Notes on Lovecraft’s Selected Letters Vol. III.
* “I am very fond of gardens – in fact they are among the most potent of all imaginative stimuli with me.” (page 29). Later he implies they formed his “earliest dreams”… I have actually found the garden of my earliest dreams – and in no other city than Richmond, home of my beloved Poe! Maymont!” (page 151). He also refers to an early, lost tale or long poem… “In childhood I used to haunt such places [florists’ shops] about February, when the strain of hated winter became unbearable. I liked to walk through the long greenhouses & imbibe the atmosphere of warm earth & plant-life, & see the vivid masses of green & floral colour. One of my early doggerel attempts was a description of an hypothetical glass-covered, furnace-heated world of groves & gardens …” (page 138). He had early read Erasmus “Darwin’s ‘Botanick Garden’ … my early reading” (page 419), a likely influence on such early writing.
* He was taking night-walks in Providence in the Autumn / Fall of 1929… “the Hunter’s Moon last week was exceptionally fine. I took several walks to get the benefit of the mystic moonbeams on particular bits of landscape & architecture-river reflections” (page 38). Later he explores the far south of the city on foot, and later still (Vol. IV) parts of the north of the city.
* On everyday Christianity vs. its often pagan material trappings: “We have mouthed lying tributes to meekness and brotherhood under Gothic roofs whose very pinnacled audacity bespeaks our detestation of lowliness and our love for power and strength and beauty.” (page 45).
* On his Zimbabwe poem “The Outpost”, set in Rhodesia, he gives a linkage with Ophir which is not in the poem… “smart Arab and Phoenician Kings reign’d within the walls of the great Zimbabwe … and work’d the illimitable mines of Ophir”. The poem’s protagonist “K’nath-Hothar the Great King … [born of] great King Zothar-Nin [who] was born in Sidon of pure Phoenician stock” (page 55).
* He reads “The Netopian, house organ of Providence’s most influential bank”, which has some antiquarian articles. (Page 56). This is not online, but Brown holds the 1920-31 run at its Rockefeller Library.
* Ashton Smith’s “The Tale of Satampra Zeiros” features Commorium, which Lovecraft deems buried under the ice of Lothar. “It is this crux of elder horror, I am certain, that the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred was thinking when he – even he – left something unrnention’d & signdfy’d by a row of stars in the surviving codex of his accursed & forbidden Necronomicon!” (page 87). Lovecraft later refers to… “the mildew’d palimpsets of Commoriom” (page 242).
* Lovecraft hints at a “Cthulhu” sequel, having elsewhere suggested the possibility of a sequel story set on Cthulhu’s “home planet”. The following seems the match with that idea… “I shall sooner or later get around to the interplanetary field myself … I doubt if I shall have any living race upon the orb whereto I shall – either spiritually or corporeally – precipitate my hero. But there will be Cyclopean ruins – god! what ruins! – & certain presences that haunt the nether vaults.” (page 88) “It would begin as a dream-phenomenon creeping on the victim in the form of recurrent nightmares, as a result of his concentration of mind on some dim transgalactic world. Eventually it would enmesh him totally — leaving his body to vegetate in a coma in some madhouse whilst his mind roamed desolate & unbodied for ever above the half-litten stones of an aeon-dead civilisation of alien Things on a world that was in decay before the solar system evolved from its primal nebula. I doubt if I’d handle it as, phantasy so much as a stark, macabre bit of quasi-realism.” (pages 95-96).
* “The cuttings you enclosed are of extreme interest – that about the “star jelly” being absorbingly & superlatively so. … It is really improbable that any matter in the condition we recognise as “organic” could manage to get from one orb to another under the strenuous conditions of meteoric flight, though these occasional reports certainly do have their puzzling aspects. I have used the idea once – in “The Colour Out of Space” – & may yet use it again in a different way.” (page 136).
* In 1930 “the covers as well as the contents of rags like Snappy Stories represent true pornography” (page 108).
* “I’d damn well like to come out with a book [of philosophy] some day, even though I might never win a place beside Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, or Bertrand Russell.” (page 110). On learning philosophy he suggests to Toldridge… “You ought most emphatically to read The Story of Philosophy by Dr. Will Durant” (page 146).
* The “Fungi from Yuggoth” sonnet “series” was actually a modest and immediate financial success at a difficult time, netting him “$52.50 to date” (page 129).
* The writing of “The Whisperer in Darkness” was interrupted… “I am still stall’d on p.26 of my new Vermont horror, since revision (which I can’t refuse if I expect to make my trip!) has overwhelm’d me.” (page 130).
* In June 1930 he gives the place of a recent meeting with Dwyer… “the genial and fantastic Bernard Dwyer, whom I visited in antient Dutch Wiltwyck, up the placid Hudson” (page 159).
