My Older Legacy Literary Blog

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Famed Author Readings from Poe to Dickens

H.P. Lovecraft went to see Percival Lowell lecture about the canals on mars, almost laughing all the way.  He almost sounds like he would have been a heckler in the audience the way he describes how he disagreed with Lowell.  

Lowell had an observatory built in Arizona so that he could study those famous canals he believed existed on the Red Planet as first surmised by Schiaparelli.  

.Here is Lovecraft’s letter recounting his thoughts on the lecture:

.     “As to celebrities—one experience of mine had to do with an astronomical instead of a poetical giant; namely, Percival Lowell, the brother of Pres. Lowell of Harvard, and the widely known observer of Mars—whose observatory is in Flagstaff, Arizona. He lectured in this city in 1907, when I was writing for the Tribune, and Prof. Upton of Brown introduced me to him before the lecture in Sayles’ Hall. Now here is the amusing part—I never had, have not, and never will have the slightest belief in Lowell’s speculations; and when I met him I had just been attacking his theories in my astronomical articles with my characteristically merciless language. With the egotism of my 17 years, I feared that Lowell had read what I had written! I tried to be as noncommittal as possible in speaking, and fortunately discovered that the eminent observer was more disposed to ask me about my telescope, studies, etc., than to discuss Mars. Prof. Upton soon led him away to the platform, and I congratulated myself that a disaster had been averted!” (to Rheinhart Kleiner, 19 February 1916) 

But Lovecraft was almost a fanboy when he came to hear Lord Dunsany speak.  H. P. Lovecraft was greatly impressed by Dunsany after seeing him on a speaking tour of the United States, and Lovecraft’s ‘Dream-Cycle’ stories clearly show his influence. .

   ”There are my Poe pieces and my ‘Dunsany’ pieces - but alas - where are my Lovecraft pieces? ” [Letter to Elizabeth Toldridge, March 8, 1929, quoted in  ”Lovecraft: A Look Behind the Cthulhu Mythos ”] ;

.Lovecraft also noted how tall Dunsany was.  .

Walker Percy, a Louisiana writer known for his novel  ”The Moviegoer, ” went to see W. Somerset Maugham speak even though he thought Maugham was a derivative author, I guess a sort of ‘pop’ writer.  I wonder why he bothered to go see him lecture if he thought that of him.  

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow sat in on Ralph Waldo Emerson’s lectures and became fast friends with him and recorded on paper various acute responses from the audience.  He called Emerson’s lecture on “Holiness” a “great bugbear” that the audience could barely understand and noted that Emerson was more a poet than a philosopher.  

Charles Dickens readings were pretty successful. Dickens gave his first public readings in December 1853, in Birmingham, England. A series of three for charity, they were rapturously received.  ”They lost nothing, ” he reported after a performance of the Carol,  ”misinterpreted nothing, followed everything closely, laughed and cried ... and animated me to the extent that I felt as if we were all bodily going up into the clouds together.” .Dickens’s warmth, histrionic flair and expressiveness evoked tears, applause, shrieks, laughter, hisses, and shouts of  ”Hear, hear! ” from his audiences, who responded to the most memorable troopers of his great repertory company as if they were old acquaintances. It must have been quite a night at the theater. After attending the final evening in Boston during Dickens’s second American tour, poet John Greenleaf Whittier marveled,  ”Another such star-shower is not to be expected in one’s life-time. ” ;

Some young ladies at another reading asked for not only an autograph from him but a lock of Dickens’ hair.  I heard that when Wilkie Collins and Dickens would give readings when they toured together much later in their careers that there would be possible ‘hookups’ from the readings.  .

For Edgar Allan Poe he packed the house every time. (Among Poe’s later lectures were “The Poets and Poetry of America,” “The Poetic Principle” and “The Universe.”) 

He had many critics, some long after he was gone:  William Butler Yeats was occasionally critical of Poe and once called him  ”vulgar ”.  Emerson dismissed  ”The Raven ” by saying,  ”I see nothing in it” and derisively referred to Poe as  ”the jingle man.”  Aldous Huxley wrote that Poe’s writing  ”falls into vulgarity ” by being  ”too poetical ” – the equivalent of wearing a diamond ring on every finger. ;  

I believe D.H. Lawrence mentioned him much in an essay entitled “Vulgarity in Literature.” Poe used to go to the opium dens in the wharves around Richmond on occasion in his life probably to escape various criticisms of his day, perhaps.

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