Marlin, Texas in Falls County, lies about 160 miles from Cross Plains; the town hosted the Torbett Sanitorium, run by Dr. Frank M. Torbett, who lived there with his family. The small health resort catered to those who suffered tuberculosis, and over the years Robert E. Howard and his family would make the long journey by car several times so that his mother, Hester Jane Ervin Howard, could receive treatment, in stays that sometimes lasted for weeks. The earliest surviving letter from Robert in 1923 is addressed from Marlin (CL 1.3), and there were visits in 1931 (CL 2.195), 1935 (CL 3.388-391, 421) and early 1936 (CL 3.415, 425, 426).
|Back cover ad: WT's story|
by Torbett & Howard
While in Marlin I had many enjoyable conversations with the son of the man who gave me the Coryell County history, a talented young man, with remarkable artistic ability. He is not only a portrait-painter of great ability but has considerable literary talent. He is a great admirer of your work, by the way. I think he could have been a success either as a painter or a writer, but, while attending an art school in California, he became interested in the occult, and now devotes practically all his time to this study. He is sincere in his devotion to it, but I regret his interest in it, since it has caused him to neglect his undoubted talents. I can not have any sympathy for this occult business. However, if that’s what he wants to do and enjoys doing, then I’m not one to criticize. (MF 2.907, CL 3.391)
Thurston would, like his mother, write letters to the editors of the pulp magazines to promote Bob’s work:
At last, in the June issue of STRANGE TALES, I found what I’ve been looking for in those pages for a long time—a story by Robert E. Howard. I enjoyed his People of the Dark very much.
I have been following the work of this able writer for several years, and hope to see more of his work in the Clayton publications in the future. In my opinion he is one of the best writers of this type of fiction we have today.
I might also add that I like all the stories in STRANGE TALES. They are all good. My only regret is that it is not a monthly publication.—F. T. Torbett, Box 265, Marlin, TX
(Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror Jan 1933)
T. Torbett, of Marlin, Texas, writes: "I've just read with appreciation the February issue of WT. As far as I am concerned, a story each month by C. L. Moore and Robert E. Howard would constitute a complete issue. Howard's Hour of the Dragon is superb and so was Moore's Yvala. Moore's The Dark Land in the January number I also found to be of excellent literary quality and I liked the author's accompanying illustration. I might also add that I like Seabury Quinn, Clark Ashton Smith, Paul Ernst, Frank Owen and most all authors who contribute to WT. (Weird Tales Apr 1936)
F. T. Torbett writes from Marlin, Texas: "I want to add my voice to those who are requesting reprints of Robert E. Howard's early stories. I am asking this solely because of the merit of Howard's stories and not because he was for some years one of the best friends I ever had. His was a powerful personality, of a type that can never be forgotten. I never knew a man more devoted to home and family, or more loyal to his friends, or more honest and upright. I miss his companionship more than I can say. I am sure that the future of WEIRD TALES will be a bright one, for the quality of the stories is steadily improving."
