I am providence the life.., p.69

I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft (2 VOLUMES), page 69


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

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  At just the time when Lovecraft’s activity in the UAPA seemed on the wane, his involvement with the NAPA took on a sudden and wholly unforeseen turn: it was nothing less than his appointment as interim President to replace William J. Dowdell, who was forced to resign. It is not clear what led to Dowdell’s decision: a scholar of amateur journalism has curtly referred merely to “changes in his business life,”[1] but one wonders whether a remark Lovecraft let slip a few years later—that Dowdell “ran off with a chorus girl in 1922”[2]—has anything to do with the matter. In any case, the appointment was made by the three Executive Judges—Mrs E. Dorothy Houtain, Mrs Annie Cross Ellis, and A. V. Fingulin—who acted as adjudicators of constitutional amendments and had other supervisory functions, but who rarely involved themselves in the day-to-day operation of the association. The UAPA had a set of three Directors who appear to have served an analogous function.

  Kleiner describes the remarkable turn of events vividly:

  The occasion of his capitulation, in the home of Mr. and Mrs. George Julian Houtain, on Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, was a memorable one. It is true that he had begun to waver in his first resolution not to accept, but a final plea from Mrs. Houtain—a plea most irresistibly offered—completely shattered his last defences. The amateur world rocked with the sensation when Lovecraft’s name was announced as that of the new president.[3]

  It has been thought that this event occurred in September 1922, during Lovecraft’s extended New York trip; but in fact the “capitulation” took place on November 30, as Lovecraft stated much later.[4] On that date he also wrote a letter to the Executive Judges (probably in their presence) accepting the position; the letter was published in the National Amateur for November [1922]–January 1923. One curious remark occurs so early as a letter to Lillian Clark for August 31: “I had not intended to be active in amateurdom this year; but such are recent developments, that I may shortly make a political move well fitted to startle the entire fraternity and jolt my ungrateful colleagues in the United—of this more later.” But a footnote to this sentence reads: “Later—I probably shan’t make the move after all!”[5] This may or may not refer to some preliminary broaching of the idea of the presidency. In “The President’s Annual Report” (National Amateur, September 1923) Lovecraft for some reason dates the beginning of his appointment to November 20.

  In any event, Lovecraft’s first objective was to form an official board. Several other elected officials had resigned shortly after Dowdell; these included Wesley H. Porter (Secretary) and Elgie A. Andrione (Second Vice-President). They were replaced, respectively, by Juliette Harris and Mary F. Kennedy. Samuel Loveman, whom Dowdell had appointed Chairman of the Bureau of Critics (the NAPA’s department of public criticism), had initially chosen Lovecraft as a colleague; but upon his ascension to the presidency Lovecraft resigned this post, turning it over instead to Edward H. Cole. (Loveman’s chairmanship had, incidentally, inspired a clever poem by Lovecraft, “To Saml: Loveman, Gent., with a Fellow-Martyr’s Heartfelt Sympathy.”) Harry E. Martin—whom Lovecraft had met briefly but cordially in Cleveland earlier that year—remained as Official Editor and did solid work.

  Lovecraft made the first of five official reports (four “President’s Messages” and a “President’s Annual Report”) for the National Amateur dated November [1922]–January 1923. There had been no National Amateur since September 1922; the July 1922 issue had been typeset but not issued, and it emerged only later that winter. Lovecraft’s report, written on January 11, 1923, is an eloquent plea for the resumption of activity in light of the confusion involving the official board and the general apathy apparently overtaking all amateurdom; Lovecraft himself promised to issue another number or two of his Conservative and came through on the promise. He also announced a cooperative journal, the National Co-operative, which he planned to issue along the lines of the old United Co-operative, but I find no evidence that such a paper actually appeared. Most incredible of all, given his chronic poverty, Lovecraft himself contributed $10 (the equivalent of a week’s rent in his New York period) to the official organ fund. Approaching the completion of his ninth year of amateur activity, Lovecraft found himself still drawn to the cause.

