From Ech-Pi-El to Ar-I-Ech
The following is transcript of a letter from Howard Phillips Lovecraft to Robert E. Howard, believed by internal evidence to have been sent and received in April or May of 1935, recovered from a typewriter carbon in August Derleth’s home, The Place of Hawks. Supplementary letters suggest the missing missive was originally transcribed by Donald Wandrei and intended for volume four or five of the Selected Letters by Arkham House, but both the transcription and the original of the letter remain missing, so only the carbon remains. It is presented here in a direct translation from the carbon, and so it retains the gaps from Wandrei or Derleth’s editing, with no additional annotation.
- B. D.
Kadath in the Cold Waste
—Hour of the Night-Gaunts
Blessings of the Prophet, and of the Elder Ones, upon you. Proceeding to answer the questions in your letter (& trusting perhaps overconfidently that the foregoing garrulous & egocentric comment has left you with enough patience & consciousness to hear the not-quite-so-garrulous (I hope)* replies thereto)—I may say that (a) I haven’t any especial claims to the title of “student”, being not even a university graduate (health broken down during years which should have been collegiate), & being more or less superficial & fragmentary about everything. Don’t let the Einstein-twisters catch you here! Lest you assign to me an excess of credit for conscious ascetisicm, let me say that perhaps the chief factor in my abstinence from the beguiling weed is that I detest the d——d stuff most cordially!
I had been hearing from Robert at irregular intervals for a period which must add up to three years or more. It seems to have taken Belknap completely by surprise—& I fancy he is properly grateful to little Bobby. My card sent from Salem last month attempted in a feeble way to express the delirious delight & unboundedly enthusiastic admiration which Ebony & Crystal aroused in me. Trust you’ll decide to take both Xexes & Artabanus to the trans-lacustrine hermitage. You’ll have to specialise in “The …. of the ……..” titles if they form such consistent passports to good luck!
About my own attitude toward ethics—I thought I made it plain that I object only to (a) grotesquely disproportionate indignations and enthusiasms, (b) illogical extremes involving a reduction ad absurdum, and (c) the nonsensical notion that “right” and “wrong” involve any principles more mystical and universal than those of immediate expediency (with the individual’s comfort as a criterion) on the one hand, and those of aesthetic harmony and symmetry (with the individual’s emotional-imaginative pleasure as a criterion) on the other hand. I realise that this kind of idealistic impersonality is not the same as the other sort of impersonality—arising from scale, distance, and mechanical media, and definitely inferior in ethical status—which I mentioned previously. You belong to the school of thought (to which, incidentally, I myself belonged at one period—for my beliefs constantly change as new evidence presents itself) which believes that pleasure or richness of experience is purely a balance between desire and fulfilment, so that a cat basking comfortably in the sun is just as happy and rich in experience as a scientist verifying a discovery, or poet capturing a mood, or philosopher grasping a value-concept. As for standards—see how your beloved force of telepathy has brought the public press to my aid!
As for occasional controversial topicks—I am acutely sensible that our differences rest upon a divergence in premises, & indeed believe that most profound controversies are similarly animated. Any vestigial philosophic resemblance I may have to the bygone Puritan is perhaps contained in my general belief (a mere personal opinion, whose application by force I would violently oppose) that a contemplative and imaginative life is of somewhat more evolved quality, and likely to confer richer ultimate rewards upon persons of highly organised sensibilities, than is a more elemental life with its concentration on the primitive, the more simply emotional, and the orgiastic. All this belongs to positive physical knowledge—as positive as the knowledge that an inkstand will fall if you drop it from the window to the ground, or that a rat will die if you keep it under water fifteen minutes.
The play, which deals with the marriage of a low Irish girl to an educated negro, went off very smoothly and capably—save that the mayor had forbidden the performance of the first act, which involved the participation of small children and the use by them of low language. Now the trickiest catch in the negro problem is the fact that it is really twofold. Of course they can’t let niggers use the beach at a Southern resort—can you imagine sensitive persons bathing near a pack of greasy chimpanzees? Indeed, the extraordinary thing is that homo sapiens has become as differentiated from other organic species as he has become. But that’s not saying that all times and companies are equally suitable for the airing of a hairy-chested vocabulary—or that all the current extremes of racy diction are of equal aesthetick value.
This is an experiment in really artistic fantasy weaving, just a word-picture with no plot, no climax, and no specific ending. It was the most vivid dream I have had in a decade, & involved subconscious use of odd scraps of boyhood reading long forgotten by my waking mind. We were, for some terrible yet unknown reason, in a very strange and very ancient cemetery—which I could not identify. The town was fairly sizable, with one or two streets paved (there were high sidewalks, and stepping stones at crossings) and considerable crowds of soldiers, colonists, Romanised natives of Iberian physiognomy, and wild tribesmen from the plains surging past the white-washed dead-walls of houses and gardens. Strolling south from Dexter’s mansion, Edgar & I noted the ancient churchyard & the new church going up with it. When we see such a thing we do not thrill with the illusion of recognizing a fragment of life. Something of spring’s intangible atmosphere was abroad—and at dusk an exquisitely slender crescent moon hung in the western sky not far from the blazing beacon of Venus. I saw monstrous constructions of black or iridescent stone in glades and clearings where perpetual twilight reigned, and traversed long causeways over swamps so dark that I could tell but little of their moist, towering vegetation. … Gawd knows what they are—…—a bastard mess of stewing mongrel flesh without intellect, repellent to eye, nose, and imagination—would to heaven a kindly gust of cyanogens could asphyxiate the whole gigantic abortion, end the misery, and clean out the place.
It seems to need rounding-out—& unless it explains why the narrator is exempted from the general death, it out to record his fear of coming death as he writes. Decay links the horror more closely to the familiar world around us, & to the beings of that world. The basis of all true cosmic horror is violation of the order of nature, and the profoundest violations are always the least concrete and describable. There is a difference between mere originality and delicate symbolism, or hideously nebulous adumbration. Art is not the devising of artificial things to say, but the mere saying of something already formulated inside the artists’ imagination & automatically clamouring to be said. It is easy to imagine with what genuine regret the editors to whom it was submitted declined to print it.
I have now a third trip to Boston to chronicle—probably a final trip for this year, since winter is a season of drear blankness and indisposition. O let me not lie in the frozen waste…rescue my congealed corpse & give it a decent cremation…
The only permanently artistic use of Yog-Sothothery, I think, is in symbolic or associative phantasy of the frankly poetic type; in which fixed dream-patterns of the natural organism are given an embodiment & crystallisation. Were any child to be reared in isolation, and surrounded from infancy with the religious precepts of Tsathoggua, YOG-SOTHOTH, or the Doles, his inner emotions would all through life inform him positively of the truth of Tsathogguanism, Yog-Sothothery, or Dolatry, as the case may be.
Yrs in the Brotherhood of the Djinni—
* Later—how vain are the hopes of mankind!