Letter to Robert Barlow

From Clark Ashton Smith

May 16th, 1937

My dear Bob:

No doubt you will be astounded to receive so prompt an answer from me. Once- in an epoch, I really get the impulse to write a letter; and this time you're the victim.

I received the book on Beddoes which you sent me from HPL's library. Strangely enough, HPL himself sent me a copy of that same book two or three- years ago. I believe he bought several of them. Do you want the copy that you mailed me - I hardly need duplicates! The book has certain merits as a critical and psychological study; though I hardly feel that the author is temperamentally fitted to do full justice to Beddoes, who was a genuinely great and rare poet. As for my receiving other items from HPL's library, I certainly hope that Mrs Gamwell will take her time, though I should be glad to have whatever was left to my choice, there is no urgency whatever I do little reading - and have less room for strange. My bookshelves are jammed full, with sculptures roosting all over the ledges and on the piled volumes at the top!

The typing- of Lovecraft's mss must certainly keep you busy. I have started to type excerpts from his letters to me -for August and Donald, and have found it very slow work. A volume of representative letters certainly should establish him as one of the world's great correspondents. There must be a whole library of material buried in his correspondence. The letters to me in one year (1933) must aggregate forty or fifty thousand words if not more.

As to the Sterling letters, I got them together for safe-keeping rather than anything else. They are now in a strong and supposedly fire-proof iron box. I hadn't thought of printing them and have no money for such a venture anyway. On the whole, they are more personal than literary, and are in no sense comparable to Lovecraft's letters for general value and interest. One of them contains a far from fortunate criticism of Lovecraft's "Dagon", which I lent to GS in manuscript. GS thought the tale derivative (an exhibition of the common fallacy that all weird writing derives from Poe, Bierce, etc G. wasn't much on nuances), and considered that it lacked sufficient "climax". It was, he complained, "all over in 30 seconds, like a rabbit's amour." He made the melodramatic suggestion that the monolith should fall forward and crush the worshipping monster! When I passed this suggestion on to HPL the latter protested very gently and justly that it would hardly - be in keeping - with the atmospheric development he had intended.

What hurts me more than anything else about HPL's death, is The feeling that he might have lived for many years with proper recognition financial recompense, and the nourishing food that his condition must have made doubly imperative. Truly, as you suggest, America has killed her finest artists. And when she hasn't killed them, she has driven them into exile as in the cases of Hearn and Bierce. Personally I am goddamned sick of the killing process (I seem to die hard) and have fully and absolutely made up my mind to quit the hell-bedunged and heaven-bespitted country when my present responsibilities are over. I haven't any definite plans, but will probably gravitate toward the orient. Anyway, I shall remove myself from Auburn, California and the USA, even if I have to stow away on a tramp steamer.

As you surmised, I am not deeply enamored of the Republican system. On the other hand, I have no faith in any political or economic isms, schisms and panaceas. Any kind of a system might serve well enough, if human beings were not the stupidest, greediest and most cruel of the fauna on this particular planet. No matter what system you have - capitalism, Fascism, Bolshevism - the greed and power-lust of men will produce the same wide-spread injustice, the same evils and abuses; or, will merely force them to take slightly different forms. The Marxian motto: From each according to his capacity; to each according to his need, is no doubt a beautiful sentiment; but it is about as impractical, and little like to be practised, as the Golden Rule of Jesus Christ. From this, you can sea that I am not a likely convert to Communism I doubt if Communism could be established in this country without prolonged internecine warfare that would make the Spanish embroilment look like a Rotarian barbecue in comparison. The immediate result of revolutionary tactics will be to precipitate a dictatorship of the type now prevalent in Germany and Italy. I don't like to think of what will follow Whatever ensues will hardly be to the advantage of artists and intellectuals: they'll be damned lucky if they even have pulp magazines to write for in my opinion, the whole fabric of western civilization is nearly due for a grand debacle; and the spreading class-struggle will hasten rather than avert it. After that—wall, it is a familiar platituude that the sun rises in the East

As to conditions in Russia, I'll admit that I know little about that and do not see how it is possible to know much without visiting the country and circulating freely among its people. Writers on the subject, whether for or against, are equally open to a strong suspicion of propagandism Some of the strongest Communists, like Emma Goldman, seem to have soured on the idea after a sojourn in Russia. Though I have no religious beliefs myself I must confess to a profound distaste for the anti-religious bigotry that forms an avowed feature of the Soviet program. In the name of Iblis Satan, Thasaidon and Ialdabaoth, why can't they leave religion alone? In trying to suppress it, I believe they have made a similar error to the one made by the late tsar in suppressing vodka.

