H. P. LOVECRAFT. Autograph postcard to E. Hoffmann Price on Weird Tales, Connecticut, and suppressed romance (1933)

H. P. LOVECRAFT. Autograph postcard to E. Hoffmann Price on Weird Tales, Connecticut, and suppressed romance (1933)

Lovecraft, Howard Phillips (1890-1937). Autograph postcard to E. Hoffmann Price, postmarked 11 March 1933, 1 p. Fine. Housed in a presentation folder of stiff paper in a printed envelope, possibly by Roy A. Squires.

A short but intriguing letter from one of the most influential fabulists of the twentieth century sent to the writer E. Hoffmann Price (1898-1989) in New Orleans, referring to Weird Tales, remarking on Hartford and its suburbs, and pointedly not referring to HPL's ex-wife, Sonia Greene.

"Peace of Allah upon thee!"

Price, a soldier of fortune who had attended West Point and served with the 15th Cavalry in the Philippines, Mexico, and France, had begun contributing to the pulps in 1924. While working as an engineer for Union Carbide, he was transferred to New Orleans, and there he met Lovecraft. The gentleman from Providence took a one-week tour of "the Paris of the South" in June 1932, and Robert E. Howard (1908-1936) urged him to look up Price, who had a room in the French Quarter. The two hit it off famously. As Price later remembered:

Twenty-eight hours we gabbled, swapping ideas, kicking fancies back and forth, topping each other's whimsies. [Lovecraft] had an enormous enthusiasm for new experience: of sight, of sound, of word pattern, of idea pattern. I have met in all my time only one or two others who approached him in what I call ‘mental greed.’ A glutton for words, ideas, thoughts. He elaborated, combined, distilled, and at a machine gun tempo.

Price would return the visit, staying with Lovecraft for four days in June 1933 in the course of a cross-country automobile tour. The two would collaborate on a story, "Through the Gates of the Silver Key," written between October 1932 and April 1933, and published in Weird Tales in July 1934.

This letter dates from the time of their collaboration, during which both also worked on separate projects. Lovecraft refers to Price's story, “The Return of Balkis," which had just been published in Weird Tales. Holding Price's talents in high regard, Lovecraft asked him to critique "Flash," a story by one of his protégés, Bernard Austin Dwyer (1897-1943) "What he wants ... is to produce really artistic work ... though naturally he wouldn’t mind a cheque now & then from the Emperor Wright," Lovecraft notes, referring to Farnsworth Wright (1888-1940), the editor of Weird Tales.

In homage to Price's fascination with the Near East -- he had learned Arabic -- Lovecraft signs his name with a cartouche of Egyptian hieroglyphics, and offers the benediction, "Peace of Allah upon thee!"

"I reveled in the ancient houses of [Hartford's] still-quaint suburbs"

An innocuous remark Lovecraft offers at the close of the letter conceals one of its most intriguing aspects. The letter is written on a postcard depicting the city of Hartford, Connecticut. Lovecraft explains: "A special research job took me to Hartford last week. Not a very interesting town, although I reveled in the ancient houses of its still-quaint suburbs Farmington & Weatherfield." This, according to Lovecraft scholar S. T. Joshi, was a lie. Lovecraft had actually visited Connecticut not to conduct research but to meet Sonia H. Greene (1883-1972), whom the writer had married in 1924 and divorced in 1926. Among her previous lovers was the sex magician Aleister Crowley (1875-1947), and she once proclaimed Lovecraft to be "an adequately excellent lover." But their reunion in Hartford and its suburbs was chaste -- not even a kiss goodbye, she later reported.

Lovecraft wrote about his trip to Hartford to several correspondents, and prevaricated in each. His reluctance to discuss matters of the heart would have come as no surprise to E. Hoffmann Price. A voluptuary, he supposedly once brought Seabury Quinn (1889-1969) to a whorehouse where the prostitutes, being avid readers of Weird Tales, offered the visiting dignitary one on the house. But Price did not offer Lovecraft the same tour. Mindful of his guest's sensibilities, Price said, "I skipped concubines altogether."

A terrific letter to an important collaborator, fascinating both for what it reveals and what it conceals. The full text is below.

References

  • Joshi, S. T. A Dreamer and a Visionary: H P Lovecraft in His Time (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2001)
  • Price, E. Hoffmann. “The Man Who Was Lovecraft,” in H. P. Lovecraft, Something About Cats and Other Pieces (Sauk City: Arkham House, 1949), pp. 278-289
  • Price, E. Hoffmann, “The Return of Balkis,” Weird Tales. April 1933.

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To:  E. Hoffman Price, 1416 Josephine Street, New Orleans, La.

I think you can safely shoot all the works to [Bernard Austin] Dwyer, who is a man of sense & eager above all things to discover & master his defects. What he wants, however, is to produce really artistic work – The element of salability being secondary, though naturally he wouldn’t mind a cheque now & then from the Emperor [Farnsworth] Wright [editor of Weird Tales]. I think an expert & impersonal analysis of “Flash” would increase rather than decrease his admiring opinion of you – subconscious as well as conscious.

I imagined that the sketchy nature of Balkis’s opening was intentional – or Wright-induced – indeed, I believe you said something about the matter a few months ago. Yes, I’d be interested to hear the reasons to which you refer.

Am simply swamped with work this past week. A special research job took me to Hartford last week. Not a very interesting town, although I reveled in the ancient houses of its still-quaint suburbs Farmington & Weatherfield.

Best wishes -- & don’t be afraid to tell Dwyer what’s what.

Peace of Allah upon thee!

[Cartouche signature]

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