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I am providence the life.., p.36

I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft (2 VOLUMES), page 36


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

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  The world too little knows you yet

  But I do, friend of mine!

  And when your name they shall have met

  Your skill will widely shine.

  When that bright time shall come at last,

  I shall be proud to know

  The great H. L., atop Fame’s mast,

  My friend of long ago![80]

  I do not know how long Chester remained in the UAPA: he is on the membership list until at least July 1920. He never issued his own paper.

  Perhaps the three closest colleagues in Lovecraft’s early amateur period were Maurice W. Moe, Edward H. Cole, and Rheinhart Kleiner. Moe (1882–1940) was a high school teacher at Appleton High School in Appleton, Wisconsin (later at the West Division High School in Milwaukee) and one of the giants of the amateur world at the time, even though he held relatively few offices. His religious orthodoxy was a constant source of friction with Lovecraft, and it may have helped to develop and refine Lovecraft’s own hostility to religion. None of the withering polemics on religion to which Lovecraft treated Moe in his letters seem to have had any effect on their recipient.

  Edward H. Cole (1892–1966) was also a well-respected amateur, but he was a staunch supporter of the NAPA and inflexibly hostile to the UAPA. He was Official Editor of the NAPA for 1911–12 and President for 1912–13. His journal, the Olympian, is one of the jewels of amateur literature in both content and typography, even though it lapsed after 1917 and would not resume for two decades. It was, as we have seen, Cole who urged John T. Dunn, who was forming the Providence Amateur Press Club, to get in touch with Lovecraft. Perhaps Cole’s influence led Dunn momentarily to consider joining the NAPA, something Lovecraft squelched immediately: “. . . I am sorry that you admit even the possibility of the local club’s being National in name. . . . Since I am so wholly a United man, I could not continue to support The Providence Amateur if it should affiliate itself with the National.”[81]

  Cole was one of the first amateurs, aside from the members of the Providence Amateur Press Club, whom Lovecraft met. He resided in various Boston suburbs and attended a meeting of the club in North Providence in late November 1914.[82] Also in 1914—possibly before his meeting with Cole—Lovecraft met the amateur William B. Stoddard at the Crown Hotel in Providence.[83] Not much is known about these encounters, but Cole became a close correspondent of Lovecraft—Stoddard did not, perhaps because he attacked the first issue of the Conservative[84]—and, in later years, Lovecraft would always look up Cole when he went to Boston. In spite of his prejudice against the UAPA, Cole in 1917 married Helene E. Hoffman (who had been President of the UAPA in the 1913–14 term, the period when Lovecraft joined) and persuaded himself to appear on the UAPA membership list. Lovecraft’s early letters to Cole are very stiff and formal, but eventually he unwinds and becomes less self-conscious. When Cole’s son E. Sherman Cole was born in 1919, Lovecraft wrote some delightfully owlish letters to him.

  Rheinhart Kleiner (1892–1949) of Brooklyn came in touch with Lovecraft when he received the first issue of the Conservative in late March 1915. An immediate and voluble correspondence sprang up, and Kleiner of course sent Lovecraft copies of his own sporadic amateur paper, the Piper. The two first met on July 1, 1916, when Kleiner and some others—including Lovecraft’s recent nemeses Charles D. Isaacson and W. E. Griffin—were passing through Providence on the way to the NAPA convention in Boston.[85] Thereafter—especially when Lovecraft himself lived in Brooklyn in 1924–26—he and Kleiner would form a strong bond of friendship.

  In the summer of 1916 Moe suggested to Lovecraft that a rotating correspondence cycle be formed among UAPA members. Lovecraft, already a voluminous correspondent, readily assented to the plan and suggested Kleiner as a third member. Moe suggested a fourth—Ira A. Cole, an amateur in Bazine, Kansas, and editor of the Plainsman. Cole (no relation to Edward H. Cole) was a somewhat peculiar individual whom Lovecraft described in 1922 as follows:

