- Short story (4,310 words); written on August 11, 1925. First published in WT (September 1926); first collected in O;corrected text in D;annotated version in CCThe narrator ruefully announces: “My coming to New York had been a mistake….” He had hoped to find literary inspiration in the “teeming labyrinths“ of the city, but instead finds only “a sense of horror and oppression which threatened to master, paralyse, and annihilate me.” The narrator confesses that the gleaming towers of New York had captivated him at first, but later he came to realize that “this city of stone and stridor is not a sentient perpetuation of Old New York as London is of Old London and Paris of Old Paris, but that it is in fact quite dead, its sprawling body imperfectly embalmed and infested with queer animate things which have nothing to do with it as it was in life.” He seeks out Greenwich Village as the one area in the city where antiquity can still be found; it is here, at 2:00 one August morning, that he meets “the man.” This person has an archaic manner of speaking and is wearing similarly archaic attire, and the narrator takes him for a harmless eccentric; but the latter immediately senses a fellow antiquarian. The man leads him on a circuitous tour of old alleys and courtyards, finally coming to “the ivy-clad wall of a private estate,” where the man lives. In the manor house the man begins to relate an account of his “ancestor,” who practiced some sort of sorcery, in part from knowledge gained from the Indians in the area; later he conveniently killed them with bad rum, so that he alone now had the secret information he had extracted from them. What is the nature of this knowledge? The man leads the narrator to a window and, parting the curtains, reveals an idyllic rural landscape—it can only be the Greenwich of the eighteenth century, brought magically before his eyes. The narrator, stunned, asks harriedly, “Can you—dare you—go far?” In scorn the man parts the curtains again and this time shows him an apocalyptic sight of the future (“I saw the heavens verminous with strange flying things, and beneath them a hellish black city of giant stone terraces with impious pyramids flung savagely to the moon, and devil-lights burning from unnumbered windows”). The narrator screams in horror, inadvertently summoning the spirits of the murdered Indians, who manifest themselves in the form of a black slime, burst in on the pair, and make off with the archaic man (who is himself the “ancestor”), while the narrator falls through successive floors of the building and then crawls out to Perry Street. Later we learn that the narrator has now returned to his native New England.The story was written in the course of an all-night tour of the antiquities of the New York metropolitan area. By 7 A.M. on August 11, HPL had reached Elizabeth, N.J., by ferry. There he purchased a 10? composition book at a shop, went to Scott Park, and wrote the story. The actual location of the story is Greenwich Village; specifically, a courtyard off Perry Street that HPL had explored the previous August in response to an article on it (in a regular column, “Little Sketches about Town”) in the New York Evening Post(August 29, 1924). His description of the courtyard is quite accurate. Moreover, HPL probably knew that the area had been heavily settled by Indians (they had named it Sapohanican) and that a sumptuous mansion was built in the block bounded by Perry, Charles, Bleecker, and West Fourth Streets sometime between 1726 and 1744, being the residence of a succession of wealthy citizens until it was razed in 1865. This is clearly the manor house of the archaic gentleman. The vision of past and future New York as seen in the window of the house may have been derived from Lord Dunsany’s picaresque novel The Chronicles of Rodriguez (1922), in which Rodriguez and a companion make an arduous climb of a mountain to the house of a wizard, who in alternate windows unveils vistas of wars past and to come.See S.T.Joshi, “Lovecraft and Dunsany’s Chronicles of Rodriguez,” Crypt No. 82 (Hallowmas 1992): 3–6; Kenneth W.Faig, Jr., “Lovecraft’s ‘He,’” LS No. 37 (Fall 1997): 17–25.
An H.P.Lovecraft encyclopedia. S.T. Joshi, David E. Schultz.