Notes on The Conservative, the amateur journalism paper issued by H.P. Lovecraft from 1915-1923.

Part One: the April 1915 issue.

This first issue opens with a poem. The casual peruser might at first dismiss this poem as a comedic effort for the amusement of amateur journalists, since it has do with spelling, printers and the sort of prickly reviewer who delights in the public revelation of small errors in typesetting and spelling. In a way, that is what it is. Yet just 15 lines into the poem, Lovecraft’s key future-themes of madness, knowledge and language emerge strongly. While out walking he encounters a scholarly “sage” made raving mad by his own scholarship. Out of a desire for some relief from complex language and thought, this madman has devised a ‘simple spelling’ system in which errors are not to be considered errors. Lovecraft buys into this one-man cult and thus becomes abandoned in his writing, until his “amorphous letters pass as language pure”.

The wartime essay “The Crime of the Century” follows, an essay relatively well-known to Lovecraftians and evidence for his close alignment with the common race-thinking and terminology of the time. Collected Essays 5 has one footnote for it, on the “Thomas Henry Huxley” who was one of the first to grasp and endorse Darwin’s principles of evolution. In passing Lovecraft also appears to endorse the theory that the Viking-discovered Vinland (“Vineland”) was indeed located in New England or thereabouts. Such ideas and their ideological hinterland are still contentious today, as evidenced by the recent removal of this picture from the walls of the National Gallery in Oslo1 due to its ‘colonialist’ political incorrectness…

Christian Krohg’s “Leif Erikson discovers America” (1872).

The Krogh painting was itself a replacement for a painting (originally on the museum’s grand staircase) banished because deemed even more politically incorrect.2. This was “The Ride of Asgard” (Asgardsreien) (1872) by Peter Nicolai Arbo. All this reminds one that the defunct political and ethnographic commonplaces of Lovecraft’s youth still have a curious power to induce fear, even today. It is not to be found only in his horror stories and darker poetry.

In a note immediately following the essay Lovecraft, expecting attacks, wittily warns his would-be critics that he has closely studied both Pope’s Dunciad and…

Paul J. Campbell’s ‘Wet Hen’

The latter was a quarterly humour magazine which bore a customarily risque cover, being produced by the journalism fraternity of the University of South Dakota. I assume Lovecraft had it by mail via amateur contacts, possibly editor Campbell himself, of whom no trace can be found. It was presumably mailed in a plain brown wrapper, the rules on the U.S. mail then being rather strict. If Lovecraft was indeed a subscriber in 1915 then it had a long run, because mention of this quarterly can be found right through into the 1950s. It is not online except in very occasional eBay listings, though the University’s Archives & Special Collections has it in archival boxes — if anyone wants to spend a merry hour hunting for unknown Lovecraft letters or perhaps even a jaunty poem or two. Wet Hen looks to be similar to Home Brew, to which Lovecraft would later contribute.

Lovecraft then introduces his readers to the newest UAPA recruit and his boyhood friend Chester P. Munroe. While Lovecraft is still “secluding himself amidst the musty volumes of his library”, Chester has grown into a man of the world and is living in South Carolina. The reader learns that Chester would write stories at the Slater Avenue school they both attended, and he later wrote “an unpublished novel”. His “charming younger brother” Harold is now Deputy Sheriff of Providence County, which gives Lovecraft an interesting early connection with the local police (even though he never read the police report pages in his local newspaper).

Lovecraft next admires Leo Fritter’s astronomical-philosophical essay on “The Spiritual Significance of the Stars” in the amateur journal Woodbee. Again, this is not online. One assumes no taint of astrology was to be found in this essay. Since elsewhere in The Conservative Lovecraft endorses Fritter for the role of UAPA President.

Lovecraft reports he has read Dench’s new booklet “Playwriting for the Cinema”, finding it “terse and readable”. The full title is Playwriting for the Cinema: dealing with the writing and marketing of scenarios (1914). No scan is online, but one can discover it to be a substantial 76-page booklet. Both Arthur Leeds and Everett McNeil were professional scenario writers in the movie business, then centred in New York City. Over a decade later Dench will become one of the lynch-pins who brings together the Lovecraft Circle in New York City, including Leeds and McNeil.

Lovecraft greatly admires J.H. Fowler’s poem “The Haunted Forest”, encountered in the British amateur journal Outward Bound. It…

shows a marvellous and almost Poe-like comprehension of the dark and sinister

This poet was the schoolman, anthology editor and de Quincey expert John Henry Fowler (1861-1932). I can find no volume of his own poetry. Conan Doyle may have poked fun at him in the classic mystery story “The Secret of Goresthorpe Grange” (1883), and if so then this hints that (at age 22) he was becoming known among writers and publishers for his interest in such things…

J.H. Fowler & Son, Dunkel Street, suppliers of mediums to the nobility and gentry; charms sold — love-philtres — mummies — horoscopes cast.

In The United Amateur, Lovecraft expands on the poem…

The Haunted Forest”, a poem by J.H. Fowler, is almost Poe-like in its grimly fantastic quality. We can excuse rather indefinite metre when we consider the admirably created atmosphere, the weird harmony of the lines, the judicious use of alliteration, and the apt selection of words. “Bird-shunned”, as applied to the thickets of the forest, is a particularly graphic epithet. Mr. Fowler is to be congratulated upon his glowing imagination and poetical powers.

I see that Lovecraft much later slips this same wording into his story “The Haunter of the Dark”…

… what might still be lurking in the bird-shunned shadows?

  1.   “Storm blows around art banished to the new National Museum’s cellar”, Norway’s News in English, 20th February 2023.
  2.   Peter Nicolai Arbo and Artistic Hybridity in the Nineteenth-century (2018), page 58