I am providence the life.., p.63

I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft (2 VOLUMES), page 63


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

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  Lovecraft supplies an effusive biographical account of her in the “News Notes” for the September 1921 United Amateur, an account surely derived from Sonia but with the lavish praise added by Lovecraft:

  Mrs. Greene is a Russian by birth, and descended from an illustrious line of artists and educators. Coming at an early age to the United States, she acquired a remarkable degree of erudition mainly through her own initiative; being now a master of several languages and deeply read in all the literatures and philosophies of modern Europe. Probably no more thorough student of Continental literature has ever held membership in amateurdom . . .

  Kleiner describes her physically as “a very attractive woman of Junoesque proportions”; Galpin, while using exactly the same classical adjective, paints a more piquant portrait:

  When she dropped in on my reserved and bookish student life at Madison [in 1921 or 1922], I felt like an English sparrow transfixed by a cobra. Junoesque and commanding, with superb dark eyes and hair, she was too regal to be a Dostoievski character and seemed rather a heroine from some of the most martial pages of War and Peace. Proclaiming the glory of the free and enlightened human personality, she declared herself a person unique in depth and intensity of passion and urge me to Write, to Do, to Create.

  Sonia was taken with Lovecraft from the start. Kleiner notes that “On our return to Brooklyn, she sought out all those who were friends of Lovecraft—myself among them—and spent most of the time talking about him.” Sonia bluntly confesses that, when first meeting Lovecraft, “I admired his personality but frankly, at first, not his person”—a clear reference to Lovecraft’s very plain looks (tall, gaunt frame, lantern jaw, possible problems with facial hair and skin) and perhaps also his stiff, formal conduct and (particularly annoying to one in the fashion industry) the archaic cut of his clothes.

  But a correspondence promptly ensued. Lovecraft heard from Sonia as early as mid- to late July of 1921, by which time she had already read some of Lovecraft’s stories that had appeared in the amateur press. Lovecraft professed to be taken with her, at least as an intellect: “Mrs. G. has an acute, receptive, and well-stored mind; but has yet to learn that impersonal point of view which weighs evidence irrespective of its palatability. She forms a welcome addition to the United’s philosophical arena . . .”[31]

  Up to this point, there does not seem any immediate attraction between the two except that of two intelligent and congenial minds. What of the fact, however, that (according to testimony cited earlier) Lovecraft and Winifred Virginia Jackson were considered to be having some sort of romance at this time? Lovecraft does not mention Jackson in his admittedly few discussions of the NAPA convention of 1921; and yet, it would have been remarkable (even given that she was a loyal UAPA member) for her not to have been there. The last of Lovecraft’s surviving letters to Jackson was written on June 7, 1921, two weeks after his mother’s death, and contains the following interesting notes:

  It may indeed be said with justice that you have lost a friend in my mother, for although you never heard directly from her, she may be reckoned among the earliest and most enthusiastic admirers of your work. . . . In case it would interest you to know my mother’s appearance during these latter days, I enclose a snap-shot—inadequate enough, I regret to say—which I took a year ago last autumn. Her appearance was as handsome as mine is homely, and her youthful pictures would form close rivals to your own in a contest for aesthetic supremacy.[32]

  Kenneth W. Faig, Jr wryly remarks: “What Miss Jackson thought of a man who sent her a snapshot of his mother along with praises of her own beauty, history has not recorded . . .”[33] This letter is, however, still very formal, and I have trouble envisioning any real intimacy between the two. Perhaps, indeed, it was Susie who had been encouraging such a liaison (if that is what it was)—she would surely have approved of Winifred far more than she would have approved of Sonia had she lived to meet her. But we hear nothing of Winifred after this date.

  It was Sonia who took things into her own hands. She visited Lovecraft in Providence on September 4–5, staying at the Crown Hotel. This is rather remarkable in itself—note that Winifred never seems to have made an effort to visit Lovecraft in his native city—and Sonia must have taken at least Monday the 5th off from work to make the trip. Lovecraft, as had already become customary with his out-of-town visitors, showed her the antiquarian treasures of Providence, took her back to 598, and introduced her to Aunt Lillian (“Both seemed delighted with each other, and my aunt has ever since been eloquent in her praise of Mme. G.”[34]), and then Sonia invited both Lovecraft and Lillian to dinner at the Crown; but as the latter had already had a noon meal, Lillian declined and Lovecraft had only coffee and ice cream. Perhaps neither of them wished to give the impression of taking advantage of Sonia’s generosity, since she manifestly wished to pick up the cheque for the meal. More antiquarian exploration followed, including the “cloistral hush” of the Brown University campus. The next day Sonia did manage to get Lovecraft and his aunt to come to the Crown for a noon meal, and presumably left on the long train ride back to New York (about five hours) shortly thereafter. Lovecraft sang her praises: “Mme. G. is certainly a person of the most admirable qualities, whose generous and kindly cast of mind is by no means feigned, and whose intelligence and devotion to art merit the sincerest appreciation. The volatility incidental to a Continental and non-Aryan heritage should not blind the analytical observer to the solid work and genuine cultivation which underlie it.”[35]

