Friday, May 23, 2014

Lovecraft: An Addendum to the Clayton Family Tree

Lovecraft: An Addendum to the Clayton Family Tree
Bobby Derie

"The wedding promised to be not only a happy one but a brilliant one. It was attended by prominent relatives: the dukes of Norfolk, of Westminster, and of Pomver; the earls of Lovelace, of Carlisle, of Perth, and of Burlesdon; the barons of Tennington, Dunsany [...]"
- Tarzan Alive (Farmer 7)

In his groundbreaking biographical work, Philip José Farmer traced in part the true biography of John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, following the hints left by Burroughs, Watson, and others who couched the true exploits of the heroes and detectives of the 20th century as the fictional exploits of pulp demigods, and left a trail of breadcrumbs revealing the phenomenal family that holds Tarzan and Sherlock Holmes, Doc Savage and the Shadow, Bulldog Drummond and G8. This small article expands on a branch of the clan that Farmer had overlooked, or more likely simply lacked the resources to investigate.

The wedding of John Clayton and the Honorable Alice Rutherford in 1888 was attended by a number of illustrious luminaries, as well as close kinsman and more distant relations. Among the guests was John William Plunkett, 17th Baron of Dunsany - one of the oldest and most prestigious titles in the whole of the English peerage. Accompanying the Baron Dunsany that day was his wife, Ernle Elizabeth Louisa Maria Grosvenor Ernle-Erle-Drax, and their young son, Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, the future 18th Baron of Dunsany. The Plunketts were distant cousins of the Claytons, a relationship renewed every few generations by intermarriage, and William was a close friend to William Cecil Clayton, who was one of those being married that day. Notably absent from the nuptials were the Holmeses, cousins of both the Claytons and the Plunketts. For Mycroft this is nothing surprising; even in 1888 it would have taken a more titanic force than a gilded invitation to rouse the "unclubbable" man, but Sherlock's absence is explicable only by his being otherwise engaged - in this case, one of his periodic trips to the United States, from which he would not return until 1889, shortly before the events of "The Sign of Four" (1890).

In time, William Plunkett died and his son Edward inherited the title, and as Lord Dunsany he did his family proud as a soldier and hunter, a writer and playwright. We cannot know, of course, how well Lord Dunsany kept in touch with his more distant relatives, but there is reason to believe that he did keep in touch with his distant cousin, or at least was well-acquainted with Holmses to be familiar with their appearance and to be able to recognize them on sight; likely they supped together periodically when Lord Dunsany was in England, Holmes or Watson regaling his cousin and his cousin's wife with tales of his investigations.

Whatever the case, in time Lord Dunsany's reputation as a writer was made, and in 1919 he was in the United States on a lecture tour. It was at one such stop in Boston that Lord Dunsany noticed in the audience a rather shy man - just about thirty years of age - who must, despite the pugnacious jaw and brown eyes he inherited from his mother, have struck the Baron as a very close resemblance to a certain consulting detective. Whether Lord Dunsany made anything of the resemblance or not is unclear, but it would be some years until he saw Holmes again - the detective being busy with the adventures related in his Casebook during the early 20s, so it was probably not until 1924 - but when he did, he must have brought up the curious resemblance, either at dinner or perhaps a quiet word with Holmes in private later, while smoking a pipe. Whatever the case, shortly after that meeting Holmes set off for another trip to America, retracing the journey he had taken over 30 years ago, to meet with H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937).

The events of 1925, the revelation of Holmes' affair and paternity, were given by the biographer P. H. Cannon in "Pulptime," later included in The Lovecraft Papers. (And which, unfortunately, makes irrelevant a great deal of strenuous genealogical effort aimed at the Lovecraft family tree, such as Richard D. Squires' Stern Fathers 'neath the Mould: The Lovecraft Family in Rochester.) Of course, Cannon gives a somewhat rose-tinted take on the affair; Sherlock had come thousands of miles to get a look at his bastard, and found a keen and perceptive mind that yet seemed to have inherited more of his brother's lack of drive than his own piercing intellect. So too, it is hard to know what effect this had on Lovecraft - obviously, Cannon shows he was initially thrilled to discover his true father was no less a figure than an idolized boyhood hero, but imagine the disappointment when Holmes left - unable to recognize his son publicly, and apparently unwilling to do much else for him.

