I am providence the life.., p.28

I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft (2 VOLUMES), page 28


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

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  John T. Dunn follows with a humorous poem, “A Post-Christmas Lament”; Edmund L. Shehan then adds an interesting brief piece, “The Making of a Motion Picture,” on visiting the Eastern Film Company in Providence; Lovecraft then supplies a four-page “Editorial” lamenting the paucity of good prose in amateurdom and urging more members to issue their own journals; the issue concludes with two of Lovecraft’s poems, “To Charlie of the Comics” (unsigned) and “The Bride of the Sea” (as by “Lewis Theobald, Jr.”). In this issue Lovecraft is listed as Official Editor and his address is given as the office of publication.

  Dunn, interviewed by L. Sprague de Camp in 1975, provides some fascinating glimpses of Lovecraft’s personal comportment at the meetings of the club:

  Dunn found Lovecraft . . . odd or even eccentric. At gatherings, Lovecraft sat stiffly staring forward, except when he turned his head towards someone who spoke to him. He spoke in a low monotone.

  “He sat—he usually sat like that, looking straight ahead, see? Then he’d answer a question, and go back again,” said Father Dunn. “I can see him now . . . and he looked straight ahead; and . . . he didn’t emphasize things. He nodded sometimes to emphasize a word or an expression.

  “I liked the fellow,” he continued. “I didn’t have anything against him at all, see? Only we did disagree; but I hope we disagreed like gentlemen, see?”

  . . .

  Lovecraft’s voice was high-pitched but not what one would call shrill; Dunn said it was about like his own. Lovecraft had great self-control, never losing his temper no matter how heated the argument. “He—ah—I never saw him show any temper, see? But when he wrote, he wrote very vigorously; there’s no doubt about that, see . . .? And he never got excited like I would get excited.”[18]

  Dunn and Lovecraft certainly did have some epistolary fireworks, as I shall discuss later.

  Lovecraft washed his hands of the club shortly after the appearance of the second issue, although he continued to keep in touch with Dunn for another year or so. In a mid-1915 letter he spoke of hoping to aid one “Mr. Wright” (Hubert A. Wright) form a similar club in Pawtucket, but this never came about. The club itself had definitely folded by the fall of 1916, for a poem by Lovecraft, “Providence Amateur Press Club (Deceased) to the Athenaeum Club of Journalism”—evidently unpublished in his lifetime but dated November 24, 1916—speaks gloomily of the collapse of the group:

  What can we say, who on Rhode Island’s shore

  Were once a club, but are a club no more;

  Whose puny petals ne’er to bloom unclos’d,

  Nor on Pierus’ sacred slopes repos’d:

  Who stand apart, disorganis’d and weak,

  With naught save one Conservative to speak?

  So ended Lovecraft’s second attempt to uplift the masses.

  I have made frequent reference to the Conservative. This was, of course, Lovecraft’s own amateur journal, and the first periodical he edited since the demise of the Rhode Island Journal of Astronomy in February 1909. Although Lovecraft was on the editorial board of several other amateur journals, the Conservative was the only one of which he was the sole editor. Thirteen issues appeared from 1915 to 1923, broken down as follows:

  Volume I: April 1915, July 1915, October 1915, January 1916

  Volume II: April 1916, July 1916, October 1916, January 1917

  Volume III: July 1917

  Volume IV: July 1918

  Volume V: July 1919

  No. 12: March 1923

  No. 13: July 1923

  The issues range from 4 to 28 pages. The first three issues were written almost entirely by Lovecraft, but thereafter his contributions decline considerably except for occasional poems and—beginning with the October 1916 issue—a regular editorial column entitled “In the Editor’s Study.” The first issue is 8 unnumbered pages and contains one poem, six articles, and some random notes on amateur affairs, all written by Lovecraft. I shall examine the content of these and other issues presently; right now I wish to concern myself with mechanical matters of printing and distribution. Lovecraft reported that 210 copies of the first issue were printed[19] and were already sent out by mid-March. No printer is listed for the issue, so it was probably printed locally. There is, in fact, a curious note directly below the masthead on the first page: “The Conservative desires to apologise for any errors in proofreading which may be found in this issue. Circumstances necessitated a change of printer at the last moment, and an already great delay rendered haste a prime essential.” I am not sure what this means, especially since the issue clearly appeared at least a week or two before the cover date. Lovecraft probably sent out copies to every member of the UAPA.

