I am providence the life.., p.89

I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft (2 VOLUMES), page 89


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

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  There was, however, better news from Wright. Lovecraft had evidently sent him “The Outsider” merely for his examination, as it was already promised to W. Paul Cook—apparently for the Recluse, which Cook had conceived around September.[91] Wright liked the story so much that he pleaded with Lovecraft to let him print it. Lovecraft managed to persuade Cook to release the story, and Wright accepted it sometime around the end of the year; its appearance in Weird Tales for April 1926 would be a landmark.

  The rest of the year was spent variously in activity with the Kalems, in receiving out-of-town guests, and in solitary travels of an increasingly wider scope in search of antiquarian oases. Some guests had come earlier in the year: John Russell, Lovecraft’s erstwhile Argosy nemesis and now a cordial friend, came for several days in April; Albert A. Sandusky showed up for a few days in early June. Now, on August 18, Alfred Galpin’s wife, a Frenchwoman whom Galpin had married the year before while studying music in Paris, arrived; she would stay until the 20th, when she would move on to Cleveland. Sonia was in town, so the two of them took her out to dinner and a play before returning to 169 Clinton, where Mrs Galpin had agreed to take a room during her stay. The next morning, however, she complained bitterly of bedbugs, and in the evening moved to the Hotel Brossert in Montague Street. But she took in the Kalem meeting that day, as did Sonia: evidently the presence of an overseas guest caused a suspension of the “stag rule.”

  Lovecraft continued to act conscientiously as host to the Kalems on occasion, and his letters display how much he enjoyed treating his friends to coffee, cake, and other humble delectables on his best blue china. Indeed, McNeil had complained that some of the other hosts did not serve refreshments even though he always did, and Lovecraft was determined not to be lax in this regard. On July 29 he bought an aluminum pail for 49¢ with which to fetch hot coffee from the deli at the corner of State and Court Streets. He was forced to do this because he could not make coffee at home—either because he did not know how or because he had no heating apparatus. He also invested in apple tarts, crumb cake (which Kleiner liked), and other comestibles. On one occasion Kleiner did not show up, and Lovecraft lugubriously noted: “The amount of crumb-cake remaining is prodigious, & there are four apple tarts—in fact, I can see my meals mapped out for me for two days!! Ironic circumstance—I got the crumb-cake especially for Kleiner, who adores it, & in the end he was absent; so that I, who don’t particularly care for it at all, must swallow unending quantities of it in the interest of oeconomy!”[92] If any further indication of Lovecraft’s poverty is needed, this must surely be it.

  Some new colleagues emerged on Lovecraft’s horizon about this time. One, Wilfred Blanch Talman (1904–1986), was an amateur who, while attending Brown University, had subsidised the publication of a slim volume of poetry entitled Cloisonné and Other Verses (1923)[93] and sent it to Lovecraft in July. (No copy of this book has, to my knowledge, surfaced.) The two met in late August, and Lovecraft took to him immediately: “He is a splendid young chap—tall, lean, light, & aristocratically clean-cut, with light brown hair & excellent taste in dress. . . . He is descended from the most ancient Dutch families of lower New York state, & has recently become a genealogical enthusiast.”[94] Talman went on to become a reporter for the New York Times and later an editor of the Texaco Star, a paper issued by the oil company. He made random ventures into professional fiction, and would later have one of his stories subjected to (possibly unwanted) revision by Lovecraft. Talman was perhaps the first addition to the core membership of the Kalem Club, although he did not begin regular attendance until after Lovecraft had left New York.

  A still more congenial colleague was Vrest Teachout Orton (1897–1986). Orton was a friend of W. Paul Cook and at this time worked in the advertising department of the American Mercury. Later he would achieve distinction as an editor at the Saturday Review of Literature and, still later, as the founder of the Vermont Country Store. For the time being he lived in Yonkers, but moved back to his native Vermont not long after Lovecraft’s return to Providence. He visited Lovecraft at 169 Clinton on December 22, and they spent the rest of the afternoon and evening together—dining at Lovecraft’s usual Brooklyn restaurant, John’s, walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, and making their way to Grand Central Station, where Orton caught an 11.40 train back to Yonkers. Lovecraft was tremendously taken with him:

  No more likeable, breezy, & magnetic person ever existed than he. In person of smallish size; dark, slender, handsome, & dashing, he is clean-shaven of face & jauntily fastidious of dress . . . He confessed to 30 years, but does not look more than 22 or 23. His voice is mellow & pleasant . . . & his manner of delivery sprightly & masculine—the careless heartiness of a well-bred young man of the world. . . . A thorough Yankee to the bone, he hails from central Vermont, adores his native state and means to return thither in a year, & detests N.Y. as heartily as I do. His ancestry is uniformly aristocratic—old New England on his father’s side, & on his mother’s side New England, Knickerbocker Dutch, & French Huguenot.[95]

  One almost gets the impression that Orton was the sort of person Lovecraft wished he were. Orton became perhaps the second honorary member of the Kalems, although his attendance at meetings was also irregular until after Lovecraft’s departure from New York. Orton did a little literary work of his own—he compiled a bibliography of Theodore Dreiser, Dreiserana (1929), founded the Colophon, a bibliophiles’ magazine, and later founded the Stephen Daye Press in Vermont, for which Lovecraft would do some freelance work—but he had little interest in the weird. Nevertheless, their mutual New England background and their loathing of New York gave the two men much to talk about.

  Aside from activities with friends, Lovecraft engaged in much solitary travel in the latter half of 1925. Only three days after his all-night ramble that ended in Elizabeth on August 10–11, when he wrote “He,” Lovecraft went there again on the night of August 14–15, this time proceeding on foot to the small towns of Union Center (now Union) and Springfield, several miles northwest of Elizabeth, and coming back through the communities of Galloping Hill Park, Roselle Park, and Rahway. (Lovecraft noted that, in returning to Scott Park in Elizabeth, he began another horror story;[96] but, if it was finished, as is unlikely, it does not survive.) This was an enormous distance to cover on foot, but Lovecraft was tireless in the hunt for antiquities.

  On August 30 Lovecraft made his first visit to Paterson, to join Morton, Kleiner, and Ernest A. Dench in a nature hike with the Paterson Rambling Club. His response to the town itself was not favourable:

  Of the “beauty” of the town, nothing could be said without liberal draughts on the imagination—for it is certainly one of the dreariest, shabbiest, & most nondescript places it has ever been my misfortune to see. . . . Life seems mostly in the hands of Yankees & Germans, though a mongrel Italian & Slav element is indicated by the physiognomies of the repulsive rabble—the mill folk. . . . The town is said to have good parks, though I beheld none of them. Its hideous factory section is fortunately out of sight, across the river from the ordinary parts.[97]

  I am not sure that things have gotten much better since. But the goal of the present journey was Buttermilk Falls, which proved to be no disappointment:

  There is a glorious picturesqueness & an ineffable majesty in such a spectacle—the precipitous cliff, the rifted rock, the limpid stream, & the titanic tiers of terraces flanked by massed slender columns of immemorial stone; all bathed in the abysmal hush & magical green twilight of the deep woods, where filtered sunlight dapples the leafy earth & transfigures the great wild boles into a thousand forms of subtle & evanescent wonder.

  Once again Lovecraft demonstrates the keenest sensitivity to every sort of topographical stimulus—city or country, suburb or woodland, island or ocean. Only six days later, on September 5, Lovecraft, Loveman, and Kleiner undertook a late-night exploration into a region of Brooklyn not far from 169 Clinton—Union Place, a small cobblestoned street (now sadly demolished) that
Lovecraft describes as follows:

  Litten only by the gibbous moon, & by a solitary lamp-post that flickered fantastically, there lay beyond that wooden tunnel a little realm apart—a brooding backwater of the 1850’s, where in a quadrangle facing a central iron-railed bit of park stood side by side the high-stopped houses of elder days, each in its iron-fenced yard with garden or grass-plot, & totally innocent of the injudicious restorer’s vandal touch. Silence rested soothingly on every hand, & the outer universe faded from consciousness as it retreated from sight. Here dreamed the past inviolate—leisurely, graceful & unperturbed; defying all that might occur in the seething hell of life beyond that protecting archway.[98]

  Respites from New York could be found in the least expected places, and surprisingly close to home.

