Thursday, August 18, 2016

Howard, Lovecraft, & “The Sin-Eater” by Bobby Derie

The story of how H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard came to write to one another has been told many times. It is in essence a very simple story, and the bare facts could scarce fill a paragraph. Yet there is more to the story than is generally recounted, and it may benefit even those long familiar with it to go over it again.

In August-September 1923, H. P. Lovecraft was in Providence, writing “The Rats in the Walls.” Near the end of the story, the narrator Delapore undergoes an atavistic fit, reverting mentally back through his ancestors, his English changing first to older diction, then to Middle English, archaic Latin, then Gaelic, and finally to inhuman vocalizations:
Curse you, Thornton, I’ll teach you to faint at what my family do! ... ’Sblood, thou stinkard, I’ll learn ye how to gust ... wolde ye swynke me thilke wys? ... Magna Mater! Magna Mater! ... Atys ... Dia ad aghaidh ’s ad aodaun ... agus bas dunach ort! Dhonas ’s dholas ort, agus leat-sa! ... Ungl ... ungl ... rrrlh ... chchch …. (“The Rats in the Walls”)
Lovecraft sent the finished story to his friend Frank Belknap Long, responded with several questions and comments, to which the Providence gentleman replied:
What the intermediate jargon is, is perfectly good Celtic—a bit of venomously vituperative phraseology which a certain small boy out to know; because his grandpa, instead of consulting a professor to get a Celtic phrase, found a ready-made one so apt that he lifted it bodily from The Sin-Eater, by Fiona MacLeod, in the volume of Best Psychic Stories which Sonny himself generously sent! I thought you’d note that at once—but youth hath a crowded memory. Anyhow, the only objection to the phrase is that it’s Gaelic instead of Cymric as the south-of-England locale demands. But as—with anthropology—details don’t count. Nobody will ever stop to note the difference. (SL1.258)
Lovecraft was right; no one did, or at least no one that cared to comment. The Best Psychic Stories (1920) was edited by Joseph Lewis French, with an introduction by Dorothy Scarborough, whose treatise “The Supernatural in English Literature” preceded Lovecraft’s own “Supernatural Horror in Literature.” It contains various favorites of Lovecraft, such as Algernon Blackwood, Edgar Allan Poe, and Lafcadio Hearn, which may be why Long forwarded it to his friend, but it was Macleod’s “The Sin-Eater” which has garnered the most attention, because of Lovecraft’s borrowing. The passage reads:
“But, Andrew Blair, I will say this: when you fair abroad, Droch caoidh ort! and when you go upon the water, Gaoth gun direadh ort! Ay, ay, Anndra-mhic-Adam, Dia ad aghaidh ’s ad aodann … agus bas dunach ort! Dhonas ’s dholas ort, agus leat-sa!”† 
† Droch caoidh ort! “May a fatal accident happen to you” (lit. “bad moan on you”). Gaoth gun direadh ort! “May you drift to your drowning” (lit. “wind without direction on you”). Dia ad aghaidh, etc., “God against thee and in thy face … and may a death of woe be yours … Evil and sorrow to the and thine!” (Best Psychic Stories 146)
The story was accepted, and published in the March 1924 issue of Weird Tales. Lovecraft—or possibly WT editor Edwin Baird—erred in the quotation, writing aodaun in “Rats” instead of aodann, an error that was continued when the story was reprinted, though it has been corrected in more recent editions edited by S. T. Joshi. Farnsworth Wright, who had succeeded Baird as editor of WT, perhaps inspired by a suggestion in a letter to the editor by H. P. Stiller, reprinted “The Rats in the Walls” in the June 1930 issue. (LE 33) This time, however, someone did notice Lovecraft’s Gaelic gaff, and wrote to Farnsworth Wright about it: a Texan contributor to Weird Tales named Robert E. Howard.
As to the climax, the maunderings of the maddened victim is like a sweep of horror down the eons, dwindling back and back to be finally lost in those grisly mists of world-birth where the mind of man refuses to follow. And I note from the fact that Mr. Lovecraft has his character speaking Gaelic instead of Cymric, in denoting the Age of the Druids, that he holds to Lhuyd’s theory as to the settling of Britain by the Celts. This theory is not generally agreed to, but I scarcely think that it has ever been disproved, and it was upon this that my story “The Lost Race” was based — that the Gaelic tribes preceded the Cymric peoples into Britain, by way of Ireland, and were later driven out by them. Baxter, the highly learned author of Glossario Antiquae Britanniae upholds this theory on the grounds that the Brigantes, supposed to be the first Celtic settlers in Britain, were unacquainted with the “p” sound, which was not used in Britain until the advent of the Brythonic or Cymric peoples. According to this, the Brigantes were a Goidhelic tribe, and Lhuyd’s point seems proven. Personally, I hold to the theory of Cymric precedence, and believe that Brythonic tribes inhabited, not only Britain and Scotland before the coming of the Gaels, but Ireland as well. The blond Britons appear to me to be a closer branch of the ancient Aryan stock, the Gaels arriving later, and being mixed with some Turanian or Mediterranean blood. But every man is entitled to his own view and a writer has the right to use any and all theories, no matter how conflicting, in his stories. I may write a story one day upholding a certain theory of science, letters, anthropology or what-not, and the next day, a story upholding a theory directly opposite. A fiction writer, whose job is to amuse and entertain, should give all theories equal scope and justice. But I’m taking up too much of your time. (CL2.42-43)
The Celts

