Sunday, May 20, 2018

Dear Mr. Jacobi; Cordially, Robert E. Howard by Bobby Derie

Carl R. Jacobi
While a freshman at the University of Minnesota in 1928, one of Carl Richard Jacobi turned in a story he had previously written and published in The Quest, and received an “A+”—and so the anecdote goes:

In a subsequent quarter, one of his fellow students also turned in a previously written composition—not his own work, however, but a pulp story by Robert E. Howard. It too received a top grade. On the last day of class, Jacobi approached the instructor. “I’d like you to know who I’ve been competing against,” he announced. “A professional writer.” “That often happens,” was the professor’s bemused reply. (LRH 9)

Carl Jacobi’s classmate, like Jacobi himself, encountered Howard’s prose in Weird Tales; Howard’s prose hadn’t been published in any other pulp by 1928. After selling “Spear and Fang” (WT Jul 1925), “Wolfshead” (Apr 1926), and “The Lost Race” (Jan 1927), Howard exploded in 1928 with “The Dream Snake” (Feb), “The Hyena” (Mar), “Sea Curse” (May), and the seminal Solomon Kane tale “Red Shadows” (Aug). Perhaps taking the hint, Jacobi’s one first professional sale to the pulps followed in 1928. (LRH 12)

In the fall of 1931, Jacobi’s “The Coach on the Ring” appeared in the Dec 1931/Jan 1932 issue of Ghost Stories, a weak but enduring competitor to Weird Tales. The confessional style of Ghost Stories gave it a poor reputation, but was still a paying market that occasionally attracted good writersRobert E. Howard had placed a story in there two years previously: “Apparition in the Prize Ring” (GS Apr 1929). Jacobi’s freshman effort was sufficient to attract the notice of August Derleth, who in turn brought him to the attention of H. P. Lovecraft. (ES2.440, 442) Jacobi attained real attention when he landed another story: “Mive,” which appeared in the Jan 1932 issue of Weird Tales. Although it wasn’t voted the most popular tale in the issue (Clark Ashton Smith’s “The Monster of the Prophecy”), the story was highly regarded by Lovecraft, who expressed his enthusiasm to Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright. (SL4.24) Robert E. Howard wrote a little later:

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. In the latter’s tale especially there are glimpses that show finely handled imagination almost in perfection—just enough revealed, just enough concealed.
— Robert E. Howard, Weird Tales Mar 1932 (CL2.302)

Before long, Lovecraft wrote a letter of encouragement to Jacobi…whether prompted by a letter from Jacobi or Derleth isn’t clear, but Lovecraft volunteered one important piece of information:

The address of Robert E. Howard is Lock Box 313, Cross Plains, Texas. Just now he is travelling in the southern part of his state, hence may be tardier in receiving & replying to correspondence than at other times. He is an old-time Texans steeped in the virile & sanguinary lore of his native region, & writes of his local traditions with a force, sincerity, & genuinely poetic power which would surprise those who know only his more or less conventional contributions to the magazines. His letters form a veritable epic of primitive emotions & deeds in a grim & rugged setting--the last free play of the old Aryan tribal & combative instincts of which Homer & the Eddas & Sagas sing.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Carl Jacobi, 27 Feb 1932, SL4.24-25

This is the only published letter from Lovecraft to Jacobi; whether they had no more correspondence or it simply didn’t survive or hasn’t been published is unclear. Given that pulps were often released in the month before their cover date, it is possible that Jacobi’s letter—and the request for Howard’s address—was prompted by the Texan’s praise. Whatever the case, Jacobi apparently wasted little time in writing to Robert E. Howard, who then replied:

Dear Mr. Jacobi:

I found your recent letter very interesting, and if my comments on your story “Mive”, have helped you with the editors, I am sincerely glad. I consider that story as one of the finest of its kind I have ever read. I am glad to hear that you have placed a story with Oriental Stories, and shall watch for it.

