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James T. Pyke (1858-1935)

James Tobey Pyke was at various times a shoe salesman, a Congregational minister, a poet, a mentor to “weird fiction” author H.P. Lovecraft, and a man living on his “own income.”

He was born in Providence in 1858, the second child of Samuel Pyke and Eleanor “Ella” Fish. His father was a British­born marble cutter, and his mother was a Rhode Island native. His sister Jennie was two years older.

James and Eleanor were living at 237 Butler Avenue by 1904, and in that year H.P. Lovecraft and his mother had moved in next door. (The Lovecrafts lived on Angell Street, just around the corner but on the same lot.) Lovecraft was 14 at the time, and admired the older man. Pyke, in turn, is said to have advised Lovecraft on his poetry. They were both sickly and lonely, and were undoubtedly drawn to each other. James was still working at a shoe store in 1906, but must have retired shortly thereafter (to what Lovecraft described as “a quiet life of letters”).

Lovecraft wrote a brief essay entitled “Introducing Mr. James Pyke” in his self­published journal, The Conservative, in 1916. In it he lauds Pyke’s poetic skills, and labels him a genius. “His poems . . . are infinitely moving and beautiful. Nature, viewed through the medium of his sonnets, takes on new and lovelier aspects.” He also says that Pyke is “cultivating the Muses in his cottage at Riverside, overlooking the sparkling reaches of Narragansett Bay.”

James Pyke died in 1935 at the age of 77, after a short illness.

Catherine Beyer Hurst, MBA, Writer and Community Historian