* In October 1930 he really does believe in witches… “the traditional features of witch-practice and Sabbat-orgies were by no means mythical. … Something actual was going on under the surface … scholars now recognise that all through history a secret cult of degenerate orgiastic nature-worshippers, furtively recruited from the peasantry and sometimes from decadent characters of more select origin, has existed throughout northwestern Europe; practicing fixed rites of immemorial antiquity for malign objects, having a governing system and hierarchy as well·defined and elaborate as that of any established religion, and meeting secretly by night in deserted rustic places. … the first mediaeval opposers of witchcraft were not mere fanatics fighting a shadow. They were deluded in that they thought themselves to be fighting something supernatural, but they were most certainly right in believing that they were fighting a genuine menace. … The witch-cult itself is probably now extinct, but no one can say just when it perished.” (pages 179-181) He later borrows many books on the topic from Keonig… “H. C. Koenig who has for some time been lending me books on witchcraft from his remarkably extensive library.” (Vol IV).
* There is a joking incantation on page 185, not in The Ancient Track…
N’ggah-kthn-y’hhu! Cthua t’lh gup r’lhob-g’th’gg Igh thok! G’llh-ya, Tsathoggua! Y’kn’nh, Tsathoggua!
It hath come!
Homage, Lord Tsathoggua, Father of Night!
Glory, Elder One, First-Born of Outer Entity!
Hail, Thou Who wast Ancient beyond Memory
Ere the Stars Spawned Great Cthulhu !
Power, Hoary Crawler over Mu’s fungoid places!
Ia! Ia! G’noth-ykagga-ha!
Ia! Ia! Tsathoggua!!!
* He is chided by Morton on his disregard of mineralogy in science… “No, Sir, I am not insensible of the importance of mineralogy in science… The fact is, I am perhaps less anti-mineralogical than the rest of the herd; insomuch as I realise that the trouble is with myself rather than with mineralogy.” (pages 200-201). One wonders if this chiding contributed to the mineralogy aspects of “At The Mountains of Madness”?
* In 1930 he recalls a past era when normal magazines would take weird fiction… “it often amuses me to note how the sedate & established magazines used to take horror-tales & phantasies without hesitation. Those were free & unstandardised days; & the prevailing view of the cosmos was one of awe & wonder, amidst which a bit of weird fiction was not at all incongruous. But all is changed now.” (page 203).
* He itemises the personal libraries of the circle… “The really big libraries owned by our crowd – beside which mine sinks into insignificance – are those of James F. Morton (general belles-lettres, specialising in Elizabethan literature), Loveman, (poetry, rare bibliophilic items), Orton (modern first editions – for which I wouldn’t give a plugged nickel), Cook (weird material), Munn (popular weird material), & young Derleth (everything under the sun — weird & modern fiction predominating).” (page 211). Curious, since I thought that Loveman was the Elizabethan specialist? Nor does he mention political works as an aspect of Morton’s library.
* On the prospects of his once again writing like Dunsany, in 1930… “In my hands, the result tends to resemble “The Land of Lur” more than it resembles the products” of Dunsany. What was “The Land of Lur”? He refers to a story in the May 1930 Weird Tales.
* “I am as geographic-minded as a cat” (page 214).
* He is still thinking in terms of ether-waves in 1930, albeit poetically… “after the destruction, the ether waves resulting therefrom might roll still farther out into some other realm of entity, where they – or part of them-might curiously reintegrate.” (page 217). In science he is also thinking of a ‘circular time’ in a similar way… “a curved time corresponding to Einsteinian curved space, you might have the voyager make a complete circuit of the chronological dimension-reaching the ultimate future by going beyond the ultimate past, or vice versa” (page 218) In relativistic terms, in space… “Straight lines do not exist, nor does theoretical infinity. What seems infinite extension is simply part of an inevitable returning curve, so that the effect of proceeding directly away from any given point in space is to return at length to that same point from the opposite direction. What lies ultimately beyond the deepest gulf of infinity is the very spot on which we stand.” (page 388). See also “Through the Gates of the Silver Key” (1934), though note that the maths in that were from his collaborator Price.
* In late 1931 he hears a lecture on the “expanding universe” theory, re:… “all spiral nebulae – external galaxies – are retreating rapidly into outer space” (page 438). But then he has second thoughts in early 1932… “Probably the expansive effect now perceived is in part illusory & in part due to one phase of a general pulsation of alternate expansions & contractions.” (Vol. IV, page 6).