  On September 9 Lovecraft and Loveman joined the Long family on a boat ride up the Hudson River to Newburgh, some twenty miles north of the city. Along the way they sailed by such towns as Yonkers, Tarrytown, and Haverstraw—the area Washington Irving had vivified in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and other works. They had only forty minutes to explore Newburgh (“where colonial gables & twisting byways supply an atmosphere hardly to be duplicated this side of Marblehead”[99]), but they made the most of it. The return trip, on a different boat, was uneventful. On the 20th Lovecraft took Loveman on a tour of Elizabeth.

  One of his most extensive trips of the season was a three-day trip to Jamaica, Mineola, Hempstead, Garden City, and Freeport on Long Island. Jamaica was then a separate community but is now a part of Queens; the other towns are in Nassau County, east of Queens. On September 27 Lovecraft went to Jamaica, which “utterly astonisht” him: “There, all about me, lay a veritable New-England village; with wooden colonial houses, Georgian churches, & deliciously sleepy & shady streets where giant elms & maples stood in dense & luxurious rows.”[100] Things are, I fear, very different now. Thereafter he went north to Flushing, also once separate and also now part of Queens. This was a Dutch settlement (the name is an Anglicisation of Vlissingen), and it too retained gratifying touches of colonialism. (Today, I fear, it is one unending succession of cheap brick apartment buildings.) One structure in particular—the Bowne house (1661) at Bowne Street and 37th Avenue—he was particularly anxious to find, and had to ask many policemen (who “were not very good antiquarians, for none of them had either seen or heard of the place”) to locate it at last; it delighted him, but I cannot ascertain whether he actually entered the building. He may not have done so, for it may not have been open as a museum as it is now. He stayed in Flushing till twilight, then returned home.

  The next day he returned to Flushing and Jamaica, examining both sites in greater detail. The 29th, however, was his great Long Island journey. He first came to Jamaica, whereupon he caught a trolley for Mineola; his ultimate goal was Huntington, but having no map and not knowing the trolley system, he was unsure how to get there. The route to Mineola he found quite dull (it was “lined almost continuously with modern real-estate developments testifying mournfully alike to the spread of the city & to the want of taste & ingenuity in the architects of small dwellings”[101]), and Mineola itself was scarcely less so. He proceeded to walk southward to Garden City, where he saw the extensive college-like brick buildings of Doubleday, Page & Co., now (after many years as Doubleday, Doran) simply Doubleday; the publisher has moved its editorial offices to Manhattan but still retains a considerable presence in its city of origin. Continuing southward on foot, he came to Hempstead, which captivated him utterly: “Enchantment reign’d supreme, for here dwelt the soul of antique New-England in all its fulness, unimpair’d by the tainting presence of a foreign Babylon some twenty or twenty-five miles to the east.”[102] Once again it was the churches that delighted him—St George’s Episcopal, Methodist, Christ’s First Presbyterian, and others. He spent considerable time in Hempstead (which, alas, has changed quite considerably from the time Lovecraft saw it, and not for the better), then continued south on foot to Freeport, which he found pleasant but undistinguished from an antiquarian point of view. All this walking must have covered close to ten miles. Only at this point did he take a trolley for Jamaica and then an elevated back to Brooklyn. Five days later, on October 4, he took Loveman to Flushing and Hempstead (by trolley, this time).

  With winter coming on, Lovecraft’s trips perforce became fewer, although he visited Canarsie, Jamaica (where he saw the Rufus King Mansion, a magnificent 1750 gambrel-roofer with two ells that still stands), and Kew Gardens (a modern development in Queens with pleasing neo-Elizabethan architecture that still retains its charm today) on November 13, returning to Jamaica on the 14th and taking Loveman again to Flushing on the 15th.

  The importance of these expeditions to Lovecraft’s psyche can scarcely be overestimated. The shimmering skyscrapers of Manhattan had proven, upon closer examination, to be an oppressive horror; as he had noted when refusing the offer to edit Weird Tales in Chicago, “it is colonial atmosphere which supplies my very breath of life.”[103] Lovecraft had, indeed, developed an uncanny nose for antiquity, whether it be in Manhattan, Brooklyn, or in the further reaches of the metropolitan area. The frequency with which he compares what he sees to New England may perhaps be understandable—New England always remained his frame of reference in these and most other matters—but can we detect an indirect plea to Lillian in them? Lovecraft had dutifully sent Lillian the three stories he had written in late summer, one of which (“In the Vault”) is actually set in New England, and the other two—“The Horror at Red Hook” and “He”—feature characters who either temporarily or permanently end up there.