  The actual content of the five issues of the National Amateur published under Lovecraft’s presidency does not wholly reflect his predilections, since of course Harry E. Martin had editorial control of the official organ; but Lovecraft worked closely with Martin on the selection of contents, naturally recommending the work of his old and new colleagues. And, of course, the presidency gave him a bully pulpit from which to express his own views of the proper course and direction of amateur activity. Just as he had done with the UAPA, he stressed abstract literary expression as the loftiest desideratum of the amateur; but he was forced to be a little circumspect in so doing, since the NAPA had long emphasised the typographical, social, and political side of amateurdom and Lovecraft was clearly loath to create ill-will by attempting any sort of violent break with tradition. His first “President’s Message” is a monument to tact on this matter. Recognising that the NAPA had been initially founded for the purpose of “laying principal stress upon the mechanical exercise of typography and the wit-sharpening regimen of political manoeuvring,” he claims that “social changes of the period”—in particular, the decreasing proportion of youthful members who could practice the “small boy ideal” of amateur printing—have rendered these goals obsolete. “Much more effective and desirable, as I view it, is the later conception developed by experience and exemplified in the golden age of the eighties and nineties, whereby literary advancement and liberal culture through mutual aid were recognised as paramount.” Lovecraft could speak with authority on these “Halcyon days” of amateurdom, since three years earlier C. W. Smith had lent him the leading journals of that period from which Lovecraft had written Looking Backward, serialised in the Tryout from February to July 1920 and shortly thereafter issued by Smith as a booklet—one of the earliest and rarest of Lovecraft’s separate publications.

  Lovecraft’s second “President’s Message” was written on March 7, 1923, and published in the March National Amateur. In it he reports progress on various fronts. The official board was now filled, while Dowdell himself returned to act as Secretary of Publicity, using his own funds for the office. In January Lovecraft had written a letter and had it mimeographed by J. Bernard Lynch[6] (it has not yet come to light, nor is it likely to do so), in which he asked for further contributions to the official organ fund, and he reported gradual but sufficient responses to it. Individual papers were starting to appear, including Horace L. Lawson’s Wolverine and Paul J. Campbell’s Liberal (whose February 1922 issue had included Lovecraft’s seminal autobiographical essay, “A Confession of Unfaith”).

  Lovecraft’s final two “President’s Messages” (May and July 1923) do not say much of consequence, but “The President’s Annual Report” for September 1923 (written on July 1) is a substantial document in which Lovecraft both expressed relief at his “official emancipation” and regret that he was unable to attend the upcoming convention in Cleveland. He scattered praise liberally to his fellow-members of the official board (especially Official Editor Martin), noted that forty-six papers were issued during his term as President, regretted the relative lack of new recruits, and once again encouraged abstract “self-expression” as the highest goal for the amateur. His concluding statement is eloquent, and shows that he has thoroughly enjoyed his official duties—perhaps because his being called upon to rescue a flagging organisation bolstered his self-esteem:

  The official year is over, and the present board will not be sorry to lay down its responsibilities. To the effective coöperation of my colleagues I owe whatever level short of failure my executive striving may have reached, and for that coöperation I wish to thank them as we retire. I have encountered no intentional obstacles and have found so much encouragement at every turn that I am forced to look outside the National in order to maintain m
y cosmic attitude of perfect cynicism. I believe that the coming year holds brilliant developments, and hope that the newly elected board may receive as undivided a support and as active a background as the members can give it. I for one shall not be half-hearted in my endeavours.

  That last sentence was no doubt sincere, but it proved to be wish-fulfilment; for Lovecraft did not in fact do much more work for the NAPA in the short term. As early as February, Edward H. Cole was urging Lovecraft to run for President for the 1923–24 term; Lovecraft blanched at the idea (for he profoundly disliked the tedious administrative burdens that went with the office), and he discovered shortly thereafter that Hazel Pratt Adams was keen on running and was being supported vigorously by James F. Morton.[7] As a result, he felt that his own candidacy would cause a schism among his own colleagues. (Adams in fact won the presidency.) His reelection as Official Editor of the UAPA in July 1923 compelled him in any event to turn his attention back to his original amateur organisation. It would be a decade before he would resume ties with the NAPA.

