Mirandized: Thou hast the right to refrain from Revolution

Two days late. Ah. There goes the revolution anniversary.

Uncelebrated. Naturally, Lovecraft’s conservative & conservating prose outlook conceived of revolution, if it did, in terms of science. Thus, At the Mountains of Madness –

Popular imagination, I judge, responded actively to our wireless bulletins of Lake’s start northwestward into regions never trodden by human foot or penetrated by human imagination, though we did not mention his wild hopes of revolutionizing the entire sciences of biology and geology. His preliminary sledging and boring journey of January 11th to 18th with Pabodie and five others – marred by the loss of two dogs in an upset when crossing one of the great pressure ridges in the ice – had brought up more and more of the Archaean slate; and even I was interested by the singular profusion of evident fossil markings in that unbelievably ancient stratum.

Hammers and drills drill and chisel for fossils, not palace walls, let alone the residents of such walls.

Revolutions may also be internalized, private affairs in Lovecraft’s prose. Thus, The Call of Cthulhu –

Shaken with such a mental revolution as I had never before known, I now resolved to visit Mate Johansen in Oslo.

The thing has already happened: it returns as a shadow. Memories and fragments of pre-revolutionary culture come swinging back into Lovecraft’s modern New England world at very regular intervals, and never quite unambiguously: you bet that Lovecraft, the labored Anglophile did not count himself by default and with ease on the American side of events. Nationality (like ethnicity, race, religious believes) is a fragile, bull-whipped concept in his works, an incubator of ambiguities. To quote from his poem, An American to Mother England (and in so doing I feel like a complete wretch: the thing is not exactly a badge of accomplishment to the author: my trust, if labored, goes to Lovecraft that his reputation can bear even the grisly, trashy, shitty parts of the oeuvre. So, forward, into the pain –

What man that springs from thy untainted line
But sees Columbia’s virtues all as thine?
Whilst nameless multitudes upon our shore
From the dim corners of creation pour,
Whilst mongrel slaves crawl hither to partake
Of Saxon liberty they could not make,
From such an alien crew in grief I turn,
And for the mother’s voice of Britain burn.
England! can aught remove the cherish’d chain
That binds my spirit to thy blest domain?
Can Revolution’s bitter precepts sway
The soul that must the ties of race obey?
Create a new Columbia if ye will,

The flesh that forms me is Britannic still!

[Columbia, not as in British Columbia – he’s using it as a poetic cognomen for the US, as derived from Columbus.]

[No comment here: I feel unable right now to problematize the poem in a way that exceeds the brevity of four-letter-words.]

Rather, a taste of the shadows of revolution that crop up again and again.

Thus, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward –

It was getting to be a slum here; but the titan elms cast a restoring shadow over the place, and the boy used to stroll south past the long lines of the pre-Revolutionary homes with their great central chimneys and classic portals. On the eastern side they were set high over basements with railed double flights of stone steps, and the young Charles could picture them as they were when the street was new, and red heels and periwigs set off the painted pediments whose signs of wear were now becoming so visible.

[This story alone features six explicit uses of the Revolution.]

I say: shadow, but that’s not necessarily what the stories present. Look at the following passage, from The Shadow over Innsmouth: you can’t help feeling that the reader is actually supposed not just to commemorate the event, but more, to remember it. That’s an easy exercise, if you got the right twist on it: longevity is just one of the boons that the temporally displaced (like Joseph Curwen, villain and foe of Charles Dexter Ward) enjoy, of course.

Thus I began my systematic though half-bewildered tour of Innsmouth’s narrow, shadow-blighted ways. Crossing the bridge and turning toward the roar of the lower falls, I passed close to the Marsh refinery, which seemed to be oddly free from the noise of industry. The building stood on the steep river bluff near a bridge and an open confluence of streets which I took to be the earliest civic center, displaced after the Revolution by the present Town Square.

Oh, yeah, that was after the Revolution they reconstructed the town square, and did we ever have a great time molesting the construction workers, by telling them stupid fish jokes, and how they would grow gills if they didn’t get their job done fast enough.


July 14