I shall also look for “The Curse Pistol” in Strange Tales. It was not my fortune to read either of the other stories you mentioned; in fact, I live so far out of civilization, as it were, that I can’t keep track of the magazines very well. It’s forty miles to the nearest first-class news-stand, so my magazine reading is rather desultory.

I hope you sell those stories upon which you mentioned you were working—also hope you like my yarn in the forthcoming Weird Tales.

Hoping to hear from you again, at your leisure I am,
Cordially, [Robert E. Howard]
—Robert E. Howard to Carl Jacobi, 22 Mar 1932 (CL2.318)

If Jacobi was keeping track of the markets he was submitting to, he would hardly have failed to notice that all three of the pulps mentioned (Oriental Stories, Strange Tales, and Weird Tales) were publishing Howard’s own stories. As it happened, however, bad luck cut off any chance for them to appear together: Oriental Stories was a companion magazine to Weird Tales, also edited by Farnsworth Wright, who had accepted Jacobi’s story “Three Brass Cubes” but then returned it when the magazine was temporarily discontinued at the end of 1932; Oriental Stories would be reborn as The Magic Carpet in January 1933, and “Three Brass Cubes” would eventually be published in Complete Stories (LRH 71n38, 81, 131). Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror was a clone of Weird Tales, and editor Harry Bates had accepted “The Curse Pistol,” but this pulp too folded with the Jan 1933 issue; it was eventually published in Weird Tales (May 1941) as “The Phantom Pistol.” (LRH 71n46, 87)
            Jacobi had more luck with Weird Tales; while he didn’t sell to it often, the stories he did sell managed to stand out. “Revelations in Black” appeared in the Apr 1933 issue of Weird Tales, and apparently the Minnesotan hoped the Texan would repeat his earlier kindness, an wrote to Howard again, who replied:

Dear Mr. Jacobi:

I am glad to write to Wright, commenting favorably on “Revelations in Black”. It is an unusual and well written story, reflecting the same imaginative quality which caught my attention in “Mive”. Frankly, you have an imagination of a subtle and poetic nature rarely met with, and should go far in the writing profession.

Thanks for the things you said about my work. I’m glad you liked “The Scarlet Citadel” so well.

I’m sorry you suffered from the collapse of Strange Tales. I, too, had a story with the company which was returned unpublished and unpaid for.

Yes, Derleth told me that Wright had accepted another Lovecraft tale, which is good news for all lovers of the weird story.

With best wishes,
Cordially, [Robert E. Howard.]
—Robert E. Howard to Carl Jacobi, 17 Mar 1933 (CL3.43)

Jan. 1933 Weird Tales
“The Scarlet Citadel” had appeared in the Jan 1933 issue of Weird Tales; the story returned to Howard with the demise of Strange Tales was “Valley of the Lost” (CL3.42). August Derleth had sneakily submitted “The Dreams in the Witch House” to Wright on Lovecraft’s behalf in early Feb 1933, so Jacobi’s letter must have been written after Derleth shared the news. (ES2.544)

“Revelations in Black,” a vampire tale, was commented upon highly by Lovecraft and Derleth (ES2.564, 566, 567; LA8.32), as well as Clark Ashton Smith (LRH 127), and was voted the most popular story in the Apr 1933 issue, which Wright commented on (LRH 132). Robert E. Howard’s poem “Autumn” was also in that issue. By chance, Jacobi’s story was published just late enough to miss the attention of a fan obsessed with vampires and the undead. From 1930-1932 G. P. Olson (or Olsen) of Sheldon, Iowa had sent a series of rambling, incomprehensible letters to prominent writers of Weird Tales and Strange Tales; as Jacobi would tell it some years later:

In the early days of Weird Tales a compulsive letter writer began to pester some writers whose work appeared in that magazine. A lot of those letters were directed to me. Hugh B. Cave, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard and August Derleth were also singled out for his correspondence. This writer was apparently an educated man who had read widely in the fields of psychology, philosophy, and primitive beliefs. But somewhere along the line he had cracked. He would begin with complimentary comments on the receiver’s story. Then he would expound some learned treatise. And then the continuity of his letter would fall away, and his madness would become evident.

