Sunday, November 26, 2017

A Lost Correspondence: Robert E. Howard and Stuart M. Boland by Bobby Derie

In the the Summer 1945 issue of a fanzine called The Acolyte was published a short memoir called “Interlude with Lovecraft” by Stuart Morton Boland, which began:

In the Spring of 1935 I was making a library survey tour of the European continent. At the quaint little hill town of Orvieto, in Italy, I came upon an amazing mural high on the walls of the local Duomo or Cathedral. The painting represented mighty figures of ebon-hued men (not angels or demons) with great wings, flying through etheric space carrying beauteous pinionless mortals--men and women who were rapturously accompanying them in their voyage through eternity.
I photographed the scene and sent a print to Robert E. Howard, telling him it reminded me of one of his Conan stories. With the print I included a colored reproduction of a rare illuminated manuscript of the 10th Century which I had seen in the Royal Archives at Budapest. Howard, for some reason, sent this facsimile to Lovecraft, asking if he thought his Necronomicon would look anything like the reproduction of the parchment.
Three months later, when I reached my home by the Presidio in San Francisco, I found awaiting me two letters from Howard and an extensive missive from Lovecraft. [...] In my reply to HPL, I stated that I thought his opinion was well-founded, and furthermore that the references of both men to odd ancient gods were ideas they must have borrowed from Mayan, Toltec, and Aztec mythology. (Boland 15)

This presents an interesting example of the consideration of historical evidence, because aside from statements from Boland, there is no direct evidence that Boland and Robert E. Howard ever corresponded. Boland wrote to Glenn Lord in the late 1950s:

I corresponded with Bob for quite some time before his demise—also with his father. I have not located the missives—but if recollections and reminiscences will help, I can give you some rather colorful data concerning the letters we exchanged on European topics, art culture, archeology and anthropology, ecology and the Dark Ages. [...] [Howard] replied via American express ‘poste haste’ and asked about Pompeii, Boscoreale, Herculaneum, Rhodes, Olympus, Palmyra, Orvieto, Palermo, etc. (Roehm 25 Feb 2014)

1931 Boland at Berkley
However, no letters from Robert E. Howard to Stuart M. Boland, or Boland to Howard, are known to still exist. In fact, there are no mentions of Boland in any of Howard’s surviving correspondence published in the Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard, nor any mention of Boland or his facsimile 10th-century manuscript in the collected correspondence of Howard and Lovecraft in A Means to Freedom: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, nor in any of the published letters of Dr. Isaac M. Howard in the Collected Letters of Dr. Isaac M. Howard. Skeptical and critical readers might thus well begin to question whether Boland had corresponded with the Howards at all, or for obscure reasons of his own had fabricated or misremembered his correspondence of 8-10 years earlier.

Absence of evidence, however, is not the same thing as evidence of absence. A close study of Robert E. Howard’s letters shows that he did not, by and large, discuss his correspondence with fans widely: there are no references to Emil Petaja, F. Lee Baldwin, or Charles D. Hornig in Howard’s surviving letters to Lovecraft, for example, though we know Howard corresponded with all three fans. So too, there are gaps in the correspondence during the period of 1935-1936 when Boland and Howard might have written to each other, and the Lovecraft letters are based not on complete manuscripts, but from the abridged Arkham House Transcripts. The case may be, then, that Howard could plausibly have failed to mention his correspondence with Boland to anyone else, and possible that any such mention of Boland or the facsimile that he claims Howard sent to Lovecraft was in a postcard, letter, or section of a letter that is no longer extant.

Without the actual letters or a direct mention by Robert E. Howard, Boland’s claims are unprovable. However, a detailed analysis of his claims can be made with certain circumstantial evidence, which might lend or remove credence from his recollections. To begin with, some background on Boland: according to census data Stuart Morton Boland was born in 1909 in New York City, and by 1920 he was in San Francisco, California. In 1931 he graduated with a BA in Public Speaking from the University of California - San Francisco, and sometime after that was employed at the San Francisco Public Library, as well as being a poet, playwright, and lecturer or guest speaker. According to Boland, his European tour occured Spring 1935, and this is supported by several statements in The Link, the journal of the San Francisco Public Library, where Boland was normally employed:

STEWART BOLAND has withdrawn from the library on account of ill health, and will travel in Europe (The Link Jan 1935, 2)

