In The Two Bobs: Robert E. Howard and Robert H. Barlow it was mentioned that after the death of their mutual friend H. P. Lovecraft, Barlow became the literary executor for Lovecraft’s estate—which included the disposition of the file of letters from Robert E. Howard. Several letters pertinent to Barlow’s possession of these letters and efforts to get them to Dr. Isaac M. Howard, the late Robert E. Howard’s father, have been made available online by Brown University as part of their digitization of the Lovecraft materials, and make interesting reading concerning the posthumous afterlives of Barlow and his two literary correspondents.
Dear Miss Spicer,
I pulled out rather abruptly & had no opportunity for farewells, but perhaps I’m forgiven.
In about two weeks I’ll send you some Sterling items &c from KC. Thanks for putting up with all the bother I made while in Providence.
Here is something for your files—revised, it will appear in in HAWK ON THE WIND—a book—in six or eight months.
I beseech & implore you to keep the various correspondences—except R. E. Howard—under your hat & out of the catalogue. Their authors would boil me over a slow fire!—The sacrifices one makes in the interests of Literature.
Regards to Prof. Damon. I’m going to write him when I settle.
R. H. Barlow
After Lovecraft’s death, Robert H. Barlow was made his literary executor; the young writer took steps to archive Lovecraft’s correspondence and other papers at the John Hay Library, where Elizabeth Spicer worked. The “Sterling” items were presumably related to Kenneth Sterling, one of Lovecraft’s later correspondents and his collaborator on “In the Walls of Eryx.” Barlow wrote this on his way back to Kansas City (“KC”) where he was attending the Art Institute. Hawk on the Wind” Poems (1938, Ritten House) was a collection of August Derleth’s poetry, containing “Elegy: In Providence the Spring…” regarding Lovecraft.
Barlow’s desire to keep the correspondence from Lovecraft’s correspondents “out of the catalogue” was probably in an effort to protect their privacy; Howard was at this point already deceased, so this was less of an issue.
By May of 1937, Dr. Isaac M. Howard had determined that Barlow was the executor of Lovecraft’s estate and was in possession of the letters from his son Robert E. Howard that Lovecraft had saved, mentioned above; Dr. Howard wrote to Barlow and to Lovecraft’s surviving aunt asking for their return, but did not receive a prompt reply, probably because Barlow’s situation was unsettled—the young writer would soon head out for California (IMH 164, 166).
As Howard letters were actually at the John Hay Library while Barlow was in Kansas City, this might explain some of the delay and confusion, but Barlow did eventually respond to Dr. Howard’s request.
Dear Professor Damon,
I am sending you a miscellany; too varied to itemise. Among the contents of the express package shipped today are a couple of pieces of sheet-music; a typescript of THE SPHINX, unpublished play by the author of THE HERMAPHRODITE & OTHER POEMS; nearly all the Ms. I have from the pen of Clark Ashton Smith, author of THE STAR-TREADER, EBONY & CRYSTAL, ODES & SONNETS, &c; a special issue of The Modern School on Whitman (1919) &c &c. Of these, I think I’d like to keep nominal ownership of the Whitman photograph, though in all probability it’s yours till Doomsday.
Did you receive the Sterling letter sent in my last? The envelope turned up, and is enclosed in the Tomato Surprise. I have a few other things which I’m not quite ready to send, but will hand over later.
I would appreciate it if you would send me the cardboard box containing letters from R. E. Howard, which I deposited. His father wants them to go to Howard Payne College. If you will send them Express collect, I shall be in your debt.
Later, Mrs. Gamwell may want someone to look over Howard’s books for possible library donations, I believe there is not much for the Harris Collection, but other departments might find material.
Am still typing dementedly on the “copy” for the Lovecraft collection to be published!
S. Foster Damon was a Curator of the Harris Collection in the John Hay Library. The author of The Hermaphrodite & Other Poems (1936) was Samuel Loveman, a close friend and correspondent of H. P. Lovecraft.
From the date of this letter, we can infer that Dr. Howard first requested the Robert E. Howard letters around mid-April, and Barlow wrote to the John Hay attempting to secure them post haste (literally). The delay of about two months suggests that something went wrong…which is the case, as we see in the following letter.
Dear Professor Damon;
I am sorry to hear that you have been laid up, and trust that the strenuous matter of removal is finished by now.
Would you please have the box of Robert E. Howard letters sent to me by Express, C.O.D.? I want to place them in a memorial collection founded by his father. And (if it does not entail much searching) the sonnet by Frank Belknap Long, Jr; a typescript probably filed among your broadsides. This is of less consequence, but I have a notion of using it in a miscellany which I am getting out.
Glad the last shipment was of use…I will send you a good many Lovecraft manuscripts and papers as soon as I can get them copied for printing.