  Ira A. Cole was a strange and brilliant character—an utterly illiterate ranchman and ex-cowboy of Western Kansas who possessed a streak of brilliant poetic genius. . . . His imagination was the most weird and active I have ever seen in any human being. But in the end that very streak of overdeveloped imagination and emotionalism was his aesthetic undoing. Worked upon by a hectic and freakish “Pentecostal” revivalist, he “got religion” and became an absolutely impossible fanatic in his eccentric sect. He even reached the hallucination stage—he fancied strange voices spoke gospel messages through his tongue—in languages he did not understand. He is a Pentecostal preacher and small farmer now, living in Boulder, Colorado.[86]

  But that was several years in the future. Lovecraft published Cole’s poems, “The Dream of a Golden Age” and “In Vita Elysium,” in the Conservative for July 1915 and July 1917, respectively. The correspondence cycle started up, under the name (invented by Moe) Kleicomolo, derived from the first syllables of the last names of each member. (There is some debate in modern Lovecraft studies as to how to pronounce this coinage; I say Klei-co-MO-lo while others say Klei-CO-mo-lo.) Each member would write a letter addressed to the other three, in doing so leaving out his own syllable from the compound (hence Lovecraft would address the others as “Dear Kleicomo”; Kleiner as “Dear Comolo”; and so on). The idea at the outset was to rescue letter-writing as an art form from oblivion; whether or not the group succeeded, it certainly gave an impetus to Lovecraft’s own letter-writing and to the development of his philosophical thought. I shall study the substance of Lovecraft’s remarks a little later; at the moment we can turn our attention to an unsigned article entitled “The Kleicomolo” published in the United Amateur for March 1919. Some have thought this the work of Lovecraft, but the style does not strike me as at all Lovecraftian. My feeling is that it was written by Kleiner. The author of the article, after giving potted biographies of the four members, goes on to describe the precise working of the correspondence cycle:

  Klei writes to Co, who adds his instalment and sends the whole to Mo. Mo does the same and sends it to Lo, and Lo completes the articles and sends it back to Klei, who takes out his letter, writes another, and starts the packet around again. With the admission of Gal [Alfred Galpin] and the gradual warming up of the writers to the opportunity, the time required for a whole circuit has gradually increased until now it takes from six to ten months, although prompt attention to the letter upon its arrival would cut that down to two or three months. One of the members [Moe?] was desirous of keeping a complete copy of the correspondence, and began by copying the letters as they went through his hands. This task soon became so great as to be impracticable, and the rest elected him librarian and promised to send him carbon copies of their instalments. It is not at all unlikely that the future may see the best parts of the Kleicomolo given to the public as a book.[87]

  Such a book would be a consummation devoutly to be wished, but it is not clear what has happened to the sections of the Kleicomolo correspondence aside from Lovecraft’s. If, as I believe, Moe was the librarian, he appears to have turned over only Lovecraft’s segments to August Derleth and Donald Wandrei for publication in the Selected Letters. Even the whereabouts of the originals of these are not known. In any event, Lovecraft’s career as letter-writer had emphatically begun.

  A more distant colleague, Andrew Francis Lockhart, is of some interest in having written the first genuine article on Lovecraft. A long-running but intermittent series of articles entitled “Little Journeys to the Homes of Prominent Amateurs” was revived when Lockhart wrote a biographical piece on Lovecraft for the September 1915 issue of the United Amateur. It is a testimonial to Lovecraft’s renown after only a year and a half in amateurdom that he was chosen to be the first subject for this series. Lockhart, of course, did not visit Lovecraft but clearly corresponded extensively with him. The article is a little sentimental and somewhat of a panegyric, but perhaps that is to be expected: “Just why he holds a firm grip on my heart-strings is something of a myste
ry to me. Perhaps it is because of his wholesome ideals; perhaps it is because he is a recluse, content to nose among books of ancient lore; perhaps it’s because of his physical afflictions; his love of things beautiful in Life, his ardent advocacy of temperance, cleanliness and purity—I don’t know.”[88] This passage itself reveals how Lovecraft is already fashioning a precise image of himself: the recluse buried in books; the man of frail health and therefore not suited to the turmoil of the outside world. What these “physical afflictions” could have been is a mystery: the article later notes that, just as he was about to enter college, “his feeble health gave way, and since then he has been physically incapacitated and rendered almost an invalid.” Whether this is the case or not, it is clearly what Lovecraft wanted Lockhart (and the whole UAPA) to believe.