I still remember what Weird Tales editor, Farnsworth Write said about him. “Excuse the mixed metaphor,” he wrote me, “but that bird is a complete nut. But we can’t stop him from writing.” Hugh Cave said he was keeping the fellow’s letters on file. Their very “strangeness,” he said, made them possible sources for fantasy story ideas. But August Derleth grew tired of this madhouse correspondence and finally wrote the man that his address was changed and that in the future all mail addressed to him— Derleth—should be sent to Rome in care of the Vatican. (EO2.96)

Howard and Jacobi continued to make sales, sometimes sharing the same markets and even the same issue: the Jun 1933 WT contains Howard’s “Black Colossus” and Jacobi’s “The Last Drive”; WT Apr 1934 Howard’s “Shadows in the Moonlight” and Jacobi’s “The Cane”; WT May 1934 Howard’s “Queen of the Black Coast” and Jacobi’s “The Satanic Piano”; the Oct 1934 issue of Top-Notch contains Howard’s “Swords of Sharahzar” and Jacobi’s “Letter of Dismissal.” Wright wrote of the May 1934 Weird Tales:

THE SATANIC PIANO was well received by our readers, b[ut] it was not in the running for favorite story. Moore’s SC[AR]LET DREAM and Howard’s QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST had the [...] all to themselves for most popular story in the May issue.
—Farnsworth Wright to Carl Jacobi, 6 Jun 1934 (LRH 132)

Robert E. Howard
It isn’t clear if Howard and Jacobi were keeping in touch during this period, but Howard’s final known letter to Jacobi was written in the summer of 1934 and is quite extensive, suggesting much catching-up:

Dear Mr. Jacobi:

Thank you for the kind comments you made about my work. I enjoyed “The Satanic Piano” and look forward to reading more of your work in the near future. Yes, the discontinuing of Strange Detectives knocked me out of a pretty regular market. They had a Steve Harrison novelet yet unpublished when they quit. Of late I haven’t been doing much in the detective line. My Costigan series, which formerly appeared in Fight Stories, Action Stories, and (under a pen name) in Magic Carpet, is now running in the new sporting magazine, Jack Dempsey’s Fight Magazine. Action Stories is running a series of humorous westerns, concerning Breckinridge Elkins of Bear Creek, Nevada. In September a three-part Conan serial starts in Weird Tales.

You ask me why I do not use Texas settings more in my stories. I really should, since Texas is the only region I know by first hand experience. Three of my yarns in Weird Tales have been laid in Texas: “The Horror From the Mound”, “The Man on the Ground” and “Old Garfield’s Heart”. Sometimes too thorough a knowledge of a subject is a handicap (not that I claim to be an authority on the Southwest, or anything like that; but I was born here and have lived here all my life.) for fiction writing.

You ask about San Antonio. It is without question the most interesting and colorful city in Texas, possibly in the entire Southwest, though as a permanent residence I should prefer El Paso. The inhabitants are cosmopolitan, some twenty percent being Mexican, the rest Anglo-Saxon, Spanish, Italian, and Oriental, the latter mainly Chinese, and the usual percentage of negroes. The Anglo-Saxon element is, of course, dominant, but there are many foreigners of the races I have mentioned. The population is somewhere between two hundred and thirty and two hundred and fifty thousand. Many soldiers are stationed there, at Fort Sam Houston, and there are several famous flying fields there, including Randolph Field “the West Point of the air”. The San Antonio river winds through the town under a great number of more or less narrow bridges, with palm trees growing along its grassy banks and adding to the tropical appearance of the city. Fiestas are very popular there, as in any Latin or semi-Latin city, and the celebrated Battle of Flowers is worth seeing, though not so colorful as formerly, since it has been so extensively commercialized — according to the usual Anglo-Saxon custom. The city is built more or less on the original Spanish plan, with narrow winding streets and broad spacious plazas. Sights of interest include, of course, the Alamo, which stands now in the heart of the city, the old missions, the extensive Brackenridge Park with its museum, sunken gardens and luxuriant natural scenery, and the old Spanish governor’s palace, since its careful restoration one of the finest examples of the early Spanish occupation and culture of the Southwest.

