Sunday, April 23, 2017

Friend of a Friend: Robert E. Howard and Frank Belknap Long, Part One by Bobby Derie

Frank Belknap Long
Robert E. Howard and Frank Belknap Long, Jr. never met, nor did they correspond directly. Yet they shared an interest in poetry; a profession, in pulp writing; markets in common, especially Weird Tales; a common agent, in Otis Adelbert Kline; a collaboration, in the form of the round-robin “The Challenge From Beyond”; and of course they shared a friend: H. P. Lovecraft.

It was mostly through Lovecraft’s chain of correspondence that the two men came to know something of each other, though Howard had relatively little chance to remark on it during his lifetime, and Long had several productive decades to cast back his memories to the image of the Texan transmitted through Lovecraft’s letters, and Howard’s own fiction. Reflecting on the period, Long wrote:
I’ve never ceased to regret that I missed an opportunity to correspond at length with Howard in the far-off days of my still stubbornly recurrent youth. HPL urged me to do so, many times, and sent me virtually all of “Two-gun Bob’s” early letters to read at my leisure and eventually, of course, return to him. And most remarkable letters they were, some running to forty or fifty single-spaced typewritten pages. [...] But I consoled myself with the thought that Howard had revealed so much about himself in his letters to HPL that I felt as if I had met and talked with him at great length and had become—yes, the most esteemed of friends. (RSF 5)
Robert E. Howard
There is evidence to support the idea that Lovecraft “lent out” several of Howard’s letters to him. Annotations to some of Howard’s letters are attributed to Lovecraft and bear out his lending, e.g. “Return this to Grandpa or incur the direst consequences!” (CL2.489, MF1.511) and “Fra Bernardus to Francis, Lord Belknap. Comrade Belnapovitch to Grandpa—or incur the direst consequences!!” (CL3.18, MF2.535) Long went on to say:
This feeling of close friendship was reinforced by my knowledge that HPL had relayed to him my praise of his stories and that he had read a great many of my stories and poems and had been most generous in his praise of them. [...] He was an extraordinary writer, and even if he had never created Conan, or Solomon Kane, and a half dozen other imperishable mighty men of legendary renown, his letters to HPL alone would have established him as extraordinary. (RSF 5-6)
Lovecraft’s first mention of Long to Howard was in an early letter, dated 20 July 1930, and includes Long’s praise:
Young Frank B. Long (a friend of mine whose Weird Tales work you have probably noticed) & I argue interminably on this point, he being a Smith-adherent. [...] In closing, let me add that my friends Long & Clark Ashton Smith (whose work you must know) have repeatedly praised your tales, Long being especially enthusiastic about "Skull Face". He also likes your verses exceedingly. (MF1.30-31)
Robert E. Howard’s “Skull-Face” was serialized in Weird Tales Oct-Nov-Dec 1929; the Texan had also published several poems in the Unique Magazine, including “Dead Man’s Hate” (Jan 1930), “A Song Out of Midian” (Apr 1930), and “Shadows On the Road” (May 1930). Howard felt obliged to comment on this warm reception to his friend Tevis Clyde Smith:
He says his young friend Frank Belknap Long, and Clark Ashton Smith have often praised my junk. Well, I’m very glad of it, naturally. (CL2.58)

Howard also wrote back to Lovecraft in August 1930:
And I am highly honored to know that Mr. Long and Mr. Clark Ashton Smith have noticed my efforts. Both are writers and poets whose work I very much admire, having carefully preserved all of their poems (as well as all of yours) that have appeared in Weird Tales since I first made my acquaintance with the magazine. (CL2.61, MF1.32)
Weird Tales February 1930
Long’s poems in Weird Tales at that point were “Stallions of the Moon” (Aug 1925), “The Inland Sea” (Mar 1926), “The White People” (Nov 1927), “Night Trees” (Mar 1928), “The Horror on Dagoth Wold” (Feb 1930), and “On Icy Kinarth” (Apr 1930). Of them all, “The Horror on Dagoth Wold” is interesting as a possible inspiration for Dagoth Hill in Howard’s “The Scarlet Citadel” (WT Jan 1933), though Howard’s brief description bears little relation to Long’s poem.