  Lovecraft’s photograph was printed on the cover of this issue of the United Amateur. He repaid Lockhart the favour by writing a biography of him (under his “El Imparcial” pseudonym) as the second instalment of the “Little Journeys” series in the United Amateur for October 1915. The fifth article in the series, published in July 1917, was signed “El Imparcial” and discusses the young amateur Eleanor J. Barnhart. Lovecraft expected great things of Barnhart, especially as he thought her one of the best fiction-writers in amateurdom, but she evidently dropped out shortly after the writing of this piece.

  In the meantime changes of some significance were occurring in Lovecraft’s family life. He had been living alone with his mother at 598 Angell Street since 1904: with his grandfather Whipple Phillips dead, his younger aunt Annie married and living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and his elder aunt Lillian married and living in Providence but some distance away, the atmosphere of 598 might well have become somewhat claustrophobic. I have already noted Clara Hess describing the “strange and shutup air” of the house at about this time. Then, on April 26, 1915, after thirteen years of marriage to Lillian, Lovecraft’s uncle Franklin Chase Clark died at the age of sixty-seven.

  It is difficult to know how close Lovecraft was to Clark beyond his teenage years. After Whipple Phillips’s death in 1904, Clark would have been the only adult male whom Lovecraft could have regarded as a father-figure. His other uncle by marriage, Edward Francis Gamwell, was much younger than Dr Clark and was in any case living in another state. As for Edwin E. Phillips, it is evident from Lovecraft’s silence about him that he did not care much for his uncle. We can certainly not gauge Lovecraft’s emotions about Dr Clark from his “Elegy on Franklin Chase Clark, M.D.,” which appeared in the Providence Evening News three days after his death, for a more wooden, lifeless, and mechanical poem would be difficult to find. Not a particle of genuine feeling can be found in this piece; what we find instead is some obnoxious class consciousness in sharp contrast to the later “Brotherhood”:

  Say not that in the void beyond Death’s door

  The mighty and the lowly are the same;

  Can boorish dust, in life but little more,

  Equality with mental essence claim?

  About a year and a half later, on the very last day of 1916, Lovecraft’s cousin Phillips Gamwell died of tuberculosis at the age of eighteen. Phillips, the only one of Annie E. Phillips Gamwell’s and Edward F. Gamwell’s children to survive beyond infancy, was the only male member of Lovecraft’s family of his own generation. Lovecraft’s various references to him make it clear that he was very fond of Phillips, even though he could only have seen him when he visited Cambridge or when Phillips came down to Providence. Lovecraft observes that Phillips, when he was twelve years old (i.e., in 1910), had “blossomed out as a piquant letter-writer eager to discuss the various literary and scientific topics broached during our occasional personal coversations,”[89] and Lovecraft attributes his fondness for letter-writing to four or five years’ correspondence with Phillips. Lovecraft also remarks attempting to tutor Phillips in mathematics in 1915, finding that he had no better command of the subject than his pupil.[90] The next year Lovecraft, Phillips, and Annie Gamwell explored Trinity Church in Newport.[91] Lovecraft also gave Phillips his stamp-collection at about this time.[92]

  Annie had taken her son to Roswell, Colorado, in October 1916 for his health, but his tuberculosis had obviously advanced too far and he died there on December 31, 1916. Lovecraft’s “Elegy on Phillips Gamwell, Esq.,” published in the Providence Evening News for January 5, 1917, is as uninspired as his tribute to Dr Clark: “Such was the youth, whose stainless mind and heart / Combin’d the best of Nature and of Art . . .” After Phillips’s death, Annie returned to Providence, apparently living with her brother Edwin until his death on November 14, 1918 (and it is remarkable that Lovecraft says almost nothing about this event in any letters of the period or later), then probably in various rented quarters until early 1919, when she moved in with Lovecraft at 598 Angell Street.

