- Episode 76
- Posted September 4, 2022
Live from NecronomiCon
In this series of letters to the Editor of the Providence Evening News from September to December, 1914, HPL conducts a vigorous debate with fellow Providentian J. F. Hartmann about the relative merits of astronomy and astrology.
Music by Troy Sterling Nies. Thanks to S.T. Joshi and David E. Schultz and Hippocampus Press for their book Miscellaneous Letters. Thanks also to indefatigable researcher Dan Pratt for his uncanny skills.
This episode was recorded in front of a live audience at NecronomiCon in Providence. Our sincere thanks to Niels Hobbs and all the other people who organized the event, the brave and curious folks who attended and enlivened it, and to Dylan Masson who took this picture and allowed us to post it here. The full exchange between Lovecraft and Hartmann was much too long for us to read in its entirety, and what you'll hear in this episode are selected passages.
The original manuscripts of these letters are lost, but here is Lovecraft's first letter in this series as published in the Providence Evening News. Lovecraft was passionate about astronomy from his childhood, and starting in August of 1903, when he was 13 years old, he published the Rhode Island Journal of Astronomy for six years. You can read it in the Brown Digital Repository. Revised versions of some of the items he included in his own journal were later published in the Pawtuxet Valley Gleaner and Providence Tribune from 1906 to 1908, and he contributed an astronomy column to the Providence Evening News from 1914 to 1918.
Hartmann and Lovecraft name a number of prominent astrologers in this exchange that we were interested to learn more about. On the left is William Lilly (1602-1681), who was extremely famous and influential in his day. He was the first to publish a major work about astrology in English rather than in Latin, and he had a lot of famous and powerful friends. Center is John Partridge (1644-1714), who published astrological books and almanacs. He was the astrologer whom Jonathan Swift satirized under the pseudonym of "Isaac Bickerstaff", a name which HPL revived in this exchange of letters to ridicule Hartmann. On the right is W. H. Chaney (1821-1903), whom Hartmann so admired as a former astronomer who became a convert to astrology. Check out one of his books HERE.
Hartmann was particularly aggrieved that astronomers criticize astrology without first bothering to read books about it. We must admit we haven't been able to wade through too many of them ourselves, but we are happy to provide some links in case you want to try it! Hartmann's first letter that started off this whole exchange quoted from a book of astrological predictions by "Raphael". That was the pen name originally used by astrologer Robert Cross Smith, and which has continued to be used despite his death in 1832 right up to this very day. There were a number of astrologers who adopted exotic pseudonyms like Zadkiel, Merlin, and Sepharial. Here's a sample of the kind of predictions included in Raphael's for 1914:
"The Kaiser of Germany is under very adverse directions, and danger both to health and person is indicated. The year opens with Mars in square to the radical Sun, and with Uranus transitting the Sun’s place at birth, and Mars passing over the ascendant, the indications of war and disaster are strongly marked. A crisis is apparent in the history of the German Empire."
Thanks to Dan Pratt and his contact Emily at Cardiff University, here is the cover and "hieroglyphic" from the 1914 Raphael's Almanac. You may note the dramatic picture in the top center of a passenger ship sinking amidst icebergs: there was a shipwreck of some kind or another virtually every day in 1914, so it was not a great feat of prognostication to suggest that a ship would sink. HERE is a copy of Raphael's Key and Guide to Astrology from 1905. And HERE you can read The British Journal of Astrology for October of 1914, which came out right around the same time these letters were being written, and which quotes from Raphael.
Here are some of the prominent astronomers who are named in this exchange. On the left is Richard A. Proctor (1837-1888), a professional writer on astronomical subjects and a practicing astronomer himself. Center is Garrett P. Serviss (1851-1929). Serviss was not a professional astronomer, but wrote a number of popular books on the subject for general readers which HPL read and admired. Serviss also wrote early science fiction stories, and it's easy to understand why Lovecraft identified with him. On the right is the other J. F. Hartmann (1865-1936). We don't know if the Hartmann who debated Lovecraft was aware that there was a trained astronomer with such a similar name, but if Lovecraft knew it's hard to imagine he wouldn't have mentioned it. Johannes Franz Hartmann was director of the La Plata Astronomical Observatory in Argentina from 1922 to 1934.
Here is HPL's natal star chart as generated by an online astrology site called Astrotheme. If you want to read all the analysis, go HERE.