The Endless Bookshelf : simply messing about in books

January 2007


31 January 2007

Book Bloggers before the internet (second in an occasional series)

Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937) was an American author who spent most of his life in Providence. A short  biography by S. T. Joshi can be found here (the long  version, H. P. Lovecraft : A Life , is a thick 700-page book published by Necronomicon Press in 1996). Although he is sometimes viewed as “ the recluse of Providence ” he was perhaps not so reclusive as it seems. He was active enough in amateur journalism to qualify as a proto-blogger on that basis alone, but letter-writing was his preferred medium. Last month a substantial collection of manuscripts of H. P. Lovecraft sold at auction in New York, including the autograph manuscript of The Shunned House and a 500-page collection of 50 letters, from H. P. Lovecraft to Frank Belknap Long, 1922-1931, each averaging 10 pages, with one letter 60 autograph pages in length.

H. P. Lovecraft letter

The reappearance of these letters to Long — occupying many pages in the five-volume Selected Letters  — tends to confirm a position I took in a review of the H. P. Lovecraft and Donald Wandrei correspondence, Mysteries of Time and Spirit (Night Shade Books, 2002), where I wrote :

Even if it is through his fiction that one first comes to Lovecraft, he was fundamentally a letter writer who, from time to time, would turn out a story or an essay or an account of his travels. [. . .] we all know how many words he could fit onto a penny post card. That any of Lovecraft’s fiction saw publication during his lifetime seems to have been almost accidental. His letters are filled with deprecations and protestations of disinterest, to be interpreted as the reader sees fit, but one has to assign a certain degree of truthfulness to his statements.

Having been able to examine the Long correspondence, I am thoroughly persuaded that Lovecraft lived for his letters ; yet I find them for the most part only slightly above the level of the amateur journalism (and in no way comp