Over the summer I’m reading through Lovecraft’s Selected Letters. Here are my notes for Selected Letters II. With just one more post on Vol. II tomorrow, re: new discoveries about Lovecraft’s room at 169 Clinton Street on the edge of Red Hook.
* Page 221. Lovecraft’s family Bible, purchased 1889 by his parents, had in it a clumsy… “imitative engraving of Belshazzar’s Feast” by the Northumberland-born visionary artist John Martin (1789-1854). Lovecraft later recognized the picture “upon seeing a proper plate of the subject for the first time.”
* Page 222. 10th January 1928. Beirce’s translation of The Monk & the Hangman’s Daughter as a possible precursor to, or primer for, some of the feel of “The Dunwich Horror” (written August 1928)…
it is scarce two weeks since I read, for the first time … I shall not soon forget the general picture afforded of the wild Bavarian mountains, the sombre, ancient life of the salt mines, & the whispered, fearsome lore of the crag-fringed tarns & black hanging woods….
Around the spring of 1928 (page 331) Lovecraft also heard a public lecture — presumably at Brown — on modern Greek folklore… “I heard a highly illuminating lecture on the subject a year ago by Sir Rennell Rodd, a lifelong student of neo-Hellenic folklore.” This may also have fed into his fateful trip to Wilbraham and the birth of “The Dunwich Horror”. Rodd’s 1890s book on the topic is online, and he had presumably added to his knowledge since then.
* Page 296. By early 1929 he was weekly taking “the N.Y. Sunday Times and the sanely balanced and disillusioned news-weekly Time.” But a few years later he intimates to Long that he has limited his intake of national and international current affairs.
* Page 298. “I’d say that good art means the ability of any one man to pin down in some permanent and intelligible medium a sort of idea of what he sees in Nature, that nobody else sees. In other words, to make the other fellow grasp, through skilled selective care in interpretive reproduction or symbolism, some inkling of what only the artist himself could possibly see in the actual objective scene itself. … The picture can, if it be good art, give you something in the real scene which you couldn’t have gathered for yourself — which only the particular artist who painted the picture could ever have gathered preserved for other people to see. … We derive from this process a feeling of magnification in the cosmos — of having approached the universal a trifle more closely, and banished a little of our inevitable insignificance. Instead of being merely one person, we have become two persons — and as we assimilate more and more of art we become, in effect, more and more people all in one; till at length we have the sensation of a sort of identification with our whole civilisation.”
* Page 323. He reads The Silversmiths of Little Rest, by William Davis Miller. Because it related to his family-tree and “the Casey side av me” believed by his family research to be originally “the English Caseys of Gloucester”, England. The 50-page 18-plate book was produced in a limited edition of 150, seemingly for antiquarians in New England. Little Rest was a place, rather than a description of the work-habits of the smiths. “Full biographical and occupational information (markings, inscriptions) on the following key Little Rest (i.e., Kingston, RI) silversmiths: Samuel Casey, John Waite, Joseph Perkins, Nathaniel Helme, Gideon Casey and William Waite.”
* Page 324. March 1929. He alludes to something Talman is writing or has recently written. “By the way — it’s a good idea of yours to square us criminal Caseys with society by making an Howard Phillips a reg’lar deteckatiff” [regular detective]. Which hints that Talman had recently penned or planned to pen a crime-detective story featuring a “Howard Phillips”. I don’t yet have the volume of Talman letters, and I imagine I may find there some detail about this apparent ‘Lovecraft as character’ story. By January 1929 Talman had moved to Red Hook, and I would guess he was enamoured of “The Horror at Red Hook” with Detective Malone, and thus probably wanted to write something similar himself — perhaps a clever sequel featuring Lovecraft himself. But I shall have to wait for the book of Talman letters to find out if there are more details on this.
* Page 329-30. April 1929. He observes that the… “Famous ‘London Terrace’ in West 23d St. [New York City] — where a friend of mine has lived all his life — is to come down shortly to make room for a wretched apartment skyscraper.” Who was this friend? He may be footnoted in the Toldridge letters, but I don’t yet have that volume. But something can be gleaned from the building data. Historians now refer to the row as a… “development from the 1840s known as London Terrace, built to look like typical London [British] apartments at that time”. A local report of 1929 gives an alternative name, mourning the loss of… “a row of private dwellings of considerable age and great local interest, identified as London Row or London Terrace”. The book The City in Slang (1995) gives a folk-name and the location… “One of the earliest so-named Millionaires’ Rows in New York was a block on West 23rd Street, a development formally called London Terrace, between Ninth and Tenth Avenues.” So these data may help someone to pinpoint Lovecraft’s mysterious friend, who still lived there in 1929 and was likely either i) affluent and elderly or ii) a young lad of an affluent family.
* Page 353. Lovecraft tells Mrs Toldridge… “I pass in sight of the ancient Carter house every time I walk down town — & the neighbourhood is still much as he knew it in 1770 & thereabouts. Across the street an old brick schoolhouse built in 1769 is still serving its original purpose, whilst at the foot of the hill the old Quaker Meeting House ( 1745) still broods beside its deserted wagonsheds. … John Carter, Providence’s colonial printer, & publisher of the Providence Gazette & Country-Journal before, during, & after the revolution. His old shop & office, the Sign of Shakespeare’s Head, in Gaol-Lane, is still standing in good condition notwithstanding the sinking of the neighbourhood to slumdom. It is a large square house on a steep hill, with fanlighted doorway & the double flight of railed steps so typical of colonial Providence.”
The John Carter house is at “21 Meeting Street”, an address which unlocks the Library of Congress. Here is the house as Lovecraft would have known it circa 1933-35. The Industrial Trust building can be seen behind on the left. Modern photos show a currently ‘restored’ colour that can range from neon-red to coconut-shell brown, so I’m not sure how to colour it. Here it’s sort of ‘faded creosote’, in keeping with its decrepit slum state.