I am providence the life.., p.45

I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft (2 VOLUMES), page 45


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

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  Kleiner, a polished and debonair Brooklynite, was cordially received because his social standing was, in Susie’s eyes, at least equal to Lovecraft’s. Kleiner’s account continues:

  Just before broaching the subject of an outdoor stroll, I absentmindedly took my pipe out of my pocket. I don’t know why, but I suddenly felt that pipe-smoking in that house might not be quite the thing, and put it back into my pocket. At that very moment his mother appeared in the doorway again and espied the pipe sliding back into my pocket. To my surprise, she gave an exclamation of pleasure and wished that I could persuade Howard to smoke a pipe, as it would be “so soothing” for him. This may have been New England courtesy to cover a guest’s embarrassment, but I knew that I never made the slightest attempt to convert Lovecraft to pipe-smoking!

  Lovecraft’s hostility to smoking nearly equalled his disapprobation of drinking. Kleiner is not entirely accurate in saying that he never attempted to convert Lovecraft to pipe-smoking, for the general matter of smoking crops up several times in their correspondence. Lovecraft admits to Kleiner that “though I smoked when about twelve years old—just to seem like a grown man—I left off as soon as I acquired long trousers”; going on to say, “I cannot see yet what anyone finds attractive about the habit of imitating a smokestack!”[14] But the most interesting part of the above account is again social: Kleiner instinctively sensed that smoking in the house would be a faux pas, and perhaps Susie, acknowledging Kleiner’s tact, tried to cover up his “embarrassment” with a suggestion that she must have known her son would have scorned.

  These accounts are among the most illuminating as to Lovecraft’s life—and his relations with his mother—in this period. Both Cook and Kleiner are united on the extreme solicitude exercised by Susie and Lillian over Lovecraft. Cook notes: “Every few minutes Howard’s mother or his aunt, or both, peeped into the room to see if he had fainted or shown signs of strain . . .” Kleiner tells a more remarkable story: “I noticed that at every hour or so his mother appeared in the doorway with a glass of milk, and Lovecraft forthwith drank it.” It is this constant babying of Lovecraft by Susie and Lillian that no doubt helped to foster in Lovecraft’s own mind a sense of his “invalidism.”

  Kleiner suggested that they go out for a stroll, and Lovecraft took him to see the colonial antiquities of Providence—a tour he invariably gave to all his out-of-town guests, for he never tired of showing off the wondrous remains of the eighteenth century in his native city. But Lovecraft’s unfamiliarity with normal social conduct is made evident when Kleiner states:

  On our way back to his home, and while we were still downtown, I suggested stopping in at a cafeteria for a cup of coffee. He agreed, but took milk himself, and watched me dispose of coffee and cake, or possibly pie, with some curiosity. It occurred to me later that this visit to a public eating-house—a most unpretentious one—might have been a distinct departure from his own usual habits.

  This is very likely to be the case: not only because of the family’s dwindling finances, but because of Lovecraft’s continuing hermitry in spite of his ever-growing correspondence, a trip to a restaurant was at this time not likely to have been a common occurrence.

  That correspondence, however, did lead at this time to Lovecraft’s contact with two individuals, each remarkable in their own way, who would become lifelong friends—Samuel Loveman and Alfred Galpin. Loveman (1887–1976)—a friend or correspondent of three of the most distinctive writers in American literature (Ambrose Bierce, Hart Crane, and H. P. Lovecraft) and also well acquainted with George Sterling and Clark Ashton Smith—appears to be merely a sort of hanger-on to the great. But he was himself an accomplished poet—a greater poet than any in the Lovecraft circle except, perhaps, Clark Ashton Smith, and vastly superior to Lovecraft himself. His infrequently issued amateur journal, the Saturnian, contained his own exquisite, neo-Grecian, fin-de-siècle poems as well as translations from Baudelaire and Heine; and he scattered his poetry in other amateur or little magazines with bewildering insouciance, caring so little about its preservation that in the 1920s Lovecraft would compel Loveman to recite his poems so that Lovecraft could get them down on paper, something Loveman had not bothered to do. His greatest work is a long poem, The Hermaphrodite (written perhaps in the late teens and published in 1926 by W. Paul Cook), a gorgeous evocation of the spirit of classical Greece:

  I murmured: “For three thousand years

  Is that tale done, yet bitter tears

  Come to me now—to clasp and close

  The delicate ecstasy of those

  That vanished by no fault of mine.