A letter from ROME tells of the AMAZING journey of STEWART BOLAND...visiting the libraries of CAIRO, ALEXANDRIA, ATHENS, NAPLES, BARCELONA and others too numerous to mention...he says nice words about our library in comparison..EUROPEAN LIBRARIES are strictly for students, the layman must get permission from the MINISTER OF EDUCATION to have use of the books (The Link Mar 1935, 4)

STUART BOLAND back from Europe (The Link Jun 1935, 3)

This trip would be in keeping with Boland’s opening claim, and the travels in Italy and Greece might explain with Boland’s claim that Howard asked about “Pompeii, Boscoreale, Herculaneum, Rhodes, Olympus, Palmyra, Orvieto, Palermo, etc.” In the Fall 1945 edition of The Acolyte, E. Hoffmann Price wrote of Boland’s article:

Stuart Boland in re. Lovecraft has something worth reading. Boland is quite some traveler. I once spent a number of enjoyable hours looking over his photos and listening to his reminiscences of far off places. One of these days I hope to repeat the meeting. But since, despite gas going off ration, I am compelled to sit tight for some months, I would like to offer a few sidelights on Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft, described as “immortals, each with his stupendous understanding of life, creation, and the universe….” (Price 31)

Price’s commented on Boland being well-traveled is supported in an article in the Daily Independent Journal from San Rafael, California dated 27 Oct 1961, in which it was noted of Boland:

He has traveled abroad at least once a year for the past 25 years, his latest trip a lecture tour through Latin America for “Friends of Art." Last year he toured all the major cinema, television and radio! studios in Europe, including Russia and Poland. (17)

As well references in The Link for Jul 1937 (“STUART BOLAND to Havana”), in the Oakland Tribune 27 Sep 1939 (“has just returned from Europe, will give a description of Germany's Siefried Line and the French fortifications”), and the January 1951 issue of The Islamic Review (“His interest in Islamic culture and civilization stems from archaelogical studies and surveys made in Arab and Islamic lands.”), this seems to support Boland’s travel claims, but it also establishes a timeline: if Boland did correspond with Robert E. Howard as he claims, he would have had to have sent his first letter “three months” before he returned from his European trip in July 1935, or around April; Howard himself was away from home in the Spring, informing Lovecraft around May 1935: “I was forced to spend a month in East Texas, on account of an operation performed on my mother[.]” (CL3.309, MF2.838), but that would have left at least six-eight weeks for the Texan to return home, write a letter or two, and send them to California where Boland would arrive to find them waiting.

However, Boland’s claim to find a letter from Lovecraft in July 1935 bears further scrutiny. The earliest reference to Boland is in a letter from Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow dated 16 Sep 1936:

Just had an esoteric-looking communication from an occultly inclined nut in San Francisco who seems to be a sort of educated Bill Lumley. I’ll enclose it in my next for your edification. (OFF 361)

Lovecraft mentioned his new correspondent to several friends in October-December 1936, including Robert Bloch:

Have recently been hearing from an interesting character in San Francisco—one Stuart Boland, who claims to be a librarian of some sort, & speaks of travels all over the world during which he has seen strange & forbidden books like De Vermis Mysteriis. He has most generously sent me a book on Maya-Aztec civilisation, & a lot of photographs of prehistoric ruins which he took in Mexico. (LRBO 178)

Henry Kuttner:

Have lately been hearing from a chap in San Francisco—one Stuart Morton Boland—who says he is a librarian & has seen lots of books like the Necronomicon! Widely travelled, apparently. (LCLM 255)

Willis Conover:

Only the other day I had a letter from a San Francisco librarian asking about the Necronomicon. (LRBO 399)

E. Hoffmann Price:

Boland says he visited Teotihuacan this summer, & that he is about to send me some “peculiar objects” which he secured there near the Pyramid of the Sun. Iä! Shub-Niggurath! What alie entities are about to enter the ancient portal of #66? Did they come up out of the gaping chasm amidst the palaeogean megalithic masonry? Are they shapes of a sort intelligible to mankind—or something else? My curiosity is piqued …. I am vaguely & subtly disquieted ….. Or are the “peculiar objects” mystical trinkets derived from the counters of Frank Winfield Woolworth or his equivalents & vended to a gullible touristry by an obliging peasantry? (LCLM 205.n19)

August Derleth:

Speaking of the bizarre—I had an interesting note the other day from an apparently scholarly chap in San Francisco—by name, Stuart Morton Boland—who announces himself as a librarian who has been all over the world studying esoteric elder parchments like the Necronomicon in various places such as Budapest, Madras, Bombay, &c. He thinks there may be some substratum of truth behind my references to the Necro, & will accordingly be disappointed when he finds that Grandpa is a callous materialist. But I’m being very courteous in my disillusionment; since he seems to be an extremely pleasant sage, & has promised to send me some mysterious objects which he obtained at the cryptic pre-Nahuan Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan during a recent trip to Mexico. The latter will surely be welcome, since my private “museum” already contains 5 Central-American items—2 early Mayan images, an earthen Aztec image, an Aztec Bowl, & an earthen Aztec calendar-stone. (ES2.752)

Richard F. Searight:

Have also come in touch with a rather quaint egg in San Francisco—one Stuart Morton Boland, who seems to have occult leanings. He is a librarian, has travelled extensively, & has seen many of the real-life prototypes of the Necronomicon. He’s just sent me a fine book on primal American civilizations, plus some of his photographs of Aztec-Maya ruins. (LRFS 87)

Perhaps ironically, Lovecraft’s final reference to Boland is in his final letter, written to James F. Morton but never sent:

Also in October I came into touch with a rather quaint egg in San Francisco—one Stuart Morton (relative o’ yourn?) Boland, who seems to possess occult leanings. He is a librarian of some sort, has travelled extensively, & claims to have seen many real-life prototypes of the Necronomicon. He most generously presented me with a fine book on primal American civilisations, plus some of his photographs of Aztec ruins (largely in Teotihuacan) taken on a recent Mexican trip. (LJFM 393)

H.P. Lovecraft (Brooklyn)
The nature of Lovecraft’s comments jives with Boland’s memoir insofar as the material, since it showcases both Boland’s interest in the Necronomicon and the Mesoamerican mythology. What it does not support is his chronology: it seems very unlikely that Boland could arrive home to a letter from Lovecraft in Summer 1935 and then have Lovecraft claim he had just “come in touch” with Boland in Fall 1936. The evidence that Boland actually began corresponding with Lovecraft in ‘36 rather than ‘35 is supported by the recollections of another pulpster he came into correspondence with at the same time; C. L. Moore wrote to Lovecraft 11 Dec 1936:

And what a curious coincidence the Stuart Morton Boland data is! Within the last month I have myself had a communication from this same St. Boland, though prosaically signed with the full name, very generously presenting me with a small book on Corot, illustrated with lovely reproductions of the misty paintings he produced. One line in the book impressed me greatly in its observation that there is in Corot paintings a serenity and peace which makes the picture seem to extend far beyond the frame and casts a beautiful hush over all things near it. Mr. B. was generous and insincere enough to explain the gift by likening my stories ot the paintings. I wrote him gratefully, but have had no reply. Whether he intended the gift to remain a sort of manna descending from the vasty unknown, or whether he proposes to enter into correspondence I do not yet know, but I hope to hear more from him now that you tell me of his interesting and unusual qualities. Don’t fail to let me know about the “peculiar objects”. I hope that they may not prove to be products of Barbara Hutton’s famous stores but that, though genuine they don’t carry any frightful curses from the abyss to blast you.
(LCLM 199)

The reference to “St.Boland” is apparently to Boland’s signature, which is also recorded on a 1951 painting by Boland. (Sommers 31 Jan 2013) Likewise, the artifacts promised could have been genuine, as at least one item from Boland’s collection has been advertised for sale. (“Teotihuacan, Mexico. 200 - 800 AD. Pre-Aztec Teotihuanaca Artifacts for Sale”)

Given that Boland wrote his article in 1945, perhaps the years had confused the order of correspondence. Like many men, he was busy, both with his annual trips abroad, his work at the library, side projects such as public speaking and publishing volumes of poetry and plays, such as Doomsrood (1936), Immortalia (1936), The Blue Rose (1937), and Eternalia (1937). In 1942 he entered the U. S. Army as a warrant officer to contribute to the war effort. However, the discrepancy does cast at least some doubt on a few of his further statements.

