I am providence the life.., p.62

I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft (2 VOLUMES), page 62


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

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  He fended off complaints of high-handedness by declaring that the standards he was attempting to maintain were those established when the UAPA split into two factions in 1912—what he now uncharitably called “the departure of the chronically political element.” He continued: “Prior to that time the Official Organ was mainly a bulletin of reports; not, as the present agitators would imply, a repository for indiscriminate amateur writings. The standard developed since then is the creation of no one person, but a logical outgrowth of the rising calibre of a vital and progressive society.” To seal the matter, Lovecraft declared that “this office has received not so much as one complaint as to policy” save from two “politicians,” and that “throughout the present editor’s service not more than three manuscripts have been rejected.” Those italics betray Lovecraft’s impatience and irritation even more than the general tone of the editorial does.

  But in this case Lovecraft was not to prevail. In the UAPA election in July 1922, the “literature” side lost out to its opponents. Howard R. Conover was President; Edward T. Mazurewicz was First Vice-President; Stella V. Kellerman was Second Vice-President; Edward Delbert Jones was Chairman of the Department of Public Criticism. None of these individuals was a close associate of Lovecraft. He himself lost to Fritter for Official Editor by a vote of 44–29. It was, no doubt, a staggering blow, and may have gone a long way in showing Lovecraft that this phase of his amateur career was coming to an end.

  But the battle over the content of the United Amateur was not over. Anthony F. Moitoret—who had been both Official Editor (1919–20) and President (1920–21) of the NAPA—greeted the first issue of Fritter’s United Amateur as follows:

  Official Editor Fritter makes an auspicious beginning with his first number of “The United Amateur,” happily issued and mailed in the month for which it is dated. In his conception of an official organ that is just what the name implies—a compilation of current official business communications and notes which it is the right of every member to scan—the September “United Amateur” returns to the practice of former days before the Association’s paper became the dumping ground for a hodge-podge of alleged literary material that could not possibly find publication elsewhere.[14]

  That last stinger was clearly a jab at Lovecraft (as was the bit about the timeliness of Fritter’s issue, as issues under Lovecraft’s editorship were indeed perennially late); but since he was not on the official board and since his own Conservative was in abeyance, Lovecraft did not reply. He had regarded Moitoret with apprehension for some years. As early as 1916 he had noted that Moitoret “is working against the best literary interests of the association”;[15] and in 1919, in the midst of an election controversy, Lovecraft reports that Moitoret “expresses his determination to ‘kill off’ the ‘highbrow’ element if he can.”[16]

  But if Lovecraft did not respond, his colleagues did so. Horace L. Lawson, editor of the Wolverine, wrote hotly: “Mr. Moitoret resorted to absolute falsehood in his rancor against the previous administration when he termed Mr. Lovecraft’s excellent volume a ‘dumping ground for a hodge-podge of alleged literary material that could not possibly find publication elsewhere.’ The utter absurdity of this charge must be apparent even to Mr. Lovecraft’s bitterest enemies.”[17] Paul J. Campbell wrote with unwonted sarcasm just prior to the 1922 election:

  In order to save the association from the High-Brows every member must have access to the Official Organ on equal terms without literary restrictions. The raw recruit and the hungry yearner after space must be “encouraged” by having their grammatical errors conspicuously displayed on the front page. No longer will they submit to the insult of being told to improve their style or seek original ideas! Down with the tyrrany [sic] of literary standards![18]

  But Lovecraft had the last laugh. The new official board did manage to produce six issues of the United Amateur, but at the convention in late July 1923 Lovecraft’s literary party was almost entirely voted back into office; incredibly enough, Sonia H. Greene was elected President even though she had not knowingly placed herself on the ballot.[19] This whole turn of events appeared to rile Fritter, Moitoret, and their colleagues, and they acted in an obstructionist manner toward the new official board; the Secretary-Treasurer, Alma B. Sanger, withheld funds and failed to answer letters,[20] so that no United Amateur could be printed until May 1924. Sometime in the fall of 1923 Sonia issued a mimeographed flyer, “To the Members of the United,”[21] pleading with the members to pull together by resuming activity, renewing memberships, and in general making some effort to rescue the UAPA from its moribund condition.