This may go some way to explaining also why Lovecraft's later genealogical research focused on his "more distinguished" maternal family tree; to his dying day he would likely never know that the Lord Dunsany he so admired, who he met but never spoke to in 1919, was also his distant kinsman. Likewise, he never knew that the exploits of Tarzan, which at first enthralled him and then later repulsed him with their pulp sensationalism, were based in part on the true exploits of his cousin John Clayton, Lord Greystoke.

Of course, for that matter there were certain familial secrets H. P. Lovecraft most likely did not share with his newly-discovered father either; for at least in one respect the apple does not fall far from the tree: Lovecraft too had a child out of wedlock. As revealed in the letters of David Parkes Boynton (1897-1956) due to the scholarship of Kenneth W. Faig, Jr. (and partially fictionalized in Tales of the Lovecraft Collectors), in 1909 a teenaged Lovecraft had a brief affair with an Italian girl named Cristina Berlucci, resulting in a child: Dora Berlucci...and in time grandchildren, though Lovecraft was long dead before the first of them was born.

There is another part of this story, though it is more confused and difficult to trace. While it is fact that Holmes did not meet his natural son until 1925, there are indications that Lovecraft was at least dimly aware of some of the family lore at an earlier date - at least before writing "Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family" (1920) which bears some startling references to what can only be the lost city of Opar and the mangani. This account of familial degeneration was, remarkably, essentially true in many respects, though initially difficult to resolve with Farmer's chronology. In the 1760s, Sir Wade Jermyn (though that was not the true family name, as like Burroughs and Watson Lovecraft wrote in code) discovered Opar and the mangani, and became the mate of the priest-queen who preceded La. Lovecraft changed the dates to avoid suspicion, but "Arthur Jermyn" actually died by his own hand 1852, but the mummy that was supposed to have caused the affair did not arrive in London until 1912. This date corresponds to when Tarzan and Jane returned to London in Farmer's chronology - it was Tarzan who must have taken with him the mummified corpse of the former priestess, or possibly someone in his entourage.

Like the Greystokes, the Jermyns were one of the most ancient lines in the English peerage; unlike them, they were heirs to a rather different legacy. Where Burroughs traces the Greystokes to their mythical progenitor of Woden, the Jermyns traced their heritage to certain of the more ancient native peoples of the British isles, their heritage disappearing into legends of near-human races - probably neanderthals, or tribes of Cro-Magnon that had bred with neanderthals and absorbed their ancient religion as well as their genes. This family, whose seat was an ancient cult center, though they intermarried with waves of invaders, retained their religion down through centuries, though eventually the line dwindled and many times the seat fell into disrepair. This Gaelic clan was seated on the borderlands of Wales and would provide as well the basic outlines of Lovecraft's "The Rats in the Walls" (though Lovecraft changed the title to another, extinct title to preserve the anonymity of the family).

The "mummified ape princess" did not escape the notice of one of the few cadet branches of the clan in London - the Welsh mystic, actor, author, and journalist Arthur Machen, whose home town of Caerleon with its ancient ruined Roman garrison was very close indeed to the old family seat, where the invading Romans had married their pagan rites with those of the local cult. Interestingly in the late 1880s and early 1890s, Machen was involved part-time in scholarly research for certain gentlemen attached to occult societies - in particular, the Egyptian Freemasons - under the lodge-name "Tall Cedar," translating old Latin and French alchemical and occult manuscripts into English, rendering their complex codes and symbolism as best as he could. Among this body of work was the final account of Arthur Jermyn - himself a mason in good standing until his death, who had willed certain family papers dealing with esoteric matters to the lodge. These papers were copied and eventually a copies sent to sister-lodges, including in the United States...where they fell into the hands of Winfield Scott Lovecraft.

The fullest account of what happened after that is given in Colin Wilson's Introduction to the Necronomicon, but suffice it to say that the young H. P. Lovecraft stumbled upon the transcripts in his father's papers, and there had about half of the story of Opar and the Jermyns; the other half would have to wait until 1919 - when, as part of his many anecdotes to amuse the the audience, Lord Dunsany included the story of the mummified ape princess among his many fables. Lovecraft, recognizing the affinity with the history he had already read, then crafted his mostly true tale.

What Wilson did not know was why Winfield Lovecraft chose to bring the lodge papers home - and it was because that the Jermyns were in fact ancestors of the Phillips, his wife's family, and were of genealogical interest. Unfortunately shortly after this Winfield's illness took hold, leaving his young son to eventually find the papers and work out the history of his family as best he could. It was this bizarre conflux of genes that gave rise to the unique genius of H. P. Lovecraft.


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