Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Lovecraft-Farnese Correspondence

Part of the problem with the Lovecraft-Farnese correspondence is that many of the facts involved and some of the letters exchanged between the two men are missing. For example, in his article from 1987, "The Origins of Lovecraft's 'Black Magic' Quote," the author, David E. Schultz, wrote: "The Lovecraft collection of Brown University's John Hay Library contains only several letters from Farnese to Lovecraft, from 11 July 1932 to 9 January 1933." What does "several" mean? We have a range of six months during which Harold S. Farnese wrote to H.P. Lovecraft. What are the dates of those "several" letters? What are their contents? If these things are in the public domain, why are they not available on the Internet for all to see, especially considering the vast interest in all things Lovecraftian? Why at this late date are Lovecraft's letters still locked up in libraries and expensive hardbound editions rather than out here in the world? Or are there sources available of which I'm not aware?

I guess that's enough grousing for now. What I would like to do is present a timeline of the Lovecraft-Farnese correspondence, along with some other facts and a little on the correspondence between Farnese and August Derleth after Lovecraft's death.
  • January 1931--"Nyarlathotep" and "Azathoth" by H.P. Lovecraft published in Weird Tales.
  • February/March 1931--"Mirage" and "The Elder Pharos" by H.P. Lovecraft published in Weird Tales.
  • April/May 1931--"Alienation" by H.P. Lovecraft published in Weird Tales. This was the last poem by Lovecraft published in Weird Tales in his lifetime. Farnese was presumably still a regular (or in his words "habitual") reader of Weird Tales and as such would have seen Lovecraft's published poems of January-May 1931. He would set two of them, "Mirage" and "The Elder Pharos," to music some time after their publication.
  • July 11, 1932, to January 9, 1933--"Several" letters from Farnese to Lovecraft, held (evidently like the Necronomicon at Arkham University) at Brown University, John Hay Library, H.P. Lovecraft Collection. If the letter of July 11 was Farnese's introduction to Lovecraft, then perhaps it was also the letter in which Farnese first informed Lovecraft of his setting of two poems by Lovecraft, "Mirage" and "The Elder Pharos," to music. It may also have been the letter in which Farnese first proposed a collaboration on the libretto (by Lovecraft) and music (by Farnese) of an operetta to be entitled Yurregarth and Yannimaid, The Swamp City, or, if L. Sprague de Camp's account is accurate, Fen River.
  • Late July 1932 to Early September (?), 1932--Farnese traveled from the Institute of Musical Education in Los Angeles to Oakland, Portland, and Seattle to teach normal courses.
  • July 28, 1932--The film White Zombie released, with a chant composed, uncredited in the movie, by Guy Bevier Williams of the Institute of Musical Education. I mention this because it could be that Williams and Farnese were working on their separate pieces--presumably "primitive" pieces--at about the same time, i.e. late 1931 to early 1932. They may very well have talked things over or shared ideas. Perhaps one even inspired the other in his composition(s).
  • September 22, 1932--Letter from Lovecraft to Farnese, published in Lovecraft's Selected Letters IV (Arkham House, 1976).
  • October 12, 1932--Letter from Lovecraft to Farnese, published in Lovecraft's Selected Letters IV (Arkham House, 1976).
  • November-December 1932--Performances by Farnese (on piano) and violinist Jascha Gegna of two pieces or two "oriental" pieces, composed by Farnese, at the Institute of Musical Education in Los Angeles. Could these have been Farnese's settings of "Mirage" and "The Elder Pharos"?
  • December 7, 1932--Letter from Farnese to Lovecraft, presumably located at Brown University, John Hay Library, H.P. Lovecraft Collection.
  • January 9, 1933--Last known letter from Farnese to Lovecraft, located at Brown University, John Hay Library, H.P. Lovecraft Collection.
More than four years passed before . . . 
  • March 15, 1937--H.P. Lovecraft died in Providence, Rhode Island.
  • April 6, 1937--Letter from August Derleth to Farnese requesting the loan of Lovecraft's letters to Farnese for a planned published collection of Lovecraft's correspondence.
  • April 8, 1937--Letter from Farnese to Derleth. Farnese wrote: "In my correspondence files I must have at least two or three of his [Lovecraft's] personal letters. These were voluminous letters and highly instructive and interesting, for which reason I kept them. In one of them, if I am not mistaken, he discussed various technical points of the construction of mystery stories of the higher type."
  • April 11, 1937--Letter from Farnese to Derleth in which Farnese included the correspondence he had received from Lovecraft in 1932 or 1932-1933 ("two long letters and one postal card"). Farnese's letter to Derleth is the apparent source of the "Black Magic" quote that is almost certainly misattributed to Lovecraft. Farnese wrote: "Upon [my] congratulating HPL upon his work, he 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.] Farnese also wrote: "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."
  • April 21, 1937--Letter from Farnese to Derleth in which he acknowledged the return of his Lovecraft letters from Derleth, location unknown, but presumably extant.
  • June 1937--"H.P. Lovecraft, Outsider" by August Derleth published in River, Vol. 1, No. 3.
  • September 15, 1937--Letter from Farnese to Donald Wandrei, location unknown but presumably extant.
  • September 20, 1937--Letter from Wandrei to Derleth, location unknown but presumably extant.
In all, Harold Farnese had two letters and a postcard from H.P. Lovecraft. There may have been a third letter that was lost or destroyed. The location of these letters is, I believe, unknown. They may no longer be in existence. However, if August Derleth transcribed them (or had photostats shot of them) with the idea that he would publish their contents in a collection of Lovecraft's letters, then the text (or images) may still exist, presumably in Derleth's papers. However again, if the "Black Magic" quote has survived this long, all the while being misattributed to Lovecraft, then maybe there aren't any transcriptions (or photostats) and everything was based on memory or misapprehension, starting with Farnese but perpetuated by Derleth, perhaps by mistake or a lack of scholarly rigor, perhaps also because the "Black Magic" quote suited Derleth's purposes.

Again, there are "several" letters from Farnese to Lovecraft in the Brown University library, but I'm not sure whether anybody knows how many there might be, their dates, or their contents. Maybe the librarians at Brown University don't even know. In short, there are too many missing letters, too many unknown locations, too much unknown content, and an overall lack of information on what seems to me a really central question on Lovecraft's vision: "You will, of course, realize that all my stories, unconnected as they may be, are based on one fundamental lore or legend . . . ."

Original text copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley

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