On my way to Sauk City WI I stopped in Oak Forest IL to visit with my friend and colleague Bob Weinberg. I presented him with a a total of nine (9) books that we had collaborated on over the past couple of years, all discussed else in this blog or on the website — The Macabre Quarto (in hard cover with dustjacket with the Arkham House Logo on the front board, and the August Derleth Society Logo on the spine of the cloth in gold leaf.) The Compleat John Solomon in three volumes, The Adventures of a Professional Corpse, and Carnacki-The Ghost Finder by William Hope Hodgson. The latter was the last of the Mycroft and Moran editions to bring back into print. I arrived there the evening of 23 February, after a harrowing afternoon at Customs and Border Protective in Detroit. A reasonable Customs Official finally realized that my carload of books did not pose a threat to the US of A.
I arrived at 02:30 hrs and arose at 06:00 to start work to prepare for the 100th birthday celebrations at The Freethinkers’ Park Hall at 13:00. You can read about all that elsewhere with pictures at derleth.org or in the next edition of The August Derleth newsletter. I was asked to say a few words, in fact my name was on the program — first I heard about it! I had received a couple of negative comments about my tie which featured Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck and this was one of the rare occasions when I wore my tattered deerstalker proudly. I mentioned that The Solar Pons stories had lead me to discover Derleth years ago, and that Derleth if his writings survived being dead and out-of-print, he would be remembered for his Sac Prairie Saga — novels, short stories and his poetry and his Journals, especially Walden West. I closed by pointing out that Bugs BUnny had achieved immortality through his creator, and I did not remember his name at the time (Walter Lance I was reminded by Richard Fawcett a little later on the phone) and that it was desire to get Augie’s writings a similar measure of immortality by bringing them back into print.
The next day April and Walden Derleth invited Kay Price and I out to dinner at The Place of Hawks. I presented both of them with Hard Cover sets of The Macabre Quarto and they were pleased with the gold leaf Arkham Logo as well. We talked about future projects, and April invited me, and I quickly added Robert Weinberg’s name to edit and publish “Seventy-Five Years of Arkham House.” I did the math and this was 2014. I asked if there was anything in between and we agreed that Bob and I should explore the Arkham back list for potential revised and expanded projects. I spoke with Bob later that evening on the phone and he immediately suggested a hard cover facsimile of the 1948-1949 Arkham Sampler in a two volume slipcased edition.
On Friday Kay and I travelled to Dubuque Iowa to visit David Hammer and I delivered a supply of his most recent book For the Record — My Name is Hammer. We went to lunch, and I was left out the table conversation about the Supernatural and Ghosts, and David was enchanted with Kay’s knowledge in these matters. The car was then loaded with boxes of books that David had received back from the Wessex Press in Indianapolis.
Saturday we travelled to the Milwaukee library. We had a little trouble finding the celebration on the second floor. The old library is a labyrinth of stairs and elevators. This event will be reported elsewhere as well.
I met with April Derleth on Sunday morning and I was able to purchase August Derleth’s stamp collection in two large Banker’s File boxes, and it was a tight fit in the vehicle with Hammer’s books.
On my way home I stopped for lunch with Donald Izban in Park Ridge, a suburb of Chicago. I had my first Sazerac, a whisk(e)y cocktail a specialty of New Orleans, LA and I was slurring my words after a couple of sips. I delivered the hard cover edition of the Izbans’ book The Problem of the Nine Sazeracs. Donald and Pat were both pleased with Joe Bogart’s design and full colo(u)r dustjacket.
Next Bob Weinberg, and as soon as I got there he said he had something for me. He presented me with an Argosy check for 500.00 made out to Vincent Starrett. It was signed on the back by the author and it was payment for the story “The Day Before Yesterday — Argosy” — I was pleased both with the item and also with the thought behind giving it to me. Bob noted that this was when Argosy was a slick magazine, and it might be a non-fiction article. I noted that I was not familiar with the title, but would look it up when I got home. We had dinner together and we discussed the Forthcoming Arkham House List, and agreed that we could likely make an announcement at The Windy City Pulp and Paper back Show at the beginning of May. We discussed many other things including a project in development for some time — the collected writings of Nictzin Dyalhis and The Adventures of Rogan Kincaid by Henning Nelms as by Hake Talbot. I had transported a box of pulps from April to Bob and one of the items was the original appearance of “The Rim of the Pit” in Thrilling Mystery Novel Fall 1945.
When I got home, I discovered that “The Day Before Yesterday” was one of the chapters in Persons from Porlock. I replished it in Volume 20 of the Starrett Memorial Library series, and I will append it here for your reading pleasure. It is quintessential Starrett dense wonderful writing for he was a writer’s writer, the “Last Bookman.” I will also append dj for Starrett Volumes 20. The dj’s for Volume 21 and 22 are equally attractive.
The Day Before Yesterday
There is a phrase I shall never forget. It leaped out at me, a small boy, from between the covers of a book — “the field of the cloth of gold.” The book was in my grandfather’s library, and I am still grateful to the old gentleman for those seven words of sorcery. They stand to-day, after many years, in the forefront of my memories of youthful discovery. I suspect that in some degree they have colored literature for me ever since. For a long time, at any rate, they were the sign and symbol of all that was romantic and alluring in a painted past. Thereafter — after their discovery, I mean — history, as it was written in fiction, was for me a confused and colorful drama of rogues and heroes, of haggard kings and kingly vagabonds, of lovely unfortunate women and brave Byronic men. I had found the magic glasses — the spectacles of glamor — and was forever lost in the wonder of that timeless mist that is the past.