(Weird Tales May 1938)
(Weird Tales May 1938)
“A Thunder of Trumpets” by Robert E. Howard and Thurston Torbett appeared in the September 1938 issue of Weird Tales—the advertisement in the preceding issue declared:
Robert E. Howard’s part in the story is the last fiction that flowed from his inspired pen before his untimely death. (Weird Tales Aug 1938)
Well, probably not; or at least the collaboration isn’t listed as one of Robert’s final stories in his father’s letters to literary agent Otis Adelbert Kline. (IMH 86) The story is not one of Robert's better works, but contains enough touches to show that he had a strong hand in it, and Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright must have known he wasn’t getting much more weird fiction out of the deceased Texas; Kline’s ledger states “Sold direct by Thurston for $70.00”—so presumably it was Thurston that was sitting on the manuscript, not Kline or Dr. Howard. (IMH 372) There is no date on the surviving draft typescript (published in The Robert E. Howard Foundation Newsletter, Winter 2013-14), but it would not be unreasonable for Torbett and Howard to have collaborated during Howard and his mother’s final stay at Marlin in early 1936. The response from the fans was positive:
Dale H. Exum writes from Nimrod, Texas: "Man! Did Howard and Torbett do something worth while! I'll say they did! A Thunder of Trumpets was the best of the whole issue and among the best I ever read, it was so vivid and real, yet weird. Howard's forceful style reminds me very much of Jack London; Bob and Jack were warriors of a like metal. (Weird Tales Dec 1938)
Ralph Rayburn Phillips writes from Portland, Oregon: "Some of the stories in WEIRD TALES are of such high quality that it is difficult to find words expressive enough when one wishes to comment. A Thunder of Trumpets by Robert E. Howard and Frank Thurston Torbett is superb. It is far more than a mere story, as every student of the Wisdom of the East knows; one must be a student to appreciate it fully. I desire to congratulate these brilliant writers who have given us such a story.[“] (Weird Tales May 1939)
|Marlin, TX (downtown) circa 1930s|
Franklin Lee Baldwin had been reading pulps since the early 1920s, and became a correspondent with H. P. Lovecraft in 1931. Along with Duane W. Rimel, who lived in the same small town of Asotin, the Baldwin fell into fandom with a gusto, and his main credits for the period are letters and a brief series called “Within the Circle” in The Fantasy Fan, relaying news and gossip about various fantasy pulp writers—much of it borrowed from Lovecraft’s letters. For example, Lovecraft wrote to Baldwin in a letter dated 27 Jul 1934:
Robert E. Howard recently explored the gigantic Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, & found this glimpse of the nether abyss of utterly stupendous grandeur & nightmare fascination. (LFLB 93)
Baldwin’s “Within the Circle” for the October 1934 The Fantasy Fan:
[...] Robert E. Howard spent some time exploring the gigantic Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. Perhaps we’ll be getting some tales along that line, after a while. (LFLB 359)
Likewise, Lovecraft wrote to Baldwin on 31 Jan 1934:
Robert E. Howard’s occupation is fiction-writing, though he helps his father (a physician) attend to a small farm on the outskirts of Cross Plains, Texas. He is 27 years old, & has led a somewhat roving & adventurous life. Is an amateur athlete & boxer. Fond of fighting, & believes barbarism to be preferable to civilisation. Is a profound historic student, & an authority on the folklore & traditions of the Southwest. (LFLB 32)
Baldwin’s “Within the Circle” for The Fantasy Fan Nov 1934 is almost verbatim:
Robert E. Howard’s occupation is fiction-writing, though he helps his father (a physician) attend to a small farm on the outskirts of Cross Plains, Texas. He is 27 years old and has led a somewhat roving and adventurous life. He is an amateur athlete and boxer; is very fond of fighting and believes barbarism to be preferable to civilization. He is a profound historic student, and an authority on the folklore and tradition of the Southwest. (LFLB 360)
Baldwin (LGLB 30, 42, 48, 56, 88, 90, 91, 93, 97-98, 108, 110, 114, 127-128, 131, 173). Lovecraft for his part recommended Baldwin write to Howard:
|H.P. Lovecraft in Brooklyn|
Which reminds me—Robert E. Howard (Lock Box 313, Cross Plains, Texas) would undoubtedly reply most cordially to any letter he might receive, & would surely be glad to sign any tale of his sent him. He is a delightful chap—though with an odd prejudice against civilisation which causes him to wish he were a primitive Celtic barbarian. (LFLB 97-98)
Whether Baldwin ever wrote to Howard is unknown; no letters survive, nor does Howard mention Baldwin in his surviving correspondence—which is not atypical; Howard rarely drops fan-names into his letters, but the two would probably have been aware of each other through The Fantasy Fan and Lovecraft’s circulation of manuscripts. Lovecraft himself mentions Baldwin to Howard only once in the surviving correspondence:
More recently a man in Asotin, Wash.—one F. Lee Baldwin—has proposed the publication of my “Colour Out of Space” as a separate booklet. I have gladly acquiesced, though I doubt if much will come of the matter. (MF 2.656)
One interest that Baldwin appeared to have in Howard was biographical—his most significant work in fandom was “H. P. Lovecraft — A Biographical Sketch,” published in the Fantasy Magazine (Apr 1935), and he appears, from the responses in Lovecraft’s letters, to have been considering Howard as a subject for a similar article:
