“Descendant, The“


“Descendant, The“
   (title supplied by R.H.Barlow)
   Fragmentary story (1,500 words); probably written in early 1927. First published in Leaves (1938); first collected in Marginalia; corrected text in D.
   Lord Northam is thought “harmlessly mad” by the people who know him; he lives with a cat in Gray’s Inn, London, and “all he seeks from life is not to think.” A man of great learning, Northam has been scarred by some harrowing incident in the past. One day a young man named Williams brings Lord Northam a copy of the Necronomicon,at the mere sight of which Northam faints. He then tells Williams the story of his life: he is a member of a family that extends very far back in history, perhaps to one Cnaeus Gabinius Capito, a military tribune in Roman Britain who had supposedly come upon “strange folk …[who] made the Elder Sign in the dark.” Northam himself, in his youth, had sought to penetrate the mysteries of Satanism and occultism, filled with “the tantalising faith that somewhere an easy gate existed, which if one found would admit him freely to those outer deeps whose echoes rattled so dimly at the back of his memory.” (At this point the fragment ends.) It is difficult to ascertain HPL’s plans for this item. In April 1927 he speaks of “making a very careful study of London…in order to get background for tales involving richer antiquities than America can furnish” (HPL to August Derleth, [April 15, 1927]; ms., SHSW), leading one to believe that the fragment was written around this time (not in 1926, as commonly assumed). Some external features of Lord Northam bring Arthur Machen and Lord Dunsany to mind, although in a superficial way. Northam lives at Gray’s Inn, where Machen lived for many years; and Northam is the “nineteenth Baron of a line whose beginnings went uncomfortably far back into the past,” just as Dunsany was the eighteenth Baron in a line founded in the twelfth century. Northam, like Randolph Carter in “The Silver Key,” undertakes a wide-ranging sampling of various religious and aesthetic ideals, allowing us perhaps to believe that the fragment was written after “The Silver Key.”
   See S.T. Joshi, “On ‘The Descendant,’” Crypt No. 53 (Candlemas 1988): 10–11.

An H.P.Lovecraft encyclopedia. .

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