In Lovecraft Remembered Kleiner mentions a New York friend of Lovecraft, Ernest La Touche Hancock (b. Shanghai, 1857 — d. NYC 1926). Lovecraft knew Hancock in New York, and liked him enough to lend him his own books. But then Hancock died suddenly in 1926. The address at which the precious books were kept was not known to the Lovecraft circle, so Kleiner surmises that they were probably never returned to Lovecraft.
Hancock was an accomplished and long-standing commercial light comic versifier, at a time when one could actually make a living in that manner through syndication in newspapers. He once even managed to land a comic poem in the Hog Fancier’s Gazette. He was also sometimes a humorous lyric writer for musical theatre, and an occasional light music critic.
Lovecraft may not have initially known Hancock’s verse from various popular magazines such as Judge’s Library: a monthly magazine of fun, Harper’s, Lippincott’s, and Puck etc. — since Lovecraft didn’t confess to reading such magazines in his youth. But on meeting Hancock he may have recalled the name and poetry from his old copies of Railroad Man’s Magazine (1906-), a Munsey magazine of which he had once been an avid cover-to-cover reader and subscriber. Hancock had also published in Munsey magazines such as The Cavalier, and Argosy All-Story Weekly.
Hancock would have greatly interested Lovecraft because he was uncompromisingly British and Imperialist. He was a member of the St. George Society around 1921. A flavour of their Anglo-American fervour was once given by the New York Times…
ST. GEORGE SOCIETY ANNUAL BANQUET; Three Hundred Guests Gather at Anglo-American Love Feast. Patriotic Songs of Both Nations Sung and Cheers Given for King Edward and President McKinley. (New York Times c.1900)
One wonders if Hancock may have invited Lovecraft along as a guest, circa 1924-5?
Hancock had been born in British Shanghai, China, the son of Herbert Matthews who was an attache to the British Embassy there. Hancock schooled at a public school in England, and was later to be found in British India as the editor of The Rangoon Times 1879-c.1880. Hancock had traveled extensively in Egypt, perhaps shortly after leaving The Rangoon Times, and one wonders if this experience meant that he might have been consulted by Lovecraft on the accuracy of the local colour used in “Under the Pyramids”?
Around that time he wrote a book for boys, A Mesmeric Ordeal (c.1880), now incredibly obscure but seemingly published under the name “E.L.H.” Mermerism means hypnotism, so one wonders if he had once had an interest in the subject?
He then returned to England and lived in Marylebone, central London, during the mid-late Victorian period. There he was editor of The Windsor Gazette 1882—?. So he would have been able to vividly describe to Lovecraft the great London fogs of the 1880s, and probably many details of London high-society and the literary/artistic life of that time.
In 1877 he married a Jersey City socialite’s daughter, Charlotte Youlin, against his family’s wishes. They settled in New York City in 1890 or 1891, thus missing the decadent “Yellow ’90s” period in English literary life. Hancock settled down in NYC as a journalist and newspaper editor, living at West 133th Street, Manhattan. He would have been able to tell Lovecraft many tales of the poets of New York in the 1890s.
Hancock was also something of an early historian of the comic arts around that time, publishing in 1902 a multi-part history “American Caricature and Comic Art”. Those were the days of The Yellow Kid, and Krazy Kat, and the pungent satirical editorial cartoon. Hancock could have no doubt given Lovecraft a decent ten-minute history lesson on the American proto-comics, if he had so wished.
Hancock had moved to the “Bronx Assembly District 34” by 1910, having been divorced with public bitterness in January 1903 (unfaithfulness with unspecified others was given by newspapers as the cause). In the 1909 Who’s Who in New York Hancock was recorded at 134 West, 37th St., New York City, about a mile south of Central Park. He appears to have known Brooklyn well, and perhaps before 1910. He was a key member, from the early years of the twentieth century, of the Brooklyn Press Club and the Blue Pencil Club of New York (not to be confused with the later amateur journalism club of the same name, of Brooklyn). The latter was a sumptuously equipped private gentleman’s club. His catch phrase at the Blue Pencil Club was a roaring call to the Club’s head assistant, George: “More typewriter paper, George!”
By 1916 he was recorded at 170 Nassau St, NYC, a half-mile NW of the Brooklyn Bridge — although that was also the address of New York Sun, so it was probably simply a convenient mailing address. At around this time his two sons were in the silent movie newsreel business in New York City, being key founders of Fox News (1919–1930).
Hancock was certainly living in the Kings/Flatbush section of Brooklyn when Lovecraft knew him, c.1925-6. At that time he was in his 60s, and was probably semi-retired. But the exact address still remains unknown.
Back in the spring of 1911 he had been made the Editor of the new society weekly The Sandpiper, which covered the summer season on “the Rockaway peninsula” (Rockaway, Queens, a ten mile strip of resort coast more popularly known as The Rockaways). The Sandpiper was published from there, at Arverne. One might suspect that he was chosen as Editor because that was where he chose to holiday in the summer. One of his poems runs…
You will find that it will pay
To invest down Arverne way
A Brooklyn almanac of 1912 confirms an Arverne address for Hancock, though does not specify the street and number. Possibly Lovecraft’s lost books were left in one of the summer cottages there, some time in 1926?
This appears to be the only online image of him…
It appears that only the Harvard University scan of Desultory Verse has this front picture (there are two other scans online, from other libraries), but it is currently locked down by Google Books and is unavailable except as a thumbnail.