One other observation: Communism, as practised in the insect world is a poor recommendation for its possible effect on humanity. Nothing sickens me more than to watch the mechanistic activities of ants, who have certainly achieved the ultimate in regimenzation and co-operation. I guess I must be an anarchist myself; and I am sure I would be strictly non-assimilable in any sort of co-operative society, and would speedily end up In a concentration camp.

Don't think from all this, that I am unsympathetic toward the revolutionary spirit, which is the natural reaction of youth when it awakens to the vision of social injustice. My own nature is that of the rebel: if it weren't, I would hardly write, paint and sculpt in the manners I have chosen. But, in the political sphere, history has convinced me that revolutions are futile: noshing is changed, except the codes and the masters.

Re certain other matters in your letter Mrs Gamwell sent me The Californian with your "Night Ocean", which HPL had put aside in an envelope addressed to me. I liked your story very much, and also enjoyed the one by Edkins.

I look forward to Leaves, which has a fine program. Offhand, I can't think of any good literate material to suggest. Weiss might have something. He has written some good tales, such as "The Smell" in Strange Tales and "The Dancer in Crystal" in W.T, - My stories, "Red World of Polaris" and "The Metamorphoses of the World" were passably written, but suffer- from triteness of plot: this because I wrote them at a time when I had not read enough science fiction to avoid the more obvious plot- ideas "Mother of Toads" is a sort of carnal and erotic nightmare and I can't decide on its merits. Spicy Mystery Stories rejected it after holding the ms. for nearly two months. I have- now shipped it to Esquire which judging from the two issues I have read will some times print stuff that would hardly make the-grade with an honest pulp. Wandrei's tales, and one by Arthur Davidson Ficke, are the only good ones that I have found in aforesaid issues. The magazine seems aimed at a rather naive class of readers who like to feel that they are wicked and sophisticated. I believe that a yarn like 'Mother of Toads" would arouse considerable Sound and Fury if printed in that quaint periodical (Sound and Fury is the name of the letter department as you know It's a good name—one of the best things about Esquire-- particularly when one recalls the Shakespearean passage from- which it is taken. However, I must correct myself here-they no doubt took it from Hemingway.) I have sold one yarn to W.T recently ("The Death of Ilalotha") and have others under way. "Ilalotha is quite good, I believe, especially in style and atmosphere. It is unusually poisonous and exotic. Writing is hard for me, since circumstances here are dolorous and terrible. Improvement in my father's condition is more than unlikely, and I am more isolated than ever. Also, I seem to have what psychologists call a "disgustmechanism" to contend with: a disgust at the ineffable stupidity of editors and readers think that some of my best recent work is in sculpture: and there I find myself confronted with another blank wall of stupidity. Oh well and oh hell: some one will make a "discovery" when I am safely dead or incarcerated in the bughouse or living with a yellow gal ln Cambodia.

Yours for the bombing of Philistia and Boetla with Chinese stinkpots- Clark Ashton

P.S. On glancing over this letter, I note a few asperities of tone, and in place, a lack of Arnoldian "sweetness and light". In extenuation, I must plead that I have been pretty much at the boiling point lately.

I believe the late R E Howard and I would have had a grand time together lambasting civilization; that is, if I have not been misinformed as to his views. Barbarism, barbaric art, barbaric peoples, appeal more and more to me. I could never live in any modern city, and am more of an "outsider" than HPL His "outsideness" was principally in regard to time-period; mine is one of space, too.

From: Klarkash-Ton: The Journal of Smith Studies #1, 1988, Cryptic Publications.

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Printed on: October 20, 2018