Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Lovecraft Left His Mark

H.P. Lovecraft was heavily involved with amateur journalism in the United Amateur Press Association, and served as Official Editor of The United Amateur at various times from 1917 through 1925. Some of his close friends were involved too.  So when I recently saw the May 1926 issue of The United Amateur, it wasn't surprising to see evidence of Lovecraft's influence, even though Lovecraft was not then the editor:  three poems by Clark Ashton Smith (one a translation from Baudelaire); two poems by Samuel Loveman; two poems by Frank Belknap Long; and one poem by Wilfred B. Talman. There is a short piece of weird prose, "The Ultimate" by B. Coursin Black.  At first I wondered whether "B. Coursin Black" might be a pseudonym, but surprisingly it isn't. 

Biddle Coursin Black  was born in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, in 1900, and died in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1984.  He was the fourth and final child of Robert Jere Black (1855-1918) and his wife, the former Mildred Blanche Coursin (1868-1918), a daughter of Benjamin Biddle Coursin (1837-1913).

B. Coursin Black moved around quite a bit, living in Santa Monica, California, then Grand Rapids, Michigan in the 1930s and early 40s, and in Jamestown, New York, in the later 1940s and 50s.  In his entry in Who Was Who among North American Authors, he classified himself as a critic and writer, who had contributed "articles of varied interests to numerous fiction and trade publications, and newspapers, freelance and contract." Only one story by Black seems to have made it into book form, "Spring Sprites" collected in Aquarian Age Stories for Children Volume 1, published by the Rosicrucian Fellowship in 1951. Black never married.  Here follows his vignette from The United Amateur for May 1926. It seems very likely that Lovecraft read it, alongside of the writings of four close friends.

The Ultimate

by B. Coursin Black

The cabin crouched low on the shadowed hill, where creeping hemlocks prisoned it, their gaunt branches clawing out till they almost grasped the shaggy roof, like convict hands that slyly reach to throttle the passing jailer. A grey rail edged the narrow porch, with flower-boxes nestling in the corners—boxes brimming with flowers that were red, blood-red. The huge door in the center was shut and bolted with a cross-bar. But the lady who rocked in the chair in the porch-corner did not seem to sense the sinister silence, the incongruity of the blood-flowers on the threshold of abandoned desolation. She was smiling as she rocked, her contented eyes lazily following the antics of a yellow butterfly frisking among the foliage.

I watched it all with quick-breathed fear. I could not speak. I could not move to warn the lady. . . . . I, who knew the unhallowed mystery of the gruesome place, who knew of the THING inside . . . . . the un-nameable, unthinkable THING that had never been seen by human eyes . . . fear, like a black, suffocating curtain, covered me, and a pall as dense as a burial shroud weighed me down as a living force.—Through it came faint, ghoulish laughter, like witch-water tinkling in the dell, laughter that mocked my utter helplessness. Suddenly the butterfly winged swiftly away, disappearing in the gloom of the brooding trees, and then . . . .

A small air-window, next the roof, opened slowly, the dust of dead days settling thick to the floor, the hinges silent, as the frame widened outward, propelled by some unseen force from the black void within. Then a CLAW . . .  white and long and bony, with beast-fingers opening and closing, stretched out from that grisly room inside, and moved out and down, with never a sound, toward the figure beneath . . . further and further, clawing and clutching . . .

I shrieked and all went black before me . . . . . . . . . . .

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