Confession of Unfaith, A

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Szerző: Howard Phillips Lovecraft • Év: 1922

As a participant in The Liberal’s Experience Meeting, wherein amateurs are invited to state their theories of the universe, I must preface all remarks by the qualifying admission that they do not necessarily constitute a permanent view. The seeker of truth for its own sake is chained to no conventional system, but always shapes his philosophical opinions upon what seems to him the best evidence at hand. Changes, therefore, are constantly possible; and occur whenever new or revalued evidence makes them logical.

I am by nature a sceptic and analyst, hence settled early into my present general attitude of cynical materialism, subsequently changing in regard to details and degree rather than to basic ideals. The environment into which I was born was that of the average American Protestant of urban, civilised type—in theory quite orthodox, but in practice very liberal. Morals rather than faith formed the real keynote. I was instructed in the legends of the Bible and of Saint Nicholas at the age of about two, and gave to both a passive acceptance not especially distinguished either for its critical keenness or its enthusiastic comprehension. Within the next few years I added to my supernatural lore the fairy tales of Grimm and the Arabian Nights; and by the time I was five had small choice amongst these speculations so far as truth was concerned, though for attractiveness I favoured the Arabian Nights. At one time I formed a juvenile collection of Oriental pottery and objets d’art, announcing myself as a devout Mussulman and assuming the pseudonym of “Abdul Alhazred”. My first positive utterance of a sceptical nature probably occurred before my fifth birthday, when I was told what I really knew before, that “Santa Claus” is a myth. This admission caused me to ask why “God” is not equally a myth. Not long afterwards I was placed in the “infant class” at the Sunday school of the venerable First Baptist Church, an ecclesiastical landmark dating from 1775; and there resigned all vestiges of Christian belief. The absurdity of the myths I was called upon to accept, and the sombre greyness of the whole faith as compared with the Eastern magnificence of Mahometanism, made me definitely an agnostic; and caused me to become so pestiferous a questioner that I was permitted to discontinue attendance. No statement of the kind-hearted and motherly preceptress had seemed to me to answer in any way the doubts I honestly and explicitly expressed, and I was fast becoming a marked “man” through my searching iconoclasm. No doubt I was regarded as a corrupter of the simple faith of the other “infants”.

When I was six my philosophical evolution received its most aesthetically significant impetus—the dawn of Graeco-Roman thought. Always avid for fairy lore, I had chanced on Hawthorne’s “Wonder Book” and “Tanglewood Tales”, and was enraptured by the Hellenic myths even in their Teutonised form. Then a tiny book in the private library of my elder aunt—the story of the Odyssey in “Harper’s Half-Hour Series”—caught my attention. From the opening chapter I was electrified, and by the time I reached the end I was for evermore a Graeco-Roman. My Bagdad name and affiliations disappeared at once, for the magic of silks and colours faded before that of fragrant templed groves, faun-peopled meadows in the twilight, and the blue, beckoning Mediterranean that billowed mysteriously out from Hellas into the reaches of haunting wounder where dwelt Lotophagi and Laestrygonians, where Aeolus kept his winds and Circe her swine, and where in Thrinacian pastures roamed the oxen of the radiant Helios. As soon as possible I procured an illustrated edition of Bulfinch’s “Age of Fable”, and gave all my time to the reading of the text, in which the true spirit of Hellenism is delightfully preserved, and to the contemplation of the pictures, splendid designs, and half-tones of the standard classical statues and paintings of classical subjects. Before long I was fairly familiar with the principal Grecian myths, and had become a constant visitor at the classical art museums of Providence and Boston. I commenced a collection of small plaster casts of the Greek sculptural masterpieces, and learned the Greek alphabet and the rudiments of the Latin language. I adopted the pseudonym of “Lucius Valerius Messala”—Roman and not Greek, since Rome had a charm all its own for me. My grandfather had travelled observingly through Italy, and delighted me with long first-hand accounts of its beauties and memorials of ancient grandeur. I mention this aesthetic tendency in detail only to lead up to its philosophical result—my last flickering of religious belief. When about seven or eight I was a genuine pagan, so intoxicated with the beauty of Greece that I acquired a half-sincere belief in the old gods and Nature-spirits. I have in literal truth built altars to Pan, Apollo, Diana, and Athena, and have watched for dryads and satyrs in the woods and fields at dusk. Once I firmly thought I beheld some of these sylvan creatures dancing under autumnal oaks; a kind of “religious experience” as true in its way as the subjective ecstasies of any Christian. If a Christian tell me he has felt the reality of his Jesus or Jahveh, I can reply that I have seen the hoofed Pan and the sisters of the Hesperian Phaëthusa.

But in my ninth year, as I was reading the Grecian myths in their standard poetical translations and thus acquiring unconsciously my taste for Queen-Anne English, the real foundations of my scepticism were laid. Impelled by the fascinating pictures of scientific instruments in the back of Webster’s Unabridged, I began to take an interest in natural philosophy and chemistry; and soon had a promising laboratory in my cellar, and a new stock of simple scientific text-books in my budding library. Ere long I was more of a scientific student than pagan dreamer. In 1897 my leading “literary” work was a “poem” entitled “The New Odyssey”; in 1899 it was a compendious treatise on chemistry in several pencil-scribbled “volumes”. But mythology was by no means neglected. In this period I read much in Egyptian, Hindoo, and Teutonic mythology, arid tried experiments in pretending to believe each one, to see which might contain the greatest truth. I had, it will be noted, immediately adopted the method and manner of science! Naturally, having an open and unemotional mind, I was soon a complete sceptic and materialist. My scientific studies had enlarged to include geographical, geological, biological, and astronomical rudiments, and I had acquired the habit of relentless analysis in all matters. My pompous “book” called “Poemata Minora”, written when I was eleven, was dedicated “To the Gods, Heroes, and Ideals of the Ancients”, and harped in disillusioned, world-weary tones on the sorrow of the pagan robbed of his antique pantheon. Some of these very juvenile “poemata” were reprinted in The Tryout for April, 1919, under new titles and pseudonyms.