I recently returned from a trip to the Carlsbad Cavern, New Mexico, the largest — and most fantastic — cave in the world. If you ever visit the Southwest, do not fail to see that. It would be worth your while to go from there to El Paso, following the route my companion and I followed, southwesterly from the cavern. The road traverses one of the most impressive countries this continent can offer as far as vastness and emptiness go. For a hundred and seventy miles it sweeps, almost without a turn, through gigantic stretches of uninhabited desert flanked by huge, barren mountains. The road curves around the foot of Signal Peak, rising nearly ten thousand feet in the burning blue sky — only a foothill of the Rockies, but the highest point in Texas, indeed the highest point between the Rockies and the Atlantic ocean — a colossal castle of almost solid rock, visible for seventy-five miles across the desert.

Juarez, which lies across the river from El Paso, is interesting if you like Mexican towns. It differs little from other border cities, a tangle of narrow, unpaved dusty streets, ’dobe huts, dingy stores, and saloons and the usual hordes of ragged, barefooted peons. A white man is safe enough if he stays on the main streets and keeps his mouth shut. Personally, I prefer Piedras Negras, which lies across the river from Eagle Pass, and is somewhat cleaner and more progressive. The main charm about those Mexican towns to most people is, of course, the liquor, and El Paso is now just as wide open as anything south of the Rio Grande. Indeed, my friend and I did most of our drinking on this side, finding the liquor better.

American beer was only 4.5 percent, but it was riper than the Moctezuma 6.5 we got on that side. Tequila, mescal, pulque and sotol are the favorite Mexican native drinks, but these are not all handled by the better saloons, and a man takes a chance drinking anything in the lower Mexican bars. The better saloons all handle tequila, and I make it a point to stick to that.

I was much interested to note that you are acquainted with Arthur O. Friel. He has been one of my favorite authors for years. I have not read the book you mention, but it sounds good.

Yes, I noticed the Popular company had bought Adventure, and as you probably have read, they’ve changed editors again. Corcoran sold a serial to Cosmopolitan and threw up the job to freelance — probably proving Jack London’s assertion that most editors wanted to be writers, secretly or otherwise.

E. Hoffmann Price and his wife stopped by and visited me a few days on their way to California this spring. Delightful people, and Price is a fine writer, to my way of thinking. He’s done very well with detective stories.

Best wishes.
[Robert E. Howard]
—Robert E. Howard to Carl Jacobi, Summer 1934, (CL3.245-248)

Jacobi had submitted “Spawn of Blackness” to Strange Detective Stories c.late 1933 or early 1934; the magazine was suspended in May 1934; he also submitted it to Super-Detective, another pulp that Howard had sold a story to. (LRH 87) It’s interesting to note that these questions come after Howard had written about his trying to sell detective stories to the pulps in late May 1934—possibly Jacobi had gotten some of the industry scuttlebutt from Derleth and chose to write Howard for that reason. (CL3.211)

Otis Adelbert Kline
Unspoken in this exchange is that Howard and Jacobi may have now shared a common agentOtis Adelbert Kline. Howard engaged Kline as his agent in the spring of 1933, and argued that Kline was responsible for his efforts to crack the detective pulps (CL3.108); it is not clear when Kline also began to represent Jacobi, their manuscript correspondence begins in 1934, but the first sale by Kline as Jacobi’s agent is in Dec 1935. (LRH 81) Jacobi and Howard are both listed on Otto Binder’s 1936 sales list for the Kline agency. (OAK5.18) They may also both have been members of the American Fiction Guilde; Howard joined in early 1932 (CL2.337), and Hugh B. Cave encouraged Jacobi to join in 1932 and 1933 (MIR 14, 36).

Arthur O. Friel was a prominent and prolific author of adventure pulps during the 1920 and 30s, publishing regularly in Adventure; he and Jacobi communicated from at least 1928-1930. Several of Friel’s books were serialized in the pulps, which is presumably what Howard refers to in his letter. Howard’s papers include a list with the titles of several of Friel’s stories in Adventure.

