I’m pleased to have bagged a bargain copy of the Talman letters, the full title of which is Letters to Wilfred B. Talman and Helen V. and Genevieve Sully. It’s a hefty 580-page slab, and I’ve made a start on it. Below is my first set of notes.
Lovecraft begins writing to Talman in early September 1925.
Page 17. Lovecraft calls the Kalem member Arthur Leeds… “a very throughout technician, and experienced in the art of practical suggestion”.
Page 18. He must have rated Myrta Alice Little’s intellect very highly, since in 1925 he ranks her in the nine top “active brains” he knows in amateurdom. His own is presumably the tenth. You’ll recall that in the summer of 1921 this tall beauty was Lovecraft’s faint but quite possible marriage prospect. She was religious, though, and soon married a handsome Methodist preacher.
Page 19. One of these “active brains” is British. An “Ernest Lionel McKeag”. Which one assumes he had at least some correspondence with. McKeag lived on until 1974 (other fannish sources say 1976) and wrote stories for British boys’ comics, true-life naval war-stories, and boys’ science-fiction and even two 1950s ‘lost race’ science-fiction books (published from Stoke-on-Trent of all places). Only his Lost City of the Sierras (1927) sounds like a candidate for a Lovecraft revision, but he seems more than capable of churning out his own tales for juveniles.
Page 19. In September 1925, ahead of Kadath, he describes the basic idea for it as… “extremely fantastic — the picaresque progress of a wandering spirit through the marvellous and undiscovered voids and worlds of the remotest universe”. Which makes it sound as if one of its roots was perhaps in “Iranon”.
Page 20. A large section here on the Moon, which would make an excellent appendix to the forthcoming book on Lovecraft and Astronomy. If it isn’t in already.
Page 22. Lovecraft explains the linkage of the signs of the Zodiac to the Babylonian cycle of the seasons and the human year. It didn’t quite hang true in some details, but I could see how it could do so with just a few tweaks. It’s remarkable that this way of understanding the zodiac constellations has escaped me until now. Again, another candidate for an appendix to the forthcoming book on Lovecraft and Astronomy. Could also be the basis for an interesting children’s picture book, if an illustrator is looking for a project.
Page 26. Lovecraft talks of his taking a Providence night-walk on or about 21st April 1926…
… night before last, during the course of which I discovered one of the most hellish slums ever imagined by mankind. It was in a place whose existence I had not before realised – the end of Chalkstone Ave. near Randall Sq. & the railway – and its dark hilly courts approach the very ultimates of blasphemous horror.
A little later in the book there is additional description, and Lovecraft states he plans to use the place in fiction some day.
Page 29. “The bottle idea […] I got it from that old hermit of 30 years ago in Phillipsdale”. Presumably he means the idea of ‘souls in bottles, with which one could converse’ used in “The Terrible Old Man” (1920) and later tweaked and adapted for Dexter Ward (1927), and that he had first heard the idea from a “hermit” circa age six. Phillipsdale being “a historic mill village along the Seekonk River in East Providence, Rhode Island”, and just across the river from College Hill. The idea of extracting and trapping a human essence is one that also crops up in folk-tales, and is by no means unique to East Providence. But an interesting early source, nonetheless. A quick and cursory search reveals no easily-found record of a “hermit” in Phillipsdale in the 1890s.
Page 31. “I ‘did’ […] Federal Hill — & was astonished by the great Italian churches”. This was presumably a trek made without Eddy, from whom he was at that time estranged (though later, in July 1927, there was a partial gathering of ‘the gang’ in Providence and Eddy was there). Surprisingly, he implies he had not seen these churches before, even distantly from the stagecoach when passing through. Perhaps they were relatively new erections?
Page 37. “Conan Doyle has some fair [weird fiction] stuff, too. “Mystery of Sasassa Valley”, “Captain of the Pole Star”, Round the Fire Stories.” The first was Doyle’s first published story, back in 1879. The next mentioned was 1883, in book form by 1890. Round the Fire Stories (1908) is a book of 17 tales. As the author says in his introduction, despite the cosy title these are actually his stories “concerned with the grotesque and with the terrible”. Thus none of the titles suggests that Lovecraft continued reading Doyle after circa 1909. This chimes with my finding that summer 1908 seems to have been when Lovecraft stopped reading Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes tales.