  Radiant, remote, these friends of thine,

  So long ago! Another says

  That in Pieria many days

  The vintage through an autumn mist

  Shone purple amid amethyst,

  While in their vines one eve of gold

  The tortured god walked as of old,

  Bacchus, no doubt.”[15]

  It was to Loveman that Bierce wrote one of his last letters before vanishing into Mexico in late 1913: “This is only to say goodbye. I am going away to South America in a few weeks, and have not the faintest notion when I shall return.”[16]

  Lovecraft states that he came in direct contact with Loveman in 1917.[17] Loveman was at this time stationed at an army base, Camp Gordon, in Georgia, where he was in Company H of the 4th Infantry, Replacement Regiment. According to the UAPA membership lists, he remained there until the middle of 1919, when he returned to his native Cleveland. In the early to mid-1910s, however, he must have been in California, where his friendships with Smith and Sterling were established. (Bierce, although a longtime San Franciscan, was mostly in Washington, D.C., at the time of his correspondence with Loveman [1908–13].) By November 1917 Lovecraft was already announcing that “Loveman has become reinstated in the United through me.”[18] Loveman, although heavily involved in the amateur movement from about 1905 to 1910, had been out of organised amateurdom for some years, and he attests that Lovecraft’s first letter was essentially a query as to whether Loveman was in fact still in the land of the living:

  The gist of the letter was this: the writer had long been an ardent admirer of my poetry, and its appearance had, from time to time, excited his admiration to such a degree that he had made bold to institute inquiries as to my whereabouts. He had, he asserted, practically given up any hope of finding me, when a clue to my location was indicated. Hence, his letter of inquiry: was I alive or dead?[19]

  Loveman, finding the antique diction of the letter (which he here parodies) both charming and faintly ridiculous, duly relieved Lovecraft’s doubts on this score.

  Lovecraft proceeds in his letter: “Jew or not, I am rather proud to be his sponsor for the second advent to the Association.” Robert H. Waugh[20] has pointed to the deliciously doubtful grammar of this remark—who is the Jew, Loveman or Lovecraft?—and it would be pleasant to think that Loveman had some eventual effect in relieving Lovecraft of his prejudice; but in fact Loveman was, in Lovecraft’s mind, what all Jews and other non-Anglo-Saxons should be: a totally assimilated American who had renounced his cultural ties to Judaism. Whether this is in fact the case or not is another matter—I do not know enough about Loveman’s own religious or cultural views to pass any judgment—but clearly Lovecraft thought it to be the case. In addition, the neoclassicism of Loveman’s poetry and his general air of languid sophistication could only appeal to Lovecraft. For several years their association was largely conducted on paper, but in 1922 they met in Cleveland and then, in 1924–26, they became close friends in New York.

  Alfred Galpin (1901–1983) is an entirely different case. This brilliant individual—as gifted in pure intellect as Loveman was in aesthetic sensitivity—would eventually become a philosopher, composer, and teacher of French, although his rapid alterations in intellectual aspirations may have prevented him from distinguishing himself in any one of them. Galpin first came to Lovecraft’s attention in late 1917, wh
en he was appointed to the new position of 4th Vice-President, in charge of recruiting high-school students into amateurdom. This appointment was very likely suggested by Maurice W. Moe, since Galpin was at that time already emerging as a star pupil in the Appleton (Wis.) High School and specifically in Moe’s Appleton High School Press Club. By January 1918, the date of the first surviving letter by Lovecraft to Galpin, the two were already cordial correspondents.

