Letters to Wilfred B. Talman – the fifth set of notes.
Here’s my fifth set of notes on the book of Lovecraft’s Letters to Wilfred B. Talman and Helen V. and Genevieve Sully (2019). These notes cover letters from the end of July 1932 through March 1934. Lovecraft is still writing to Talman, at this point in the book.
p. 211. Lovecraft gives more details about the passenger shipping from Providence to Newport…
the Mount Hope and the all-year-round mail ship Sagamore. The latter has come down to 50 cents for the round trip to Newport and back [and gives the passenger 6.5 hours in Newport, due to a later return-time]. Accordingly I have been three times and intended to repeat…
Thus the 1898 Sagamore was a “mail ship”, which tells us a bit more about her. She began the Providence – Newport Block Island run toward the end of her life in 1928, and is not to be confused with the Lake George ship Sagamore.
The problem with the later return is that the two-hour trip was colder than on the larger Mount Hope. But the fare was the main attraction. The Sagamore fare sometimes went as low as 15-cents for a day’s round-trip, but the passenger had to put up with what Lovecraft called “freight and cattle”. Thus she was sometimes a cattle boat as well as a mail boat. Also, the Sagamore was smaller and thus had more vibration, as Lovecraft said… “the vibration will play the devil with my penmanship” and between this and the cold he could not easily write on board.
p. 211. Confirming what I had thought, Lovecraft states clearly… “Block Island, which I have never seen”. Thus a prime and well-photographed local tourist-trap had never been visited. So far as I’m aware, it never was. Despite the Sagamore being able to take him there.
p. 212. “Went over to see C.M. Eddy Jr. last night — first time in ages”. This tells us that the broken friendship was at least partially renewed by the end of July 1932. And properly so, by a home visit rather than Eddy’s attendance at a Providence gang meeting. Presumably Muriel was also there, and perhaps their children would have also been around the place early in a long summer evening. Lovecraft gives no address for the Eddys, but this was likely at the address I found recently…
the Ghost Stories magazine for April 1929 printed a letter from Muriel Eddy from her address of “317 Plain Street”, Providence. [… this was] in Lower South Providence and about a half-mile from [Lovecraft’s local used bookseller] ‘Uncle’ Eddy and his family at 100 Gallup Street.
The place still stands today as a neat wooden house of the type typical of Providence, and in a neighbourhood that now appears to be gentrifying.
p. 215. Lovecraft’s overview essay “Fairyland” essay was researched and written at speed for the personal benefit of a correspondent (Talman) during a very busy time. It is referred to here on p. 215 (September 1932), and printed as an appendix ‘Some Backgrounds of Fairyland’ on p. 489.
p. 215. Belknap Long was then selling off his library, seemingly all of it. He had become a vocal socialist by this point in the Great Depression, though I don’t recall he was volunteering at Hell’s Kitchen soup-kitchens as a result. Perhaps the fire-sale was to ‘raise money for the cause’, though?
p. 217. Lovecraft reveals he has acquired a new feline friend… “at the house on the corner near the letter-box” used for his posting of letters. He is still living at Barnes Street at this date, so this may help identify the “letter-box” Lovecraft used for mail at that time. It would have been located quite near to a corner. Though I don’t think that posting-boxes show up on old street maps of Providence.
p. 220. In October 1932, the greatest letter-writer of the 20th century estimates he has “50 to 75 correspondents” on the go.
p. 224-25. Talman had written a Dreamlands tale titled “The Heads of Gyrwy”. It’s not printed in the book, so is presumably lost. It depicted “the decayed huts of the Gyrwians still remaining in the time of Dwerga”, Dwerga being a place over which “an atmosphere of menace” hangs. According to Lovecraft he (Lovecraft) pictured this place as on “the upper reaches of the River Skai” and “just out of sight of Hatheg-Kla”, but the story obviously involves Dwerga being erased from the Dreamlands, presumably by the “Heads of Gyrwy”. Lovecraft imagines that when he visits it in his dreams it will be marked only by a marker … “rock [with] the tale writ thereon in a tongue to which no key exists outside certain hints in the dreaded Necronomicon“.