Hitherto my philosophy had been distinctly juvenile and empirical. It was a revolt from obvious falsities and ugliness, but involved no particular cosmic or ethical theory. In ethical questions I had no analytical interest because I did not realise that they were questions. I accepted Victorianism, with consciousness of many prevailing hypocrisies aside from Sabbatarian and supernatural matters, without dispute; never having heard of inquiries which reached “beyond good and evil”. Though at times interested in reforms, notably prohibition (I have never tasted alcoholic liquor), I was inclined to be bored by ethical casuistry; since I believed conduct to be a matter of taste and breeding, with virtue, delicacy, and truthfulness as symbols of gentility. Of my word and honour I was inordinately proud, and would permit no reflections to be cast upon them. I thought ethics too obvious and commonplace to be scientifically discussed, and considered philosophy solely in its relation to truth and beauty. I was, and still am, pagan to the core. Regarding man’s place in Nature, and the structure of the universe, I was as yet unawakened. This awakening was to come in the winter of 1902–3, when astronomy asserted its supremacy amongst my studies.

The most poignant sensations of my existence are those of 1896, when I discovered the Hellenic world, and of 1902, when I discovered the myriad suns and worlds of infinite space. Sometimes I think the latter event the greater, for the grandeur of that growing conception of the universe still excites a thrill hardly to be duplicated. I made of astronomy my principal scientific study, obtaining larger and larger telescopes, collecting astronomical books to the number of 61, and writing copiously on the subject in the form of special and monthly articles in the local daily press. By my thirteenth birthday I was thoroughly impressed with man’s impermanence and insignificance, and by my seventeenth, about which time I did some particularly detailed writing on the subject, I had formed in all essential particulars my present pessimistic cosmic views. The futility of all existence began to impress and oppress me; and my references to human progress, formerly hopeful, began to decline in enthusiasm. Always partial to antiquity, I allowed myself to originate a sort of one-man cult of retrospective suspiration. Realistic analysis, favoured by history and by diffusive scientific leanings which now embraced Darwin, Haeckel, Huxley, and various other pioneers, was checked by my aversion for realistic literature. In fiction I was devoted to the phantasy of Poe; in poetry and essays to the elegant formalism and conventionality of the eighteenth century. I was not at all wedded to what illusions I retained. My attitude has always been cosmic, and I looked on man as if from another planet. He was merely an interesting species presented for study and classification. I had strong prejudices and partialities in many fields, but could not help seeing the race in its cosmic futility as well as in its terrestrial importance. By the time I was of age, I had scant faith in the world’s betterment; and felt a decreasing interest in its cherished pomps and prides. When I entered amateurdom in my twenty-fourth year, I was well on the road to my present cynicism; a cynicism tempered with immeasurable pity for man’s eternal tragedy of aspirations beyond the possibility of fulfilment.

The war confirmed all the views I had begun to hold. The cant of idealists sickened me increasingly, and I employed no more than was necessary for literary embellishment. With me democracy was a minor question, my anger being aroused primarily by the audacity of a challenge to Anglo-Saxon supremacy, and by the needless territorial greed and disgusting ruthlessness of the Huns. I was unvexed by the scruples which beset the average liberal. Blunders I expected; a German defeat was all I asked or hoped for. I am, I hardly need add, a warm partisan of Anglo-American reunion; my opinion being that the division of a single culture into two national units is wasteful and often dangerous. In this case my opinion is doubly strong because I believe that the entire existing civilisation depends on Saxon dominance.

About this time my philosophical thought received its greatest and latest stimulus through discussion with several amateurs; notably Maurice Winter Moe, an orthodox but tolerant Christian and inspiring opponent, and Alfred Galpin, Jr., a youth in approximate agreement with me, but with a mind so far in the lead that comparison is impossible without humility on my part. Correspondence with these thinkers led to a recapitulation and codification of my views, revealing many flaws in my elaborated doctrines, and enabling me to secure greater clearness and consistency. The impetus also enlarged my philosophical reading and research, and broke down many hindering prejudices. I ceased my literal adherence to Epicurus and Lucretius, and reluctantly dismissed free-will forever in favour of determinism.

The Peace Conference, Friedrich Nietzsche, Samuel Butler (the modern), H. L. Mencken, and other influences have perfected my cynicism; a quality which grows more intense as the advent of middle life removes the blind prejudice whereby youth clings to the vapid “all’s right with the world” hallucination from sheer force of desire to have it so. As I near thirty-two I have no particular wishes, save to perceive facts as they are. My objectivity, always marked, is now paramount and unopposed, so that there is nothing I am not willing to believe. I no longer really desire anything but oblivion, and am thus ready to discard any gilded illusion or accept any unpalatable fact with perfect equanimity. I can at last concede willingly that the wishes, hopes, and values of humanity are matters of total indifference to the blind cosmic mechanism. Happiness I recognise as an ethical phantom whose simulacrum comes fully to none and even partially to but few, and whose position as the goal of all human striving is a grotesque mixture of farce and tragedy.


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