  Sonia was not doing especially well herself. In October she had lost the position in Cleveland—whether she quit or was fired is unclear—but seems to have found another job fairly quickly. This too, however, was unsatisfactory, since like its predecessor it was on a commission basis and therefore engendered fierce rivalry among the various salespeople.[104] In November Lovecraft spent the better part of four days writing or revising an article on salesmanship for Sonia. He now reported that her new job was going better, Sonia having made “a decided ‘hit’ in the educational department of the store” with an earlier article.[105] What store is this? Lovecraft specified in a later letter that it was Halle’s, the leading department store in Cleveland. Halle Brothers Company had been founded in 1891 by Salmon P. and Samuel H. Halle. It originally manufactured hats, caps, and furs, but later became a department store that merely sold these items. In 1910 a large building at the corner of Euclid and East 12th Street was built; Sonia presumably worked here. She was hoping to come home for Christmas, but the work was so heavy that she made no trip to New York between October 18 and the middle of January 1926.

  Lovecraft accordingly spent a very pleasant Thanksgiving with the amateur Ernest A. Dench and his family in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. In late August he had gone there for a Blue Pencil Club meeting; the purported literary topic was Dench’s newborn son, and Lovecraft—by now becoming rather wearied of these artificial calls for literary production—wrote the unwontedly pensive, brooding poem “To an Infant,” which in long Swinburnian Alexandrines tells of the grimness of waking life and the power of dreams to overcome it. At Thanksgiving there was no call for prose or poetic contributions, and Lovecraft had an entertaining time with McNeil, Kleiner, Morton, and Pearl K. Merritt, the amateur whom Morton would soon marry.

  Christmas was spent with the Longs. He arrived at 1.30 in the afternoon, wearing his best grey suit (the “triumph”), finding McNeil and Loveman already there. The Long parents had purchased silk handkerchiefs for all, each in accordance with the guest’s individual taste: Lovecraft’s was a subdued grey, while Long’s was a fiery purple. After a lavish turkey dinner, the party passed around a grab-bag consisting of useful items purchased from Woolworth’s—things like shaving soap, a toothbrush (which Lovecraft later found too hard for his gums), talcum powder, and the like. After this there was a contest to see which guest could ident
ify the greatest number of advertising illustrations taken from magazines. In spite of Lovecraft’s avowed unfamiliarity with the popular magazines, he won the contest by identifying six out of twenty-five (Loveman and McNeil identified five, Long only three); as victor Lovecraft received a box of chocolate creams. All this sounds amusingly like a young boy’s birthday party, but no doubt the guests took it in good spirit. A boring double-feature at the local cinema was followed by a light supper (with a lollypop on each plate!). Lovecraft came home at midnight.

  After September Lovecraft lapsed again into literary quiescence. During the last three months of the year he wrote only an effective weird poem, “October” (October 18) and a pleasing birthday poem, “To George Willard Kirk” (November 24). Then, in mid-November, Lovecraft announced: “W. Paul Cook wants an article from me on the element of terror & weirdness in literature”[106] for his new magazine, the Recluse. He went on to say that “I shall take my time about preparing it,” which was true enough: it would be close to a year and a half before he put the finishing touches on what would become “Supernatural Horror in Literature.”

  Lovecraft began the actual writing of the article in late December; by early January he had already written the first four chapters (on the Gothic school up to and including Maturin’s Melmoth and Wanderer) and was reading Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights preparatory to writing about it at the end of Chapter V;[107] by March he had written Chapter VII, on Poe;[108] and by the middle of April he had gotten “half through Arthur Machen” (Chapter X).[109] Lovecraft worked on the project in a somewhat peculiar way, alternately reading and writing on a given author or period. It is not entirely clear from his initial mention that Cook actually wished an historical monograph—an essay “on the element of terror & weirdness” could just as well have been theoretical or thematic—but Lovecraft clearly interpreted it this way. He justifies his compositional method—or, rather, declares it to be a matter of necessity—to Morton:

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