[The following is a post that I wrote in January 2016 to be published at a later date, but based on a post today by John Cox titled, The Cancer of Superstition is FOUND!, which announced that Potter & Potter Auctions will be auctioning off a 31 page unpublished work in progress for The Cancer of Superstition, I thought I would share it now:]
In 1926, the magician Harry Houdini hired Lovecraft and his friend C.M. Eddy, Jr. to write an entire book combating superstition. This work – perhaps analogous to Houdini’s previous work, A Magician among the Spirits (1924), a debunking of spiritualism – was to be called The Cancer of Superstition. Houdini had earlier asked Lovecraft to write a rush article on Astrology, for which he paid $75.
Below is the first part of a letter dated Oct 26, 1926 from Lovecraft to his rumored best friend Frank Belknap Long:
Young Man: –
These occasional outings are, I assure you, most amply earn’d; for I am just now coping with the most hectick reincarnation of David V. Bushism imaginable. My neo-Bush is our slippery friend Houdini, who was here early in the month, and rushed me to hell preparing an anti-astrological article to be finished before his departure – a matter of five days; for which I received the not wholly despicable renumeration of seventy-five actual dollars. He says he has a devilish lot more for me to do, and has been trying to get me to meet him in Detroit at his own expense to talk things over – but I have maintained that I can do business best within sight of my native town’s Georgian steeples. Just now I note in the paper that Houdini has had a breakdown – which must have occurred just after the last letter he sent me – so I fancy there will be a lull in negotiations. I’ll send him a line of sympathy to jolly him along. Poor Eddy, who with my aid has been doing some revision for the nimble wizard, is quite worried about his unexpected intervention of the gods.
No historical record exists at this time to suggest that Lovecraft did indeed extend those best wishes to Houdini to “jolly him along”. If he did send the line of sympathy, it didn’t work, for five days after the letter was written, Harry Houdini would pass away.
Houdini’s untimely death on October 31, 1926 derailed the plans for the Cancer of Superstition book, as his widow Bess did not wish to pursue the project. That said, parts do survive. In 1966, Lovecraft’s detailed synopsis for “The Cancer of Superstition” and “The Genesis of Superstition” part written by Eddy was first published.
It was originally thought that the astrology article did not survive, but in April 2009, HP Lovecraft’s unpublished astrology essay for Harry Houdini surfaced and sold on eBay [item 120404416969] for more than a solid five grand.
The guy who won the item is a Lovecraft guru in Utah and is on every Lovecraft panel at various conventions. He bought it because he recognized the historical significance. Interestingly, this article was unknown for so long because magic collectors were passing it around because it had Houdini’s signature on it. There was talk that the winner might sell it to Brown University Lovecraft collection.
However, on August 16th, 2013, the first of the astrology hand-written pages started to be sold on eBay [item 370716061710]. The listing implied that each page would be offered for sale except for the last page signed by Harry Houdini, which would be kept by the seller.
Does anyone have any updates on the whereabouts of these pages?
It would be nice if copies of these pages on Astrology were published.
- Collected Essays Volume 3: Science – Edited by S.T. Joshi
- Selected Letters II – H. P. Lovecraft