What Amateurdom and I Have Done for Each Other
by Howard P. Lovecraft
I ENTERED Amateur Journalism late in life – at the age of nearly 24 – so that I can not justly attribute all my education to its influence. This lateness was, however, most emphatically not of my choosing. The instant I learned of amateurdom’s existence I became a part of it, and count among my deepest regrets the fact that I did not discover it some 17 years earlier, when as a youth of seven I put forth my first immortal literary product, “The Adventures of Ulysses; or, The New Odyssey.”
Upon joining the United Amateur Press Association I spent the first few months in an attempt to discover just what Amateur Journalism is and what it is not. My notions had been rather nebulous, and I was not sure whether delight or disillusion awaited me. Actually, I found both; but delight was so much in the majority that I soon realized I was a permanent amateur. That was in 1914. In 1921 I can report unchanged sentiments.
What I have done for Amateur Journalism is probably very slight, but I can at least declare that it represents my best efforts toward cooperation in a cause exceedingly precious to me. As I began to perceive the various elements in the associational sphere, I saw that heterogeneity and conflict were, as in all spheres, the rule. Trying to judge impartially, I concluded that at the particular time the purely literary element stood most in need of support.
Fraternalism and good cheer are largely self-sustaining. Politics, in my honest individual opinion, is an evil. What required fostering was the very object which amateurdom professes to hold supreme – aid to the aspiring writer. Accordingly I decided that while sharing in all the general responsibilities of active membership, I would chiefly lend whatever small influence I might have toward the encouraging of mutual literary help.
My chance to do something tangible came sooner than I expected. In the fall of 1914 I was appointed chairman of the Department of Public Criticism in the United, and was thus provided with a bimonthly medium of expression, together with a certain seal of officialdom on my utterance. What I did was to commence a definite campaign for the elevation of the literary standard – a campaign attempting on the one hand a candid and analytical demonstration of prevailing crudities, and on the other hand a tireless flow of suggestions for improvement.
I abandoned altogether the policy of praising crude papers and articles because of obscure considerations connected with their standing in amateurdom, and insisted that writers and editors at least choose a goal of urbane correctness. Knowing that such a demand entailed an obligation to help personally, I undertook a fairly extensive amount of private criticism, and offered my services to any person wishing the revision of manuscripts or magazine copy. There were many responses to this offer, and I immediately found myself very busy reconstructing prose and verse and preparing copy for various amateur journals.
I met with a certain amount of opposition and made many enemies, but believe that on the whole I may have accomplished some good. The standard of correctness in the United certainly rose, and most of the writers and editors I helped soon began to take pains on their own account; so that my aid became less and less necessary. Today the United is not satisfied with complacently crude work, and its critical level is very high. This, however, is due only in part to my efforts. My successors in the critical bureau have been decidedly better, and the work was at the outset facilitated by a change in recruiting policy, established by others, whereby our new members were drawn from sources involving more extensive previous education.
In other fields I fear I have done all too little for amateur journalism. From 1915 to 1919 I issued an individual paper called The Conservative, but circumstances have since forced me to suspend its publication. I have helped in cooperative publishing enterprises, though never with very brilliant results. As official editor of the United this year I am trying to issue a paper of the best quality, but am able to make little headway against the quantitative limitations. I have, I hope, done my share of administrative drudgery both official and unofficial. Despite a distaste for office holding I have accepted various posts in the United whenever my services seemed desirable, and have tried to be useful in substituting for incapacitated officials.
As a writer, the field in which I should like to serve most, I seem to have served least. When I entered amateurdom, I unfortunately possessed the delusion that I could write verse; a delusion which caused me to alienate my readers by means of many long and execrably dull metrical inflictions. An old-fashioned style at present out of favour added to the completeness of my failure.
Since emerging from the poetical delusion I have been almost equally unfortunate, for in following my natural inclination toward fantastic and imaginative fiction I have again stumbled upon a thing for which the majority care little. My attempts appear to be received for the most part with either coolness or distaste, though the encouragement of a few critics like W. Paul Cook, James F. Morton, Jr. and Samuel Loveman has more than compensated for the hostility of others. The Cleveland-Chico clique, seeking by ridicule to drive me from the amateur press, is well offset by any one of the gentlemen just named. Only time, however, will show whether or not my effusions possess any value.
Happily, I can be less reserved in stating what amateurdom has done for me. This is a case in which overstatement would be impossible, for Amateur Journalism has provided me with the very world in which I live. Of a nervous and reserved temperament, and cursed with an aspiration which far exceeds my endowments, I am a typical misfit in the larger world of endeavour, and singularly unable to derive enjoyment from ordinary miscellaneous activities.
In 1914 when the kindly hand of amateurdom was first extended to me, I was as close to the state of vegetation as any animal well can be – perhaps I might best have been compared to the lowly potato in its secluded and subterranean quiescence. With the advent of the United I obtained a renewed will to live; a renewed sense of existence as other than a superfluous weight; and found a sphere in which I could feel that my efforts were not wholly futile. For the first time I could imagine that my clumsy gropings after art were a little more than faint cries lost in the unlistening void.
What Amateur Journalism has brought me is a circle of persons among whom I am not altogether an alien – persons who possess scholastic leanings, yet who are not as a body so arrogant with achievement that a struggler is frowned upon. In daily life one meets a few of these – one’s accidental friends are mostly either frankly unliterary or hopelessly “arrived” and academic. The more completely one is absorbed in his aspirations, the more one needs a circle of intellectual kin; so that amateurdom has an unique and perpetual function to fulfill.
Today, whatever genuine friends I have are amateur journalists, sympathetic scholars, and writers I should never have known but for the United Amateur Press Association. They alone have furnished me with the incentive to explore broader and newer fields of thought, to ascertain what particular labours are best suited to me, and to give to my writings the care and finish demanded of all work destined for perusal by others than the author.
After all, these remarks form a confession rather than a statement, for they are the record of a most unequal exchange whereby I am the gainer. What I have given Amateur Journalism is regrettably little; what Amateur Journalism has given me is – life itself.
Editor’s note: – This article, dated February 21, 1921, and read before the Boston Conference of Amateur Journalists, was found among ex-President Lovecraft’s manuscripts after he died in March 1937. It is illuminating of his personality, a forecast of his brilliant career in the amateur press associations and professional. It is a fine testimonial to Amateur Journalism. – From Boys’ Herald, August 1937
(Reprinted from The Fossil, as our friend J. Ed Newman suggested it warranted wider circulation)
The American Scribe Jr. is published as circumstances dictate and time permits for the hobby of amateur journalism by Russell L. Paxton, Salem, VA 24153 U.S.A.