  In his “Editorial” in the May 1924 United Amateur Lovecraft responded to the entire situation with surprising bitterness:

  Once more the United, well-nigh asphyxiated by the tender ministrations of those who sought to shield it from the rude winds of literature, commences the long and arduous climb “back to normalcy”. One is tempted to dilate upon the theme of “I-told-you-so”, and draw various salutary morals from the utter disintegration following the revolt against high standards; but in sober fact such gloating de luxe would be supremely futile. The situation teaches its own lesson, and we are not yet far enough out of the woods to indulge in leisurely exultation. The future is in our own hands, and the downfall of the anti-literati will avail us nothing unless we are ready to rebuild on the ruins of the edifice they demolished in 1922.

  The UAPA was not, indeed, out of the woods; in fact, it was in its terminal decline. Realising the apathy that was overtaking the entire membership in the absence of regularly issued United Amateurs, Lovecraft in the editorial endorses, with reservations and modifications, the plan of James F. Morton (who had joined the UAPA for the first time in thirty-five years of amateurdom, serving as the Chairman of the Department of Public Criticism) for a partial consolidation of the three amateur associations (UAPA, UAPA of A, and NAPA): the UAPA of A would cover the western portions of the country, since it was still largely based in Seattle; the NAPA would represent “amateurdom’s historical tradition and diverse activities social and political”; and the UAPA would continue in its advocacy of pure literature. It was a pipe dream, and one senses that Lovecraft knew it. No convention was held in 1924, and evidently the official board for that year was reelected by a mail vote; but that administration produced only one more issue (July 1925)—an issue remarkable for its complete dominance by members of Lovecraft’s literary circle (Frank Belknap Long, Samuel Loveman, Clark Ashton Smith, and of course Lovecraft himself). This ended Lovecraft’s official involvement with the UAPA. Although he strove valiantly to establish the next official board (Edgar J. Davis as President, Victor E. Bacon as Official Editor), it never really took off and, after one or two skimpy issues of the United Amateur, it died sometime in 1926.

  Although Lovecraft had not served as Chairman of the Department of Public Criticism since 1919, he continued to offer his views on the state of current amateur prose and verse. One of the most curious venues he chose for this enterprise was a column entitled “The Vivisector,” published under the pseudonym (or, more properly, house name) Zoilus in Horace L. Lawson’s Wolverine. The authorship of the five “Vivisector” pieces (which appeared in the Wolverine for March 1921, June 1921, November 1921, March 1922, and Spring 1923) has long been a matter of doubt, but correspondence between Lovecraft and Lawson clarifies the matter. All the articles could certainly not have been written by the same hand, since the November 1921 piece states, “My ‘Zoilian’ colleague shows fine common-sense in the March number . . .” Who, then, were the authors of these articles?

  That Lovecraft wrote at least some of them is confirmed by an undated letter (perhaps early 1921) from Lawson to Lovecraft: “As for your ‘Zoilus’ article, it reads about like a review of The Cleveland Sun.”[22] This seems to refer to the March 1921 article. In a letter dated March 20, 1921, Lawson writes: “May I have the next instalment of ‘The Visisector’ soon? I must start preparation for the May number
immediately.” The issue, of course, actually came out in June, and Lawson’s letter clinches Lovecraft’s authorship of the first two pieces. The third article—clearly not by Lovecraft—is, as mentioned earlier, a lengthy analysis of Lovecraft’s own “Facts concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family.” Lawson writes to Lovecraft in an undated letter (c. Autumn 1921):

  I think that a vivisection of the “Wolverine” might interest its readers, but I fear that you would not do justice to your own work in it. How would it do to do the larger part of the work yourself, and let Galpin or Kleiner or someone else criticize your own stories? That would help to justify my statement in regard to the department in the June “W”. However, this is merely a suggestion. You are the editor of the department, and so may do as you see fit in the matter.

  This establishes that Lovecraft was a sort of informal “editor” of “The Vivisector” and had control of what material was published in the column. A later letter by Lawson to Lovecraft (September 19, 1921) clarifies the authorship of the November 1921 article:

  I enclose Galpin’s review of The Wolverine, written at your request. He suggests in an accompanying letter, that it be changed to suit. It could never be run as it is, for we do not wish to have it in the form of a letter written by request; in several places it mentions you as the author of the previous criticisms; and we should keep it anonymous, don’t you think? If you will be kind enough to make this over to your taste, and return it, I’ll try to get to work on the issue.

