Rare literary criticism from the Cthulhu mythmaker
ALS signed “Viceroy of Rhode Island,” two pages both sides, 5.75 x 6.5, personal letterhead, February 14, . Letter to Walter J. Coates, editor of the literary journal Driftwind, headed “To His Worship, the Chief Counsel, The lowly President of the Committee sends greeting,” with a date of “Idibus Februarii, Anno Reipublicae Viridmontanae I.” In part: “As for my comments on the new Driftwind—they really represent merely the spontaneous preferences dictated by my personal bias rather than any objective estimate of relative intrinsic merit. River in Spring seems to win the straw vote…Laboratorically Speaking seems to be too much of philosophical concoction to be a poem. It’s clever stuff, whatever it is, but it hasn’t the singing beauty & ecstasy that make poetry…Our warm spell broke a couple of days ago, & we are having what is is subarctic weather for us—Though, thank heaven, the ground is snowless. But as Percy B. said—‘if winter comes’ & all that!
Land of Allen came yesterday afternoon…It is surely a major contribution to Vermontiana, & carries the sturdy spirit of the undefeated republic to gratifying lyric heights…How sincerely can I subscribe to the spirit of Winter on page 56! That’s just what I would have written myself if I were a poet!…As you know, I believe very profoundly that ethics & philosophy have no place in art, & that they merely dilute poetry instead of constituting it. The true function of aesthetics is simply to describe & symbolize the actual scenes, objects, & phenomena of the universe in poignant & ecstatic fashion, without any infusion of personal opinion or philosophic theory. It was the fault of Victorianism to read a pack of non-existant ‘laws’ & values & trends into the impersonal cosmos, & then get excited about them, as if they represented realities of Nature in the same way that the tangible & genuine beauties of objective existence do
Real poetry has no relation to intellectual or moral purpose, or to anything else except the poet’s ecstasy at the sight of beauty, & his unconquerable will to sing of what moves him—purely for the joy of singing & for nothing else. Poe, Swineburne, & Oscar Wilde had the right idea about this. As a matter of fact, the only use of opinions & convictions, or ideas of good & evil, in poetry, is to get the poet emotionally excited enough to sing at the required pitch of ecstasy. If he can sing thus without the added stimuli—as Keats did—so much the better. All the poet ought to do is to sing whatever is in him, & the excellence of the result can properly be judged on only two counts aside from technique: (a) Truth to human experience…& (b) Intensity of the emotion of lyrical impulse.” Double-matted and framed with a portrait to an overall size of 24.5 x 13.5, with a window on the reverse for viewing the opposing sides of both pages. In fine condition, with some writing at the edges obscured by the mat (including a portion of his “Viceroy” signature), and a rusty paperclip mark to the top edge. Oversized.
Walter J. Coates was the editor of Driftwind and author of the collection of poems Lovecraft mentions, Land of Allen, published by the noted Recluse Press in 1928. The publishing firm was established in 1925 by Lovecraft's friend W. Paul Cook, created as a traditional private press which issued fine books written mostly by members of 'The Lovecraft Circle,' including Frank Belknap Long, Samuel Loveman, Donald Wandrei, Walter H. Coates, and Lovecraft himself, who was directly involved with production. As Lovecraft is one of the most significant fiction writers of the 20th century, his commentary on poetry and aesthetics make this an absolutely remarkable letter. Pre-certified John Reznikoff/PSA/DNA.