You are right, I imagine, in believing that a spell of correspondence gives one a better perspective of a biographical subject. Discussion of varied topics does bring out aspects of personality which would otherwise remain hidden. Price—who has knocked about the world & done a little of everything—will make splendid material. So will Howard with his picturesque views & sanguinary southwestern background. (LFLB 110)
Baldwin apparently asked for more details, with the eye to writing the article, and Lovecraft responded in 16 February 1935 (during a trip to Florida) with his most extensive piece on Howard:
Hope you can get a good biography of Robert E. Howard. Wish I had time to delve into his voluminous letters & get some of the facts buried there, but at the moment I can give only a few points from memory. REH was born in Texas in 1906, of old Southwestern & Southern stock. The Howard line came from England to Georgia in 1735. The Ervin line has produced men of high standing & ability—Confederate officers, planters, Texas pioneers. A large part of REH’s blood is Irish, & he takes great pride in his knowledge of Celtic history & antiquities. He lives with his parents in a village from which pioneer violence has not yet fully departed. His father is a physician of high standing, & great courage & resourcefulness, who once fought a knife duel with one hand tied behind his back. REH is a typical primitive throwback in emotions—idealising barbaric & pioneer life. He hated school—yet loved books so much that he used to force open a window of the school library in the summer, when it was closed, in order to take & return things he wanted to read. He is today a really profound authority—on Southwestern history & folklore—as well as on ancient history. He began to write stories very young, but takes very little pride in them—saying he’d rather be a good prize-fighter than a good novelist. Being brought up in a rough town, he came to accept rough ways as a matter of course. He has been through dozens of fights, with & without weapons, & has served as an amateur boxer. I think he was once connected in some way with a travelling carnival. I judge he was rather a roving character in his teens—away from home a good deal. He says he feels most at home among rough workmen, & has passionately strong sympathies for the under-dog despite a personally aristocratic ancestry. He is very bitter & cynical in temperament—but kindly & sympathetic at the same time. Extremely brave & conscientious. At one time during his teens he worked at a drug store soda fountain. He has seen a good deal of the rough life of oil boom towns, & hotly resents the way large eastern corporations exploit Texas. When he says his life is ‘tame & uneventful’, he is thinking only of Western standards. Actually, he sees a vast amount of violence. He sympathises greatly with outlaws, & is really a fanatic on the subject of alleged police persecutions—unjust arrests, 3d degree, &c. His fetishes are strength, civility, justice, & freedom. Everything civilised, soft, effeminate, or orderly he hates with astonishing venom. In ancient history he detests Rome as strongly as I revere it. He travels occasionally in Texas & the S. W.—has seen the Carlsbad Caverns & sometimes spends the winter in San Antonio. Has never been east of New Orleans. First stories published in W.T. in 1925 or 6. A poet of savagely great power. So fond of his Celtic heritage that he has Gaelicised his middle name Ervin into EIARBIHN—as the fanatics in Ireland nowadays Gaelicise theirs. Tastes in literature somewhat uneven—despises all modern subtlety & likes books about simple characters & violent events. Would rather be a Celtic barbarian of 100 or 200 B. C. than a civilised modern. I’d show you some of his letters if he hadn’t asked me not to let anybody see them. I think I have shewn you his picture. (LFLB 127-128)
Lovecraft even mentions in a letter to William F. Anger that Baldwin was preparing a sketch of Robert E. Howard from a photograph (LRBO 235), but no article ever emerged. The most that Baldwin would publicly write about Howard, outside his columns, was a brief blurb:
Robert E. Howard’s story “Gods of the North” in the March issue was right up to his standard, although it was a bit too short. (The Fantasy Fan May 1934)
Fan Francis T. Laney, in his memoir Ah! Sweet Idiocy! (1948) recalls: “When Lovecraft died in early 1937, Baldwin was heartbroken, and dropped out of fantasy altogether.” (ASI 4) Yet in the early 1940s, Baldwin’s friend Duane W. Rimel managed to drag him back into fandom:
F. Lee Baldwin did not appear on the scene until December 1942, and made no more than three or four trips to visit me during 1943. Nevertheless, he was a major influence on ACOLYTE, and not just because he was my only “in-the-flesh” fan for nearly a year. He was indefatigable in seeking out new contacts for us, particularly among the professional authors, and was directly responsible for ACOLYTE’s contacts with Derleth and the Wandreis. His enthusiasm and candidly intelligent criticism were worth far more than his generous encouraging. Lee, born Franklin Lee Baldwin, comes about as near to being my ideal fan as anyone could. He is another of those all too rare individuals who can take his fanning or leave it, whose interest in the field is that of the intelligently desultory hobbyist, and who does not use his fanning as a substitute or compensation for something else. Lee was raised in the hamlet of Asotin, Washington, and was actively reading AMAZING as early as 1926, collecting it and other fantastic literature, and genrally making a nuisance of himself writing to professional authors for autographs and such. His correspondence with H. P. Lovecraft commenced in 1931 and continued very actively until the latter’s death in 1937, at which time the heart-broken Baldwin forsook fantasy altogether until THE ACOLYTE dragged him back into fandom five and a half years later.