  Prior to her departure Sonia strongly urged Lovecraft to participate in (as he termed it in this letter) a “convention of freaks and exotics” in New York, including Samuel Loveman and Alfred Galpin from Cleveland, Lovecraft from Providence, and such New Yorkers as Frank Belknap Long, Rheinhart Kleiner, and James F. Morton. Lovecraft was tempted by the prospect, but was doubtful whether the thing could come off.

  In the meantime Sonia contributed to the amateur cause in other than monetary ways. In October 1921 the first of two issues of her Rainbow appeared; both would be forums for the poetic, fictional, essayistic, and polemical outpourings of Lovecraft and his inner circle of amateur colleagues. This first issue contains Galpin’s substantial essay, “Nietzsche as a Practical Prophet,” Lovecraft’s “Nietzscheism and Realism,” poems by Rheinhart Kleiner, Samuel Loveman, James F. Morton, and Sonia herself, and an editorial by Sonia, “Amateurdom and the Editor.” Of her two poems, “Ode to Florence” is a rather sappy little ditty on her daughter; the other, “Mors Omnibus Communis (Written in a Hospital),” is of slightly greater interest. Lovecraft admitted to revising this poem for Sonia,[36] and it indeed features several characteristics of Lovecraft’s own verse (including archaic elisions, absent from “Ode to Florence”) and even some sentiments that seem much more his than hers:

  And as the dying groan and scream

  Beneath the futile knife,

  They pray their gods to end the dream;

  The noxious dream call’d life.

  As for Lovecraft’s own “Nietzscheism and Realism” (the first word unfortunately misprinted as “Nietscheism”), an editor’s note announces: “This article is taken from correspondence not originally meant for publication.” Lovecraft himself declared that the extracts were made from two letters to Sonia.[37] This compendium of philosophical bon mots comprises, sadly enough, almost the sole remnant (aside from a handful of postcards and one other item to be discussed later) of what must have been an extensive and exceptionally fascinating correspondence—one which we would, from a biographical perspective, wish to have perhaps more than any other of Lovecraft’s. But Sonia is clear on its fate: “I had a trunkful of his letters which he had written me throughout the years but before leaving New York for California [around 1935] I took them to a field and set a match to them.”[38] No doubt Sonia, after all she had been through, was within her rights to do this, but all students of Lovecraft must groan when reading this terse utterance.

  The first issue of the Rain
bow was not only impressive in substance but exquisitely typeset and printed; it must have cost Sonia a significant sum. Kleiner hypothesises that it cost “a couple of hundred dollars.”[39] It featured photographs of Alfred Galpin, Rheinhart Kleiner, Lovecraft (a rather wooden one, and one that appears already to show him becoming somewhat stout), and a very attractive one of Sonia wearing a fetching hat—of her own design, presumably. Lovecraft again praises the issue in the “News Notes” of the September 1921 United Amateur: “Beyond a doubt, the leading amateur publication of the season is Mrs. Sonia H. Greene’s resplendent October Rainbow.”

  Being a professional amateur was perfectly suited to Lovecraft’s aristocratic temperament, but as time went on and the family inheritance increasingly dwindled, some thought must be paid to making money. He was surely aware of the principal reason for his mother’s nervous collapse—her worries about the financial future of herself and her son. Perhaps it was this that finally led him to make some effort at earning an income. I have already noted his doing some revisory work around 1916 for some amateur writers, and his casual, flippant, and probably never realised plans to collaborate with Maurice W. Moe on hack fiction under the pseudonym Horace Philter Mocraft. Then David Van Bush appeared on the scene.

