I’m now further into reading the Gaplin letters, in the new expanded volume. Here is my second batch of notes.
* In early 1917 Lovecraft states that he likes the travel films of Burton Holmes (p. 176), seen at the Strand in Providence. Homes shot artful travel documentaries on 35mm, and appears to have made about thirty shorts a year. Here is a small selection of his travel films which could have been seen around this time, fronting the main movie…
The Cliff Dwellers Of America.
Among the Head Hunters.
Motoring In England.
The Real Streets Of Cairo.
The Lower Nile.
Thee Upper Nile.
On the Great Glacier.
Kyoto, the Ancient Capital.
Fire Walkers Of Bega.
Some readers may also be interested in his 1947 “Historic New England” colour documentary, 21 minutes, if it survives.
* When Lovecraft registered for military duty he gave his occupation as “writer”. He tells Galpin that he was reassured that he might therefore still be of use… even if he failed the physical. (p. 182)
* He assumed he had read all of Sherlock Holmes by 1918, but a footnote itemises what he had read by 1927: three collections (Adventures, Memoirs, Return), three novels (Scarlet, Four, Hound) and two unnamed “mediocre” stories appearing circa 1908. I assume these were the 1908 tales “The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge” and “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans”. This shows he would have been up-to-date to summer 1908, but after that lost touch. He would have missed the rest of the tales included in the book collections His Last Bow (1917) and all of the tales in The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (1927). Thus it would be a mistake for scholars to assume Lovecraft had read… “The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot”; “The Valley of Fear”; “The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire” or any other of the Case-Book tales. A pity, as if he’d have stuck with Holmes just a bit longer he would likely have enjoyed “The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot” with its macabre plot and Cornwall/Africa combination.
* He owned all of Prof. Appleton’s chemistry instruction books (p. 211) as a boy. Relevant to his later work because of how the pictures line up so nicely with the themes of his later stories.
* “I tried to write a comic opera when about ten years old” (p. 214).
* He mentions the “Spanish Influenza” explicitly (p. 216). He realises around 18th November 1918, that… “This influenza is nothing light”, which seems a bit of an understatement and perhaps suggest he was behind with his reading of the newspapers. Statistics show that peak deaths in Providence occurred 13th- 14th October, and Boston had seen 3,700 deaths by the 16th October 1918.
* He had seen and strongly approved of the movie Hearts of the World (p. 219). This was a big-budget D.W. Griffith / Lillian Gish movie, partly filmed on location and depicting German brutality and atrocities against civilians during the invasions early in the First World War. Gish and Griffith later thought the movie was too anti-German, though that was at a time when the atrocities had been very assiduously ‘written out of history’ — seemingly by those who instead preferred to show the Allies (British and Americans) in a negative light. But the very widespread atrocities did happen and they were later unearthed by post- 1990 historians and are now copiously documented. If anything, the movie now appears to have underplayed the matter.
* Lovecraft lists three humorous spoofs he wrote in early summer 1923, “The Wonderful Hills”, “A Day in the Country”, and “Uncle John’s Legacy”. (p. 225). These may have been published in an amateur journal, but are now lost. They “convulsed” Lovecraft’s future wife with “mirth”.
* Lovecraft states that his uncle Dr. Clark had made a deep study of “‘descent of fire’ and legends pertaining thereto”. (p. 226). This is the idea of ‘the descent of fire from the heavens’ and its study appears to have involved examining various legends and lore for traces of early attempts to explain storm lightning, ball- lightning, ‘St. Elmo’s Fire’ and suchlike. I would guess probably also the apparent ‘trapping’ of sparks (rubbed amber, flints, static electricity, etc). Such things were seen, circa the middle of the 19th century, to be an ancient current in human belief that was different from ancient sun worship and sun-lore. This stems from Muller and others in Germany who saw the philosophy of the ancients as centred around the Dawn-time, and thus the coming Sun. But by the 1870 the scatter-gun followers of his idea were seeing ‘sun-gods’ in every fairy-tale and local old-wives tale, and a basically sensible theory was made to seem ridiculous. Being someone more interested in ‘descent of fire’ would by the 1880s have made one something of a heretic against ‘the consensus’. Lovecraft does not state that he had read his uncle’s work or the notes for it, but it might be assumed that he had at least talked with his uncle on the topic.
* Lovecraft talks of the sinister odour of old Puritan houses (p. 232), a significant factor in their macabre allure for him.