In a letter to Frank Belknap Long dated 3 Nov 1930, Lovecraft notes that Howard has become a permanent correspondent. (SL3.205) The Texan and the New Yorker were both members of “the gang” as far as Lovecraft was concerned, on his circulation lists for manuscripts, photos of pulp writers, etc. From this point on Long is an occasional figure in Lovecraft’s letters to Howard (and, presumably, vice versa), with reference to the Old Gent of Providence’s occasional trips to visit with Long and his family (cf. CL2.69, MF1.183, 290, 303, 2.617, 618, 619, 654, 727), and their mutual ruminations on weird fiction:
Incidentally--Long and I often debate about the real folklore basis of Machen's nightmare witch-cult hints--"Aklo letters", "Voorish domes", "Dols", "Green and Scarlet Ceremonies", etc., etc. I think they are M's own inventions, for I have never heard of them elsewhere; but Long can't get over the idea that they have an actual source in European myth. (MF1.40, cf. 2.956, CL2.72)
In a September 1930 letter to Tevis Clyde Smith, Howard wrote on this:
I think if I get time, I’ll write to Derleth, Smith, Long Jr., Dwyer, Wandrei, Danziger and Arthur Machen. Lovecraft says that he’s having Long send me his “loancopy” of verse—all that’s left of his publishings. He says it’s a pity that Long, like himself, has to grind out his energies in hack work. (CL2.69)
While Howard did form correspondences with August Derleth, Clark Ashton Smith, and Donald Wandrei, if he ever wrote to Long, Bernard Austin Dwyer, Adolphe Danziger de Castro, or Arthur Machen, it has not come to light—and given Long’s statements, it seems like Howard did not follow through with a letter or Long did not follow it up. The “loancopy” appears to have been a copy of Long’s A Man from Genoa and Other Poems (1926, Recluse Press), as Howard wrote to Lovecraft:
I am highly obligated to both yourself and Mr. Long for the loan of A Man from Genoa. I have not gotten the book yet, mail service being rather irregular in this part of the world, but I am looking forward to its perusal with the greatest anticipation. (CL2.73, MF1.42)
I have received Mr. Long’s book since writing the above; I have not yet had time for a proper study of it, but from my first perusal, I can see the poems come up fully to all expectations. (CL2.79, MF1.46)
I have re-read A Man from Genoa many times and each reading has strengthened my first estimate of the author—that he is truly a magnificent poet. (CL2.79, MF1.47)
The book is not listed among those in Howard’s library at his death, so he likely returned it at some point.

