Lovecraft on immigration, culture

The following is an excerpt from H.P. Lovecraft’s correspondence.

“Within the lifetime of people now middle-aged, the general tone of our northern cities has so changed that they no longer seem like home to their own inhabitants. Providence is something of an exception because of the continued pure-Yankeedom of the residence section atop the hill—but the downtown business section shews all the stigmata of Latin mongrelisation….Italian & Portuguese faces everywhere. One has to get down to Richmond to find a town which really feels like home—where the average person one meets looks like one, has the same type of feelings & recollections, & reacts approximately the same to the same stimuli.

The loss of a collective life—of a sharing of common traditions & memories & experiences—is the curse of the heterogeneous northeast today. There is no real solution–& all the American can do is to forget about the foreigners as much as he can, be on guard against alienation from his own tradition (apart from which he is lost & deprived of that normal adjustment to a coherent fabric & continuous historic stream which is everyone’s right), & do his part toward cutting off further unassimilable immigration.

[…] I certainly would welcome a greater assertiveness & independence among the native stock. I think the (probable) 100,000 Yankees in Providence ought to be able to say what they choose about Italy without making apologies to Federal Hill (our local Nuova Napoli), & that the (perhaps) 1,000,000 Americans in New York ought to be able to discuss Hitler & Palestine & pork chops without glancing fearfully over their shoulders at a horde of fortune-seeking Yiddish newcomers.

I have to hand it to the French-Canadians for putting up a fight for their language & institutions. While naturally I oppose their cultural encroachments outside their own Quebec province—their fights to make all Canada bi-lingual, & all that—I admire them down to the bottom line—as Gen. Murray & Sir Guy Carleton did at the very outset—for their staunch resolution to keep up the fabric of their forefathers. They were on the ground first, & by the time we licked them in 1759-60 their land was normally a French one—a spacious area with a thoroughly adjusted population, cultivated French towns, & a century & a half of local traditions. Clearly, they had every aesthetic right to demand the perpetuation of their own folkways instead of ours—yet how few have shewn any real guts in similar situations!

Where is the spoken French of Louisiana, the spoken Dutch of New-Netherland, or the spoken Spanish of Texas, today? But the Canucks, by god [sic], did have the guts! They kept an unbroken front, used every dignified in Parliament, & finally secured the passage of the Quebec Act of 1774, securing them an inviolate perpetuation of their laws, language, & religion. We respected their rights as the Romans respected the rights of the conquered Greeks–& today Quebec is still the cultivated French city it was in 1750…..just as Athens & Alexandria were still cultivated Greek cities after centuries of Roman rule.

Of course, there are troublesome connotations. When the French overflow into other regions like Ontario & New England they carry their solidarity & unassimilability with them, remaining aloof & cohesive, & refusing to adopt the English speech they have so long fought on their own soil. They cannot understand why the tolerance & protection of French in Quebec Province cannot be duplicated in places only a few hours ride from Quebec—like Vermont or Ontario or Rhode Island.

In this state they have overrun certain cities & villages & made them just as French as anything in Quebec or Normandy. When I first visited Quebec in 1930 I saw nothing I had not known all my life from travels in my own state. Here, as there, one can strike towns dominated by ornate French steeples; containing statues Erice par Societe Jacques-Cartier; sporting shop signs such as Elphege Carou, Epicier, or Hormisdas Bilodeau, Cardonnier; having Maison a vendre, Chambres a louer & Salle a louer window cards; displaying Gallic posters of some such cinema as Sous la Lune du Maroc; adapte de la Nouvelle par Andre Reuze. Les Cinq Gentlemen Mandite at Le Theatre Laurier; & harbouring crowds of black-clad parochial school children led by hooded nuns or shovel-hatted cures & jabbering in the French of their forefathers……all the hereditary things of France undiluted by transplantation & expansion.

These Rhode Island French fight like hell whenever any attempt is made to deracinate them or to substitute English for French in their parochial schools. In other local foreign colonies one sees a gradual Americanisation—a younger generation speaking English, & a falling off of ancestral ways—but nothing of that pervades these French centres. The French newspapers continue to flourish, & every parent strives to keep his children true to La Tradition. It is really ironic to reflect that—despite all the utterly alien blood which has been dumped on New England—the one really persistent foreign challenge should come from none other than our oldest & most historic rival—the Frenchman of the North against whose menace old Cotton Mather thundered his Catonian invectives from Boston pulpits in the 1680’s.”

H.P. Lovecraft, private correspondence

Just a brief comment: where Lovecraft asks where “the spoken French of Louisiana” has gone , it is not gone altogether: there are, or have been, joint efforts with the Cajuns’ cousins back in France to continue the cultural ties with France, promoting the French language and musical traditions. I think it’s a good thing; the Cajuns are also very much part of America.

As for the ‘spoken Spanish of Texas,’ there’s not much danger of that being lost, as the Mexican and other Latino population grows.

2 thoughts on “Lovecraft on immigration, culture

  1. should be written on gold plates. Highly identify with Lovecraft’s wishes, and mostly feel the same, “all an american can do is try to forget the foreigners exist”. Probably a poor defense against madness.

    Liked by 1 person

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