  Lovecraft’s presidency did not by any means signify the end of his own individual amateur work. His Conservative was revived for two final issues in March and July 1923. These issues had been planned long in advance; one of the “News Notes” in the July 1921 United Amateur declares: “A revival of The Conservative is to be expected in the near future, at least two numbers being likely to appear during the official year. The first will contain a notable group of poems likely to win the approval of the discriminating.” I do not know the causes for the long delay; perhaps there was a shortage of funds in the family coffers (especially given that Lillian, now head of the household, did not look at all kindly on amateur journalism). Lovecraft’s travels of April and August–September 1922 further depleted the exchequer, as Lovecraft confessed in letters to Samuel Loveman, who was urging him to visit Cleveland again for the NAPA convention in July (where, as president, Lovecraft would preside):

  De re Clevelandica—I wish to hell I could be more certain about the cash question! It looks like a damn gloomy season, for nerves & household illness have reduced my Bushic capacity to a minimum, & I gotta helluva lotta expenses ahead. . . . So as I say, when I think of finance, my naturally long face tends to acquire an exaggeration of its original proportions! But still—if I can get me noives together enough to punish a record pile of Bush junk, there’s no telling what I can do by July . . . provided my conservative aunt doesn’t make too big a kick against my barbaric extravagance.[8]

  Among the expenses Lovecraft speaks of here is the printing of the Conservative and the purchase of a new suit. In this letter he avers that “nothing respectable comes for less than XXX shiners nowadays,” but the suit ended up costing $42, which made his aunts “dead set against any wholesale expenditures at this melancholy season of monetary sterility.”[9] Unfortunately, the suit was stolen two years later in Brooklyn.

  The two issues of the Conservative—printed by Charles A. A. Parker of Boston, editor of L’Alouette—were, however, well worth of cost of printing. They feature many of Lovecraft’s closest colleagues, including Loveman, Morton, Galpin, and Long. Issue number twelve (March 1923) is only eight pages, but contains Loveman’s poignant poem, “Thomas Holley Chivers” (the friend of Poe), Long’s “An Amateur Humorist” (on which more later), and editorial comments by Lovecraft. The thirteenth number, however (July 1923), is, at twenty-eight pages, the longest Conservative ever issued, although this is in some senses misleading, for the page dimensions of both these final issues are far smaller than those of earlier issues. In any event, this last issue leads off boldly with Loveman’s exquisite ode “To Satan” (dedicated to Lovecraft), followed by “Felis: A Prose Poem” by Long (a tribute to his cat), an essay and a prose-poem by Galpin (under the pseudonyms A. T. Madison and Anatol Kleinst), a long poem in Scots dialect by Morton, poems by Lilian Middleton and John Ravenor Bullen, and more editorial matter by Lovecraft. It was a triumphant conclusion to his amateur periodical.

  But even if Bush work was not providing much income, there were other venues for Lovecraft’s revisory talents, even in the amateur community. One of the most notable was nothing less than Lovecraft’s first appearance in hardcover, in a volume entitled The Poetical Works of Jonathan E. Hoag. Hoag, it will be remembered, was the ancient poet (born 1831) in Troy, New York, for whom Lovecraft had been writing annual birthday odes since 1918. Now he wished to see a bound book of his verse and enlisted Lovecraft to gather, revise, and publish his work. Lovecraft in turn called upon Loveman and Morton to aid him. By November 1922 he had received some of the poems as revised by Loveman; he instructed Hoag to pay Loveman $5.00 for 120 lines (or $1.00 for 20 lines, considerably less than the $1.00 for 8 lines that Lovecraft was getting from Bush). The book’s publication was being funded by Allen C. Balch, a wealthy entrepreneur who was apparently a friend of Hoag. This point is worth emphasising, since it has long been believed that Lovecraft himself helped to subsidise the book, a highly unlikely prospect given the leanness of his purse. Morton also helped with the revision and was evidently responsible for overseeing the reading of the final page proofs: Lovecraft expresses irritation at Morton’s failure to correct some last-minute errors.[10] Lovecraft had an unbound copy by late April, and presumably the finished book emerged shortly thereafter. In the end he waived “all monetary remuneration for my share of the editing”[11] in exchange for twenty copies of the book!