  The next four issues were printed by The Lincoln Press. Lovecraft wrote to Dunn on October 25, 1915: “The Conservative was promised to me today, but it has not yet arrived. I hope Sandusky will have it soon enough for me to send out during the month for which it is dated.”[20] This makes it clear that the printer for these issues (as well as for the two issues of the Providence Amateur) was Albert A. Sandusky, an amateur in Cambridge, Massachusetts, whom Lovecraft later met on several occasions. Probably Lovecraft’s disgust with the “stupid printer” (“Amateur Notes,” Conservative, July 1915) of the first issue, and the relative success of Sandusky’s printing of the first Providence Amateur, persuaded Lovecraft to use him as his regular printer. Sandusky’s typographical and printing work was generally good; Lovecraft (or Sandusky) now adopted a two-column format except for poems whose lines could not be so accommodated.

  On August 15, 1916, Lovecraft reported to Dunn that “Sandusky cannot print The Conservative any more, so I am now in quest of a suitable typographical artist.”[21] In this same letter Lovecraft stated: “The July number, sadly overdue, has been expressed to me, but is delayed in transit. If I do not receive it soon, I shall have to ask Sandusky to have the package traced.” This suggests that Sandusky printed the July 1916 issue, even though it does not bear any notice for the Lincoln Press and the issue has a very different typeface and design from those of its predecessors. This four-page issue, containing only a single article by Henry Clapham McGavack, reverts to the single-column format.

  The next three issues are clearly printed by the same printer. Lovecraft noted to Dunn on November 13, 1916, that “The Conservative for October is in the hands of a local printer, and has been promised for delivery today.”[22] Lovecraft went on to say that this issue, “the largest ever published,” cost him $30.00. This rate is considerably higher than what Lovecraft was citing in his recruiting pamphlet for papers of this size (5" × 7"). By “largest” Lovecraft presumably meant cumulative wordage, for it is only 12 pages whereas the issue for October 1915 had been 16.

  In September 1917 Lovecraft wrote to Kleiner that he had decided to have the Conservative printed in future by W. Paul Cook of Athol, Massachusetts, whom he had just met: “His low rates are a philanthropic favour to amateurdom, & are based upon a complete sacrifice of personal profit. He is so anxious to establish a revival of amateur journalism, that he is doing the work absolutely at cost.”[23] Lovecraft then cited Cook’s rates:

  300 copies 5 × 7 = $0.85 per page

  300 copies 6 × 9 = $1.05 per page

  300 copies 7 × 10 = $1.25 per page

  It would be nearly a year, however, before Lovecraft took advantage of Cook’s cheap rates. The next Conservative, July 1918, is 8 pages in a 5" × 7" format, which means it must have cost Lovecraft only $6.80. Cook may have printed only this issue and that of July 1919; the last, and possibly the second to last, were printed by Charles A. A. Parker.

  Although Lovecraft, in the “Editorial” for the first issue, declared with “trembling humility” that he was “thrusting upon an unsuspecting public this first issue of what purports to be a paper” and concluded the editorial by wistfully saying that “he may never perpetrate another number of this modest magazine,” it is clear that he welcomed the prospect of editing his own paper rather than
merely contributing random pieces to other amateur journals or appearing in the official organ. In particular, what this allowed him to do—aside from promoting his own vision of amateurdom as a haven for literary excellence and a tool for humanist education—was to express his own opinions fearlessly. He did just that. The “Editorial” in the July 1915 issue contains his statement of editorial policy:

  That the arts of literature and literary criticism will receive prime attention from The Conservative seems very probable. The increasing use among us of slovenly prose and lame metre, supported and sustained by the light reviewers of the amateur press, demands an active opponent, even though a lone one, and the profound reverence of The Conservative for the polished writers of a more correct age, fits him for a task to which his mediocre talent might not otherwise recommend him.