p. 228. “Good old [Arthur] Leeds is back [in New York City] and as a Coney Island barker”. Coney Island was the large and famous site of amusement parks, arcades and sideshows. A “barker “was the “roll up, roll up, see the two-headed man!” front-man who enticed people in to see a substantial attraction. Leeds was known to have worked a great deal with travelling circus and freak-show entertainers, as a straight ‘front-man’, so it was likely a freak show. Lovecraft’s letter was February 1933, so presumably Leeds had been hired to start in the spring and work through the new 1933 summer season. At this time Lovecraft had “not set eyes on him for five solid years”, implying that he and Leeds had last met circa January 1928. But they corresponded.
p. 228-29. His initial description of his new residence at 66 College Street, with drawings.
p. 238. In October 1933 he makes pictures of 66 College Street, having “dragged out my 1907 #2 Brownie” box camera.
p. 241. He discusses punctuation, especially the comma. He finds…
… the minuter details are largely trivial, custom-generated, & subject to diverse usage. No two people punctuate alike. […] the exact context aught to determine the insertion or absence of commas. Hard and fast blanket rules are never applicable to matters like [the one you cite]. […] All one need do is to try to be uniform […] I believe that punctuation aught to mark vocal and rhetorical pauses as well as purely logical divisions […] It is a mistake to regard punctuation as anything but a surface adjunct to language. […] It has nothing to do with grammar, but is merely a convenient device for clarifying the meaning of written language.
p. 242. In a discussion on the use of “Esq.” for names, Lovecraft notes his Providence tailor is a “Harry Steiner”.
p. 245. In early March 1934 and Lovecraft stated that the temperature outside No. 66 College Street was “17 degrees below [zero]”. His old place at Barnes Street had some heating fitted, late in Lovecraft’s tenure there. But the abundant steam-heat being pumped into No. 66 (from the adjacent John Hay Library) may well have helped prolong his life, given such deep sub-zero winter temperatures. I haven’t studied the matter in detail but I get the impression that the weather of the later 1920s/30s was far more turbulent than today, and involved more extremes of winter cold and summer heat.
p. 246. Lovecraft had however ventured through the “beastly weather”, going along the hill to visit the R.I. School of Design. There he had seen exhibitions of Egyptian and Etruscan tomb paintings, North Staffordshire pottery from England, and a “rather notable” show of Hispanic paintings.
p. 246. He states he is reading “Count de Prorok’s account of his Carthaginian excavations”. Born in 1896 and thus a near contemporary of Lovecraft, the Count Byron De Prorok excavated Carthage from 1920 to 1925. He became more and more one of the several ‘Indiana Jones like’ figures of the 1930s. Lovecraft was reading his book Digging for lost African gods; the record of five years archaeological excavation in North Africa (1926).
p. 247. He states he has just read Machen’s new book, The Green Round (1933). This was Machen’s final novel. A man visits the western parts of Wales and there enters a mysterious and apparently natural grassy hollow. He comes away with more than he expected, and brings it back to the metropolis. Lovecraft found the work “extremely interesting — with some very potent reflections on that persistent sense of unreal worlds impinging”. While it had the fault of “rambling diffuseness” and is “hardly one of Machen’s greatest”, he says “I’m vastly glad to have read it”. I note that the novel’s initial set-up sounds like it may have a similarity to the initial set-up of the Barrow Downs sequence, which happens early in The Lord of the Rings.
p. 248. Lovecraft has been to a local Providence cinema with Brobst. They saw the movie The Ghoul (1933) with Boris Karloff. Lovecraft passes no extended judgement, but only states tepidly that… “Some of the atmospheric effects weren’t bad”.