Kernahan Letters, Part Two


Today we present the next two letters which William Hope Hodgson sent to his writing friend, Coulson Kernahan.  These are shorter than the first letter and yet they still have much of interest.  In here, we learn that WHH began writing professionally in August of 1902.  This is likely to be soon after the closing of his “School of Physical Culture” in Blackburn.  By the time of these letters, he had been facing rough times with few acceptances.

In 1903, the only published work from Hodgson were three articles on physical culture.  1904 was not much better with only two items published: the story “The Goddess of Death” and another physical culture article.    So when WHH complains about the lack of acceptances, he is not being dramatic.

The story that WHH mentions as having been accepted by The Grand Magazine in Letter #3 was “A Tropical Horror” which has the distinction of being his first published sea-horror story.  It appears that WHH decided not to allow The Westminster Review to publish his article gratis as we there are no items listed as appearing in that publication.  WHH did publish several articles in another magazine called The Westminster Gazette in 1914 that dealt with WWI.

The poem that WHH refers to in Letter #2 and names in Letter #3 is “Little Garments” which appeared only during WHH’s lifetime in a copyright volume which he published in 1912 (“POEMS” AND “THE DREAM OF X”).  It would not appear again until 2005’s THE LOST POETRY OF WILLIAM HOPE HODGSON (edited by Jane Frank).  It is a minor and very sentimental poem.

As always, one of the most important aspects of these letters is how WHH himself comes through.  Even in these few letters, we can see that WHH talked very much in the same style in which he wrote.  Through these letters, we get to enjoy a look at WHH’s personality which, sadly, we still know little about.

Letter #2

April 28th—05

Look here, Mr. Kernahan,

Are you a father?  If you are, show this piece of verse to Mrs. Kernahan.  She may be able to supply the reason why the confounded fools of editors (they ain’t wuth a capital) won’t look at it.

I think my stuff must be bewitched.  I continue to have my two, three or four refusals weekly, and never an acceptance.  It is beginning to get on my nerves.  I try all sorts of papers and magazines with all sorts of ‘stuff’; but “they ain’t havin’ any”.

It’ll be three years in August since I commenced, and where am I?

There.  I’ve blown off steam.  Better to do that ‘n bust ther biler—eh?  Don’t bother to answer this; for I know you must be frightfully busy.  I shan’t apologise for writing thus.  I won’t have trouble you very terribly to run your eye through this, and there’s always the back of the fire—puff!  I suppose I ought to; but I feel too bad tempered.

This letter is something like a pistol shot—flash, bang!  Hard luck on the billet.

S’long, and again S’long

[Signed William Hope Hodgson]

Letter #3

May 5th—05

Dear Mr. Kernahan,

Please do not think that, (because you have on three occasions allowed your kindly nature to get the better of your judgement, and written me three epistles born of the milk of human kindness) I am going to bombard you forever with queries, regrets, growls, and all the other inanities—fine word that—which the young writer is prone to.

However, in this case—as in the last—I have thrown decency to the winds (hope it’ll make ‘em more modest), and decided to worry you in a matter which is worrying me.  I have to-day received a letter from the “WESTMINSTER” Review, telling me that they are willing to publish an article of mine—on the sea—if I will rise above the gross consideration of ‘remuneration’.  Now, would you advise me to do so?  Ought I, as a young, unknown writer, to be delighted of the chance of publicity in one of the big Reviews?—it is a big Review, is it not?— or ought I to ask ‘em what the devil I’m to fill my belly with if I am to work for nothing.  Would it be a better spec for me to let them have it for nothing, than to take a few guineas from a Magazine lower down in the scale of literary grandeur?  Am I lucid?

And now, to another matter, Mr. Kernahan, I am in a state of nervous collapse.  THE GRAND MAGAZINE—ever heard of it?—has justified its name and its claim to be the “most original magazine in the world”, by accepting one of my short stories.  I can assure you it is a most original action, and makes me inclined to believe that their claim is true.  Do you think the Editor drinks—bless him?  If he does, may he never be un-drunk.  A-m-e-n!  I trust that you are sympathizing with me.  I find it is rather an expensive thing having acceptances.  Took six pennoth of whiskey to pull me round.  I do hope they’ll be careful.

Well, and has Mrs. Kernahan discovered the reason why editors—with a little ‘e’—grow ‘regretful’ over stuff as ‘Little Garments’?  I cannot conceive of a Mother not realizing the true ring of the thing!

Damn the editor of the “GRAND”!  I don’t know what I shall do if he starts accepting my stories.  I’ve grown so used to sending ‘em outh, that I shall be lost if he insists on keeping the critters.

Well, man who knows,

S’long

I’m praying that your heart and the clock will permit you to answer this, e’en though it be the last time we twain e’er cross pens.

I beg no forgiveness.  I plead the weakness of the unnerved.

I am,

One who hath received a shock,

Thine,

[Signed William Hope Hodgson]

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