  Galpin’s most profound effect upon Lovecraft may have been philosophical, for as early as August 1918 Lovecraft was announcing that Galpin’s “system of philosophy . . . comes nearest to my own beliefs of any system I have ever known,”[21] and in 1921:

  he is intellectually exactly like me save in degree. In degree he is immensely my superior—he is what I should like to be but have not brains enough to be. Our minds are cast in precisely the same mould, save that his is finer. He alone can grasp the direction of my thoughts and amplify them. And so we go down the dark ways of knowledge; the poor plodding old man, and ahead of him the alert little link-boy holding the light and pointing out the path. . . .[22]

  This obviously was meant half in jest, although Lovecraft clearly believed there was more than a grain of truth to it; and perhaps Galpin did indeed help to give shape to Lovecraft’s still nebulous philosophical conceptions, encouraging this “old man” of thirty-one to hone his mechanistic materialism. But it is not that that I wish to study here; rather, Galpin had a more immediate effect upon Lovecraft’s literary work, and it involved the production of some delightfully playful poetry.

  Lovecraft of course wrote some more or less conventional tributes to Galpin, especially on his birthday (“To the Eighth of November,” Tryout, November 1919; “To Alfred Galpin, Esq.,” Tryout, December 1920; “To a Youth,” Tryout, February 1921). “To the Eighth of November” was published a year late, as it commemorates Galpin’s seventeenth birthday (November 8, 1918). About this time a student named Margaret Abraham joined the Appleton High School Press Club; curiously, she was exactly one year younger than Galpin, so in 1919 Lovecraft commemorated both their birthdays in “Birthday Lines to Margfred Galbraham,” a poem that was apparently not published in Lovecraft’s lifetime.

  Whether Galpin had amorous inclinations toward Margaret Abraham is unclear; he certainly seems to have had such inclinations toward other girls in his high school, and Lovecraft had great fun with the whole subject. Galpin, in his memoir of Lovecraft, made brief note of “the petty incidents of a sophomore’s (or junior’s) life, including a number of ‘crushes’ in which he [Lovecraft] took an expressive interest—expressive to the point of commemorating them in verse.”[23] Galpin refrains from elaborating on the matter, but an examination of Lovecraft’s poetry of the period, as well as his letters to Galpin for 1918, will allow us to do so.

  The poems we have to deal with are “Damon and Delia, a Pastoral” (Tryout, August 1918), “To Delia, Avoiding Damon” (Tryout, September 1918), “Damon—a Monody” (United Amateur, May 1919), and perhaps “Hylas and Myrrha” (Tryout, May 1919) and “Myrrha and Strephon” (Tryout, July 1919), if these latter two are in fact about Galpin. Damon in these poems is clearly Galpin; the name is derived from the shepherd who is featured in the eighth eclogue of Virgil (a Damon also figures as a character in the first of Pope’s Pastorals). Is Delia a real person? She certainly seems so, although her name too is taken from Graeco-Roman pastoral: she is a minor character in Virgil’s third eclogue. In referring to some tongue-in-cheek love poems included in a letter to Galpin dated August 21, 1918, Lovecraft concluded: “They ought to melt even the beautiful perverse Delia!”[24] This is probably the same as the “Hibernian Chloë”[25] mentioned in a previous letter. If this girl was Irish, can we identify her? The membership list of the UAPA, printed in the United Amateur for November 1918, lists five girls of the proper age (the “b” category—16–21 years old) in Appleton: Gertrude L. Merkel, Muriel P. Kelly, Matilda E. Harriman, Ruth C. Schumacher, and Helen Mills. Perhaps Muriel P. Kelly is the Delia in question. A later reference by Lovecraft to “Delia-Margarita”[26] makes one think that perhaps Margaret Abraham herself is Delia. Of course, the girl need not have been in the UAPA at all. She was apparently scorning Galpin’s overtures, and most of Lovecraft’s poems play with this scenario. “To Delia, Avoiding Damon” opens with a prefatory note: “The old Bard Tityrus addresseth a Beautiful Perverse Nymph on behalf of his young Amorous Friend Damon, ending with a Threat of Satire if the Maid prove not kind to the youth.” Then he rebukes Delia in no uncertain terms:

  Senseless creature! thus to scorn

  One to wit and glory born;

  Future times with proud acclaim

  Shall revere thy Damon’s name:

  If thou prove not his, thy lot

  Bleak shall be—thy name forgot!

