Lovecraft’s letters are dotted with references to glands and glandular functions…

the business of acquiring contentment is an easy or frivolous matter. [yet] the relentless demands prompted by our glandular and nervous reactions are exceedingly complex, contradictory, and impetuous in their nature … So real and fixed is this state of things, that we may easily see how futile it is to expect anything to produce emotional satisfaction — or to pretend that it does — unless all the genuine laws of emotion and nerve-reaction are recognised and complied with. False or insincere amusement is the sort of activity which does not meet the real psychological demands of the human glandular-nervous system, but merely affects to do so. Real amusement is the sort which is based on a knowledge of real needs, and which therefore hits the spot.” (September 1929, Selected Letters III, p.21)

From where did Lovecraft’s long-standing notions of ‘glands shaping personality’ and indeed a sort of ‘glandular compulsion’, arise? And when? Joshi suggests it was partly from the best-selling book The Glands Regulating Personality (Oct 1921, reprinted 1926, 1928), which he was including in his “Suggestions for a Reading Guide” as late as 1936. (see S.T. Joshi, H.P. Lovecraft: A Life, p.486). Lovecraft’s use of the pineal gland in the story “From Beyond” (1920) does pre-date this book, however, suggesting a pre-existing interest in the topic, perhaps arising from his own maladies. The text of “From Beyond” indicates that Lovecraft had been reading up on the early endocrinology prior to Berman’s book of 1921, to the extent that he was confident enough to write…

I laugh at the shallow endocrinologist, fellow-dupe and fellow-parvenu [meaning, upstart] of the Freudian.” (from “From Beyond”)

This line was inserted later, and is not in the original manuscript. But S.T. Joshi suggests the insertion “may well have occured quite early” (Joshi, Primal Sources, p.137). The feeling inside the field of endocrinology itself might help confirm this supposition of an early date. If one considers the line as being a reflection of the time when…

by 1919 the whole promise of the young discipline of endocrinology seemed a cruel disappointment. The triumph of thyroid replacement therapy in the 1890s was not being replicated. In Boston even Osler’s great protege, Harvey Cushing, was becoming disillusioned […] Cushing and others wondered if the whole idea of endocrinology was flawed. Perhaps the field was little more than a stew of old wives’ tales and folklore about vital juices and essences. Cushing sometimes called it “endo-criminology.”” (Michael Bliss, The Making of Modern Medicine, University of Chicago Press, p.77)

Perhaps this failure was what allowed Berman to overlay endocrinology with his glands-as-personality and racialist theories, and give it a spin that fascinated the public. L.M. Montgomery (Anne of Green Gables etc) probably reflects the typical lay reader’s impression of the best-selling The Glands Regulating Personality, in one of her letters…

One very absorbing book was The Glands Regulating Personality. It is an amazing thing. I can not agree with all the writer’s conclusions and theories. Even those that are very likely correct will take a deal of proving. But the facts concerning the endocrines are marvellous enough, all deductions apart. I feel that we are on the threshold — that is, within one or two hundred years — of a new and — of course — amazing revelation. The world needs it. The older revelations have exhausted their mandate. I believe the next one will come through Science. What form it will take I can not guess.” (November 1924)

A book review in The Journal of Abnormal Psychology and Social Psychology (Jul-Sep 1922) put Montgomery’s reservations less delicately…

[the book is] a statement of the extreme position held by those who have been dazzled by the possibility of a glandular explanation for all the forces underlying behavior. […] The reader is left unsatisfied as to proof for the marvellous alleged properties of “the interlocking directorate of glands.”

Yet Berman’s ideas were said to have been taken up by Charles Stockard in his The Physical Basis of Personality (1931), a respected survey of the then-known wider facts on heredity. This latter book was re-published by Penguin in 1952, suggesting that at least some of Berman’s ideas were conveyed to a post-war audience.

Some of Berman’s ideas do appear to have been ahead of their time, anticipating the discoveries about how the nervous system interacts with the endocrine glands, and the need for thyroid boosting medicines. Others were very much of their time, which is perhaps why his book had no entry in The History of Clinical Endocrinology: A Comprehensive Account (1993). ‘The White Man’s Burden’, Berman thought, was all down to the lack of certain vital secretions among the lesser races, since anatomists had by then demonstrated a variety of marked physical glandular difference among the races. Berman’s racialist slant, whether conscious or unconscious, thus meant he was well-reviewed by the likes of Ezra Pound in The New Age, and admired by Wyndham Lewis, T.S. Eliot (Berman examined Eliot’s sickly wife as a potential patient) and D.H. Lawrence among others.