  . . .

  Outside the domain of pure literature, The Conservative will ever be found an enthusiastic champion of total abstinence and prohibition; of moderate, healthy militarism as contrasted with dangerous and unpatriotic peace-preaching; of Pan-Saxonism, or the domination by the English and kindred races over the lesser divisions of mankind; and of constitutional representative government, as opposed to the pernicious and contemptible false schemes of anarchy and socialism.

  A mighty tall agenda. I have already touched on some of the controversies over literature in which Lovecraft engaged; his political debates—both in published works and in private correspondence—were no less vigorous, and I shall treat them in due course. We will find that some of Lovecraft’s early opinions are quite repugnant, and many of them are uttered in a cocksure, dogmatic manner greatly in contrast with his later views. Nevertheless, it was evident to all amateurs that the editor of the Conservative was an intellectual force to be dealt with. Rheinhart Kleiner gives some idea of how the first issue of the journal was received:

  . . . many were immediately aware that a brilliant new talent had made itself known. The entire contents of the issue, both prose and verse, were the work of the editor, who obviously knew exactly what he wished to say, and no less exactly how to say it. The Conservative took a unique place among the valuable publications of its time, and held that place with ease through the period of seven or eight years during which it made occasional pronouncements. Its critical pronouncements were relished by some and resented by others, but there was no doubt of the respect in which they were held by all.[24]

  Kleiner, in referring to the controversies stirred up by Lovecraft’s articles and poems, goes on to say: “Those of his opponents who were able to withdraw from such encounters with dignity and prestige unimpaired were somewhat few.” But we shall find that Lovecraft did not always get the better of an argument.

  Lovecraft’s official career in amateur journalism was augmented by his election in July 1915 as First Vice-President of the UAPA. Leo Fritter (whom Lovecraft supported as a proponent of his literary agenda in “For President—Leo Fritter” in the April 1915 Conservative) renewed his appointment as Chairman of the Department of Public Criticism, a position he would hold until July 1917. Part of his responsibility as First Vice-President was to be the head of the Recruiting Committee, for which he wrote the pamphlet United Amateur Press Association: Exponent of Amateur Journalism. This, the second separate publication by Lovecraft (for the first, The Crime of Crimes [1915], see the next chapter), appears to have been issued in late 1915. In “Report of First Vice-President” (United Amateur, November 1915) he wrote that the “long-promised recruiting booklet is now in press at Columbus, O., having been financed jointly by President Fritter and the undersigned.” I would have thought that, since the item was an official publication, it would have been printed by the then Official Printer (E. E. Ericson of Elroy, Wisconsin), but evidently Fritter decided to have it printed locally. Lovecraft went on to add a little smugly: “The text is of dignified nature, offering a sharp contrast to the sensational advertising of some of the inferior associations.” The reference can scarcely be to anything but the NAPA.

  Other official duties fell upon Lovecraft. In the second “Report of First Vice-President” (United Amateur, January 1916) he notes working on a “paper of credentials”; that is, a journal collecting pieces by new or prospective members establishing their literary capability. (Lovecraft’s own credential, “The Alchemist,” did not appear until the November 1916 United Amateur.) By June Lovecraft was declaring that he was still “struggling with with reams of crude MSS. for the forthcoming paper of credentials.”[25] (There is a certain paradox in this: why would the mss. need revision, since their very purpose was to verify a potential member’s literary ability?) I am not sure that this paper—which was to have been edited by Mrs E. L. Whitehead[26]—ever appeared. There is a much later journal, the Credential (April 1920), for which Lovecraft is listed as assistant editor, but Anne Tillery Renshaw is the editor. In the spring of 1916 Lovecraft was offered the official editorship of the UAPA upon the resignation of Edward F. Daas; he declined on the grounds of “ill health,”[27] and the task fell to George S. Schilling.

