Kernahan Letters, Part Four

Today we present two more of William Hope Hodgson’s letters to his writer friend, Coulson Kernahan.  The main point of these two letters is the amount of rejections that WHH has received for his writing.  Not only is the number of rejections amazing, so too is the amount of work that it represents.  No one can say that WHH was not trying hard to become a published author.

It appears that WHH never followed through on his idea to have a volume of poems privately published.  The only two collections of his poetry were published by his widow after his death.  Even though WHH may have privately published a few of his “condensed” versions of his stories (in THE GHOST PIRATES, A CHAUNTY, AND ANOTHER STORY [1909], CARNACKI, THE GHOST-FINDER AND A POEM [1910], and CARGUNKA AND POEMS AND ANECDOTES [1913]).  It’s possible that “POEMS” AND “THE DREAM OF X” may qualify but that was not published until 1912.

Likewise, do we have no information on the article “The Public Palate” might have been.  It is possible this could have been an alternate title for another article but there is no evidence of this.  The mention of a story called “The Land of the Voice” could be another title for “The Voice in the Night” but, again, this is purely supposition.  “The Voice in the Night” was first published in 1907 so it would certainly fit time-wise.

These are the types of tantalizing questions that WHH’s letters bring up.  Perhaps someday we will have the answers.

Letter #5

November 14—05

Dear Mr. Kernahan,

Herewith my usual grunt of disapproval of the world in general and Publishers in particular.  You may be interested to know that my new book has already been refused twice.  I have now had 424 REFUSALS of all kinds of stuff!  Exciting, is it not?

I say, I’m beastly sorry to hear about your eyes.  I do trust that the rest and change has done you good.  I’m glad you’ve stopped Reading; for I had always a feeling that the Producers had no business doing the work of the Non-Producers.  You can produce; well then—produce; then let the jackals come in.  So you’ve been Reading for twenty years.  Jove!  I’d be only eight when you started.  Yet, though I want you to do nothing but write, I am the loser thereby; for do I not lose a most kindly Critic?  Well!  Well!

Say, Man Who Knows, what the devil would you do in my place?  “Hope deferred—“  You know the rest.  Well, I’m damned sick!  When a fellow’s been refused Four Hundred and Twenty-Four times, it takes a bit of pluck to keep his chin up, and go ahead.  Though I’ve got the necessary pluck, I think, yet two, three, or four Refusals a week mean no cash, and no cash means no grub, and no grub means an insulted belly.

See, I’ve got an idea that may, if carried out, make the Editors notice me and so persuade ‘em to give me the only help of which I may avail myself.  A friend of mine has a printing outfit, and I might persuade him to print one of my books of verse (I’ve got four), bind it in paper covers, and send it round to various Reviews, etc.  I shouldn’t, of course, make anything, or scarcely anything; though tha never Knaws; yet I should get the advertisement, and, you know, I must do something to make the Editors etc. notice me soon.  Do you think it would do me any good?  You see, some well-known chap might be struck by my verse, and give me a notice that would do the trick, and after that I wouldn’t need to funk the future.  Do you think it worth trying?

I say, Man, I wonder if you have any idea of what I’ve gone through in the last three years.  The deadly and disheartening monotony of an average of nearly three Refusals a week for three years, must be borne to be appreciated.  It’s enough to kill the desire to do good work!

Weel, weel, Mon, I’m no juist deid yet a while; but I’ll sune be if yon damned publishin’ fellers don’t be lettin’ up on me!

Think of it—424 REFUSALS.

S’long, Ye Lucky Divvel,

Nay, but I’ll no gev way ter ther bitterness o’ me ‘art,

Therefore will I say:–

S’longa, White Man—Ye’ve ‘arned yer luck,

Thine in the love of good work

[Signed “William Hope Hodgson”]

Letter #6

November 17th—05

Dear Mr. Kernahan,


425 Refusals

426 Refusals

427 Refusals,

And so they go on practically week in and week out.  If I write to you this time next week, I shall be able to tell you—

