After the death of H.P. Lovecraft on March 15, 1937, August Derleth wasted no time in beginning another of his innumerable planned projects: he and his soon-to-be business partner Donald Wandrei would publish a collection of Lovecraft's letters. To that end, Derleth wrote to Harold S. Farnese on April 6, 1937, asking that Farnese send Derleth, on loan, his letters from Lovecraft. Farnese replied on April 8, saying that he had "at least two or three of his [Lovecraft's] personal letters." Farnese couldn't put his hands on them just then but he promised Derleth that he would look for them. It didn't take long. In a letter dated April 11, Farnese wrote:
The correspondence I unearthed from my files consists of two long letters and one postal card. If there was another letter, it has been destroyed, for I recorded the salient points in my scrap-book. It had entirely to do with our plans on collaborating on an opera entitled: Yurregarth and Yannimaid or The Swamp City; we were not sure which name to use. (1)
Farnese also wrote the following, which has since become a burr under the blanket of every Lovecraftian scholar between here and Yuggoth:
Upon [Farnese's] congratulating HPL upon his work, he [Lovecraft] answered: "You will, of course, realize that all my stories, unconnected as they may be, are based on one fundamental lore or legend: that this world was inhabited at one time by another race, who in practicing black magic, lost their foothold and were expelled, yet live on outside, ever ready to take possession of this earth again." "The Elders," as he called them. [Emphasis by Farnese.]
There is a lot wrong with that supposed quote, as the aforementioned scholars have pointed out. More on them in a minute.
So, Farnese is supposed to have sent the correspondence he had received from Lovecraft--"two long letters and one postal card"--to Derleth enclosed in his own letter of April 11. Theoretically, Derleth--if he was indeed planning to publish a collection of Lovecraft's letters--would have transcribed them precisely and in their entirety. But he doesn't seem to have done that. Instead, he seems to have quoted from Farnese's letter of April 11 rather than from Lovecraft's own words. In other words, this conception of Lovecraft's central thesis, held by so many for so long--"that this world was inhabited at one time by another race, who in practicing black magic, lost their foothold and were expelled, yet live on outside, ever ready to take possession of this earth again"--is just plain wrong. These might be the most famous words that Lovecraft never said.
So the problem began when Farnese summarized what he thought Lovecraft was saying rather than just quoting Lovecraft's exact words. If he had had Lovecraft's letters to Farnese in hand, Derleth could easily have corrected this misapprehension, yet he didn't. Instead he perpetuated the idea that these were Lovecraft's own words, moreover, that this was the foundational idea of what we now call "the Cthulhu Mythos." The question is: Why? The answer seems to be that Farnese's interpretation seems to have fit with Derleth's own, one in which the Lovecraftian universe is moral and human beings count for something rather than merely materialistic where we mean very little, if anything. In other words, Derleth seems to have wanted Farnese to be right and may very well have seen Lovecraft's original creation to be inadequate to his own purposes and perhaps even offensive to his own beliefs. We can't blame Farnese for that. He was, after all, a minor figure in the Lovecraft saga, and he never published a word about the author beyond his letter or letters in Weird Tales. (2) It seems obvious to me that Derleth was instead to blame--Derleth who did so much for Lovecraft and yet seems to have glommed on to Lovecraft's creation in an effort to make it his own.
* * *
Although my research into the life and career of Harold S. Farnese is original, this final part of the series is based upon the research of others, most notably that of David E. Schultz and his article "The Origin of Lovecraft's 'Black Magic' Quote," originally in The Crypt of Cthulhu #48 (1987) and found on the Internet by clicking here. Mr. Schultz and S.T. Joshi discuss the same problem pretty extensively in their book An H.P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia, which is kinda sorta on line, too, but better read in print. (Unfortunately, I don't have a copy of this book.) Mr. Schultz and Mr. Joshi also include a long list of related research in their entry on the Cthulhu Mythos. Suffice it to say, it is pretty well accepted now that Lovecraft did not say what Farnese, then Derleth, said that he said. I'll just close by observing that Harold Sulzire (or Sulzer, maybe also Solcetto) Farnese died on October 29, 1945, in Los Angeles city or county. I believe he was without a wife or children, possibly without any heirs, survivors, or family members at all, and I find that sad.
(1) In his biography of Lovecraft, L. Sprague de Camp called the opera an operetta and had a different title for the proposed work, Fen River. So if its co-author called it The Swamp City, where did de Camp get the title Fen River?
(2) Farnese is also supposed to have composed an elegy for Lovecraft in 1937. See the blog Lovecraft and His Legacy, hosted by Chris Perridas, in an entry of January 21, 2008, here.
Original text copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley