Friday, February 15, 2008

Lovecraft to Coates: Autograph Letter surfaces (1926)

H. P. Lovecraft. Autograph Letter Signed "HPL". Two pages, 5.5" x 9", n.p. [Providence, Rhode Island], n.d. ["Tuesday", perhaps 1926], to Walter J. Coates, plain paper, ink. The text of the letter reads, in full:"My dear Coates: - I wasn't especially defending Emily Dickinson, but was merely pointing out the multiplicity of the causes - & the soundness of a few of them - which impel occasional revaluations of literature from age to age. The present case is not unique, as you may easily see by following the reputation of any varied assortment of authors through a space of several centuries. It is a mistake, too, to single out Victorian opinion as a basis of comparison. In many ways the middle 19th century formed a naive & curious Dark Age of taste in all the arts - I hardly need point out its architectural barbarities. If we want to formulate a norm for the Anglo-Saxon main stream, we must consider the average massed opinion all the way down from Chaucer's time. The Elizabethan age represented a far truer flowering of our racial impulses than did the Victorian.However - as I said on my card, your main thesis seems to me perfectly sound & well taken. Undeniably - all apart from the effects of natural change and altered philosophic-scientific-psychological perspective - the world of American taste & opinion is distinctly & lamentably Jew-ridden as a result of the control of publicity media by New York Semitic groups. Some of this influence certainly seeps into Anglo-Saxon critical & creative writing to an unfortunate extent; so that we have a real problem of literary & aesthetic fumigation on our hands. The causes are many - but I think the worst factor is a sheer callous indifference which holds the native mind down to mere commercialism & size & speed worship, allowing the restless & ambitious alien to claim the centre of the intellectual stage by default. In a commercialised civilization, publicity & fame are determined by economic causes alone - & there is where the special talents of Messrs. Cohen & Levi count. Before we can put them in their place, we must de-commercialise the culture - & that, alas, is a full-sized man's job! Some progress could be made, though, if all the universities could get together & insist on strictly Aryan standards of taste. They could do much, in a quiet & subtle way, by cutting down the Semite percentage in faculty & student body alike. It is really amusing how we simple Western Europeans have allowed Orientals to trample over our brains for 1500 years & more - ever since we let them saddle us with the sickly Jew slave-religion of Christus instead of our own virile, healthy, Aryan polytheistic paganism. In this matter of religion, though, we are coming back - for the Jew-Christian tradition will be extinct in the Western world in two or three more generations, save for the nominal Catholic ritualism of the eternal rabble. We are getting back to the same Aryan philosophy & paganism which are naturally ours by right of blood & instinct.However - that isn't what we were discussing. As for literature - you'll find that the causes for contemporary change are many & complex, & that Semitisation is only one contributing influence. Let Great Britain, still largely un-Semitised, be your index of comparison. Scientific thought in England is pretty straight Anglo-Saxon stuff - Bertrand Russell, Aldous & Julian Huxley, H. G. Wells, Sir J. Jeans, Eddington, &c. &c. - but we find the forces of change emphatically at work. It was out of Ireland - where Jews are almost as happily scarce as snakes - that James Joyce's "Ulysses" came. The causes of our cultural changes, be they renaissances or decadences, are buried deep in complex historical & psychological phenomena. Our present convulsion - which is probably a renaissance in some phases & a decadence in others - is far too big an affair to be traced to any single origin. Roughly speaking, the thing is due to the effect of sudden new doses of knowledge, & of sensationally rapid changes in ways of living, travelling, earning money, & making things. Personally, I think we're losing more than we're gaining; for of all the current changes only the matter of added knowledge & intellectual liberation seems really good to me.Weiss & Harris write very interestingly - especially Harris, who is refreshingly intelligent despite a narrow aesthetic horizon. He'll expand with the years, I think.Rather cool autumn hereabouts, so that I haven't been outdoors as much as last fall. I don't envy you up in the Arctic regions! Best wishes - & I eagerly await your second article on literary transvaluations. Yr obt servtHPLP.S. Is the magazine you want The American Poetry Magazine, edited by Clara Catherine Prince, 358 Western Ave., Wauwautosa [sic], Wisconsin? The man who prints that is a friend of a friend of mine, & is thinking of founding a pedagogical publishing house. If he does, I shall probably be his chief reviser."Walter J. Coates was a fellow amateur journalist and small-time publisher introduced to Lovecraft, most likely, through W. Paul Cook (later to publish Lovecraft's The Shunned House). Coates' and Lovecraft's friendship developed over a mutual love for New England and poetry. Coates published a great amount of Lovecraft's writing in his regional magazine Driftwind, beginning with HPL's essay "The Materialist Today" in October 1926. Later, Coates would print a good amount of Lovecraft's poetry in the same periodical.The most striking content in this particular letter from Lovecraft to Coates is the former's bald articulation of an obvious anti-Semitism. In the midst of a letter discussing Emily Dickinson and socio-literary issues, and amongst discourse on writers such as Russell, Huxley, Wells, and Harris (most likely his friend Woodburn Harris, to whom he had probably been introduced by Coates) Lovecraft launches into a diatribe on a culture he sees as "Jew-ridden as a result of the control of publicity media by New York Semitic groups." Lovecraft's view of Jewish people is a most curious aspect of his personality. In many letters to friends and associates, Lovecraft espoused a similar opinion of Jewish people as he articulates here. Yet, he had numerous Jewish friends, and in his one marriage, betrothed himself to a Jewish woman, Sonia Greene. Debate rages over the depth and degree to which Lovecraft actually felt his own anti-Semitism, but there can be no doubt that "the gentleman of Providence" held a viewpoint that is quite unpopular and out of vogue in current times.Frank Belknap Long attempted to contextualize or rationalize Lovecraft's apparent racism in a letter to L. Sprague de Camp which appears in the latter's Lovecraft: A Biography. Whether or not one believes Long is his or her choice, for certainly enough evidence can be found from Lovecraft's own pen to support a charge of anti-Semitism. Still, Long attempts to come to the aid of an old friend: "This may be hard for you to believe. But during the entire NY period, in all the meetings and conversations I had with him, he never once displayed any actual hostility toward 'non-Nordics' - to use the term to which he was most addicted - in my presence, either in the subway or anywhere else...If one of them had been in distress he would have been the first to rush to his or her aid. Emotionally he was kindliness personified. It was all rhetorical - the kind of verbal overkill that so many of the hippie underground-press writers engaged in in the sixties. It was a sickness in him, if you wish - the verbalization part - but it wasn't characteristic of him in a deep, basic way."This letter is in remarkable shape, with usual mailing folds, one small crease at the bottom right corner, and a barely noticeable fingernail nick along the right edge. The page has toned slightly, but is overall in very fine condition. (S. T. Joshi, H. P. Lovecraft: A Life 427) From the Robert and Diane Yaspan Collection.

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