  As it happens, Lovecraft does not seem to have revised the article greatly; it begins: “An invitation to criticise the last two issues of The Wolverine gives one an excellent opportunity for evil-doing. . . .” Mentions of Lovecraft’s authorship of the previous “Vivisector” columns have, however, been eliminated. This letter raises the question of who decided that the column should be anonymous, and why. Was it Lawson’s idea? Perhaps Lovecraft’s views on amateur affairs were by this time so well known that anything appearing under his name might be subject to violent rebuttal or dismissal by those who disagreed with him.

  For the authorship of the last two articles no external evidence is available, but internal evidence points to Lovecraft. The article for March 1922 discusses the work of Lovecraft’s fellow amateur poet Lilian Middleton and seems to be largely an extract or abridgement of an essay written on January 14, 1922 (unpublished during his lifetime), entitled “The Poetry of Lilian Middleton.” The final article studies the poetry of Lovecraft’s close friend Rheinhart Kleiner.

  The house name Zoilus—taken from the fourth-century B.C.E. Greek critic who gained notoriety for severely criticising the Homeric poems—is not very apt, since the articles are not notably censorious; most of them are quite lavish in their praise of amateur work. The first discusses several amateur papers, heaping especial praise on, of all things, George Julian Houtain’s Zenith for January 1921, which contains Houtain’s writeup of the amateur gathering at 20 Webster Street in July of the previous year; the second article lauds the one and only issue of Galpin’s Philosopher (December 1920). The contents of the remaining articles have already been noted. No one would want to read great significance into the “Zoilus” pieces, but they can be seen as the ultimate distillation of all the plodding work that Lovecraft did as Chairman of the Department of Public Criticism.

  I have already noted the lengthy tirade entitled “Lucubrations Lovecraftian,” published in the United Co-operative for April 1921. Its laborious and surprisingly bitter defence of the role of public criticism in amateurdom seems to be anomalously late, given that Lovecraft himself had ceased to be Chairman of the Department of Public Criticism in July 1919; but he still cherished enough hope for this department (now manned successively by his own colleagues, Alfred Galpin and James F. Morton) that he did not wish attacks upon it to go unanswered. The political content of this article will be discussed later. The only remarkable thing about this piece, aside from its sharpness of tone, is how Lovecraft bibliographers could have overlooked it in spite of a title that transparently betrays its authorship.

  Lovecraft was by no means aloof from the affairs of the NAPA. It is somewhat ironic that the only two national conventions he ever attended, in 1921 and 1930, were those of the NAPA, not the UAPA. The NAPA convention of 1921 was held on July 2–4 in Boston. Oddly enough, I have been unable to find any discussions of the event in Lovecraft’s correspondence—perhaps because, in spite of his devotion to the UAPA, he and most of his colleagues were also members of the NAPA and attended the convention, so that there would be no need to rehash it afterwards in letters—but two documents are of some interest. The first is an apparently unpublished essay, “The Convention Banquet,” giving an account of the NAPA banquet held at the Hotel Brunswick in Boston on July 4 at 8 P.M. Lovecraft tells of speeches given by James F. Morton, William J. Dowdell, Edward H. Cole, and—to culminate events—a tribute to W. Paul Cook, who in spite of his long and fruitful amateur career was attending his first actual convention and was given a silver loving-cup for his services to the cause. After Cook gave a brief and halting speech, the audience—rather in the manner of a crowd at a sporting event or a campaign rally—began chanting, “What’s the matter with Cook? He’s all right! Who’s all right? W. Paul Cook!” A number of other speeches—by George Julian Houtain, Laurie A. Sawyer, Edith Miniter, and others—followed.

