He calls us not (as modern craftsmen do)
To scenes attained, where sin’s hideous scars
On human souls are gilded—no—but to
The far, pure, foamy glaxies of stars!
Terrors he brings and things not known before
From lone and dismal haunts of old dead suns.
Yet are our spirits outward-drawn—to soar
Through vastnesses where a stainless Wonder runs!
—”H. P. Lovecraft” by Elizabeth Toldridge, Leaves #1 (Summer 1937)
Elizabeth Augusta Toldridge was a poet, who had worked as a clerk for the U. S. government, and the author of two books of poetry: The Soul of Love (1910) and Mother’s Love Songs (1911). She sold fiction and poetry, sometimes under her own name and sometimes under the name of her father, Barnet Toldridge. (Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge & Anne Tillery Renshaw 8)
In the letters of H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, Catherine Lucille Moore was sometimes “sister Kate”—and Elizabeth Toldridge was “Aunt Lizzy.” (O Fortunate Floridian! 360) And to Toldridge herself, Lovecraft was “Judge.” Lovecraft had first encountered Toldridge’s verse in 1924 when he was enlisted as a judge for a poetry contest, in which she was an entrant. They finally began a correspondence when Toldridge wrote to Lovecraft about the contest in 1928, and they would continue to write to one another until 1937 and Lovecraft’s death. (LETAR 7) Barlow, who would be named Lovecraft’s literary executor, visited Toldridge in her home in Washington, D.C. in 1934 and 1936, and she received copies of his amateur publications such as the Dragon-Fly.
Lovecraft and Barlow encouraged Toldridge to submit her poetry for publication, and to join the National Amateur Press Association, of which they were both members. Some of her poetry was published in the same amateur journals where Barlow and Lovecraft’s work was published. In 1934, she proposed a collection of poetry for publication to Alfred A. Knopf with the title Winnings, with Lovecraft’s support, but it did not come to fruition.
In late 1936, Barlow commenced gathering material for a new amateur periodical titled Leaves, which consisted of material from Lovecraft and his circle of friends and correspondents: Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, C. L. Moore, August Derleth, Frank Belknap Long, etc. Most of these were incidentals: unsold manuscripts from the pulps, bits of poetry or prose, some of them taken from Lovecraft’s letters. The first issue, published after Lovecraft’s death, contained two poems by Elizabeth Toldridge: “Ephemera” and “H. P. Lovecraft.”
Nothing is known about the writing of “H. P. Lovecraft.” Given the subject and the date of publication, it is likely a memorial piece written in the event of Lovecraft’s death, but it is also possible that Toldridge intended it as a living tribute to her dear friend and correspondent of nine years. She had already written one such work “Divinity,” which she had sent to Lovecraft in 1929. (LETAR 78, 396)
“H. P. Lovecraft” is certainly a tribute to the “cosmic horror” which Lovecraft championed in their letters and his essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature.” It also touches on one of the great effects that Toldridge had on Lovecraft:
[…] it is clear that his correspondence with Toldridge strongly influenced his atempts to avoid artificial diction and to cultivate greater expression of imagery and emotion, all while loosening his former draconian strictures of versification.
—S. T. Joshi, Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge & Anne Tillery Renshaw 8
While it may be too much to say that without Toldridge there would be no “Fungi from Yuggoth” sonnet-cycle, it is apparent that the correspondence was a broadening influence for both of them: Lovecraft to focus more on content than form, and Toldridge opened to the world of weird fiction. As an homage, “H. P. Lovecraft” definitely showcases that admiration and appreciation for the weird imagination.
“H. P. Lovecraft” was first published in Leaves #1 (Summer 1937), and republished in Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge & Anne Tillery Renshaw (Hippocampus Press, 2014).
Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).