Sunday, September 23, 2018

Harold S. Farnese (1890 or 1891-1945)-Part Four

In "The Eyrie"
Before he was mentioned in newspapers, Harold S. Farnese had his name in Weird Tales. He didn't write any stories, poems, or articles for "The Unique Magazine," nor did he create any cover designs or interior illustrations. Instead he wrote letters, and it is for his letters, in and out of the magazine, that he has earned his place in the lore of Weird Tales and its foremost author, H.P. Lovecraft.

All together, there were eight letters by Farnese in the letters column of Weird Tales, called "The Eyrie." The first was in the issue of April 1925, just two years after the magazine had made its debut. Farnsworth Wright was the credited editor of Weird Tales as of November 1924. I don't know what Farnese wrote about in his first letter, but I wonder whether it was in response to the recent revival of the magazine under Wright's editorship. I also wonder whether Farnese and Wright knew each other, as both were involved in the musical scene in California, and both had lived at one time in San Francisco.

I don't have access to the next two issues (Sept. 1925 and Feb. 1925) in which Farnese's letters or comments appeared, but in the issue of May 1926, he commented on Elwin J. Owens' story "Dead in Three Hours":
"There is no real motive for all the atrocities," writes Harold S. Farnese, of Los Angeles; "the story would be acceptable if one did not get the impression that it is weird merely for the sake of weirdness." (p. 715)
I'll have to skip the issue of June 1926, again for lack of access, and go to that of May 1927:
Harold S. Farnese, of Los Angeles, writes to The Eyrie: "As to the pro and con of reprints, I think it ludicrous to generally praise or condemn them. You have given us some very good reprints, notably What Was It? [by Fitz-James O'Brien, Dec. 1925] and The Upper Berth [by F. Marion Crawford, June 1926]; also the two last ones were entertaining. The one by Andreyeff ["Lazarus," Mar. 1927] shows the hand of a masterly author; it affected me strangely days after I read it. But Ligeia by Poe [Nov. 1926] was awfully drawn out, almost pointless, pages of ravings over the beauty of a certain woman, exhausting the dictionary, as it were, but stylistically old-fashioned and uninteresting. Give us reprints, but when you select them be guided by their style. Some of the old stories read as if they had been written only yesterday, but others assuredly bore us to death. The days of the great Walter Scott, who was permitted to describe a hillside through sixty pages or so, are over. We want action these days, not long-winded descriptions." (pp. 711-712)
More than four years passed before Farnese's next letter in Weird Tales. This one, from August 1931, may have been the start of a little saga, as we'll see in the next part of this series:
"Keep the magazine weird by all means," writes Harold Farnese, of Los Angeles; "not too many mechanical stories, aviation, etc.; a modern atmosphere usually lacks the thrill of things unknown, unless penned by a master hand. Speculative stories of other planets, however, should be welcomed by your readers. H.P. Lovecraft's poems are very fine and play a good second to this author's inimitable stories. His style of building up a weird and eldritch atmosphere has yet to be equalled by other writers." (p. 142)
Farnese here expressed an obvious appreciation for Lovecraft's poems. Note that in so doing he used a musical metaphor: "play a good second." If Farnese was a regular (or habitual--see below) reader of Weird Tales, he would have seen fifteen poems by Lovecraft published in the magazine from April 1924 to April/May 1931. These were in fact all of the Lovecraft poems published by Weird Tales in his lifetime. Eleven were from a series we now know as The Fungi from Yuggoth--thirty-six sonnets penned by Lovecraft beginning in December 1929 and published in their entirety (and in numbered order) only after his death. I can't say that this was Farnese's first mention of Lovecraft in his letters to "The Eyrie." However, the timing is interesting. Before getting into that, though, I'll give Farnese's last letter in Weird Tales, from July 1937:
Harold S. Farnese, of Los Angeles, writes: "Reading your magazine habitually, I sometimes wonder whether you ever realized how great a contributor you had in H.P. Lovecraft. Whether you ever gaged the fineness of his stories, the originality of his genius? Of course, you published them, alongside of others. You sent him his cheque, and that was that. But has it ever occurred to you that in Lovecraft you had the greatest genius that ever lived in the realm of weird fiction?" (p. 125)
In this, his last letter, Farnese didn't mince any words: Lovecraft was, in his opinion, "the greatest genius that ever lived in the realm of weird fiction." Beyond that, Farnese wondered whether Weird Tales had recognized Lovecraft's greatness. Considering some of the editorial decisions it made during Lovecraft's lifetime, we might wonder, too.

Harold S. Farnese's Letters in "The Eyrie"
April 1925
September 1925
February 1926
May 1926
June 1926
May 1927
August 1931
July 1937

To be continued . . . 

Original text copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley

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