Page 44. The Old Corner Bookshop (‘Dana’s Old Corner Book Store’) had formerly been in Empire Street, Providence, and a comment from Lovecraft on the stock shows that he patronised it there “years ago”.
Page 50. Lovecraft gives his ideas for an extensive revision of Talman’s first version of “Two Black Bottles” (the final version of which is not included in this volume). The Lovecraft Encyclopedia has… “it seems clear that HPL has not only written some of the tale — especially the parts in dialect — but also made significant suggestions regarding its structure.” Horrorbabble has a free reading on YouTube, of the final version as published in Weird Tales in 1927.
Page 57. Lovecraft talks of “my version” of “Two Black Bottles”. Most likely he refers to the extensive outline/reworking given from page 50 onwards, rather than a story he had actually written from this.
Page 65. Room 328 at the New York Public Library was his favoured evening reading room for material on “Old Providence”. This was on the third floor…
Page 66. A gem of a find. Lovecraft did after all read his friend Everett McNeil’s fantasy / weird work. Many assume that Lovecraft had probably only read his later boys’ adventure novel Tonty. Well, it ain’t so…
Honest old Mac has written weird stuff — and by no means bad, either — but none of it has graced our Chicago contemporary [i.e. Weird Tales] as yet”.
Wish I’d had this quote when I wrote McNeil’s biography.
Page 65. A fabulous quote about Broadway in the morning light. Surprisingly this does not seem to have made it into the Selected Letters…
[In New York I] explore[d] obscure corners in the small hours […] I’ll never forget the sight of the newly-risen sun streaming in a glorious flood of molten gold up the length of Wall St. into still darkened Broadway one morning. It was as if all the past — the brilliant past of Dutch settlers and glamorous shipping and gay coffee-houses — were shining from a land outside time, & welling up from the sea into the dismal & shadowy present.
Page 66. Mention of James Howard Flower and especially his “gem” of a poem “With Shelley in My Soul”). A footnote reveals Flower was a Vermont revision client whose “Shelley” poem has “not been found”. Well, there’s the J. Howard Flower papers, 1899-1959 archive (no Lovecraft letters, it seems), and the James Howard Flower-Solitary Press Collection 1920-1945. This latter “Collection is unprocessed”, and also mis-titled as it should be “Solitarian Press”. “Collection consists of poetry, essays, pamphlets, and issues written by J. Howard Flower and others and printed by the Solitary [Solitarian] Press of Hartford, VT, founded by Flower.”).
Who was who among North American authors, 1921-1939 suggests that these items by Flower himself might be worth inspecting for signs of Lovecraft’s revision…
Florentine Sonnets (1918);
Flower of the Road (1919) (42 page chapbook of verse);
Songs of Love and Liberty (1920);
Under Blue Ascutney (1921);
Florentine Sonnets and Florentine Lyrics (1923)
Bobolinks at Dawn and Whippoorwills at Dusk (1923)
However, one can find that Lovecraft’s friend Walter J. Coates (Driftwind) was also a revisionist for the Solitarian Press. For instance in 1920 Coates revised the Press’s new book Oriental Songs and other Lyrics by one Henry Clay Webster. Thus it’s possible that Lovecraft was revising for those whom the Solitarian Press published, rather than for Flowers himself. Flowers was an ardent socialist from an early age, even a Stalinist by the 1950s, and does not seem the sort of person Lovecraft would have cared to deal with directly. My guess would be that Lovecraft could have been taking ‘overflow’ revision work for the Press from Coates, this being work which Walter J. Coates was unable to manage due to time or complexity.
Still… if anyone’s in Vermont and near the University, it might be worth an afternoon sifting through the 1919-1925 boxes of the Howard Flower-Solitary Press Collection. “Collection is unprocessed”.