Monday, May 12, 2008

Rare Lovecraft self-sketches

{Only three images available}

Lovecraft, Howard Phillips. FIVE DRAWINGS, INCLUDING FOUR EARLY INK SELF-PORTRAITS, ON FRAGMENTS OF LETTERS, FROM ARKHAM HOUSE PAPERS VIA THE DERLETH ESTATE, each on letter-size paper, one with writing on both sides, the others one-sided, all copy in manuscript form, all from 1915-1920, most if not all addressed to Rheinhardt Kleiner. Three of the images -- on the first or last pages of letters -- will be familiar to anyone who has perused the Arkham House SELECTED LETTERS, whose dust jackets feature a montage of them; two take up half the page, another occupies the top corner. The fourth self-portrait is a stand-alone drawing taking up an entire page; its probable date of 1915 makes it his earliest known self-portrait. It too was almost certainly (an enclosure) from a letter; it is reproduced as plate II in SL II). The fifth is an elaborate full-page drawing of a New England landscape framing a poem by HPL about the scene. All are early, dating from a period of about 1915-1920, and all share the same rich provenance: cannibalized from letters by August Derleth and kept in Arkham House office files for reproduction purposes, then dispersed by his estate. The verbal content of these letter fragments has not been published. Item #1: Fragment (page 1) of a letter to Rheinhardt Kleiner, dated "31st Mch 1716" (i.e., 31 March 1916) with a drawing showing HPL (in 18th-century garb) in his room, bookcase to one side, buried under manuscripts and letters, with the caption, "United Activity; or Why a Conservative Doth Not always answer his Letters with Promptness." The first word, a reference to the United Amateur Press Association, of which Lovecraft was an official of various rank, including president, during 1915-1926, is underlined. Rheinhart Kleiner, a New Yorker, was a fellow amateur poet, and one of HPL's earliest and most important friends. The letter fragment with the most writing is unpublished. Item #2: Fragment (page 1) of a letter to Rheinhart Kleiner (as "Aouian Bolingbroke," a nickname), dated "3/31/20" with a drawing in the upper right corner: a bust of HPL, head in profile, dressed in mid-19th-century fashion, in front of a desk with books and skull, captioned, "H. Poe Lovecraft, 1840." This has writing on both sides (about 650 words). Lovecraft laments his backlog of overdue correspondence, delayed mostly because of anonymous revision work on the poems of D. V. Bush, including a last-minute rush order to rewrite 18 poems (778 lines, at HPL's standard rate of $1 per 24 lines), which he executed in a 30-hour period (minus six hours for rest), for a total of $32.40. "It is my absolute commercial record. Never before have I made so much money in one attempt or in so short a time. And, believe me, I earned every penny of that sum!" This self-portrait, like the one in item #1 is reproduced in part on the dust jackets of the Arkham LETTERS. Both are also reproduced, in full, as plates of SELECTED LETTERS, 1911-1924. Item #3: Fragment (page 11, the last) of a letter, addressee and date unknown, but it mentions Brooklyn, where Kleiner lived, and is in HPL's early, less compact hand, which dates it in the mid-to-late teens. The odds seem in favor of this also having been addressed to Kleiner. The drawing, occupying the bottom half of the letter, shows HPL from the back, in 18th-century fashion, seated at a table in his room, with bookcase, astronomical gear and cat in background. The figure is signing, with a goose quill pen, a large sheet of paper, "H. Lovecraft." This also functions as HPL's signature to the letter, a clever little conceit. The form of the signature, "H. Lovecraft" rather than "H. P. Lovecraft" also dates the letter as early. This image forms the third component of the SL dust jacket montage. Item #4: Enclosure from a letter to Rheinhart Kleiner, dated 6 December 1915, a stand-alone full-page portrait, labeled, "H. Lovecraft, Esq. Ao. [Anno] 1715." A letter to Kleiner from that date, excerpted in SL I, pp. 18-19, states, "I always wanted to be able to draw, but I have no talent, and in one of my pictures you cannot tell a cow from a locomotive. But spurred on by your example, I have just been trying my hand and fountain pen in an endeavor to represent myself just as I would like to be -- a poet of two centuries ago, periwig and all. As you will note, I have adopted the old frontispiece engraving style, with little Pegasuses beneath me, and Apollo, Pan, and my family crest above me." The drawing in hand answers to this description in all particulars. As such, it is the earliest known self-portrait of Lovecraft. The portrait was first published in The Vagrant, no. 5 (June 1917), and was used later as an illustration (plate II) in SELECTED LETTERS II. Item #5: Fragment of a letter (page 4) of a letter, comprising the manuscript of a 28-line poem by HPL and a landscape scene framing it, addressee unknown (but quite possibly also Kleiner, who was one of his most frequent correspondents in this period), date unknown (but no later than June 1917, when the poem, titled "On Receiving a Picture of [the] Town of Templeton, in the Colonie of Massachusetts-Bay, With Mount Monadnock, in New Hampshire, shewn In the Distance," was printed in The Vagrant.) The drawing shows a small 18th-century figure in foreground, probably meant to be HPL. The poem is printed rather than cursive in style, and is signed (again, in early fashion) "H. Lovecraft, Gent." The heroic couplets of competent -- if instantly dated -- verse, form a panegyric to this landscape, praising the virtues of Anglo-Saxon tradition, and scorning change, decadence and aliens: leitmotivs found in many of his letters. Reproduced as plate III in an Arkham catalogue, BOOKS FROM ARKHAM HOUSE 1949 AND LATER. Faint fold creases, a little general rumpling, generally in excellent condition. (#111302)
Price: $9,500.00

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