Sunday, November 28, 2010

Lovecraft and High School

As loyal readers of the HPLblog know, Chrispy does research without a net. Sometimes errors are made as theses are created, but so much more the excitement.

A long running thesis is that Lovecraft was so sickly he could not attend school. Chrispy, for right or wrong, has denied this. Yes, young Howard got sick, sometimes very sick, but in the fin de siecle days and those years before antibiotics this happened in all families.

One persevered.

Another long standing theory is that Susan coddled HPL. Maybe shed did a little, as he was "spoiled", but for every indulgence she gave, grandfather was there to temper it. WVP had been orphaned at 14, and built and lost fortunes. His eye was on a grandson who would most likely inherit his mantle (certainly not Edwin).

Lovecraft attended school precisely twice (before late 1904). It is not a coincidence that these were precisely the years Lovecraft needed to "graduate" from both primary and grammar school.

Previously it was discussed that the Providence school system went from a 1A/B 5 yr old to 9A/B 13 yr old system, to a 1A/B 6 yr old to 8A/B 13 yr old system in 1902, whereby preparing continuity from grammar school to High School. This essentially created a "graded school" all the way from 1 to 12, a very familar system today.

The Providence school system was the premier and model system for virtually all other Eastern and many Midwestern systems. The educators went on the road giving seminars, and New York and Boston ofen followed the lead of Providence. The system believed strongly in co-educational environments and in social ethnic integration (but not necessarily black students, just sometimes).

The system was not at all lenient with truancy, and battled manufacturers who wanted children to work instead of going to school, and bristled when said that they did not educate to train for industry. If Lovecraft was simply dodging school, or Susan fearful of him mingling, then the school system would have went after them. There are many reports of this very issue in the historical record.

There was one major exception. Elites.

While the school system wished all students to associate for th e greater good of society and America, they understood that a classroom education for brilliant and elite pupils was lackluster, and gave great leeway for private education.

Thus enters Whipple - and perhaps for a time, Lillian. Whipple was not only a powerful man in Providence business society, with long established (at least back to the late 1850's) roots in Providence, but also was a recognized and established educator in his own right. His name appears on several state school documents from the 1870's. He was close friends with masons, bankers (brother-in-law Raymond G Place, for instance), Brown professors, legislators, aldermen, and the Foster mafia ran strong in Rhode Island politics - all the way to his best freind, Clarke Johnson being supreme court justice one day.

When Lovecraft said he was the grandson of Whipple Phillips, people raised an eyebrow and understood.

My thesis continues to be that the Providence school system compromised. That Howard Lovcraft could be educated at home as long as he "graduated" from primary and grammar school. Coincidently, the 4 room primary Slater Elementary school expanded to be a grammar school in 1902. This is why its senior administrator (Principal) "Abbie" Hathaway knew HPL so well.

Now, what about High School?

Lovecraft graduated late June 1903 from grammar school and should have immediately attended a high school the second Monday of Septmeber 1903. He was 13 after all. He would have clearly been eligible to be a Freshman.

He didn't.

Why? Too sickly? Me thinks not.

Whipple continued his private education. WVP brought in at least one tutor by the name of A. P. May for Fall 1903. He was a Brown University student studying for the ministry (if memory serves), and Lovecraft immediately recoiled and by January 1904 HPL was probably at war, openly mocking him - or at least he does in his science newsletter circulated to family members.

So what happened?

Sadly, on Monday, 28 March 1904, WVP passed on.

The Lovecrafts moved in June 1904 to 598 Angell Street next door to the Metcalf family (long residents at 600 Angell), and Susan entered Howard into Hope Street High School on the 2nd Monday of September.

There is debate about whether HPL accumulated enough credits for Brown University to accept him. No real way to answer this precisely after all these years, except that had HPL taken the entrance exams and passed algebra, I think he could easily have entered in 1909.

He didn't pass.

The other courses might have caused him to take some remedial work, but the senior staff at Hope Street High School knew him and probably backed him. Lovecraft says "they understood" him. They may have given his a few passes due to his several maladies. There is no hint otherwise.

Winslow Upton was still quite influential at Brown (once senior Dean), and while we can debate whether he backed Howard, we know from all accounts he was a kind and sympathetic man who loved his students, and his students adored him. It's hard to say that Upton groomed Lovecraft, for if he did, he would have been more insistent that he concentrate on math, but there is no doubt he knew Lovecraft - as did the entire staff at Ladd Observatory. I believe him when he says he had the keys.

I certainly believe that HPL got a personal introduction to Percival Lowell on January 1907. Many in Providence read HPL's astronomy newspaper features - a competition not so much with Upton's Providence Journal series, but with other sysndicated astonomy features of the time.

Howard had inherited some of Whipple's charisma, and people seemed to automatically believe "the Little Professor" was inevitable to be an astronomer or meteorologist.

If HPL had taken the August college exams and passed, he would have gotten into Brown, I believe.

He didn't.

He was in shock.

He had no immediate fall back plan, and must have been beyond devastated.

He had worked eevry day from late 1902 to become an astonomer, and at that point no one could help him further.

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