LETTERS FROM H. P. LOVECRAFT TO FRANK BELKNAP LONG, 1920-1931. 52 letters and three letter fragments, totaling 509 pages, of which approximately 80% is unpublished. Seven of the letters are entirely unpublished and one fragment is probably unpublished. Extracts, some very brief, from 47 of the letters are published in SELECTED LETTERS, volumes I, II and III. "HPL's letters to Long are among the richest and most wide-ranging of all his correspondence ... the letters after April 1931 have been lost ..." - Joshi, AN H. P. LOVECRAFT ENCYCLOPEDIA, p. 151. This archive of fifty-five letters from Lovecraft to Frank Belknap Long, almost a dozen years his junior and his "closest friend" (Peter Cannon, Lovecraft Remembered, p. 176), covers a decade (1921-1931) which saw the most important changes in Lovecraft's life: the death of his mother; his first major travels outside Providence; his breakthrough into the professional magazines; the filling out of his pantheon of admired horror fiction writers and the composition of his historic essay on the subject; his marriage to and divorce from Sonia Greene; his move to New York and back to Providence; and, in the midst of all this ferment and confrontation with hard external realities, a fundamental shift in his writing aesthetic which triggered the most mature phase of his writing, deepening all of the forms he worked in: essay, story, poem and epistle. To see the development of his persona from the first of these letters to the last is to see the development of a boy into a man. In one letter (#7), we discover a possible linchpin between his amateur press activities (which shrank during this decade) and his voluminous correspondence (which grew). In reference to some policy dispute on the United Amateur, he tells Long that if "our side is defeated we can retire to a free-lance sort of activity -- simply forming an informal circle of such persons as you, Galpin, Loveman, and I, who can write and correspond among ourselves without much regard to associational organization." In other words, maybe we should look at his correspondence as the continuation of amateur journalism by other means. With its repetition of news and opinions in letters to different friends, and its de facto essays (minor and major), its artwork and poems, and its distribution of his fiction and poetry manuscripts along defined postal circuits, this represented collectively the publication of a handwritten one-man amateur periodical to a by-invitation subscriber base. He customizes each letter with personal touches, inquiries about the recipient's health, travels, etc. but the meat of most of his longer letters is interchangeable from one recipient to another. Here is the essence, perhaps, of "the Lovecraft circle" and all its permutations over time. In his next letter, HPL explains at length his "cosmic" perspective and disdain for everything emotional pertaining to "the filthy louse called man." One could say that the first attitude came from looking at the night sky through the correct end of the telescope; and the second came from looking at people on Earth through the wrong end, making them appear tiny and distant. Here is one of his many statements of the main paradox of his life here: the combination of "wonder, fascination and terror at the unknown" which the first half impels in him; and the "pure, ice-cold reason" which can relieve the disgusted contemplation of the "terrestrial and human." The cosmic and the demonic: this double-sided obsession with the sublime and the sordid is the central paradox of this highly paradoxical man, the Ka'bah hidden away inside the forbidden Mecca of his psyche, a black box that he spent his life and devoted his work to circumambulating, the treasure chest that contained heaven and earth and all of his opposing attitudes towards them: mystical & cynical; logical & sentimental; backward looking culturally & forward looking scientifically; rigorous and lazy; dogmatic & timid; loving New York & hating New York; anti-Semitic & married to a Jew; misanthropic in theory & philanthropic in practice. In this letter and others we see his establishment of Poe as the pole star in his literary firmament. The two writers exhibited many similar traits, including an aversion to dialogue and an apathy about characterization. Both showed a passion for the logical and the abstract, which shows up to best advantage in their essays and letters; and also, at the other end of experience, a passion for the impressionistic and atmospheric treatment of the concrete, which shows up to best advantage in their poetry. Their fiction calls on both of these skills (as well as others). And this is where the greatest controversy exists: do the stories represent a brilliant marriage of these passions or an uneasy cohabitation? In other letters he expounds on: the varieties of prodigies; his own image; his latest reading discoveries; the shifting fortunes of his professional writing and the writing of his friends; advice to Long on a wide variety of issues, philosophical, literary, recreational, sartorial; his opinion of dozens of writers; his antiquarian travels; his veneration of the classical and neo-classical periods and their virtues; his elevation of the Nordic over all other races, especially the Negro and Semitic; his idiosyncratic interpretations of history, theology, philosophy, anthropology, and most other branches of learning. The most dramatic letters, perhaps, are the last ones, in which he acknowledges the old "vapourising tendency in myself," which he is now resisting and which he urges Long to do also. Throughout the letters, everywhere is spread the banquet of Lovecraft's diction and his easy command of the machinery of the language, from his placid Georgian periods, to his infamous Lovecraftian adumbrations of the malignant, to some surprising tour de force performances of various comic dialects, including standard minstrel Negro, contemporary gumshoe slang, and old Yankee codger. He may have been obsessive on the higher levels of theme and subject matter but, at the microcosmic level of style, Lovecraft is always in command and a sheer delight to behold. Here is Lovecraft in all his facets, all his themes, all his faults, all his frenzies, all his glories. Deep beneath the surface of Georgian calm in almost all of his letters one can detect an ominous churning of the waters. He writes as if this is the only letter he will ever get to write to that person, or to anyone at all, that this is his only chance to leave a record of himself, to leave behind some proof that he existed. Here, writ large, is that same human urge, at once profound and pathetic, that drives the shipwrecked sailor to carve his initials on a rock: not just to propagate himself in space while alive and in time when dead, but to exist as a human being in the present. Man lives in terror of utter and immediate dissolution unless he can remake something of the world around him in his own image, be it scratches on rock or ink on paper or pixels on a monitor. Lovecraft had to create himself over and over again on paper in order to have any sort of existence at all, one suspects, even in the present, let alone the future. And these documents had no real permanence for him either, one suspects; that it was only in the production of them that he felt that closure of electrical circuitry between inner and outer space that allows energy to flow. We catch a glimpse in these letters of Lovecraft as a performance artist, his real medium being theatrical and temporary; that all the written letters and stories and poems were merely documentation of his performances, required for obscure reasons that had nothing to do with the work itself. Here we see records of Lovecraft the escape artist, a literary and existential Houdini dissolving, again and again, the impossible contradictions of his psyche. Most critics paint Lovecraft as a tragic figure, a prophet, a martyr, a sage, a saint to his friends, a pied piper to his colleagues, and, to his readers, either a charismatic Napoleon or a blustering Bismarck. We have seen the normal Lovecraft and the neurotic Lovecraft and the numinous Lovecraft. The missing piece of this puzzle is Lovecraft the comedian -- not on the trivial scale of his nicknames and obvious clowning, but on a grand and subtle scale. The advocate of proportion and poise, is, when he gets down to business (i.e., supernatural horror), a confetti-bomb throwing anarchist of linguistic mayhem. The Lovecraft horror tale is a danse macabre of midnight revelry in a graveyard, a saturnalian comedy punctuating a plague year, a brief season of authorized misrule, of master and servant switching places, of comedians and tragedians switching masks. Oz-like, he pulls the levers that orchestrate a comic extravaganza of language that continually overflows its semantic containers, that spills out into a spectacular pool of iridescence. Perhaps, if we look carefully, we can see in them, brought down to Earth finally, the spangled reflections of those worlds that so tantalized him. A few of the letters are chipped at edges with some loss of text, a few have old archival tape mends, some are frayed or worn at edges, but most are in exceptionally nice condition. A complete calendar of the archive is available upon request. (#108246).