Kernahan Letters, Part Five


Today we present the last of the letters written by William Hope Hodgson to his writer friend, Coulson Kernahan.  Although not as packed with information as the previous letters, they still present a good view of WHH’s character and personality.

In these letters, we see WHH still concerned over his streak of “refusals” despite seeing some success with the publication of “The Valley of Lost Children” in CORNHILL MAGAZINE (February, 1906).  WHH also briefly discusses his interest in physical culture as well as giving some specifics as to how strong he ‘used’ to be!  Apparently he had suffered a bad case of the flu the year previously and also blames writing for making him ‘weaker’.

Due to the space of time between Letter #8 and #9 (March 2 to November 2), it is very likely that we are missing letters.  I’d like to say that they might reappear someday but history is not in our favor.  I hope that everyone has enjoyed reading these letters and getting to know a little bit about the man behind the stories!

Letter #7

December 1st—05

Dear Mr. Kernahan,

Every morning for a fortnight have I pondered weak and weary

O’er letters still unanswered that are scattered round your floor.

While I’ve pondered, nearly napping, sometimes there has come a tapping,

As of someone gently rapping, rapping on my outer door;

“’Tis the Postman,” I have muttered, “dropping MSS through the door—–

                Only that and nothing more.”

Then my soul has leapt up stronger, and I’ve stayed in bed no longer,

For a glad idea has whispered that the Post is at the door.

And that all that gentle tapping which has stirred me in my napping

Is the postman dropping billet doux from C.K. on the floor.

And at the thought (loud cheering) have I galloped to the door——-

“REFUSALS”—-nothing more.

See, Man, I know you’re kept horribly busy, but the Monument of Despair is rising higher week by week, and I would check the building of it before it has blotted out every bullock of the Sky of Hope.  Do you think that my idea of printing one volume of my verse, and sending it round to a lot of the big papers and critics (I’m afraid you would be included) would be likely to attract the notice of one of ‘em, and in such case do you think that the lift he could give me would be sufficiently powerful enough to yanke me out of this damned mud of “refusals”?  You see, if I could but gain some little literary reputation, then would the Editors be less afraid of my stuff, and I might be able to sell some of my stories, and so be saved from everlasting damnation in this accursed pit of disappointment.

As I mentioned in my two last letters, the book could be produced only in a cheap fashion—matter o’ funds, ye see–: but that is no reason why it should be anything but tasteful.  I would have it bound quite simply in brown paper.  It’s the stuff inside upon which I am reckoning!!!  If it were put in hand now, I’m afraid it would be too late for Christmas.  I should like to have had it out for then . . . People buy verse books for presents, and that might have helped to cover the cost of production; but it isn’t on the sale that I’m depending, it’s on its proving an advertisement for me.  What thenk ye?

S’long, O Mountaineer.  I am yet in the valley!

Thine,

[Signed “William Hope Hodgson”’]

Letter #8

March 2nd—06

Dear Mr. Kernahan,

How funny!  And so you also are interested in strength, as I can tell from that one little line in your letter regarding your height and muscularity.

My dear Sir, let us shake hands on this further matter; for strength has been, and is still—spite of indifferent health–, a thing of tremendous interest to me.

From your remark, I gather that the gods have given you a length of seventy two inches, while they have given this child something under sixty six.  With such length I refused to be content, so make it up in breadth and muscularity.

Sometime, if you would really care to have one, I must send you a decent photograph of myself, showing development.  In the meanwhile I have snipped you out a couple of weeny ones from some old postcards of mine.  They may interest you.

Of course, I’m nothing like as strong as I used to be before the flue bowled me over last year, and left my heart a wee bitte weak.  Also I think that writing has taken off a lot of muscle—confound it!  But I suppose one mustn’t be greedy.

Before I was ill, I could take two fifty-six pound weights in one hand, and put them at arm’s length over my head, and, in fact, lift a good deal more than that with more convenient weights.  Now, I very much doubt if I could lift more than eighty of ninety pounds over my head with one hand.  Another thing, I could lift considerable more than a quarter of a ton off the ground, using my bare hands— no straps around hand and wrist.  And that takes a bit of doing.  And now— well, if I go easy, I daresay I shall come back to my old form in time—let but the editors smile on me a bit.

And you— what form of sport most appeals to you?  With your length you will be a fine reach in cricket . . . It’s useful too, in boxing, that is if your arms match the rest of you—eh?  And you ought to be able to cover ground at a tremendous rate.  Tell me when you write.

Dear me, I’m almost to the end of my paper.  Yes, I’m hoping you will prove right about the editors.  Ever so many thanks for your kindly congratulations re story in “Cornhill”, and for all the other nice things you have been saying to people.  I’m tremendously pleased to hear that your health is A.1. at Lloyd’s.  Health’s a great thing.  Weel, weel, the gods be with you.

And give you all good things,

Thine,

[Signed “William Hope Hodgson”’]

Letter #9

November 2nd—06

Friday

Mr Dear Mr Kernahan,

Thanks muchly for your kind little note.  I shall be in Town from the 7th to the 14th, and a card addressed to 516, King’s Road, Chelsea, S.W., will find me during that period.  If your lecturing engagements took you up to Town, then it might be possible (did you fire a preliminary card at me) for me to meet you somewhere and look upon my “humble” (devilishly so!) “admirer”.  Eh! But it bites! It bites!

This is a strange world.  The gods wobble their hands, and we do funny tricks.  I’m on the lecturing war-path.  I’ve a splendid subject, and some ripping slides—absolutely original—with which to back it up.  I wonder whether I shall be able to “deliver” the blessed thing.  I shall have to do my best, as already I’m booked, and the guineas are very blessed things also.  I suppose I ought to have an agent; but don’t know where to go for one; at least, I mean I’m “kinder shy like”.  Know the feeling?  Not you!  And yet, it is very possible.  “Narves, Me B’y,” as the Oirishman said.

The gods keep guard over this “fretful midge”.

[Signed “William Hope Hodgson”’]

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