In his Introduction to the Dover edition of Lovecraft's essay, E. F. Bleiler expresses his disagreement:Of younger Americans, none strikes the note of cosmic horror so well as the Californian poet, artist and fictionist Clark Ashton Smith, whose bizarre writings, drawings, paintings and stories are the delight of a sensitive few. Mr. Smith has for his background a universe of remote and paralyzing fright—jungles of poisonous and iridescent blossoms on the moons of Saturn, evil and grotesque temples in Atlantis, Lemuria, and forgotten elder worlds, and dank morasses of spotted death-fungi in spectral countries beyond earth’s rim. His longest and most ambitious poem, The Hashish-Eater, is in pentameter blank verse; and opens up chaotic and incredible vistas of kaleidoscopic nightmare in the spaces between the stars. In sheer daemonic strangeness and fertility of conception, Mr. Smith is perhaps unexcelled by any other writer dead or living. Who else has seen such gorgeous, luxuriant, and feverishly distorted visions of infinite spheres and multiple dimensions and lived to tell the tale? His short stories deal powerfully with other galaxies, worlds, and dimensions, as well as with strange regions and aeons on the earth. He tells of primal Hyperborea and its black amorphous god Tsathoggua; of the lost continent Zothique, and of the fabulous, vampire-curst land of Averoigne in mediaeval France. Some of Mr. Smith’s best work can be found in the brochure entitled The Double Shadow and Other Fantasies (1933).
In terms of critical position, Lovecraft, I believe, overrated both Lord Dunsany and C. A. Smith. The case of Smith, the only contemporary American author whom Lovecraft regarded with awe, is puzzling.In answer to Bleiler, and setting aside Dunsany for the nonce (we will consider him in some future Highbrow installment), I should not consider it impossible to assume that Lovecraft's praise is an expression of admiration for a friend. Indeed, however, the nature of this friendship is literary. Considering the "vibrating" enthusiasm of his praise--the curious pharmacological language underscoring toxicants, paralysis, and the "spaces between the stars"--I can only conclude that Lovecraft is not simply considering the material of Smith's work, but is moreover praising Smith as a person who has thoroughly and genuinely fallen under his (Smith's) own spell. That is, the criterion that so impresses Lovecraft is the legitimacy of Smith as a flesh and blood exponent of the self-same mystique Smith is aspiring to achieve through his work. Smith's independence and reclusive nature are well known. Indeed--and I think this is Lovecraft's detail--Smith is not only the poet of those spaces between the stars, he himself is the embodiment of those grand dimensions. Considering the nature of their--Lovecraft and Smith's--craft, could there be a higher departure point for praise?
|Clark Ashton Smith in 1912