(ASI 13, WTC xi)
(ASI 13, WTC xi)
P.O, Box 265,
February 26, ‘43
Dear Mr. Baldwin,
Replying to your letter of February 17, I can only say that I will be glad to give you any information I can in regard to Robert E. Howard.
For some years he and I were intimate friends. His family and mine were good friends.
His talents certainly were out of the ordinary and had he lived I am sure he would have made a name for himself as a writer and a lasting name at that.
I don’t know very much about his verses. I was always much more interested in his stories.
As I mentioned above, I will be glad to give what information I can.
Yours very truly,
Frank Thurston Torbett
P. S. I have a lot of magazines containing his stories and verses.
The envelope for this card appears to have been addressed by someone other than Thurston—the writing doesn’t match up with his signature on the letters; Baldwin claimed to have sent out self-addressed stamped envelopes to some of those he contacted, and this would appear to be one of them. (WTC lx)
March 19, 1943
Dear Mr. Baldwin:
I do not find it possible to answer all of your questions concerning Robert E. Howard. But what I do know I will gladly tell you and hope it will be of use to you.
The date of his birth I do not know. If I remember rightly his death occured June 11, 1936. I am enclosing a small newspaper item in regard to it. As you can see it occured in Cross Plains. As far as I know his habits were good; spent most of his time writing and studying. Did not mix with people much. Had a very few intimate friends. Do not know about his hobbies. He was single. Nearest of kin and address: his father, Dr. I. M. Howard, Cross Plains, Texas. He contributed a lot to Weird Tales Magazine, wrote some adventure stories, some western stories and I believe he mentioned having four or five detective stories published. I do not recall the names of all the magazines to which he contributed. I do not know the names and addresses of any acquaintances. I do now know what he was working on at the time of his death. Means of livelihood: writing. Personality: dynamic. He was intellectual and possessed an outstanding personality. Do not know about his tastes in music, food or art. He liked history, especially ancient and mediaeval. As far as I know he never did any experimenting. He never discussed his religious beliefs and philosophies; He was intensely interested in our government and the welfare of our people. Do not know about his love of animals. The place he lived and died have been given. He was very loyal to his friends and devoted to his parents. As far as I know he never did any professional fighting. He may have done some amateur boxing. It is true that he thought little of present day civilization.
I suggest that you write his father, Dr. I. M. Howard whose address has been given. I am sure he can give you a lot of information that I cannot and I am confident also, that he will be glad to give you as much as he wants you to have. You may tell him I suggested this if you wish.
F. T. Torbett
Torbett’s answers follow, almost statement by statement, H. P. Lovecraft’s biographical notes on Howard from his 1935 letter. (LFLB 127-128) The “small newspaper item” has not been retained, but was probably one of the notices in the Brownwood Bulletin or Cross Plains Review; in his 22 Jun 1936 letter Dr. Howard writes “I am sending you the local paper’s here which fully covers the account of his and his mother’s deaths and burial.” (IMH 51)
April 6, 1943
Dear Mr. Baldwin:
I am sorry the information I gave you regarding Howard was inadequate.