  Lovecraft, so far as I can tell, was not actually doing much during this period aside from writing; but he had discovered one entertaining form of relaxation—moviegoing. His enthusiasm for the drama had waned by around 1910, which roughly coincided with the emergence of film as a popular, if not an aesthetically distinguished, form of entertainment. By 1910 there were already 5000 nickelodeons throughout the country, even if these were regarded largely as entertainment for the working classes.[93] Lovecraft reports that the first cinema shows in Providence were in March 1906; and, even though he “knew too much of literature & drama not to recognise the utter & unrelieved hokum of the moving picture,” he attended them anyway—“in the same spirit that I had read Nick Carter, Old King Brady, & Frank Reade in nickel-novel form.”[94] One develops the idea that watching films may have occupied some, perhaps much, of the “blank” years of 1908–13, as a letter of 1915 suggests: “As you surmise, I am a devotee of the motion picture, since I can attend shows at any time, whereas my ill health seldom permits me to make definite engagements or purchase real theatre tickets in advance. Some modern films are really worth seeing, though when I first knew moving pictures their only value was to destroy time.”[95] And yet, Lovecraft was willing at this time to entertain the possibility that film might eventually evolve into an aesthetically viable medium: “The moving picture has infinite possibilities for literary and artistic good when rightly presented, and having achieved a permanent place, seems destined eventually to convey the liberal arts to multitudes hitherto denied their enjoyment” (“Department of Public Criticism,” United Amateur, May 1915). Nearly a century later we are perhaps still waiting for this eventuality to occur.

  When Rheinhart Kleiner wrote “To Mary of the Movies” in the Piper for September 1915, Lovecraft immediately responded with “To Charlie of the Comics” (Providence Amateur, February 1916). It is no surprise that the two poets chose to pay tribute to Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin, as they were the first true “stars” of the film industry. Lovecraft’s undistinguished poem is notable only for its relative modernity of subject and style and its use of octosyllabic quatrains:

  I’ve seen you as an artist rare,

  With brush and paint-smear’d palette;

  I’ve seen you fan the empty air

  With ill-intention’d mallet.

  I’ve watch’d you woo a winsome fay

  (You must a dream to her be),

  But ne’er have caught you in a play

  Without that cane and derby!

  The poem ends with an outrageous “rouse us / trousers” rhyme, which, as Lovecraft admitted to the metrical purist Kleiner, “is not meant to be perfect—merely allowable.”[96]

  Lovecraft clearly had a fondness for Chaplin, remarking: “Chaplin is infinitely amusing—too good for the rather vulgar films he used to appear in—and I hope he will in future be an exponent of more refined comedy.”[97] Douglas Fairbanks “doubtless has much less of actual genius,” but Lovecraft enjoyed his films “because there is a certain wholesomeness present, which the Chaplin type sometimes lacks.”[98]

  But Lovecraft’s doubt as to the aesthetic substance of
film is evident in “To Mistress Sophia Simple, Queen of the Cinema,” dated to August 1917 on the manuscript but not published until the November 1919 United Amateur, when it appeared along with the poem that inspired it, Kleiner’s “To a Movie Star.” This exquisite little satire in quatrains skewers the insipid film heroine very effectively:

  Your eyes, we vow, surpass the stars;

  Your mouth is like the bow of Cupid;

  Your rose-ting’d cheeks no wrinkle mars—

  Yet why are you so sweetly stupid?

  This leads us to a rather peculiar episode that occurred in January 1917. Fay’s Theatre, located at the corner of Union and Washington Streets in downtown Providence, offered a prize of $25 for the best review of a film that Lovecraft calls The Image-Maker of Thebes, but whose title as listed in reference works is simply The Image Maker; it was shown (according to newspaper advertisements) on January 22–24, 1917. Lovecraft, having nothing better to do, went to see the film and participated in the contest. The five-reel film—about a modern-day couple in Florida who eventually realise that they are reincarnated counterparts of ancient Egyptians—was even worse than he expected: “a rough-hewn amateurish affair dealing with reincarnation in a pitifully feeble & hackneyed manner, containing not the slightest subtlety or technical skill in plot, directing, or acting.”[99] Lovecraft, now giving up hope of winning the contest, wrote a sizzling four-page review “in my customary U.A.P.A. manner—which would, in colloquial parlance, be designated as a ‘roast’!” To his amazement, he won the contest!

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