But Berman also looked forward to what he called “the chemistry of the soul” — future scientific techniques of glandular manipulation and regulation that would repair the glands of the ‘impaired’ lesser races, and so in time make them less of a burden on humanity. In this he was in step with the prevailing progressive liberal line that the ‘capacity’ of the masses needed to be improved through reforms — be it in diet and healthcare, housing, education, etc — to make them fit for the modern world. Interestingly Lovecraft anticipated a similar idea to Berman, with his 1920 story “From Beyond”, and its harmonic vibrating machine built to boost the pineal gland. His focus, however, was on raising the abilities of males like himself to a higher level of consciousness, and to warn about the dangers to such men of absorbing too much knowledge from ‘outside’. Incidentally long after Lovecraft’s own day, in the late 1950s, the pineal gland was indeed discovered to be an endocrine gland.

By 1934 there is evidence that Lovecraft was still following developments in this medical field, perhaps out of an interest in finding a straightforward cure for his own strange cluster of maladies. By then he had become sanguine about the ultimate prospects for Berman’s “chemistry of the soul”, which in the previous decade some had taken in the direction of quack rejuvenation therapies (monkey-gland supplements and suchlike)…

We can discover & apply a few biological principles — but the limit of effectiveness is soon reached. For example — despite all the advances in endocrinology & all the experiments in glandular rejuvenation, there is no such thing as a permanent or well-balanced staving-off of senescence [old age] & dissolution.” (Selected Letters V, p.75)

Berman also thought, as did Lovecraft, that the modern brain is haunted by patterns of thought and behaviour that are relics of our past evolutionary forms…

The memories of the cold lone fish and the hot predatory carnivore who were our begetters, may haunt us [our brains and behaviours] till the end of time”

Lovecraft later explores these ideas of evolutionary heredity in the “The Rats in the Walls” (1923), and identifies this as a key psychological hook for horror fiction in his essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature”…

all the conditions of savage dawn-life so strongly conduced toward a feeling of the supernatural, that we need not wonder at the thoroughness with which man’s very hereditary essence has become saturated with religion and superstition. That saturation must, as a matter of plain scientific fact, be regarded as virtually permanent so far as the subconscious mind and inner instincts are concerned […] there is an actual physiological fixation of the old instincts in our nervous tissue, which would make them obscurely operative even were the conscious mind to be purged of all sources of wonder.” (from “Supernatural Horror in Literature”)

This belief in residual primitive urges find an echo Lovecraft’s understanding of the erotic urges, which to him seem to have been equally horrifying when given active expression. Could Lovecraft’s 1921 reading of Berman have been a part of his rethinking of his outspoken censoriousness of the erotic, which occurred in April 1921…

I am coming to be convinced that the erotic instinct is in the majority of mankind far stronger than I could ever imagine without wide reading & observation; that it relentlessly clutches the average person — even of the thinking classes — to a degree which makes its overthrow by higher interests impossible. Probably recommendation of dismissing it by displacement by purely imaginative interests is an absurdity based on ignorance of its extent & intensity … The only remedy would seem to lie in the gradual evolution of society out of the puritan phase, and the sanctioning of some looser morality or hetairism” [Ancient Greek: meaning ‘permitted prostitution via gift-giving’] [he then announces his revocation his previous “anti-erotic” stance] (from a letter of 23rd April 1921, to Kleiner).

But Berman’s The Glands Regulating Personality was not published until October 1921. So his reading of it must have been the result of some earlier thinking on the bodily secretions and urges — probably in the late winter and early spring of 1921. Perhaps this was linked to his psychological release from the cloying grip of his mother, who had been hospitalised in March 1919. Lovecraft reported that his health improved “vastly in 1920-21”, and most Lovecraftian scholars would attribute this to the removal of her daily influence. One even wonders if his April 1921 change of heart on expressions of eroticism might have been a result of his reading, and even revising, manuals on sex for David Bush — for whom he had been ghosting since 1917. One might even see his “The Quest of Iranon” (written late Feb 1921) and “The Outsider” (written Spring-Summer 1921) as a part of his struggle to comprehend the (im)possibilities of adding such a new dimension to his human contact.

Linkages between glands and personalities were still part of his thinking in the mid 1930s, as evidenced by the inclusion of Berman in his 1936 “Suggestions for a Reading Guide”. So it’s interesting to note that his late boy protege Kenneth Sterling went on to take up a career as an endocrinology specialist. One then has to wonder what effect Lovecraft’s discussion of glandular theories might have had on the lad, as they walked about Providence together, at the impressionable point at which Sterling lost his “unchanged childish treble [voice]” and went through puberty.

So far as I can see Lovecraft hardly makes any direct use of the glandular and endocrine theories in his fiction — other than in “From Beyond”, which was anyway not published until June 1934 — although of course monstrous bodily secretions and “sticky clammy masses” of various types abound in his work. It is a common notion that the physical nature of Lovecraft’s horror was largely influenced by his phobia about gelatinous sea-creatures. But the human glandular influence provides an interesting counterpoint to such notions.

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