I don’t think, however, that you need feel any hesitancy whatever in writing to Dr. I. M. Howard of Cross Plains, Texas for information in regard to his son. I know that Dr. Howard was very proud of his son and doesn’t want him to be forgotten by the public. For this reason I am sure he would be glad to give any information he wanted the public to have in regard to Robert. An article containing an account of Robert and his work would be gladly received by Dr. Howard. He is keen on things like that I know.
No, I am not a boyhood friend of Robert’s. I met him after we were both grown up. I have never been in his home town. I met him here in Marlin.
Robert had that desire to write and wouldn’t be satisfied if he didn’t have an opportunity to write. He just kept on writing until he attained a measure of success as you know.
Robert corresponded with H. P. Lovecraft. The latter may have been of some assitance to him.
I surely will appreciate a copy of the magazine containing the article when it is finished. You will have my profound thanks for it you can rest assured.
No, I am not associated with a newspaper. I wrote a story in colloboration with Robert which was published in Weird Tales for September, 1938. The title: “A Thunder of Trumpets.” That is the only work of mine to be published.
I do not know whether Robert was associated in any way with an author named Francis Flagg.
Yes, I have heard him speak of Fourth Dimensional life. He discussed it in his letters with Lovecraft, he said.
Now, Robert had two intimate friends. One was in his home town, Cross Plains, and the other in Brownwood, Texas. I do not know the names or addresses of either of them. They may be in the armed forces now. Dr. Howard should know.
Good luck to you. I wish you all possible success in gathering the information you want and in writing the article.
F. T. Torbett
Francis Flagg was the pseudonym of Henry George Weiss; a prolific pulpster and contemporary of Lovecraft and Howard, both of whom were certainly aware of him (since they appeared in some of the same magazines), and Lovecraft corresponded with Flagg for a time, and mentioned him in a letter to Baldwin. (LFLB 111) The response on “Fourth Dimensional life” is harder to pin down—there are no direct references in the surviving Howard-Lovecraft correspondence, but they did discuss things “from Outside” (CL 2.362, MF 1.298). Dr. Howard’s comments on Robert and yoga are more explicable, as detailed in a letter to Tevis Clyde Smith:
Dr. Isaac M. Howard had moved to Ranger and was serving at the West Texas Hospital; he died there 12 Nov 1944. (IMH 228)
I think that the teachings of Yogi Ramacharaka come nearer to doing this than any other. Haeckel argues in one direction, Spencer in another; the Yogis argue in both directions and seem, in the Gnani Yoga at least, to cover both fields of speculation, physical and spiritual. Haeckel’s theory is simply of matter, Spencer’s of relative appearance; the Yogis take up both questions, agree with Haeckel that matter or the appearance of matter is solidity insofar as human life is concerned, and agree with Spencer that there is an Unknowable, an underlying principle beneath all outward appearances. They agree with Spencer that the All is Unknowable, because It so far transcends human experience that the human finds no thought by which to formulate an idea. For all human ideas are finite and relative, while the All or One or Unknowable is infinite and absolute. Upton appears to agree perfectly and gives the Yogis great respect. (CL 1.180-181)“Yogi Ramacharaka” was a pen name for William Walker Atkinson, a leading author in the “New Thought” movement which Dr. Howard was very interested in; his books on yoga, including A Series of Lessons in Gnani Yoga (1906), are still published to this day. Even if the Howards did not practice yoga, they were at least aware of it. The two friends mentioned are probably Truett Vinson and Tevis Clyde Smith.
January 26, 1943
Dear Mr. Baldwin:
I was rather surprised to receive your letter of the 11th. a few days ago.
I have no knowledge of a J. J. Torbett. So do not know whether he was related to me or not.
I appreciate the fact that I am to be one of the first to see the article in its completeness. Nothing will suit me better than to read an article that includes Robert.
Much to my regret, I have not an available copy containing “A Thunder of Trumpets.” I would like to have you read it very much. Perhaps you can obtain a back number from the publishers or some of the readers of W.T.