It is evident that the reason for the long delay was an illness on the part of Prof. Damon. The timing of this letter is after that of Dr. Howard to Otis Adelbert Kline, Howard’s agent (IMH 164), but before Dr. Howard’s second letter to Barlow (IMH 166), suggesting that Barlow was aware of the delay. There is an annotation on the letter “Mailed June 11, 1937”—signed by Elizabeth Spicer, suggesting the letters were mailed then. Her intercession is apparent from the next letter.
The Long typescript that Barlow mentions is probably “The Beautiful City,” which appeared in Leaves #1 (Summer 1937). The references to getting Lovecraft manuscripts “copied for printing” shows Barlow’s early ambitions to publish his work, this being before Arkham House was established (and, indeed, before Barlow would travel to California and with Groo Beck would found the aptly-named Futile Press).
Dear Professor Damon,
Would you please have someone ship me the box of ROBERT E. HOWARD LETTERS which I left on deposit? It is imperative I have them at once.
You can send them Express, C.O.D.,
There is an annotation on the letter by a later hand that “These had been sent by Miss Spicer before you came back.” indicating that the reason for delay had been Damon’s continued illness and/or recovery. It is also notable that this letter is sent not from Kansas City, but Leavenworth; the change of address would likely have added to Dr. Howard’s difficulties in reaching Barlow and exacerbated the whole issue of retrieving the letters, which had stretched on for weeks.
What this group of letters details, basically, is that Barlow was not being unresponsive to Dr. Howard’s requests, and it provides a little more detail as to the whereabouts and disposition of the Howard letters at this early period between the death of Lovecraft and their receipt by Dr. Howard.
Memphis trip still vague. Meeting renowned EHP is a bit of a snare; nothing impressive about the encounter. Why, even my own wife says I’m a loud mothed egoist who bores people silly in an hour.
Just got a card from Robt. S. Carr, Aug. 5th, Dusket, Gurdjistan (Caucasia); very much alive, el hamdu lilahi!
I am heading south Monday, 30th, business + visiting; hope see H. Kuttner, & will if he is in. Will keep it QT re. HSW. FW usually turned down a man’s best works.
Thanks for assistance offered in Howard case but thus far, no more word from Dr. H. Don’t know if MSS you cite are extant. Kline, as far as I know, never was in Cross Plains; in NY, rather, as you say. You better keep in touch with Dr. H. about “Leaves”. I think the poor old fellow is crushed & heart broken but doing his best to face it with real fighting spirit; if only his son had had an equally stout heart! Perhaps his plan of publication was more an expression of grief than anything else; perhaps his health is failing; maybe he realizes the snares of privately printing poems & fiction. I don’t know. I’ve just not heard from him for some time. He used to write me very often because he knew I thought a lot of REH, and knew I was a sympathetic audience when he spoke of his late son; knew also that I myself like to reminisce about REH. Maybe time is healing his wounds; I hope so. I still plan on next trip to go to Cross Plains as a sort of “ritual” game or exercise, or tribute or something. Follow classic precedent; set a 90 mile an hour pace from El Paso to Cross Plains, a la funeral games of Homeric times. Insane conceit, yes: but REH would like that, having always marvelled at terrific road speeds.
Robert S. Carr was a friend of Price and a fellow Weird Tales writer who made a trip to the USSR in the mid-late 1930s, including Kurdistan (“Gurdistan” above); “el hamdu lilahi” is Price’s phonetic rendering of “Al-ḥamdu lil-lāh” (“Praise be to God” in Arabic). Henry Kuttner, another Weird Tales writer and correspondent of Lovecraft, was at the time visiting Los Angeles. “HSW” likely refers to Rev. Henry St. Clair Whitehead, another Weird Tales writer who had been a correspondent of Lovecraft, Howard, and Price who had died in 1932; Barlow would publish a revised version of his story “The Tree-Man” in Leaves #2 (Winter 1938), and planned to publish a collection of his letters, which never quite came to fruition. “FW” in this context likely refers to Farnsworth Wright, editor of Weird Tales.
Leaves #1 (Summer 1937) included “With a Set of Rattlesnake Rattles” by Robert E. Howard, which had been included in Howard’s letters to Lovecraft. It appears that Barlow was inquiring after Dr. Howard’s plan stated in his 15 May 1937 to write a book of his son’s life (IMH 166); it is unclear what manuscripts that Barlow as asking after, although possibly he was fishing for more material regarding Leaves.
It is curious that the card was addressed to Barlow in Florida, but he was very unsettled during this period, and may have returned to the area for a time before making his way out to California, where he would eventually meet E. Hoffmann Price.
IMH Collected Letters of Dr. Isaac M. Howard