  For the next term (1916–17) Lovecraft had no official function except Chairman of the Department of Public Criticism. Schilling, as a member of the Ohio National Guard, was summoned to duty in Mexico and was therefore unavailable as Official Editor. Paul J. Campbell, running for President, wished Lovecraft to run as Official Editor, but again Lovecraft declined on account of ill health. He also refused to accept another term as First Vice-President, urging instead his young protégé David H. Whittier.[28] Whittier was in fact elected to the office but withdrew by October for some reson, being replaced by Ira A. Cole. Lovecraft was nevertheless on the ballot for President and Official Editor at the UAPA convention in July; presumably because most members knew that he was not a declared candidate, Lovecraft lost to Campbell for President by a vote of 38-2, and lost to Andrew F. Lockhart for Official Editor by a vote of 28-1.

  Late in 1916 Campbell appointed Lovecraft Chairman of the Year Book Committee, and for the next several months he was occupied with the compilation of a “biographical directory of United members”[29] for 1916–17. The “other” United actually did issue a yearbook for 1914, published by W. Paul Cook and consisting largely of laureate-award-winning items and lists of officers.[30] Perhaps in order not to be outdone by its rival, the UAPA decided to do one of its own. There had been talk of a yearbook for 1915–16, but I do not believe it was ever published. In the January 1917 Conservative, in the brief article “A Request,” Lovecraft urged members to send him information on their amateur careers. By November 1917 (“President’s Message,” United Amateur) Lovecraft announced that the yearbook—which contained a revised version of his recruiting pamphlet, United Amateur Press Association: Exponent of Amateur Journalism—was complete in “sixty-three closely typed manuscript pages” (which probably means single-spaced pages, Lovecraft’s customary manner of typing at the time), but he expressed concern that there was not enough money in the Year Book Fund actually to publish the volume. The yearbook, so far as I know, never appeared, and it is very likely that lack of funds—which would have to have come from contributions by UAPA members—was the cause of its non-issuance.

  In July 1917, however, the United Amateur listed Lovecraft as Official Editor. This came about in a somewhat peculiar way. The Official Editor of the 1916–17 term, Andrew F. Lockhart of Milbank, South Dakota, was a vigorous temperance advocate, achieving notable success in his efforts in 1915 and 1916. But in May 1917 he suffered, according to Lovecraft, “defeat at the hands of his enemies—the vice & liquor interests of South Dakota—and has been sent to the Federal Prison at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, after a farcially unfair trial.”[31] The UAPA membership lists indicate that Lockhart remained at Leavenworth through 1919. President Paul J. Campbell appointed Lovecraft Official Editor for the final issue of the term (July 1917); Lovecraft stated his intention of “planning an issue which will be long remembered in amateurdom, though I am not certain that I shall succeed.”

  Whether it was a long-remembered issue or not, the July 1917 issue was certainly full of Lovecraft’s own work. It contained five substantial pieces by him: an editorial (pretentiously entitled “Editorially”); a lengthy “Department of Public Criticism” article; a section of “News Notes” (brief notes about amateurs, customarily written by the Official Editor); an article on Eleanor J. Barnhart in a column entitled “Little Journeys to the Homes of Prominent Amateurs”; and the poem “Ode for July Fourth, 1917.” The editorial, in countering the attacks of Graeme Davis, resoundingly asserts the literary supremacy of the UAPA over the NAPA:

  As the United Amateur Press Association concludes its twenty-second year of existence, its members may well pause to consider the commanding position it now occupies in the world of amateur letters. Beginning as an obscure competitor to an association big with pride of achievement and hoary with years and traditions, our United has forged to the front rank with a steady certainty which speaks well for its equal loftiness and liberality of ideals.

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