They both tried many of the same markets, even if they seldom seemed to appear together at the same time; for instance, when Robert E. Howard was trying to break into Terror Tales in late 1934, so was Jacobi. (CL3.274, LRH 113) Much the same could be said for Adventure, Argosy, Astounding, Complete Stories, Cowboy Stories, Dime Mystery, Thrilling Adventures, Thrilling Mystery, and the fanzine Marvel Tales. Lovecraft admired both Howard and Jacobi’s ability to write for so many markets:

Thanks also for the Jacobi tales. He surely is a marvel of facility & versatility, & it is a pity his talent is squandered in pulp stuff. Each of these is an excellent example of its kind--the one from Terror Tales surely plasters on the horror thickly!
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 27 Oct 1934, ES2.662

The June 1936 issue of Weird Tales contained the conclusion of Howard’s The Hour of the Dragon, and Carl Jacobi’s “The Face in the Wind.” It was the last time they would appear together while both men were alive; Robert E. Howard committed suicide on 11 Jun 1936. Jacobi, if he had not already heard the news through Derleth or another correspondent, was informed of the loss by his agent Otis Adelbert Kline:

For many months, Robert E. Howard’s mother has been dying from cancer. He spent many hours at her bedside. Despite this fact, he has been doing a lot of brilliant writing, and we have opened a number of new markets for him with character-continuity series. About three weeks ago he wrote me a letter saying that, in case of his death I should get in touch with his father. As he had been suffering from heart trouble, I presumed that he feared a heart attack. About that time, also, he sent me a story of a young hillbilly who was violently prevented from committing suicide because his girl had jilted him, and who finally ran off with the sweetheart of his benefactor. He finished his last story for Weird Tales, which had bought his first story, and took it into his mother, saying: “Mother, it is finished.” His mother was dying, and he spent twenty-four hours at her bedside without food or sleep. Then she lapsed into a coma. He asked the nurse if she thought his mother would ever speak to him again, and when she replied in the negative, he went out, got into his car, closed the door to muffle the sound, and shot himself through the brain. He lingered for eight hours and his mother thirty. A double funeral was held. Howard was thirty years old.
—Otis Adelbert Kline to Carl Jacobi, 2 Jul 1936 (IMH 68-69)

Kline’s version of Howard’s death is not correct in every specific—Hester Howard’s terminal illness was tuberculosis, and the bit about the final tale and “Mother, it is finished” appear to either be made up out of whole cloth or a gross miscomprehension of events—but it’s doubtful Jacobi ever knew the difference.

The Diversifier, #21 July 1977,
contained "Rambling Memoirs"
In later years, a deceased Howard and an older Jacobi shared the pages more often, as the Texan’s unpublished materials saw print and as Jacobi was almost the last of the old guard; aside from Arkham House anthologies they appeared together in smaller latter-day pulp journals like Pulp Magazine, Risque Stories, Lurid Confessions, Shudder Stories, Crypt of Cthulhu, Fantasy Crossroads, and Whispers. Carl Jacobi himself would reflect on Robert E. Howard, writing in “Rambling Memoirs” (1977):

Robert Howard, another correspondent, was filled with lore of his native Texas, which in a way is rather off for most of the fiction that brought him to fame was not laid in that state. (CWTC 346)

Regrettably, little of Jacobi’s opinion on Howard is reflected in his few published letters, though he was certainly aware of him, as Howard’s name crops up occasionally in the correspondence of Jacobi and Hugh B. Cave. (MIR 16, 90, 159, 171) Probably it crops up more in his so-far unpublished letters, since Jacobi maintained long correspondences with August Derleth, Donald Wandrei, and E. Hoffmann Price, who also corresponded with Howard. Jacobi’s greatest praise for Howard was possibly in “The Derleth Connection” (1981):

THere are those who say that Robert E. Howard who also began in WEIRD TALES has no peer as a writer of sword and sorcery. Which may very well be. (ADN 4)