When Boland describes the Aztec god Tlau-Izoal-Pante-Cutli for instance, he claims that “Lovecraft thought this deific character would make the basis of a splendid Robert E. Howard story.” (Boland 17)—a statement which would work in Summer 1935, when Howard was alive and writing, but by Fall 1936 Howard was dead, so the use of present tense would seem uncharacteristically awkward for Lovecraft. Internal evidence also suggests that the correspondence must have begun after Howard’s death, since he ends paraphrasing Lovecraft:

Lovecraft finished his comparisons by asserting that “Robert Howard created men like gods and gods like men, with the men invincible conquerors over all the woe and misery the Powers of the Absolute could throw at them". He averred that Howard would find the Maya-Toltec-Aztec gods easy meat for his blood-lusting warriors, except that the divinities should have more sex- appeal to be worth his heroes' trouble in dispatching them! In the light of this basic philosophy of Howard's it was a titanic life-quake when the full shock of his passing struck his friends. Such a reversal of fundamental nature seemed unbelievable. So vital and dynamic a personality seemed eternal and immutable. He and Lovecraft were good friends and perhaps together they are exploring the infinite with the same zest and joyous spirit they possessed on the mundane sphere. They make a perfect pair of Immortals, each with his stupendous understanding of life, creation and the universe; each the complement of the other in realms and dimensions and planes undreamed. (Boland 17-18)

The assertion by Boland that Lovecraft and Howard had perhaps based their artificial mythos on real-life mythology was echoed in a letter to ‘The Eyrie’:

Scholarly is the report of Stuart Morton Boland, San Francisco librarian and adventurer in many lands. His studies reveal that many Indian tribes, North and South America, knew and feared the Shonokins"being like men who walk the earth as men but leave wherever they walk a place accursed."
(Weird Tales Nov 1946)

At this point it is worth noting, however, that Dr. Isaac M. Howard had passed away 12 Nov 1944; and the Kuykendalls, heirs to his estate, later reported to Glenn Lord:

Shortly after Dr. Howard’s death we sent a trunk filled with Robert’s papers to a man in California—Redwood City, I believe. Mr. Kline or Mr. Friend advised us to do so. Do you recognize who it was? I have forgotten. (Roehm 1 Apr 2014)

E. Hoffmann Price
E. Hoffmann Price lived in Redwood City, California, and had thus in late 1944 or early 1945 received “the trunk” which contained many of Robert E. Howard’s letters and manuscripts; and Price had in his response to Boland’s article made it clear they had previously met. Later, Price would recall that he had lent some of the Howard materials to Boland (“a vague recollection of having loaned some material to Stuart W. Boland, of San Francisco.”) (Roehm 12 Feb 2014) While Price never clarifies when he lent the Howard materials to Boland, it seems auspicious that Boland would suddenly write an article mentioning Robert E. Howard so prominently—including a previously unknown and unattested correspondence—so soon after Price received the trunk.

At some point Boland had given the material to Francis T. Laney, editor of The Acolyte:

E.H.P. wrote to me about some letters which had been written by Bob Howard to him some time before the latter’s demise. I was under the impression that I had returned all the material E.H. had given me when he requested the return of H. P. Lovecraft’s epistles to him for Arkham House—Previously I had sent all duplicate material to a fellow named (Don?) Laney in Los Angeles at E. H.’s request. Laney was the publisher of a top-notch S.F. fan mgz. However, I shall check diligently for any stray material and send it on to you if located. (Rob Roehm 25 Feb 2014)

In the Fall 1945 edition of The Acolyte, editor Francis T. Laney claimed: “We have a series contemplated by Boland that promises to develope into our most interesting feature.” (2) What this series might have been is unclear, but The Acolyte only published two more issues in 1946, with no material from Boland. Francis T. Laney largely quit fandom in ‘47, as chronicled in his memoir Ah! Sweet Idiocy! (1948); at some point Boland turned over some of the Howard material to Laney. When Laney died in 1958, his widow apparently returned these materials to Boland—from whom Glenn Lord ultimately purchased them in 1965, as chronicled by Rob Roehm in “The Legend of the Trunk” (2014). Curiously, in a 1959 letter Boland claimed he had no original materials, writing Lord:

All I can give you is a “Remembrance of Robert Howard” based on what I recall of his correspondence. Laney had all the original papers and missives.
(Roehm 25 Feb 2014)

