Home     His Life     His Writings     His Creations     His Study     Popular Culture     Internet Resources     About This Site  

Lovecraft and Lord Dunsany

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 Selected Letters—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 Queen’s Enemies 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 Conservative. 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 relates it:
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 him!
     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.
  Return to Articles This page last revised 22 June 2012.
  Contact Us     Site Map     Search    
Copyright © 1998–2024 by Donovan K. Loucks. All Rights Reserved.