Keeper Chad of the Miskatonic University Podcast had some questions for me regarding my yammerings in my recent post, Lovecraft in His Grave, Pondering Race. There, I state the following, “He may have realized that his scientific justifications for his views were wanting, but he merely admitted that his personal tastes were for an unsullied Anglo-Saxon culture-stream.” Chad wondered how much Lovecraft’s views changed and what proof there was for it, one way or the other (and what that might say about what a longer-lived Lovecraft would think).
The statement in question comes after the quotation where Lovecraft talks about Hitler, which I follow with “he appears to have switched emphasis here and elsewhere to cultures as the main point of contention.” So, there I’m contending that there are other examples of this switch in emphasis than the letter about Hitler. Another example immediately sprang to mind while talking to Chad, since I considered including it in the original post. I had decided not to use it because I didn’t think it added much to an already lengthy post.
When I looked at it again, I realized that it was instructive not just as another example but because of something I didn’t notice when reading it in S. T. Joshi’s biography I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft:
No anthropologist of standing insists on the uniformly advanced evolution of the Nordic as compared with that of other Caucasian and Mongolian races. As a matter of fact, it is freely conceded that the Mediterranean race turns out a higher percentage of the aesthetically sensitive and that the Semitic groups excel in sharp, precise intellection. It may be, too, that the Mongolian excels in aesthetick capacity and normality of philosophical adjustment. What, then, is the secret of pro-Nordicism among those who hold these views? Simply this—that ours is a Nordic culture, and that the roots of that culture are so inextricably tangled in the national standards, perspectives, traditions, memories, instincts, peculiarities, and physical aspects of the Nordic stream that no other influences are fitted to mingle in our fabric. We don’t despise the French in France or Quebec, but we don’t want them grabbing our territory and creating foreign islands like Woonsocket and Fall River. The fact of this uniqueness of every separate culture-stream—this dependence of instinctive likes and dislikes, natural methods, unconscious appraisals, etc., etc., on the physical and historical attributes of a single race—is too obvious to be ignored except by empty theorists.
Here again Lovecraft is emphasizing the idea that different cultures are all fine and good, so long as they don’t sully his. While discussing this, Joshi points out the hypocrisy of Lovecraft celebrating “Aryan” conquests while decrying even peaceful cultural influence from the other direction.
This quotation is from a letter written in January 1931, over two years before the quote I posted. It doesn’t talk about science quite as much; in the other quote, he states that, of course, cultural heritage is more important than biological. Here, it’s more offhand–no anthropologist of standing insists that the Nordic is more evolutionarily advanced. That actually strikes me as a fairly significant concession by Lovecraft, contradicting ideas he’d championed in the past.
But what I now realized about this quote after checking the end note was who his audience was here. This is in a letter to James F. Morton, arguably Lovecraft’s fiercest opponent on all matters race (more on him in the next post). I think this may make a big difference in why Lovecraft is couching his arguments in the terms he does here.
As I pointed out in the previous post, neither Joshi nor Fred Ludnow think HPL’s scientific views on race really changed in his last years. Certainly, it’s difficult to argue that anyone has studied Lovecraft’s life and thought more than Joshi. Well, then, if Lovecraft hadn’t really changed his scientific views, then why all this equivocation over them, the sudden emphasis on cultural purity being the important concern?
It is quite possible that HPL had by now conceded the point regarding science with correspondents such as Morton and J. Vernon Shea (the recipient of that Hitler letter). He began appealing to culture as the really important thing. It was all, perhaps, for rhetorical purposes, a vain attempt to win some ground with such unimpressed debate partners. If so, his actual beliefs changed not a whit.
While my posts on this matter are hardly meant to be scholarly, I’d like to point out some of my sources. I’ve already mentioned the two-volume biography, I Am Providence. I found Lord of a Visible World: an Autobiography in Letters, edited by Joshi and David E. Schultz to be very useful in pinpointing various things I’ve read over the years. I glanced through Lovecraft Remembered, edited by Peter Cannon. And I’ve also referred to the two volumes of A Means to Freedom: the Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, The Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith, and Mysteries of Time and Spirit: the Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Donald Wandrei.