Letter to August Derleth

From Clark Ashton Smith


Auburn, Calif.
May 13th, 1937

Dear August:

Herewith the draft of your Commentary on HPL, which seems to cover the main points. His modesty about his own work was excessive, to say the least. Personally, I can find no fault with the style of his later tales, except that there is, in places, a slight trend toward verbosity and repetitional statement. Many of his style-traits, perhaps, are not in accord with present-day taste; but, as far as I am concerned, the writing is all the more refreshing for such differences. Things that the average sophisticated reader of today may regard as flaws will not necessarily be regarded as such a generation or two hence. The influence of fashion, always ephemeral, and always changing, must be considered here.

[. . .] Your energy and speed of composition never fail to arouse my profoundest envy and wonderment. I, alas, to finish anything at all (that is to say, literature) am condemned to a sort of galley-slaving such as was suffered by Flaubert. Painting and sculpture are child's play in comparison: which may or may not indicate that my natural talents are toward the graphic rather than the scriptural arts. Benjamin De Casseres, in his latest book (Fantasia Impromptu), speaks of Flaubert as a "second rater," and this, apparently, because of his lack of spontaneity and his infinite labours. Says De Casseres: "If my books had cost me one-millionth part of the effort that he expended on one chapter alone, I should have said God damn literature! I'm going to be a bartender or a pimp." However, I don't agree with this. Flaubert's hard writing certainly made easy reading; and too much of this facilely written stuff reminds me of the proverbial rocky road to Dublin.

[. . .]

Bob Barlow is trying to convert me to Bolshevism! A thankless task, I fear, in view of my natural Yankee hardheadedness together with a bare smattering of historical knowledge. The tenets of Karl Marx are about as practical, and likely to be practised, as the Golden Rule of Jesus Christ. Aside from that, I fail to see any particular point or desirability in a dictatorship of the proletariat, and can't stomach the Soviet materialism, anti-religious bigotry, censorship, regimentation, etc. These things are too much to pay for a mess of cabbage soup. Also, I predict that they will never be established in America except through a prolonged and bloody internecine warfare that will make the Spanish embroilment look like a Rotarian barbecue by comparison. Admitting — as I am more than willing to admit — the wrong and injustice of present social conditions, I fail to conceive that such conditions can be improved by the bloodshed and bitterness of civil war.

As to the Lovecraft mythos, probably he had no intention or desire of reducing it to a consistent and fully worked out system, but used it according to varying impulse and inspiration. The best way, it seems to me, is to enjoy each tale separately and without trying to link it closely with all the others. This is the way I have always read them: a rather non-analytic and non-critical way, perhaps; but possibly they were written in a similar spirit. However, it will be all the more interesting if you can determine any pre-eminent facts.

My best, as ever,

P.S. Glad my suggestions about "Hastur" didn't seem too impertinent. I wonder if you didn't depart too radically from your own original conception of the story, owing to emotional disturbance and an intensified preoccupation with the Cthulhu mythology.

From: Clark Ashton Smith: LETTERS TO H. P. LOVECRAFT, edited by and footnotes by Steve Behrends (July 1987) Necronomicon Press.

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