhode Island Journal for March 1906 states that a meteorological sub-station has been opened by Harold at his home at 66 Patterson Street. Three months later we hear of the establishment of a Providence Astronomical Society. This society had apparently been formed as early as 1904, although there is no mention of it in earlier issues of the Rhode Island Journal; but consider the following notice (attached to the April 1907 issue and surely printed by Lovecraft):

  In June 1906 one of the Munroes is noted as assisting Lovecraft in giving a lecture on the sun at the East Side Historical Club by showing lantern slides. In the July 1906 issue we are told that the society is flourishing and gaining members, and all members are now urged to keep an astronomical and meteorological diary. More lectures were given on December 7, 1906, and January 4, 1907, the latter with 50 slides (“A large number attended”). I do not imagine that the East Side Historical Club was anything but a group of Lovecraft’s high school friends; we shall see later that they continued to meet in this fashion for several years.

  Rather different was the lecture Lovecraft gave to the Boys’ Club of the First Baptist Church on January 25, 1907.[76] This was clearly a formal organisation, although I am not convinced that Lovecraft was a member: if the contretemps with his Sunday school class (for which see below) dates to 1902, it is not likely that he would have been invited back anytime soon. But the mere fact that he gave the lecture may indicate that he had achieved a certain celebrity as an astronomical authority; for he had already become widely published in the local papers by this time.

  The death of Lovecraft’s grandfather roughly coincided with the emergence of two new elderly male figures in his personal and intellectual life: his uncles, Dr Franklin Chase Clark (1847–1915) and Edward Francis Gamwell (1869–1936).

  Lovecraft became acquainted with Gamwell in 1895, when the latter began courting his aunt Annie Emeline Phillips.[77] Edward and Annie married on January 3, 1897, with the six-year-old Lovecraft serving as usher.[78] Annie went to live with Edward in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Edward was the city editor
of the Cambridge Chronicle (1896–1901), then the Cambridge Tribune (1901–12), and then the Boston Budget and Beacon (1913–15).[79] It appears, however, that Annie and Edward visited Providence frequently, especially after the birth on April 23, 1898, of Phillips Gamwell, Lovecraft’s only first cousin on the maternal side. (A second child, Marion Roby Gamwell, lived for only five days in February 1900.) Lovecraft reports that his uncle Edward was one of his favourite subjects of mimicry when the latter would call on Annie at 454 Angell Street.[80] Gamwell taught Lovecraft to recite the Greek alphabet at the age of six, and Lovecraft even maintains that it was his uncle’s extensive editorial capacities that incited him to start the Rhode Island Journal of Astronomy.[81]

  Lovecraft was much closer to Dr Clark than to Gamwell, and indeed the former became after Whipple’s death exactly the sort of father replacement Whipple himself had been. Franklin Chase Clark had received an A.B. from Brown University in 1869, as Edward F. Gamwell would in 1894, had attended Harvard Medical School in 1869–70 (where he is likely to have studied with Oliver Wendell Holmes), and had gone on to attain his M.D. at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York. He also obtained an M.A. from Columbia College.[82] He married Lillian Delora Phillips on April 10, 1902, presumably in Providence, as he was both residing and operating a medical practice at 80 Olney Street at the time. Lovecraft does not mention being involved with the wedding, but he probably served in some capacity. One imagines that Lillian left 454 Angell Street at that time and moved in with her husband. Kenneth W. Faig says of Clark: “He was a prolific writer on medicine, natural history, local history and genealogy and was elected a member of the Rhode Island Historical Society in 1905.”[83]

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