Howard’s letters show that in 1929 and early 1930 his reading was turning increasingly to Irish history, with long letters to Harold Preece and Tevis Clyde Smith on Celtic history and language. It was perhaps this focus which made Howard so sensitive to Lovecraft’s use of language in “The Rats in the Walls”—that, and O’Donovan and O’Reilly’s Irish-English Dictionary, which appears to be the source of Howard’s specific argument in his letter to Wright:
Mr. Baxter (in Glossario Antiquæ Birtanniæ, p. 90) remarks, that the oldest Brigantes, whom he esteems the first inhabitants of Britain, never used in their language the sound of the letter p, which was afterwards introduced by the Belgic Britains. If the old Brigantes were really of the first inhabitants of Britain, it would follow, that they were a part of the Guidelian, or Gaulish colony, which went over to Ireland, and whom Mr. Lhuyd evidently proves to have been the first inhabitants of all that part of Great Britain which now comprehends England and Wales. (IED 352)
We know Howard had this volume, as he cites in a subsequent letter to Lovecraft (CL2.70), and it seems to be the source for some of his Irish language comments in prior letters (cf. CL2.7, 20-21, 22-23). Wright forwarded this letter to Lovecraft (ES 1.268, CL2.xi), who responded to Howard’s query—and while Lovecraft’s first letter to Robert E. Howard does not survive, we do have two accounts of the matter from Lovecraft. The first was in reply to Catherine L. Moore, in a letter dated 2 July 1935:
As for the languages represented in the atavistic passage—I don’t recall including Sanscrit, though I did lift a sentence of Celtic (of which I know not a single word) from another story, The Sin-Eater, by “Fiona Macleod” (William Sharp). This sentence, incidentally, was what brought me into correspondence with Robert E. Howard. It was—since I swiped it from a Scottish story—a Gaelic specimen, whereas of course the Celtic language of southern Britain was Cymric. R.E.H.—as an expert Celtic antiquarian—noticed the discrepancy, and thought I had adopted a minority theory that a Gaelic wave had preceded the coming of the Cymri to Britannia. He wrote Wright on the subject and Wright forwarded the letter to me—whereupon I felt obliged to drop a line to the mighty Conan exposing my own ignorance and confessing to my rather inept borrowing. (SL5.181)
The second, essentially identical account was given in a letter to E. Hoffmann Price dated 5 July 1936—shortly after Howard’s death.
Much as I admired him, I had no correspondence with him till 1930—for I was never a guy to butt in on people. In that year he read the reprint of my Rats in the Walls and instantly spotted the bit of harmless fakery whereby I lifted a Celtic phrae (for use as an atavistic exclamation) from a footnote to an old classic—The Sin-Eater, by Fiona Macleod (William Sharp). He didn’t realise the source of the phrase, but his sharp eye for Celtic antiquities told him it didn’t quite fit—being a Gaelic (not Cymric) expression assigned to a South British locale. I myself don’t know a word of any Celtic tongue, and never fancied anybody could spot the incongruity. Too charitable to suspect me of ignorant appropriation, he came to the conclusion that I followed a now-discredited theory whereby the Gaels were supposed to have preceded the Cymri in England—and wrote Satrap Pharnabazus a long and scholarly letter on the subject. Farny passed this on to me—and I couldn’t rest easy until I had set the author right. Hence I dropped REH a line confessing my ignorance and telling him that I had merely picked a phrase with the right meaning from a note to a Scottish story while perfectly well aware that the language of Celtic South-Britain was really somewhat different. (SL5.277)
From those humble beginnings, Howard and Lovecraft’s correspondence bloomed. No surviving letters between Howard and Lovecraft give any further mention of “The Rats in the Walls” or “The Sin-Eater”—but that is not quite the end of the story, for there is still the matter of Fiona Macleod.