Lovecraft & Long in Brooklyn
The “hack work” Lovecraft discussed would have included the revision services that Long and Lovecraft undertook together; one example being Portrait of Ambrose Bierce (1929, The Century Co.) by Adolphe de Castro, begun by Lovecraft and finished by Long, and which prompted Howard to ask:
By the way, before I forget it: Belknap Long, who wrote the introduction to Danziger’s Portrait of Ambrose Bierce—is he Frank Belknap Long Jr.’s father? (CL2.481, MF1.453)
Lovecraft replied:
Long Jr. himself—not his father, who is a dentist—wrote the preface to old de Castro's Bierce book, and also revised the text. I passed up the job because de Castro wouldn't meet my price. At that period Long had a temporary affectation of leaving off his first name. (MF1.462)
Howard and Lovecraft also had occasion to discuss and describe their dreams in their letters, which led to Long’s serial “The Horror From the Hills” (WT Jan-Feb/Mar 1931), which incorporates a dream that Lovecraft had recounted in one of his letters (elsewhere published on its own as “The Very Old Folk”). Howard wrote in January 1931:
The dream you described is most fascinating, particularly the names, etc., and the culmination. I remember reading the incident in Long’s serial, which, by the way, is the best thing appearing in Weird Tales since Mr. Wright published your last story. Long lacks something of your own master touch, but he is a good craftsman and this story is splendid. (CL2.154, MF1.126)
 Lovecraft answered:
As for dreams—you will see more of my Romano-Hispanic specimen as Long's novel advances. he has taken a good deal of my own wording in describing the annihilation of the cohort. (MF1.141)
Howard replied:
I’ve read the concluding chapters of Long’s story—a splendid tale and very well written. The narration of the dream was the high spot of the whole story, and to my mind, exceeded the final climax. The language used in the whole chapter of the dream, is nothing short of pure poetry and I have reread it repeatedly, and with the utmost admiration. The finely worked plot with its shuddery hints and horrific climax in the nightmantled hills is an absolute triumph in Gothic literature—a story within a story. (CL2.180, MF1.159)
Lovecraft’s response is lost, but Howard went on:
Yes, I got quite a kick out of Long’s story, and wrote to Mr. Wright praising the author’s work and urging him to use more of the same sort. I have not seen the unfavourable comment on his work you mentioned—in fact, I’m not familiar with the Editor magazine—but I cannot see how any sincere objection to his style could be made. I like Long’s work, and if anything I can do, can help offset the criticism you referred to, I’ll be more than glad to do it. Yet, though the whole story was excellent, in my honest opinion, your interwoven dream was the high spot. (CL2.207, MF1.168-169)
Lovecraft did, however, expand on his allowing Long to use his dream, explaining about his Commonplace Book:
I have a whole book full of idea-jottings which I could never write up if I lived to be a thousand—indeed, I sometimes lend it to other writers and invite them to borrow from it. That's where, for instance, Long got the idea of his Black Druid. (MF1.144)
Weird Tales July 1930
Long’s “The Black Druid” had run in the July 1930 issue of Weird Tales, and Lovecraft’s Commonplace Book would go on to be the inspiration for many weird tales by August Derleth, Henry S. Whitehead, and others. Lovecraft would go on to note that “The Black Druid” and Howard’s own “The Children of the Night” (WT Apr/May 1931) received “Class II” ratings in Edward J. O’Brien’s The Best Short Stories of 1931 (1931, Dodd Mead). (MF1.462) It was probably “The Children of the Night,” a Mythos tale, which caught the attention of Long and caused Howard to write to Lovecraft in June 1931:
I’m glad to hear that Long and Dwyer have found my work interesting, and I very much appreciate their kind comments. (CL2.210, MF1.171)
Lovecraft also kept Howard regularly apprised of the industry gossip and developments that fell his way, such as reprint anthologies, as with a letter dated 12 Sep 1931:
By the way--did I mention before that both Long and I are to be represented in the coming weird tale anthology "Creeps by Night"—edited by Dashiell Hammett and published by the John Day Co.? Long's tale will be "A Visitor from Egypt", and mine, "The Music of Erich Zann". (MF1.214)
Howard replied:
I am most delighted to hear that Long’s story and your “Erich Zann” are appearing in book-form. Let me know when the book appears; for I most certainly will enrich my book collection with a copy. (CL2.271, MF1.229)
No listing of Howard’s library contains a copy of Creeps By Night (1931, John Day Co.); it may be he was never able to run down a copy, or did and it subsequently became lost—but there is no account in Howard’s letters of reading “The Music of Erich Zann” or “A Visitor from Egypt” either, which suggests he never obtained a copy. Some years later R. H. Barlow sent Howard a copy of Long’s second collection of poetry, The Goblin Tower (1935, Dragon-Fly Press):
Thank you very much for the copy of the Goblin Tower; a neat, attractive job of printing and binding which does credit to Long’s splendid verse. (CL3.394)
As with The Man from Genoa and Creeps by Night, it is unknown what happened to this volume, as it is not on the list of books donated to Howard Payne College after Howard’s Death.