* “As for Irem, the City of Pillars … The mad Arab Abdul Alhazred is said to have dwelt therein for a time in the 8th century A.D., prior to the writing of the abhorred & unmentionable Necronomicon. … some timid reader has torn out the pages where the Episode of the Vault under the Mosque [i.e. a CAS story] comes to a climax – the deletion being curiously uniform in the copies at Harvard & at Miskatonic University. When I wrote to the University of Paris for information about the missing text, a polite sub-librarian, M. Lean de Vercheres, wrote me that be would make me a photostatic copy as soon as he could comply With the formalities attendant upon access to the dreaded volume. Unfortunately it was not long afterward that I learned of M. de Vercheres’ sudden insanity incarceration, & of his attempt to burn the hideous book which he had just secured & consulted. Thereafter my requests met with scant notice.”
* On what would today be called jet-set ‘globalists’… “We cannot judge cultures, and their deep instinctive attitudes toward one another, by the unctuous amenities of the few internationally-minded aristocrats, intellectuals, and aesthetes who form a cosmopolitan and friendly group because of the common pull of surface manners or special interests. Of course these exotic specimens get on well enough together…” (page 272)
* His… “dream-self has come to represent me so perfectly that in waking hours I sometimes feel odd for lack of my three-cornered hat, powdered periwig, satin small-clothes, silver sword, and buckled shoes.” (page 283). Although elsewhere he remarks that the bulk of his dreams involve his childhood.
* “I first read up on the Hellenistic [ancient Greek] period back in ’04 and ’05.” (page 288). He reckons just 2,400 years since the height of Periclean Athens. Which makes 2022 around 2,500 years.
* The young Lovecraft, at around age 12, always carried a real revolver with him (page 290). He also had a set of disguises and false beards. This was presumably to do with his boyhood detective work. He later had “an endless succession of guns and pistols” (Vol IV, page 158) and became a crack shot until his eyesight gave out.
* He alludes to the British scientist Sir Oliver Lodge without naming him, re: spiritualism… “the nostalgic & unmotivated ‘overbeliefs’ of elderly & childhood-crippled physicists” (page 295) and “the side-line tripe cooked up by bullhead-brained physicists on their mental vacations!” (page 302). Alongside Conan Doyle, Lodge was a leading public champion of spiritualist nonsense.
* He recalls that… “from the age of three my mother always took me walking in the fields & ravines, & along the high wooded riverbank, (the latter still unchanged, thanks to the Met. Park System.).” … “the old countryside is almost gone; though one farm still remains as a farm with a few acres of antient field & orchard & garden around the antient (1735) house, & forms the goal of many a walk of mine.” The “Met. Park System” means the park formed along the banks of the Seekonk. (Pages 317 and 318).
* Early 1931. “All winter, as I told you, I have been studying Quebec; & all this spring I have been studying the Dutch Hudson Valley” (page 327).
* Lovecraft and Middle-earth, 1931… “a cold winter twilight calls up all sorts of images of shadowy shapes marching imperiously in some Northerly middle region just beyond the Earth” (page 394)
* The out-of-Africa theory was not then know. “That the human race started on some plateau in central Asia is almost certain” he writes (page 412). This out-of-Asia theory would have been a supported scientific position as late as the 1950s. Only in the 1970s and 80s did the ‘out-of-Africa’ theory become the new consensus.
* On sister-marriage and consanguinity, pre-genetics, he writes… “science long ago exploded the myth that there is necessarily anything unhealthy about the offspring of close kin.” (page 424). I’m not sure where he was getting that from, but it might argue that he had radically departed from the accepted eugenic science of the time re: the dangers of in-breeding.
* Writing to young Shea, he foresees a future time of at least partial erotic liberation… “At present, the [active] following of an alternative course [to normal sexuality] involves so much commonness & ignominious furtiveness that it can hardly be recommended for a person of delicate sensibilities except in extreme cases. It remains to be seen what sort of middle course the future will work out.” (page 425).
* Loveman was riding out the worst of the Great Depression quite well, at least in summer 1931… “Loveman gets $60.00 per week as an expert cataloguer for the well-known N.Y. firm of Dauber & Pine”. (page 416)
* Lovecraft’s younger aunt spoke with a Boston accent. (page 420).
* A revision job… “this week I have received impressions from the book-revision job which slightly alter my picture of 18th century life in the Connecticut Valley”. I can’t immediately find which book this might have been. (Page 426). The letter was October 1931, so if the work was published as a book then it might have been anywhere from Christmas 1931 to around 1935.
* “Deeps of Gba-Ktan, beyond Devil’s Reef off the coast of Innsmouth.” (page 435). Appears not to have found its way into Mythos encyclopedias.
* And finally, an item that might have made an entry in his Commonplace Book, but didn’t. “Wind in hollow walls mistaken for spectral music. Actual case in Halsey Mansion around the corner from 10 Barnes St. … actually feared by the ignorant” (pages 444-445).