The day before yesterday has always been a day of glamor, of gilt and glory. The present is sordid and prosaic. Time colors history as it does a meerschaum pipe. The sweet days of old are little vignettes of vanished happiness and splendor quaintly preserved in little silver frames. Is it not so? And yet, we may be sure that our grandsires, too, and their grandsires before them, looked back with captured eyes to the “good old days” of still earlier generations.
The thought is not particularly new; but it is an excellent text for a gossip on the perennial popularity of historical fiction. We associate the cloak and sword drama with other years; but it is still with us — it has never become quite extinct. Naturalism and contemporary bad manners may be the order of the day, but the thin echo of clinking swords and the clatter of horses’ hoofs never dies in the distance…. It is not too bad, I think, that this is so. Tastes are as catholic as bookshelves are wide; and the discriminating reader may admit the excellence of the Russians without yielding an ounce of his liking for the romantics. Possibly it is only a matter of alphabetic arrangement; and after Dostoevsky, on the shelves, come Doyle and Dumas.
An Archbishop of Canterbury once put a question to Betterton, the actor: “How is it that you players, who deal only with things imaginary, affect your auditors as if they were real; while we preachers, who deal with things real, affect our auditors as if they were imaginary?” The player answered: “It is, my lord, because we actors speak of things imaginary as if they were real, while you preachers too often speak of things real as if they were imaginary.”
The remark may be applied to the writing of history and historical fiction. Often enough historians are stately, solid fellows, dealing unromantically with arid fact, while poets and romancers, out of distance and illusion, create living images of times and persons as perhaps they never were. In the end, it is the poetry and the romance that survives. It is fiction, not fact, that the world wants with its evening pipe. Critics of life and letters, with painfully creased brows, and brains that fairly creak with portentous thoughts of no particular importance, cry out at the false glamor of such presentations; but wise men enjoy the solitary horseman, the clatter of hoofs in darkness, the gleam of swords in moonlight, and the lusty bawling of picturesque adventurers spoiling for a fight. If, in such fictive tales of — eld, is perhaps the word — an enormous gusto and a delicate but not overdrawn atmosphere of burlesque or satire be contrived, so much the better. Facts, after all, are only things that a relatively small minority has agreed to believe; and fact — in the singular — is not too rashly to be confused with truth. “What is truth?” asked a celebrated jurist, in a celebrated work of historical fiction; and the time has come to answer him. Truth is that which seems to be true, and that which one chooses to regard as true.
But is it stranger than fiction? How much more readily we remember romance than history! Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Richard certainly are not the Richard and Macbeth of history, yet we cling to those familiar portraits and discard the so-called truth. “Macbeth,” Sir Walter Scott informs us, “broke no law of hospitality in his attempt on Duncan’s life.” He attacked and slew the King at a place called Bothgowan, back there in 1039, it appears; not, as Shakespeare asserts, in his own castle of Inverness. The act was bloody, as was the complexion of the time; but the claim of Macbeth to the throne, according to the rules of Scottish succession (and according to Sir Walter), was better than that of Duncan. As a king, the tyrant so much deplored was actually, it is said, a firm, just, and equitable prince.
The very existence of such persons as Banquo and his son, Fleance, has been disputed by authority; and there is small reason to believe that the latter fled farther from Macbeth than across the flat scene of the stage — as called for in the playwright’s direction. Neither were Banquo and his son ancestors of the house of Stuart, so ’tis said. Sir Walter, himself, for all his strictures upon the accuracy of Shakespeare, was a fictioneer who took what liberties he pleased with the grim hussy, History.
Yet the mind retains completely the impressions made by the imposition of genius. While our language exists, and the works of Shakespeare are read, history may say what it will; but the general reader will remember Macbeth as a sacrilegious usurper, and Richard as a deformed murderer who once cried lustily for a horse.
Or, conceivably, the greater popularity of romance is founded on its interest in those things which, for the most part, are minimized by the historian, save where they bear upon the — to him — larger affairs of state. It is only the occasional and dilletante writer of history who fathers an adequate volume on the domestic tantrums of a princess or the love-life of a prince. One is grateful for the revival of interest in the wife and lives — the life and wives, one should say — of Henry VIII. Obviously, it is a subject that lends itself admirably to the talents of the writer who, like certain photographers, specializes in groups…. Popular interest in Henry, one fancies, will always be in the number of his wives, rather than in his overthrow of the monasteries; and nobody ever will remember the number. How many were there, now? At first blush, eight; but one is sure to confuse the number of Henrys with the number of the last Henry’s wives. It is possible that there were only six. In point of fact, there were just six, one is informed. But, really, does it matter? And, of course, it is not alone the number of wives that draws one to the subject and makes it memorable; it is, in large measure, the spectacular fashion of their removal. “Bluebeard for happiness!” as Henry is reported to have said, looking up from a volume of M. Maeterlinck’s dramas.
I was speaking, however, of the novel of the cloak and sword, of historical fiction, of history in fiction; and defending its right to be plausible rather than factual. I hasten to add that I am far from deprecating the more immediate novel of contemporary consciousness, concerned with the several manifestations — sex, religion, politics, et al — of our complex civilization. I suggest merely that we get a better perspective on all these no doubt momentous matters in a sparkling tale of other days, in which less significance is attached to them than to the happier consideration of pinking the villain and rescuing the girl. In such narratives, the irritating matters suggested are relegated to their proper places, with a lift of the eyebrow and a toss of the shoulder.