William Sharp 1894
William Sharp (1855-1905) was a Scottish writer, biographer, poet, and editor associated with the Celtic Twilight movement; Fiona Macleod was a feminine alter ego that he had created for the publication of some of his weirder and more fantastic works, including The Sin-Eater and Other Stories (1895), and inspired by a chance encounter with a muse in Italy in 1890, which resulted in his poetry collection Sopsiri di Roma (1891). Macleod’s true identity was carefully concealed during his life, though it emerged after his death, particularly in his wife’s William Sharp (Fiona Macleod): A Memoir (1910).

To most, this revelation was little more than a pseudonym, as Lovecraft would write under the name Lewis Theobald, Jr. or Howard as Patrick Ervin. A closer inspection of Sharp’s life and surviving letters and writings, such as Terry L. Meyer’s The Sexual Tensions of William Sharp (1996), suggests that the identity was an expression of Sharp’s anima, a way to express feminine aspects of his personality, or perhaps non-heteronormative sexual desires, though it is not clear if Sharp ever practiced homosexuality. As Meyer put it: “Sharp had created Fiona Macleod [...] to explore feelings in himself long nascent but long suppressed.” (18) In contemporary times, Sharp might have identified as genderqueer.

It is not clear if Lovecraft was familiar with Macleod’s identity in 1923, when he wrote “The Rats in the Walls,” but by 1929 at least he must have been aware of it, since he wrote to Elizabeth Toldridge:
The lines of William Sharp (who, by the way, has written some remarkable weird material under the pseudonym “Fiona MacLeod”) are highly potent despite their simplicity. I have followed the draining of Lacus Nemorensis with great interest, though without much hope that anything valuable will be discovered on Caligula’s galleys. (LETAR 57)
This is an apparent reference to two separate, though related elements: the draining of Lake Nemi (Lacus Nemorensis in Latin) in Italy by Mussolini’s government, in a bid to recover the sunken Roman galleys, and Sharp’s poem “The Swimmer of Nemi,” written during a trip to Italy and included in his volume Sospiri di Roma (1891), as well as subsequent collections. Probably Toldridge brought it up, in reference to a clipping on the lake draining, or the republication of Sharp’s works, so far it is the only other reference I have found to Sharp or Macleod in Lovecraft’s published letters. Much of Sharp’s work was republished after his death, including the multivolume collections of The Selected Writings of William Sharp (1912), published uniformly with The Collected Works of Fiona Macleod, so there are too many possible sources for Lovecraft’s information to determine what he read, or where and when he read it. It is not apparent that Robert E. Howard read anything of Sharp/Macleod at all.

It is a very simple story, and probably familiar to many who are fans or scholars of H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard—yet for anyone that has pored over their correspondence, it is perhaps exceptional to reflect on the circumstances that brought these two great writers together: a fan-letter, a reprinted short story, an Irish-English dictionary, and a borrowed phrase from a long-dead Scottish writer. Without any one of these elements, Howard and Lovecraft might never have gotten in touch.

“And that is all.”
(Best Psychic Stories 161)

Works Cited

CL          Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard (REH Foundation Press, 3                                  vols. + Index and Addenda)
ES         Essential Solitude: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and August Derleth                           (Hippocampus Press, 2 vols.)
IED         Irish-English Dictionary (Hodges and Smith)
LE         H. P. Lovecraft in “The Eyrie” (Necronomicon Press)
LETAR Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge & Anne Tillery Renshaw (Hippocampus                         Press)
SL         Selected Letters of H. P. Lovecraft (Arkham House, 5 vols.)