  As noted earlier, Bush joined the UAPA in 1916. Lovecraft first mentions him, to my knowledge, in the summer of 1918. In speaking of helping a Mrs Arnold, an elderly woman friend of Alfred Galpin’s, with some of her poetry, Lovecraft remarks: “. . . if she has any large amount of work to be prepared for outside publication, I shall be pleased to handle it as I handle Rev. David V. Bush’s. It will not be such hard work, since Mrs. A. could not possibly perpetuate such utter & unqualified asininity as Rev. D. V. B.”[40] At this point it may be worth giving as complete a list of Bush’s published books as is currently known, arranged chronologically:

  Peace Poems and Sausages. [Webster, SD: Reporter & Farmer Print, 1915.]

  “Pike’s Peak or Bust”; or, The Possibilities of the Will. [Webster, SD: The Reporter & Farmer, 1916.]

  Soul Poems and Love Lyrics. St Louis: David Van Bush, [1916].

  What to Eat. St Louis: David Van Bush, [192-; rev. 1924].

  Grit and Gumption. [St Louis: David Van Bush, 1921.]

  Inspirational Poems. St Louis: Hicks Almanac & Publishing Co., [1921].

  Will Power and Success. [St Louis: Hicks Almanac & Publishing Co., 1921.]

  Applied Psychology and Scientific Living. [St Louis: David Van Bush, 1922; rev. 1923.]

  The Law of Vibration and Its Use. [St Louis: David Van Bush, 1922.]

  Poems of Mastery and Love Verse. [St Louis: David Van Bush, 1922.]

  The Power of Visualization: How to Make Your Dreams Come True. [St Louis: David Van Bush, 1922.]

  Practical Psychology and Sex Life. Chicago: David Van Bush, [1922].

  Affirmations and How to Use Them. Washington, DC: David Van Bush, [1923].

  Character Analysis: How to Read People at Sight. With W. Waugh. [St Louis: David Van Bush, 1923; rev. 1925.]

  Kinks in the Mind: How to Analyze Yourself and Others for Health. Chicago: David Van Bush, [1923].

  The Universality of the Master Mind. Chicago, [1923].

  What Is God? Dayton, OH: Otterbein Press, 1923.

  Your Mind Power. Chicago: David Van Bush, [1923].

  How to Put the Subconscious Mind to Work. Chicago: David Van Bush, 1924.

  Psychology of Healing. Chicago: David Van Bush, [1924].

  Psychology of Sex: How to Make Love and Marry. Chicago, [1924].

  Spunk. Chicago: David Van Bush, [1924].

  Concentration Made Effective and Easy. Chicago: David Van Bush, [1925].

  The Influence of Suggestion: Auto-Suggestion. St Louis: David Van Bush, [1925?].

  How to Hold “the Silence.” Chicago: David Van Bush, [1925].

  Relaxation Made Easy. Chicago: David Van Bush, [1925].

  (Editor) Practical Helps for Health, Poise, Power: Being Selected Articles from Mind Power Plus. Chicago: David Van Bush, [1928].

  The New Law, Radiation: How to Fulfill Your Desires. Chicago: David Van Bush, [1929].

  If You Want to Be Rich. Mehoopany, PA, 1954.

  Several things become evident from this list: first, most of Bush’s works were self-published; second, Bush initially attempted to write poetry, but later switched to a sort of inspirational pop psychology that, at least from the number of books published, was relatively successful; third, most of his publications are in the 1922–25 period. It is a dreary possibility that Lovecraft revised the bulk of these books, both prose and verse; on a flyer for Applied Psychology and Scientific Living (1922), Lovecraft has written: “I did 2 or 3 chapters in this. His regular staff did the rest.”[41] Since, however, he did not encounter Bush before 1917, it is mercifully unlikely that he revised the first three of Bush’s books; of that first title Lovecraft notes, in discussing “Lord” Timothy Dexter’s book, A Pickle for the Knowing Ones, “In 1796, stung by the ridicule of the publick, Dexter publish’d what was probably America’s queerest book—Bush’s Peace Poems & Sausages not excepted.”[42]

  The fact of the matter is that Bush became quite popular as a writer and lecturer on popular psychology. Lovecraft did not begin working in earnest for Bush until around 1920, and it is no accident that Bush’s titles begin appearing at a rapid rate thereafter. Lovecraft regarded Bush with a mixture of irritation and lofty condescension. In speaking of headaches, he writes: “I have just emerged from a veritable ‘killer’, contracted by working half the forenoon and all the afternoon on Bush junk.”[43] Lovecraft met him in the summer of 1922, when Bush was lecturing in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and paints a vivid portrait of him:

  David V. Bush is a short, plump fellow of about forty-five, with a bland face, bald head, and very fair taste in attire. He is actually an immensely good sort—kindly, affable, winning, and smiling. Probably he has to be in order to induce people to let him live after they have read his verse. His keynote is a hearty good-fellowship, and I almost think he is rather sincere about it. His “success-in-life” stuff is no joke so far as finance is concerned; for with his present “psychological” mountebank outfit, his Theobaldised books of doggerel, and his newly-founded magazine, Mind Power Plus, he actually shovels in the coin at a very gratifying rate. Otherwise he’d never have a suite at the Copley-Plaza.[44]

  The letter goes on at some length, touching on Bush’s rural upbringing, his wife, his odd jobs (trick cyclist in a circus, “ham” actor, clergyman), and his “new gospel of dynamic psychology” (“which has all the virtues of ‘New Thought’ plus a saving vagueness which prevents its absurdity from being exposed before the credulous public amongst whom his missionary labours lie”). The above passage implies that Lovecraft only revised Bush’s poetry volumes; but I suspect he must have had a hand with the psychology manuals as well. Sonia Davis suggests as much in her memoir:

  One man in particular . . . became a public lecturer on many scientific subjects of which he knew very little. When he wanted a quotation from the Bible or any other source, he would mention a word or two, not knowing what he really wanted, and H. P. would supply the necessary information. I listened to this man when he “lectured” on psychology in Los Angeles, to a large crowd, mostly women who were seeking healing for lost causes . . .[45]

  Lovecraft, in his classified ad in the New York Times in 1924 (for which see Chapter 15), states that he “has for seven years handled all the prose and verse [my emphasis] of a leading American public speaker and editor,” which can only be a reference to Bush. What is more, some of the psychology manuals contain bits of poetry, which Lovecraft no doubt revised. This poetry really is screamingly awful, and even Lovecraft could do little with it:

  Grit Your Teeth

  Are you bound down on every side,

  With sorrow underneath?

  Don’t quail or stop—you’ll land on top—

  But you must grit your teeth!

can do much in life, young man,

  Though starting far beneath.

  On top you’ll rise, ’neath adverse skies,

  If you but grit your teeth!

  Are you the under dog today?

  Dare not your sword to sheath,

  But firmly stand—on top you’ll land—

  If you will grit your teeth!

  Ay, set your jaw though gods and Fate

  Their darkest ills bequeath;

  You’re bound to win if you but grin

  And bravely grit your teeth![46]

  This poem even employs that internal rhyme which we have seen in Lovecraft’s own verse from as early as “The Poem of Ulysses.”

  The mention of Mind Power Plus is of some interest. The magazine is not listed in the National Union Catalogue or the Union List of Serials, and does not seem to be housed in any library in the world. Recently the issue of October 1923 was offered for sale, and it contains a wide array of articles, not merely on psychological subjects (e.g., “Psycho-Analysis: How It Is Done”), but a surprising number of pieces on religious or spiritualistic topics (“The Universal Consciousness of Christ,” “Do the Spirits of the Dead Return?”), along with recommendations for a healthy diet and a concluding section of “laughs.” It is not clear how typical this issue is. Otherwise, all we have is, among Lovecraft’s papers, a one-sheet clipping from it containing a signed article by Lovecraft, “East and West Harvard Conservatism.” This piece of frank promotion for Bush’s New England lecture campaign is surely one of the most degrading things Lovecraft was ever forced to write—for no doubt Bush commissioned it and paid him for it. The article seeks to explain why the lecture tour was not quite as thunderously successful in New England as in other regions of the country, and Lovecraft trots out any number of hackneyed saws about the New England temperament (it “is uniquely non-receptive because of its extreme unemotionalism . . . Spontaneous impulses have for so long been regarded as reprehensible weaknesses”); but he nonetheless concludes that “Dr. Bush . . . leaves behind him a gratifying number of new friends and active supporters.” It is impossible to tell from the clipping which issue of Mind Power Plus this article appeared in, but it probably dates to the summer or fall of 1922; the remarkable thing is that Lovecraft felt it worth the bother of saving. He also admitted revising at least one issue of the magazine in 1923, adding charitably that the material (by various hands, evidently) is “not as technically bad as DVB’s own drool.”[47]

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