Blind Read Through; H.P. Lovecraft: A Reminiscence of Dr. Samuel Johnson
“I am now, however, resolv’d to unburthen myself of a Secret which I have hitherto kept thro’ Dread of Incredulity; and to impart to the publick a true knowledge of my long years, in order to gratifie their taste for authentick Information of an Age with whose famous Personages I was on familiar Terms.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read!
As you can tell this is not your normal Lovecraft story. In fact I debated on whether I should cover it or not, but in the end I decided that each one of these stories gives a a glimpse at the half occluded mind of Lovecraft and thus informs us, hopefully not falsely, into the theories and connections behind the writing itself.
I’ve seen this story categorized as a “whimsey” and I cant think of a better box to put it in. Whimsey is a sobriquet for anything odd or fanciful.; a product of capricious fancy. This is a story which describes Lovecraft’s likes and dislikes, it is not a story in and of itself (so dont be looking for a recap!)
He tells the story under a pen name of Humphry Littlewit, talk about a capricious reference! He was a man born of little wit, indicating the reader to ready themselves for the sarcastic tone coming. This is just another reiteration to tell us not to take this story too seriously.
What we see from the opening paragraph is Lovecraft calling himself basically an immortal. He was born in 1690, and much of his writing is inspired by this influence: “Tho’ many of my readers have at times observ’d and remark’d a Sort of antique Flow in my Stile of Writing...”
This is probably the most interesting aspect of this story and the only time I’ve seen this in Lovecraft’s writing. The 4th wall. This story is Lovecraft directly telling his audience how he feels about style and the works of others. It’s full of references and I cant even come close to capturing all of them, but it seems to focus quite a bit on “THE LITERARY CLUB“
We go on for pages describing the merits of the writers whom would meet with Samuel Johnson and speak of their admittance to the group. What’s important about this is the way he speaks of these men of science and letters. There is no small amount of derision, masked by sarcasm, for these other writers and historians. This goes right along with the image of Lovecraft where he is full of himself…what some call “stuffy,” while at the same time lauding his appreciation for Johnson. Johnson is considered by some (very obviously by Lovecraft) to be one of the most distinguished writers in history, and by the critique of the other huge names (men like Gibbon, who wrote the preeminent history of Rome) Lovecraft is teasing that he is amongst the greatest who ever lived.
The deeper we dig, however, it actually seems as though Lovecraft is simultaneously venting his frustration over critics while simultaneously giving justifications for his own writing through the lampooning of the other writers.
Lines such as “‘you are mistaken. They who lose their Hold do so from their own Want of Strength; but desiring to conceal their weakness, they attribute the Absense of Success to the first Critick that mentions them.”
Lovecraft was not received well during his lifetime. It wasn’t until August Derleth posthumously published his works that he started to gain traction. Once has to wonder how much of this is Lovecraft voicing his own opinion through another’s lens to get his true feelings out in the open.
This is the penultimate example, other than in the last few lines where he speaks of John Burgoyne and how he never succeeded in his life of letters. The narrator insinuates that, because of his failure in Saratoga during the American Revolution, he “was blackballed by three votes,” ultimately meaning that talent didn’t matter, his life and his failures in public life held him back from being a successful writer.
Lovecraft felt much the same way about himself. It didn’t seem to matter how hard he tried, he projected that those outside factors limited his ability to be successful… much like John Borgoyne. That, coupled with the negative reception of his first few stories (which lets be real, every writer experiences), he “attributed” his failure to that “first critick that mentioned him.”
It goes even further, because “Dr. Johnson was second to no Man in the Pains he took to revise the bad Verses of others...”
Just after this line we have the narrator (Lovecraft) re-writing a poem, to which Johnson tells him “Sir, you have straightened out the Feet, but you have put neither Wit nor Poetry into the lines.” He is after all “Littlewit”.
This may seem like a whole lot of negative to be said about Lovecraft, but I’d contend the exact opposite. These were features of himself that he recognized, and this story in effect, is a lampooning of himself and his “stuffy” nature. He’s here calling out his failures, and doing so in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way.
While this in no means was a great read (if you’re a casual reader ignore it), it really shows his motivations and gives a good insight into his personality. Many contend that Lovecraft didn’t have a sense of humor and was too full of himself, but the story is written in Samuel Johnson’s style-not Lovecraft’s- and he points out his own weaknesses, showing that there are those whom Lovecraft looked up to, and that he was only too aware of his shortcomings. It’s a bit drab of a story, but if you’re interested in learning more about the man then you have to give this one a shot!
Join me next week as we cover another one his Lovecraft’s attempts at humor: “Sweet Ermengarde.”