By R. Alain Everts
In his autobiography, While the Sirens Slept
(London, Jarrolds, Ltd., n.d.), Lord Dunsany on
page 21 describes only briefly his lecture at the Copley Plaza in Boston in late October of 1919.
No doubt he had no inkling that sitting in the audience was a neophyte, and America’s finest
author-to-be of the phantasy genre
, Howard Phillips Lovecraft.
The influence of this lecture on HPL cannot be too lightly passed over—in
fact it most likely had a considerable effect in reviving HPL’s interest in phantasy, in
serious writing (along with his Amateur Press supporters) and in commercial publishing. Not much is
known about this episode in HPL’s life—perhaps a turning point—yet the facts are
somewhat easily ascertainable.
HPL himself relates some of the incidences concerning this event in letter #56 in
—to his fellow amateur Rheinhart Kleiner all HPL stated was that he
(HPL), Miss H. and young Lee, plus Miss H’s aunt, set out for the Copley Plaza at 7 in the
evening, and that obtaining front-row seats, HPL was not more than 10 feet from Dunsany. The Lord
spoke of his methods and ideals in his British accent, and then read his short play The
and selections from several other works. After the reading, Miss H,
pressed by her aunt, stood amongst the lionisers, and only a last minute failure of courage
prevented her from obtaining the great man’s autograph.
The following day, however, Miss H could not let the Lord leave without trying to
obtain his autograph, and so enclosed in a letter to him a gift of an autograph letter of Abraham
Lincoln. Of course, this brought an extremely courteous response from Dunsany, reproduced on p. 93
of Selected Letters I
However, who were these persons—Miss H., young Lee and how did HPL happen to
be present at this lecture? As one would expect, this episode deals with Amateur Journalists, the
sole and greatest interest in HPL’s life during the middle 1910s and early 1920s. One of the
Amateurs whom HPL knew rather well from about 1915 onwards, was the young David Whittier, an
aspiring author of horror tales, who had at least one such tale in HPL’s own The
. In early 1919 Whittier recruited the young (21 year old) Miss Alice Hamlet,
through a short story of hers that appeared in the Boston Post
newspaper. As Miss Hamlet
From then on I was one of the “amateurs”. Eventually I put out a little
mimeographed paper in conjunction with a John Smith of Orondo, Washington. It was probably through
that little literary effort that Mr. Lovecraft became interested in my work. He was very helpful
and friendly in his criticisms and suggestions and I greatly appreciated it. But on to Mr.
Lovecraft himself: As I remember him he was tall and large-boned—with a long jaw—or
perhaps I should say chin—from the lower lip downward. He was rather dark complexioned
and was extremely pale. Evidently he was not in very good health. He had severe headaches and never
was known to go far from his home—except to hear Lord Dunsany at my invitation. Mr.
Lovecraft’s style of writing was highly imaginative as was Dunsany’s and I thought Mr.
Lovecraft would greatly enjoy hearing the Irish poet. There was this difference between the
writers’ literary output—Lovecraft resembled Edgar Allan Poe, with his stark and wild
imaginings: Dunsany wrote in almost Biblical style, with prose that was almost poetry. Mr.
Lovecraft’s vocabulary was very extensive, at times Johnsonian, and his letters were long and
examples of a skilled writer who knew what he wanted to say and how to say it. The attendance at
the Dunsany lecture was surely a milestone in his life—and a great inspiration to me and one
of my treasured memories. The young man who went with us was Ed Lee. He was not
“literary” and probably Mr. Lovecraft and I were both a sort of gentle amusement to
As far as I can remember, he (Lovecraft) went back to Providence the night of the
Dunsany lecture. He was immensely impressed and I can well imagine the occasion was a spur to his
writing professionally. I never considered Mr. Lovecraft handsome and I am sure he was never
interested in me as a girl! We merely had similar tastes which made for a congenial
acquaintance. He was always courteous—“the old school gentleman”—although
he must have been in the early thirties (his age) when I knew him.
The fourth member of the party was Miss Hamlet’s aunt, Mrs Eva Thompson, who
died in 1957 at the age of 86. After Lord Dunsany departed home, Miss Hamlet wrote to him asking if
he would be so kind as to judge some Amateur writings. Dunsany cabled her that he would be most
pleased, and in 1921, he did judge the Poetry Laureate contest for the National Amateur Press
Association, and thus ended a brief confrontation of two great phantaisistes
, and a profound
episode in Howard Phillips Lovecraft’s literary and social life.