Howard did not just receive positive feedback from Long, but was well able to dish it out on his own, sending his good wishes through Lovecraft (CL3.100. MF2.615), and also writing to Weird Tales, with a letter published in the March 1932 issue:
Congratulations on the appearance and excellence of the current Weird Tales. The make-up and all the illustrations are unusually good, and the contents are of remarkably uniform merit. That is what struck me—the high standard of all the stories in the issue. If I were to express a preference for any one of the tales, I believe I should name Derleth’s “Those Who Seek”—though the stories by Smith, Long, Hurst and Jacobi could scarcely be excelled. (CL2.302)
Long’s contributions were “The Malignant Invader” (WT Jan 1932) and “The Horror in the Hold” (WT Feb 1932), the latter of which Lovecraft later noted earned a “Class II” rating in O’Brien’s The Best Short Stories of 1932 (1932, Dodd Mead). (MF1.462) Howard also wrote Lovecraft in 9 Aug 1932 to praise Long’s poem “When Chaugnar Wakes” (WT Sep 1932), saying simply “Long’s poem in the current Weird Tales is superb.” (CL2.356, MF1.356) Chaugnar Faugn was the main antagonist of Long’s serial “The Horror from the Hills,” and Howard’s admiration for Lovecraft’s long dream-sequence in it once caused him to write:
I remember very well indeed the Roman dream of yours which Long used in his story. As I told you then it was an imaginative and poetic masterpiece. (CL3.407, MF2.915)
And I wish you’d write some historical tales. You could do them finely. That bit of yours in Long’s serial showed how magnificently you could handle a tale with an historical Roman setting. (CL3.130, MF2.651)
Robert E. Howard
Howard also wrote to praise Long’s story “The Black, Dead Thing” (WT Oct 1933). (CL3.137) Lovecraft himself was not always uncritical of Long in his letters to Howard:
I don't care for humour as an ingredient of the weird tale—in fact, I think it is a definitely diluting element. That is my chief objection to Long's work—he so often likes to snicker at nothing in particular. (MF1.429)
Industry scuttlebutt included new potential markets, as Howard wrote to Tevis Clyde Smith in March 1932:
Lovecraft said Smith, Long, Whitehead, Derleth, etc., etc., etc., had sold Swanson a lot of stuff already. (CL2.315)
Carl Swanson was a fan who intended to publish a new pulp called Galaxy, for which he had been soliciting Lovecraft and his circle. Howard decided to write Swanson:
I am interested in your publication, and believe you will make a success of it. I understand you have stories by Lovecraft, Long, Whitehead, Derleth and others. These gentlemen, as you doubtless know, have extensive followings, and if their readers could be reached, I believe they would subscribe to your magazine. (CL2.322)
Unfortunately, Swanson never secured capital, and Galaxy was never published.

Works Cited

AM       Autobiographical Memoir (1985, Necronomicon Press)
CL       The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard (3 vols. + Index & Addenda, Robert E. Howard Foundation Press)
DNS    Howard Phillips Lovecraft: Dreamer on the Night Side (1975, Arkham House)
EL        The Early Long (1975, Doubleday & co.)
ES       Essential Solitude: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and August Derleth (2 vols., 2008, Hippocampus Press)
HPLE   The H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia (2001, Hippocampus Press)
LFLB   Letters to F. Lee Baldwin, Duane W. RImel, and Nils From (2016, Hippocampus Press)
LJFM   Letters to James F. Morton (2011, Hippocampus Press)
MF       A Means to Freedom: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard (2 vols., 2nd ed., Hippocampus Press)
MTS    Mysteries of Time & Spirit: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Donald Wandrei (2002, Night Shade Books)
OAK    OAK Leaves: The Official Journal of Otis Adelbert Kline and his works (1980-1982)
RSF     The Return of Skull-Face (FAX)
SL        Selected Letters of H. P. Lovecraft (5 vols., Arkham House)

1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

Really interesting stuff. It's like literary archeology, digging up the past, putting pieces together. Fun but it is hard work. This is well done.