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Ships of Hy-Brasil Part 3 by Barbara Barrett

[In his poem, the “Isle of Hy-Brasil,” REH brings to life the fabled isle that existed even when the pre-historical islands of Atlantis and Lemuria were still afloat in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. According to Wikipedia, the isle, also known as Brazil, Hy-Brazil, and several other variants, is steeped in Irish myth. It is a legendary phantom island cloaked in mist, except for one day each seven years when it becomes visible but still unreachable. Similar in myth to that of St. Brendan’s Island (var. Brandon) it is shown as being circular, often with a central strait or river running east-west across its diameter. Despite failure in the attempts to find Hy-Brasil/St. Brendan’s Island, it appeared regularly on maps lying southwest of Galway Bay from 1325 until 1865.]

And there’s a sturdy bireme that sailed to the Holy Land.

The Bireme is a galley type ship with two bank of oars that was especially used by the Greeks and Phoenicians. The ship had a hull of wood and was used for both shipping and naval warfare possibly as early as 350 BC. The two banks of oars provided man-powered propulsion in case of calm waters or for better control in battles. The bronze armored ram on the bow of the ship was designed to be driven deep into an enemy ship. In addition to the small number of crew required, they could hold as many as 45 sailors during combat as well as additional fighting men on the main deck who were ready to board enemy vessels that had been rammed. Top speed was approximately seven knots.[1]

Main masts lifting like a forest of the south,
Beaked prows looming and the scarlet courses furled,
Dim decks heel-marked, warped by rain and drouth,
Rift in the cross-trees, drift of the southern seas;
Dim ships, strong ships, from all about the world.

High ships, proud ships, towering at their poops,
Galleons flaunting their pinnacles of pride,

[See image and full description of the Galleon above]

Battleships and merchantmen and long, lean sloops,

British Ships: Nelson's Division: HMS Victory (Flagship), Temeraire, Neptune, Conqueror, Leviathan, Ajax, Orion, Agamemnon, Minotaur, Spartiate, Euryalus, Britannia, Africa, Naiad, Phoebe, Entreprenante, Sirius and Pickle. Collingwood's Division: HMS Royal Sovereign (Flagship), Belleisle, Mars, Tonnant, Bellerophon, Colossus, Achilles, Polyphemus, Revenge, Swiftsure, Defiance, Thunderer, Prince of Wales, Dreadnought and Defence.
French Ships: Bucentaure (Flagship), Formidable (Flagship), Scipion, Intrepide, Cornelie, Duguay Truin, Mont Blanc, Heros, Furet, Hortense, Neptune, Redoubtable, Indomitable, Fougueux, Pluton, Aigle, Swiftsure, Argonaute, Berwick, Hermione, Themis, Achille and Argus. (It was a musket shot from French ship Redoubtable that mortally wounded Nelson.)
Spanish Ships: Santa Anna (Flagship), Santissima Trinidad (Flagship), Neptuno, Rayo, Santo Augustino, S. Francisco d’Assisi, S. Leandro, S. Juste, Monarca, Algeciras, Bahama, Montanes, S. Juan Nepomucano, Argonauta and Prince de Asturias.

Sailing warships of the 18th and 19th Century carried their main armaments in broadside batteries along the sides. Ships were classified according to the number of guns carried or the number of decks carrying batteries. Nelson’s main force comprised 8 three decker battleships carrying more than 90 guns each. The enormous Spanish ship Santissima Trinidad carried 120 guns and the Santa Anna 112 guns.

The size of gun on the line of battle ships was up to 24 pounder, firing heavy iron balls or chain and link shot designed to wreck rigging. Trafalgar was a close fleet action. Ships maneuvered up to the enemy and delivered broadsides at a range of a few yards. To take full advantage of the close range guns were “double shotted" with grape shot on top of ball. The ultimate aim in battle was to
lock ships together and capture the enemy by boarding. Savage hand to hand fighting took place at Trafalgar on several ships. The crew of the French Redoubtable, living up to the name of their ship, boarded Nelson’s flagship Victory but were annihilated in the brutal struggle on Victory’s top deck.