While Robert and I did touch slightly on Fourth Dimensional life there is not much to be told. We were inclined to believe that there is a fourth dimension, that there are other planes and dimensions beyond the life that we know. He cited Lovecraft as being a believer in this also. And that is about all. He letters from Lovecraft are not available.as far as I know. You might ask Dr. Howard about them when you write to him.
The only reason I can think of that Robert had for pretending ignorance of Yoga was due to the fact that he was a modest, unassuming fellow and did not pretend to know a great deal about anything. Yes, he knew I had been a student of the occult for quite awhile.
Yes, I, too, have heard that Lou Nova is a student of Yoga.
I think I have answered all your questions to the best of my ability.
Yours very truly,
F. T. Torbett
While this letter is dated 1943, the substance of it makes it clear that it is a sequel to the previous letter—Torbett made the common error of using the previous year when typing out the date. Lou Nova (“Cosmic Punch”) was a boxer in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and was famous as a yoga practitioner.
April 8, 1944
Dr. I. M. Howard, Robert’s father, is stopping here for a few days. He has changed his address which is now Box 74, West Texas Clinic Hospital, Ranger, Texas. He says he will be glad to give you what information you wish.
(F. T. Torbett)
F. Lee Baldwin’s article was never published, nor is there any hint to the contents aside from those given here. At a glance, the article would appear to have been a straight biographical sketch, similar to the one that Baldwin had earlier made of H. P. Lovecraft—but the comments about “Fourth Dimensional life” suggests another possibility, and another article that Baldwin was supposed to write, but never published. The outline of the article was given in the letter column of the Spring 1945 Acolyte:
Nearly two years ago I started gathering material for an article which, if completed, would have been either the most amazing thing ever put on paper or as unsavory and pointless as a Philharmonic rendering of Pitetop’s Boogie-Woogie. It was to consider, dispassionately, the deaths and disappearances of various fantasy authors with a view to accumulating any evidence which might indicate that they had not so much “died” as “been removed” by unknown powers because they “knew too much”. This is definitely border-line stuff; my objective thus was not so much to prove or disprove any definite point as to assemble all available evidence and let the reader draw any conclusion which he might care to.
As early as 1934 i considered the possibilities of such an article and as time went on, and events shaped as they did, I became convinced of its phenomenal aspect. Then, in the winter of 1942, I amassed what notes I had at hand and went to work attempting to complete them. I wrote countless letters, each with a stamped return envelope, and with fingers crossed sent them out. I garnered a few favorable replies and from these I scouted further along the same channels. But in nearly all instances where I’d try a follow-up I’d get cut off short, or gave up. But even so, I got some pretty startling suppositions, predictions, facts and just plain tall yarns. I could use them all because the article is not a fact opus entirely; if it were, I’d be a confirmed mystic second only to the Prophet. (WTC lx-lxi)
Baldwin detailed his criteria for inclusion, which included “Those who actually took their own lives or appeared to have done so.” and “[...] were in the prime of life.”—both of which certainly would apply to Robert E. Howard. (WTC lxii) The intimation in the letter is the deaths and disappearances would be suggested to be the work of some outside (fourth dimensional, perhaps?) entity or entities, about whom the authors of the weird knew too much.
We may never know which article Baldwin was going to write, or why, or when and where he might have been planning to publish it. History is full of missed connections and unpublished articles. At least, with the letters from Thurston Torbett that survive, we can catch a glimpse into the lives and relations of these friends-of-friends, and reconstruct something of the strange episode of their correspondence, which so much reflects their relationships with Lovecraft and Howard.
With thanks and appreciation to Brian Leno for his assistance and permission to use the letter in his possession.
ASI Ah! Sweet Idiocy! The Fan Memirs of Francis T. Laney
CL The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard (3 vols. + Index and Addenda)
IMH The Collected Letters of Dr. Isaac M. Howard
LFBL Letters to F. Lee Baldwin, Duane W. Rimel, and Nils Frome
LRBO Letters to Robert Bloch and Others
MF A Means to Freedom: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard (2 vols.)WTC Within the Circle In Memoriam: Franklin Lee Baldwin 1913-1987