  In this account Lovecraft passes very briefly over a speech he himself gave at the banquet, one that apparently directly followed the opening remarks by Toastmaster Willard O. Wylie. The speech survives under the title: “Within the Gates: By ‘One Sent by Providence.’” Next to some of his humorous short stories, it is one of the wittiest of Lovecraft’s prose performances. The title alludes to the fact of his unbending devotion to the UAPA—or, as he puts it in the speech, “the presence of a strictly United man in the midst of the National’s Babylonish revelry”—and he goes on to cite a line about another gate “which appears in the celebrated epic of my fellow-poet Dante”—“All hope abandon, ye who enter here.” The speech is full of genial barbs directed at Houtain, Edith Miniter, and other amateurs, and concludes by apologising for the “long and sonorous intellectual silence” of the speech (it is less than 1000 words).

  Clever as “Within the Gates” is, it is of importance merely for its existence: six weeks after his mother’s death, Lovecraft is resolutely making efforts to resume the course of his life, to the point of attending his first national amateur convention and being able to exchange harmless banter with amateur associates. In “The Convention Banquet” Lovecraft modestly fails to give any indication of how his speech was received, but I have no doubt it went over very well.

  One of the individuals who must have been in the audience was Sonia Haft Greene (1883–1972).[23] Sonia had been introduced to amateur journalism by James F. Morton; in an autobiography written in 1967 she claims to have known him since 1917.[24] She was one of a contingent of NAPA members from the New York area (among them Morton, Rheinhart Kleiner, and others) to go to the convention, and Kleiner later testified that he introduced her to Lovecraft at the event.[25] Very shortly thereafter Sonia became an ardent supporter of the amateur cause, not only joining the UAPA but contributing the unheard-of sum of $50.00 to the Official Organ Fund. In the “News Notes” for the September 1921 United Amateur Lovecraft acknowledges this contribution as an “example of amateur devotion and enthusiasm which should be heeded by all members as an inspiration to renewed activity.” In private letters he is less restrained:

  Some liberality! Upon sending in her United application, and merely after having read a few stray papers and old official organs, Mme. Greene unsolicitedly and unexpectedly came across with a pledge of FIFTY (count ’em—50!) refulgent rubles—HALF A HUNDRED scintillant simoleons—for the Official Organ Fund. Ten of ’em cash down. Oh, boy! Is that the ideal amateur spirit? We’ll notify the cosmos!![26]

  It is a pity that we know so relatively little about the woman whom Lo
vecraft would marry less than three years later. She was born Sonia Haft Shafirkin on March 16, 1883, in Ichnya (near Kiev) in the Ukraine. Her father, Simyon Shafirkin, apparently died when she was a child. Her mother, Racille Haft, left Sonia with her brother in Liverpool—where Sonia received her first schooling—and herself came to America, where she married Solomon H——— in 1892. Sonia joined her mother later that year. She married Samuel Seckendorff in 1899—she was not quite sixteen, her husband twenty-six. A son, born in 1900, died after three months, and a daughter, Florence, was born on March 19, 1902. Seckendorff, a Russian, later adopted the name Greene from a friend in Boston, John Greene.[27] In her memoir of Lovecraft, Sonia tells very little about this marriage; but Alfred Galpin provides an interesting sidelight:

  Her first marriage in Russia [sic] had been most unhappy, to a man of brutal character, and quarrels became bitter. “Let me tell you, Alfred, things have happened to me that never, never happened before to any living creature on earth!” In one of their quarrels—the last?—“I walked to the window,” which looked down several stories of the street, “and I said, ‘Georgi Fedorovitch, if you take one step forward, I shall hurl myself from this window!’”[28]

  I do not know what the name “Georgi Federovitch” is supposed to signify; perhaps this was a misrecollection on Galpin’s part. Samuel Greene himself died in 1916, apparently by his own hand.

  Sonia had taken some extension courses at Columbia University and had secured what she called “a highly paid executive position with a fashionable women’s wear establishment in Fifth Avenue,”[29] with a salary of $10,000 a year—probably at least five to ten times as much as Lovecraft ever made in any given year of his entire career. This establishment is Ferle Heller’s, which had two shops, one at 36 West 57th Street and the other at 9 East 46th Street; Sonia, whose specialty was hats, apparently worked at the former shop, since in her late autobiography she states that the establishment was “a few doors west of Fifth Avenue.”[30] She resided at 259 Parkside Avenue in the then fashionable Flatbush section of Brooklyn.

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