427 Refusals

428 Refusals

429 Refusals

430 Refusals

The regularity is so certain, so mechanically certain, that I dare bet on the number.  NOW, do you understand a bittock what I am standing up against?  And the variety of the stuff which is refused!  One of this lot was an artice—“THE PUBLIC PALATE”, refused by the ACADEMY.  Another was a short story—“THE LAND OF THE VOICE”–, refused by the CORNHILL.  Another was sort of a detective story—“THE TERROR OF THE WATER TANK”, refused by LLOYD’S WEEKLY NEWS.  And so it goes on.  Damn it, man, am I to go on forever piling up this monument of despair!  Don’t you feel like weakening on your opinion of my work?  Man, think of it; your opinion against 427 other opinions!  Ain’t you tur’ble feared!  I’ve ceased to write for nearly two whole days, and now sit before my machine, coining new and perilous curses.—May every man who has refused my stuff be boiled in the Devil’s bowels forever and forever, with his big intestine round his neck for a comforter!  I have become, in imagination, a New God.  I plan a new Universe.  I see Editors and Publishers whirled away into space, striking meteors to travel forever in the eternal night.  I see Literary Pirates buried to their neck in pits filled with the MSS from which they have pirated their ideas, and each MS. has teeth—sharp ones!  I see Publishers’ Readers at the mercy of their victims.  It is good!  Hey, Man, it isn’t blood that flows, it’s soul-juice!  I see Critics, and each one is having to explain to a tribunal of Authors, just why he said THAT and THAT!  And they seem to find it a damned difficult thing to do.  And when they cease to explain, which is very soon, an Author comes forward and leads the poor creature out, and after that, outside, I hear a sound of chopping, and I realize that even Critics have human feelings, though, hitherto, I have doubted it!  And the Reviewers are not forgotten, poor divvels!  But they ain’t responsible, and so enough is left of ‘em to go to hell.  And as for the rest of that world, it is one great publishing house, and the clouds are accepted MSS., and the sun that lights that world, is formed of one pure flamed of genius, and it shrills up the devils that swing on the tail of Art and try to draw it down into the mud with their impossible attempts to cling.  Bah——.  For the rest, I am there, and I have drunk the blood of mine enemies, which are a multititude, and so the vision passes, and there comes the reality—a poor wretch rejected of men!

See, Man, I begin to realize what it is urges men to do desperate things.  In one of the late numbers of SKETCHY BITS (ye gods!) a friend of mine called my attention to a story, entitled “THE RAFT”, signed only by the initials, “C. L.”  The thing bears internal evidence that the writer has read at least one of my “weed” stories, and here, in such piffle as this, am I to be robbed of the original element, which is my birthright.  If the story had been merely about the Sargasso Sea, I should have thought nothing, but they have embodied in it at least two of my ideas.  That the story is not evolved from the brain of C. L., I have proof, for the writer betrays ignorance of his subject in every other paragraph.  The story is, of course, different from mine, that is, superficially, but the deeper thing—the conception is mine.  Damn him!  The Sargasso, of my stories, is mine own happy hunting ground.  I have invented it, and have a right to hunt in it.  It is true that there have been other “weed” yarns, but there has been nothing at all before like to the weed world which I have created.  If only I could at least have the chance, in a better man, which this rotter has in his poorer, but, no!  I must be a dumb pen, whilst he, or she,  (wonder who it is) takes all the freshness and newness and sense of originality out of my yarns.  Then, when mine come out, they will say that the stories owe their conceptions to an “unknown writer who wrote up the subject in SKETCHY BITS”.

I say, Man, do you think there is anything in my idea of trying to get out a cheap, paper covered, edition of one of my books of verse, and sending it round to be reviewed?  You see, it might strike some famous chap, and then—well then I might get off with a flying start.  Do you think the idea is any good?

Another thought has occurred to me.  I am an associate of the Society of Authors, and I have been wondering whether they do ever give any help to a young author, I mean help towards recognition.  I’m afraid if I wrote on the subject, it would seem obvious to them that I am but getting my deserts when I am refused.  They will suggest in a delicate way that perhaps I have mistaken my vocation.  And if I tell ‘em I’ve been refused 427 times they’ll think it does but prove the more how I could be better employed at road mending!

Say, Man, I’m ‘fraid I’ve wearied you; but, lord! I don’t know any one else to whom to write: so what the deuce am I to do?

S’long.  The gods knees are bony.

[Signed “William Hope Hodgson”’]


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