Possibly this “Remembrance” was an article series that Boland had suggested to Laney in ‘45; as with many things regarding Stuart M. Boland, we will never know for certain, and are left only with supposition. While circumstantial evidence suggests that many individual points in Boland’s “Interlude with Lovecraft” ring true, there is no positive evidence to either support or deny Boland’s claim of correspondence with Howard. The discrepancy of when Boland corresponded with Lovecraft might suggest, at least, an error of memory—and even that might not be the case if, for example, Boland had received Lovecraft’s letter in Summer 1945 and not gotten around to answering it for an extended period; while that seems ridiculous, it appears long breaks in correspondence were not unknown for Boland, as Roehm points out that responses from Boland in the 1950s could take eight months. (Roehm 25 Feb 2014)

The final question when considering the veracity of Boland’s claims is: what would Boland have to gain from deception? On the face of it, very little. As Arkham House’s Skull-Face and Others would not be published until 1946, Gnome Press would not publish Conan the Conqueror until 1950, Howard’s star had not risen yet and there was relatively little of a collector’s market for Howard memoirs in the ‘40s, so material gain seems unlikely. Fan notoriety might be a possibility, but Boland never appears to have tried to follow up his article with anything more substantial, nor does it offer any substantially idiosyncratic take on Lovecraft or Howard. If it was a hoax for private amusement it seems to lack any real punch.

In the end Boland’s memories of the correspondence are so innocuous and vague that even if he did exchange letters with Robert E. Howard, for all intents and purposes he might as well not have. If Boland had never mentioned these letters, no-one would even have known to look for them.

CL       Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard (3 vols. + Index & Addenda)
ES       Essential Solitude (2 vols.)
LCLM  Letters to C. L. Moore and Others
LRBO  Letters to Robert Bloch and Others
MF       A Means to Freedom (2 vols.)
OFF     O Fortunate Floridian

Works Cited
Boland, Stuart M. (1945). “Interlude with Lovecraft” in Francis T. Laney (ed.) The Acolyte, vol. 3, no. 3, 15-18. Reprinted in A Weird Author in Our Midst: Early Criticism of H. P. Lovecraft (2010, Hippocampus Press).
Price, E. Hoffmann (1945). “E. Hoffmann Price Disagrees With Too Enthusiastic Description” in Francis T. Laney (ed.) The Acolyte, vol. 3, no. 4, 31-32 & 28. Reprinted in The Collected Letters of Doctor Isaac M. Howard (2011, Robert E. Howard Foundation Press).
Roehm, Rob. (12 Feb 2014). “The Legend of the Trunk—Part 6” on REH Two-Gun Raconteur. Retrieved from:
Roehm, Rob. (25 Feb 2014). “The Legend of the Trunk—Part 6” on REH Two-Gun Raconteur. Retrieved from:
Roehm, Rob. (1 Apr 2014). “The Legend of the Trunk—Part 6” on REH Two-Gun Raconteur. Retrieved from:
Sommers, Robert. (31 Jan 2013). “Thar She Blows” on Blue Hero Blast. Retrieved 15 Nov 2017 from:

“Teotihuacan, Mexico. 200 - 800 AD. Pre-Aztec Teotihuanaca Artifacts for Sale.” Ancient Resources. Retrieved 15 Nov 2017 from:


Scotty Henderson said...

The question immediately arises what Conan story Boland is referring to regards the mural in Orvieto. He mentions "ebon-hued men (not angels or demons) with great wings, flying through etheric space carrying beauteous pinionless mortals--men and women who were rapturously accompanying them in their voyage through eternity." In fact this mural is part of the vault "Christ in Judgement" by Fra Angelico and Benozzo Gozzoli. You can see images at Wikipedia. The main vault image I believe Boland is referrring to is in fact a portrayal of the Damned being taken to Hell and received by Demons.

No Conan stories have such a description as above, although it does bring Almuric to mind, or ERB's Martian series, 2nd book sequel to A Princess of Mars. Maybe in those days there was no description or handout leaflets explaining so Boland interpreted it himself. Depending on his religious background he may have had no clue but his description of the mural is whacky at best.

Bobby Dee said...

The most likely culprit might be "Queen of the Black Coast" (WT May 1934), since that would have been published (relatively) shortly before Boland's European trip and featured (in vision/flashback) the alien winged men from whom the winged black ape is the last descendant, but another possibility would be the Solomon Kane tale "Hills of the Dead" (WT Aug 1930).