Ships’ crews of all nations were a tough bunch. The British with continual blockade service against the French and Spanish were particularly well drilled. British gun crews could fire three broadsides or more to every two fired by the French and Spanish. The British officers were hard bitten and experienced.

A merchantmen ship carried primarily cargo rather than the armaments although some carried guns for defense.

Flagships floating with the schooners on the tide.

The purpose of a flagship is to carry a fleet or squadron commander and it bears the commander's flag. It is the lead ship in a fleet of vessels, a designation given on account of being either the largest, fastest, newest, most heavily armed or, for publicity purposes, the best known. In military terms, it is a ship used by the commanding officer of a group of naval ships. The term originates from the custom of the commanding officer (usually, but not always, a flag officer) to fly a distinguishing flag. (Wikipedia)

A schooner is a vessel with two or more masts, with fore and aft sails on both masts, normally less than 150 tons but some of the triple masted schooners built on Prince Edward Island in the 1800s exceeded 700 tons. 

In the Caribbean, the USS Enterprise captured eight privateers and freed eleven American ships from captivity. At Malta, with six twelve-pounders she captured the Tripoli with its fourteen six-pounders. Three times, during the action, the Tripolitan crew attempted to board the Enterprise, and was as often repulsed with great slaughter, which was greatly increased by the effective aid afforded by the Marines. Three times, the Tripolitan struck her colors, hoping to disable the crew, and twice it renewed the action when the Enterprise crew came on deck to celebrate. The third treacherous attack, the Enterprise captain gave orders to sink the Tripoli and the enemy cried for mercy. [2] (Wikipedia)

And there’s a Viking Serpent that sailed the northern seas,

The Viking ship was perhaps the greatest technical and artistic achievement of the European dark ages. These fast ships had the strength to survive ocean crossings while having a draft of as little as 50cm (20 inches), allowing navigation in very shallow water. Two different classes of Viking era ships were found: warships called langskip and merchant ships called knörr. Typically, a warship is narrower, longer, and shallower than a knörr, and is powered by oars, supplanted by sail. The warship is completely open and is built for speed and maneuverability. In contrast, a knörr is partially enclosed and powered primarily by sail. Cargo carrying capability is the primary concern. The single square rigged sail allowed sailing close to the wind. This ability, combined with the capability to row during adverse wind conditions, allowed Norse sailors to run in to shore, engage the enemy on land, and escape retribution at will. The shallow draft of Norse war ships had several advantages.[4]

The Norse could raid well inland by sailing far up rivers that were too shallow for typical sea-going vessels of the day. The Frankish kingdoms in present day France were shocked by Norse raids in unthinkable locations hundreds of kilometers (100+ miles) inland on rivers not thought to be navigable. "In general, the Norse raided only those locations to which they could sail. Overland marches were avoided. In addition, the shallow draft made for fast and easy disembarkation during a raid. When the ship was beached, a Viking could be certain that if he jumped out near the stem, the water would scarcely be over his knees. The crew could leave the ship and join the raid quickly and confidently."[5]

That knew the stride of giants, ferocious gods of brawn,
And there’s a lateened rover that billowed to the breeze,
There a ship that sailed from Tyre when the waves were tinged with fire
And the first skies of history were rosying to dawn.

A rover is a pirate ship or vessel. Lateened refers to the type of sails [see definition on p. 7 above.]

The Good St. Brandon knew it when he turned him to the West
When he left the world behind him as he ventured far away,
And his fearless keel went plowing the ocean’s sapphire crest
Till he won unto Hy-Brasil which no other mortal may.

St. Brendan of Clonfert (484-577) aka “the Navigator,” “the Voyager,” “the Bold.” (Wikipedia)

For the island is Hy-Brasil, the paradise of ships,
Where the dim ghost crafts lie anchored and at rest,
Where the sea wind never rages and the sea rain never drips,
There they dream away the days in the mystic, sapphire haze
About the isle of Hy-Brasil, far off amid the West.

Howard wrote of other ships in his poetry but none of those poems list so many. What a spectacle it would have been to see ships from so many different centuries anchored side by side around Hy-Brasil’s beautiful and ancient shores.