  Well, Lovecraft’s prediction has certainly come true. All this is amusing enough, although several hundred lines of this sort of thing can become a little wearying.

  In May 1918 another girl came to Galpin’s attention, one to whom Lovecraft refers as “the beauteous Miltonico-Shakespearian fellow-prodigy”[27] at the Appleton High School. This girl seems to have been of French extraction, as Lovecraft later calls her Mlle Shakespeare. I cannot identify this person, as no one with a French-sounding name appears on the UAPA membership list for Appleton; perhaps she never joined the association. In August Lovecraft wrote to her, singing Galpin’s praises:

  In my Galpinian interpolations, I took care to avoid any appearance of fulsomeness, but merely stated casually that Mr. Galpin is indeed a very remarkable young man, who despite his few years has come to be one of the leading workers in our cause, & who has a great future before him. Note this last item. By predicting a great future, I imply, of course, that anyone who shares that future will be fortunate indeed! . . . All hail to Theobald the Matchmaker!![28]

  Lovecraft spoke a little too soon, for Galpin did not marry for another several years—although, by coincidence, he did in fact marry a Frenchwoman.

  By October Galpin has apparently been lured back to Delia, and a new girl—called by Lovecraft “the wingèd Eleanora”[29]—has taken second place, with Mlle Shakespeare dropping to third. This is probably Eleanor Evans Wing, who shows up in the UAPA membership list for Appleton in November 1919; her classification is “a,” meaning that she is under sixteen. Lovecraft urges Galpin to pay more attention to the latter two than to Delia, who appears only to have good looks but does not have a keen mind like the others and is also shrewish and quarrelsome.

  All this is great entertainment, and some of the best of Lovecraft’s parodic love poetry is found in letters to Galpin. The letter for May 27, 1918, contains “A Pastoral Tragedy of Appleton, Wisconsin.” Galpin had himself evidently attracted the attention of some other girl—apparently not very good looking—and Lovecraft urges Galpin to cultivate her affections so as to prick Delia’s jealousy: “Such is the approved method of fiction.” In the poem he depicts this scenario, with the result that the blighted Hecatissa—the ugly girl whom Strephon uses only to make Chloë jealous—hurls herself “with desperate intent / Into the swift Fox River!” But there is an anomalous P.S.:

  The river-god her face espy’d,

  And felt a sudden pain—

  Declin’d to claim her as his bride,

  And cast her back again!

  The letter of August 21, 1918, contains a handful of parodies of love poems designed for “a lady’s album,” playing off an actual poem for such an album written by Rheinhart Kleiner. Lovecraft affixes hilarious pseudonyms to the poems—Kleinhart Reiner, Anacreon Microcephalos, and (my favourite) A. Saphead. Here is Saphead’s poem:

  Were the blue of the sea and the blue of the skies

  Half as sweet and as pure as the blue of your eyes;

  Were the scent of the fields, and the flow’r-laden air

  Half as potent and rich as your dear golden hair

  Then the world were an Heaven, and mine were the bliss
  To write verses forever as freely as this!

  Lovecraft adds: “Note the adaptability of the above gem to all varieties of maidens. True, there is no alternative for blue eyes—but in poesy all eyes are blue.” Lovecraft gives Galpin permission to “use any or all of these specimens if occasion arises . . .”

  Lovecraft’s final word on Galpin’s schoolboy crushes occurs in the delightful two-act play in pentameter blank verse entitled Alfredo: A Tragedy, the manuscript of which declares it to be “By Beaumont and Fletcher” and which is dated September 14, 1918. This date makes it clear that two of the chief characters—Rinarto, King of Castile and Aragon, and Alfredo, the Prince Regent—are meant to be Kleiner and Galpin, since Kleiner was president of the UAPA and Galpin was 1st vice-president during the 1918–19 term. Other obviously recognisable characters are Mauricio (= Maurice W. Moe), a Cardinal, Teobaldo (= Lovecraft), the prime minister, and three principal female characters: Margarita (= Delia = Margaret Abraham?), Hypatia (= Mlle Shakespeare), and Hecatissa (= the unattractive girl who had a crush on Galpin).

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