The lack of attention to Howard in Jacobi’s letters and memoirs is not particularly surprising; despite the mutual admiration, they do not appear to have exchanged more than a handful of letters, and mentions of Jacobi in Howard’s surviving correspondence are almost nil. (CL2.302) While they shared many markets, their styles and tastes appeared to be very different: Howard often focused on serial characters like Solomon Kane, Bran Mak Morn, Kull of Atlantis, Conan the Cimmerian, El Borak, and Sailor Steve Costigan, while Jacobi focused more often on development of settings, carving a niche in carefully-researched tales of Dutch Borneo and Baluchistan.

One area where Howard and Jacobi overlapped slightly was in Lovecraftian tales: while Jacobi rarely wrote any story that explicitly tied into the Cthulhu Mythos, just as Howard created tomes like Nameless Cults (to which Lovecraft et al. eventually gave the German title Unaussprechlichen Kulten) to add to the eldritch library started by Lovecraft and his Necronomicon, so too did Jacobi create tomes like the Gypsy Zenicaron, Hydrophinnae, and Unter Zee Kulten (which was later adopted by Mythos writer Brian Lumley). Jacobi’s most famous and common occult reference book was, like Manly Wade Wellman’s The Long Lost Friend, a real-life work: Restitution of Decayed Intelligence. Yet Jacobi never mentioned the work of other authors, like Howard’s Nameless Cults...or did he?

In “The Corbie Door” (WT May 1947), the protagonist comes across a formidable occult library:

“Robert,” she said slowly, "these books  are evil. We must get rid of them.”

Macabre in subject matter, they certainly were. There was a copy of Richard Verstegan’s Restitution of Decayed Intelligence, Herzog's Furchtbare Kulte, an incomplete and heavily expurgated edition of de Korlette’s Cultes des Goules, and several bound manuscripts which apparently were journals of the various masters of Corbie House. I saw then that it was these last that had disturbed Debora. Not journals in true sense, but a series of badly-scrawled essays, all of them seemed to deal with a history of the Druids and the black rites of Druidic worship. (PIM 47)

Cultes des Goules, attributed to the Comte d’Erlette (a subtle reference to August Derleth) had been invented by Robert Bloch in “The Suicide in the Study” (WT Jun 1935), and became adopted by Lovecraft and others; Jacobi’s attribution to “de Korlette” then is very strange. Furchtbare Kulte (“Terrible Cults”) would seem to have been an homage or reference to Howard’s Unaussprechlichen Kulten—and perhaps it was Unaussprechlichen in the original draft. A notation in Lost in the Rentparthian Hills for the story reads:

Revised according to August Derleth’s suggestions and expanded from 5,000 to 9,000 words. After reading the revised version, Derleth sent a letter praising it to Lamont Buchanan, associate editor of Weird Tales. (LRH 91)

This is interesting both because Derleth should have immediately been able to spot “de Korlette”, and because it is known that Jacobi’s story “The Aquarium” originally contained references to the Cthulhu Mythos, which Derleth extensively edited out when it was published in the anthology Dark Mind, Dark Heart (1962). (LRH 49-51) At the time, Derleth was asserting considerable control over the writings of H. P. Lovecraft and the “Cthulhu Mythos” in print, so this kind of meddling would not have been out of character—but it may have removed a brief homage from Jacobi to his long-ago correspondent, Robert E. Howard.

Abbreviations Used
ADN    August Derleth Society Newsletter (vol. 4, no. 4)
CL       The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard (3 vols.)
CWTC Conversations with the Weird Tales Circle
EO       Etchings & Odysseys
IMH     The Collected Letters of Dr. Isaac M. Howard
LA        Lovecraft Annual
LRH     Lost in the Rentharpian Hills: Spanning the Decades with Carl Jacobi
PIM      Portraits in Moonlight
OAK    OAK Leaves: The Official Journal of Otis Adelbert Kline and His Works
SL        Selected Letters of H. P. Lovecraft (5 vols.)

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