Works Cited:

[5] There are several references for this citation. Each one seems to be using the other in the same reference/information. The origin of this information is unknown. Here are the citations:

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Ships of Hy-Brasil Part 2 by Barbara Barrett

[In his poem, the “Isle of Hy-Brasil,” REH brings to life the fabled isle that existed even when the pre-historical islands of Atlantis and Lemuria were still afloat in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. According to Wikipedia, the isle, also known as Brazil, Hy-Brazil, and several other variants, is steeped in Irish myth. It is a legendary phantom island cloaked in mist, except for one day each seven years when it becomes visible but still unreachable. Similar in myth to that of St. Brendan’s Island (var. Brandon) it is shown as being circular, often with a central strait or river running east-west across its diameter. Despite failure in the attempts to find Hy-Brasil/St. Brendan’s Island, it appeared regularly on maps lying southwest of Galway Bay from 1325 until 1865.]

And there’s a Roman galley with its seven banks of oars,
Iain Spence’s Historical Dictionary of Ancient Greek Warfare gives this definition of a galley with seven banks of oars:
Seven (hepteres) [septireme]. A large warship, developed from the six, probably by adding extra (standing) oarsmen at the lowest level. It had a clear advantage over smaller craft in heavy weather. Sevens (and larger ships) were probably equipped with towers, carried catapults and considerable numbers of troops and used firepower and boarding rather than ramming. The seven was a large ship and most navies possessed only a few, so they were often used as flagships (Historical Dictionary of Ancient Greek Warfare by Iain Spence.) [NOTE: the six (hexeres) was around 145 feet (45 meters) long. It probably had three rows of oars on each side, like a trireme or a five (penteres) but with the oars on all three of the levels on each side worked by two men.]

And there’s a golden barge-boat that knew the Caesar’s hand,

A barge-boat is any of various boats with roomy, usually flat-bottoms and used chiefly for the transport of goods on inland waterways or as luxurious passenger boats. Caesar’s would have been as well appointed as that of Cleopatra’s.[1]
And there’s a sombre pirate craft with shattered cabin doors,

Pirate Ship

The subject of pirate ships is more complex as there were many different types in use by buccaneers. Among the most popular were the Brigantine, the Caravel, the Carrack and the Galleon. Although the Brigantine, the Caravel and the Carrack do not appear REH’s poetry, they are very much part of the lore of the “somber pirate” craft mentioned by him in “Hy-Brasil.”

While the Brigantine was often the ship of choice for pirates, it was also very popular as both a merchant and naval ship. It could carry 10-16 guns and was rigged for speed, having two masts with both top gallant sails and royals rigged to each mast. World-wide it was often used by navies for scouting and reconnaissance duties. Many brigantines in the late 1800s carried sweeps for maneuvering in still weather. In 1814, the British Navy had 71 of the Brigantine’s in active service. Length: 110 feet; Beam: 28 feet; Depth: 16 feet; Crew: 110-120 men. [NOTE: By the first half of the 18th century the word brigantine had evolved to refer not to a ship type, but to a particular type of rigging: squared rigged on the foremast and fore and aft rigged on the mainmast.] [2]

According to the information on’s “Who Was Christopher Columbus,” for his journey, Columbus obtained three "caravels" or small ships, 50-100 feet long, with no sleeping quarters. They were named the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. However, Wikipedia states that the Santa Maria was a type of carrack (see below) and was Columbus’ flagship although he preferred the Niña because of its better ocean performance. What these caravels looked like exactly is unknown at this time…but it is thought the above images resembles them.

The caravel was also popular with pirates and was used from the 14th to the 17th centuries primarily as a cargo ship; the Mediterranean version was lateen rigged on two masts, while the Spanish and Portuguese versions were three masted with the first two masts square rigged and the mizzen lateen rigged. [NOTE: both the masts have lateen sails which are triangular in shape.]

The unusual design of the Carrack also made it a favorite of pirates.

Frigate was a name used for a variety of ships from small oared boats to three masted sailing ships. The name was formalized by the English in the late 17th century to mean a vessel smaller than a ship of the line, carrying 24-38 guns on a single deck with three fully rigged masts. Their speed made them better suited to convoy duty and hunting pirates. [3]

Part 1

Works Cited