  The Poetical Works of Jonathan E. Hoag contains an introduction by Lovecraft in which he bends over backwards to find something good to say about Hoag’s mediocre and conventional poetry. Probably what attracted him to Hoag in the first place was that sense of defying time which was at the core of Lovecraft’s own sense of the weird:

  Penned in this age of chaos and change, fever and flourish, by a man born when Andrew Jackson was President, when Poe was an unknown youth with his second thin volume of verses in the press, when Coleridge, Moore, Crabbe, Southey, and Wordsworth were living bards, and when the memory of Byron, Shelley, Blake, and Keats was still recent; the present collection of poems is probably unique in its defiance of time and whim.

  Even here Lovecraft is exaggerating a bit, since Hoag began writing poetry only at about the age of eighty-five, or around 1915. Still, Lovecraft finds charitable things to say about Hoag’s “odes to Nature’s primal forces,” which “sometimes reach impressive depths, as where in speaking of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado he refers to black caverns where ‘Vast nameless satyrs dance with noiseless feet.’” The volume also contains the first six of Lovecraft’s birthday odes (1918–23); he would write four more, followed by an elegy in the autumn of 1927, when Hoag died at the age of ninety-six.

  Two poems in the volume are of some interest—“Death” and “To the American Flag.” They are of interest not because of any intrinsic merit in them—they are as conventional as the rest of Hoag’s verse—but because they have been attributed to Lovecraft. After Lovecraft’s death Rheinhart Kleiner supplied Hyman Bradofsky with a set of six poems for the memorial issue (Summer 1937) of the Californian; these included four poems undoubtedly by Lovecraft (“Sunset,” “Phaeton,” “August,” and “Providence”) along with the two Hoag poems; August Derleth subsequently included both in Collected Poems (1963). “Death” had already appeared, as by Hoag, in the amateur press (Silver Clarion, November 1918); there was probably an amateur periodical appearance for “To the American Flag,” but I have not found it. I asked Bradofsky why Kleiner had come to the opinion that these works were by Lovecraft, and Bradofsky said he did not know. It is possible that Lovecraft revised them rather more extensively than he did the remainder of Hoag’s poems; certainly “Death” has sentiments that might be thought Lovecraftian:

  What goal of growth could Life possess,

  If stretch’d out into emptiness,

  With bleak unbounded range?

  What bard with grace could ever sing

  The cloying charm of endless Spring,
  Or praise eternal day?

  “To the American Flag” is no better or worse than Lovecraft’s own forgettable patriotic verse. In a 1925 letter Lovecraft speaks of virtually ghostwriting a poem for Hoag, “Alone” (I have found no published appearance for this work, but Lovecraft transcribed the entire poem in his letter),[12] so it is conceivable that these poems really are Lovecraft’s; but the matter will have to await further confirmation.

  Meanwhile there was much more travel in the offing—in particular the wonders of Salem, Marblehead, and other Massachusetts sites, some of which he had discovered late in 1922. Lovecraft visited the Salem-Marblehead area at least three times early in 1923—in early February,[13] in March, and again in April. Of the first trip we do not know much; of the second, occurring on March 10–11, Lovecraft took in a meeting of the Hub Club in Boston, stayed overnight with Edward H. Cole, and returned home. It was on this occasion that he met Albert A. Sandusky, who had printed the earliest issues of the Conservative. Sandusky indulged in the rampant use of contemporary slang, and his “wise-cracks”[14] charmed Lovecraft, who shortly thereafter wrote an engaging poem about the Hub Club dinner—“The Feast (Hub Journalist Club, March 10, 1923)”—with a ponderous dedicatory letter to “Wisecrack Sandusky, B.I., M.B.O. (Bachelor of Intelligence, Massachusetts Brotherhood of Owls),” in which he dynamited both his own adherence to archaism and Sandusky’s very different orientation: “I, Sir, am an old-fashion’d man still partial to the language of Dr. Johnson’s aera; you are a creator of that lively speech which will be classical a century hence.” In the poem itself Lovecraft, aside from exhibiting Sandusky’s lively speech (“‘Nobody home there, bo—no use to knock on ye! / But bozo, can that line of low-grade Socony!’”), cannot resist making a gorgeous pun on Cole’s name: “A radiant Cole supplies th’ enlightening spark . . .”

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