Sunday, April 26, 2020

The Literary Influences of Robert E. Howard: Robert W. Service by Todd B. Vick

From a very early age Robert E. Howard loved poetry. This was in large part due to his mother and her passion for verse. From the time Robert was born, Hester Howard recited poetry to her son. So naturally, Robert grew to love poetry. And there were a number of poets who influenced him as a reader and a writer. One such poet was Robert W. Service. His work loomed large in its influence of Robert E. Howard.

Robert W. Service
Service was born on January 14, 1874 in a small village named Preston, in Lancashire England just 20 or so miles northeast of the port town Liverpool. Service began writing poetry at an early age, heavily influenced by these Victorian poets: Tennyson, Browning and Keats. Several of these same poets, along with Robert W. Service played an integral part in influencing Howard’s verse. Service eventually moved to Canada, and settled in the Yukon territory. It took Service a bit of time to get his poetry published. Frankly, most poems and/or poets never make a living at their craft. With little success as a writer, to support himself Service took a job as a banker in the Pacific Northeast at the Canadian Bank of Commerce. All the while, he continued to write. Eventually Service managed to secure a publisher in London for his first collection of verse (Songs of Sourdough), published in 1907.

In the United States, Edward Stern and Company of Philadelphia published the same volume under a different title, The Spell of the Yukon and Other Verses. This volume gained a large amount of readers in the early twentieth century. Robert E. Howard owned the United States edition of Service’s first collection, and he particularly enjoyed “The Shooting of Dan McGrew.” In fact, this poem eventually became one of the most memorized in the United States a few years after its publication. A few years later another collection by Service, Ballads of a Cheechako, garnered almost equal success as The Spell of the Yukon and Other Verses, and Service was able to quit his job at the bank, write full-time and travel.

The Spell of the Yukon
and Other Verses
1907 edition
Robert W. Service’s influence can clearly be seen in many of Howard’s own poetry. Their rhyme and meter, heavily influenced by the Victorian poets, was similar. And among Howard's close friends, in particular Tevis Clyde Smith, Service's poetry was highly praised. According to Post Oaks and Sand Roughs, [Tevis Clyde Smith] Clive, considered Robert W. Service the greatest poet of all-time. Steve [Robert E. Howard] declared that Service was second only to Rudyard Kipling. [POSR, 74] Due to its content, Service’s poetry was ripe for the working class. This is likely one of the reasons Howard and Smith liked it. Without much sophistication, Service was able to delineate the common man and their struggles in his verse. Moreover, the content of many of Service’s verse was about frontier life in the Canadian Yukon, gold rushes, and man’s toil to survive. Of course, Howard loved those topics making Service’s verse resonate in his own imagination. Service’s poems were about the simple, ordinary life, and Howard especially liked this. In fact, on one occasion Howard told Lovecraft: “My tastes and habits are simple; I am neither erudite nor sophisticated. I prefer jazz to classical music, musical burlesque to Greek tragedy, A. Conan Doyle to Balzac, and [Robert] Bob Service’s verse to Santayana’s writing, a prize fight to a lecture on art.” [CL 3.66]

After his death, several of Service's books were present in Howard's personal book collection and donated to the Howard Payne College library; titles such as The Pretender, Ballads of a Bohemian, Rhymes of a Red-Cross Man, and The Spell of the Yukon and Others. Some of these books are now displayed in a bookcase at the Howard House and Museum in Cross Plains, Texas.

Works Cited
CL           Collected Letters
POSR      Post Oaks and Sand Roughs (Grant edition)

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Know your Henry Whiteheads by Karen Joan Kohoutek

Readers of classic pulp literature, particularly in the world of Weird Tales, may be familiar with the tales of Henry S. Whitehead, collected by Arkham House in Jumbee and Other Uncanny Tales (1944) and West India Lights (1946). Researchers should note that there were two Henry Whiteheads writing and publishing in the same time-frame, and it's easy to mix them up in casual searches. Both were clergymen in the Anglican (U.K.)/Episcopalian (U.S.) church, who traveled to far-off countries, then considered "exotic," as part of their religious duties, and are best known for their work on the local customs and perceived superstitions that they observed.
Henry S. Whitehead
The Weird Tales Whitehead, Henry S. (St. Clair), lived from 1882–1932. Born in New Jersey and educated at Harvard, he went to the Virgin Islands, where he became an archdeacon. He began publishing fiction in 1923, often based on his impressions of voodoo and supernatural beliefs in the West Indies. Like most Weird Tales writers, he eventually corresponded with H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, as described in Bobby Derie's valuable essay "Conan and Canevin: Robert E. Howard and Henry S. Whitehead."
His father was another Henry, Henry Hedden Whitehead (1846–1937), who mainly appears in the public record as a naval veteran of the American Civil War, and as a member of the New York Society of the Sons of the Revolution (Henry S.'s great-great-great-grandfather, Sergeant Joshua Marsh, served in the War of Independence).
Henry Whitehead
The elder contemporary, Henry Whitehead (1853–1947), was a British Anglican who emigrated to India, first to Calcutta, and then to Madras, where he served as Bishop for many years. His book The Village Gods of South India, originally published in 1916 and expanded in 1921, is still referenced in modern scholarship. This is a valuable early resource for his first-hand observations of South Indian religious practices, if you can squint around the framing prejudices and obvious misconceptions.
This Henry Whitehead came from a notable family: the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead was his brother, and his son, J.H.C. Whitehead, also known as Henry, became a well-known mathematician. J.H.C. Whitehead lived from 1904-1960, and moved to Princeton, New Jersey, to attend the university in 1929. While born in New Jersey, Henry S. had moved several times, and in this same year was settling for good in Dunedin, Florida, where he'd be visited by H.P. Lovecraft, so the two Henry Whiteheads wouldn't have crossed paths.
Henry Whitehead
A Google search will likely bring to the top another, even more acclaimed Henry Whitehead, who was, yes, yet another Anglican clergyman. He lived from 1825-1896, and was featured in Steven Johnson's 2006 bestseller The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic, and How it Changed Science, Cities and the Modern World. Serving a parish in the London slumbs, this Whitehead became invovled in researching the cause of a cholera outbreak. Converted by evidence -- grudgingly -- to the contamination theory, his painstaking documentation of cases and deaths, used to track the course of the disease, is considered an important milestone in the development of epidemiology.
I have been unable to find evidence that any of these three Henry Whiteheads were related, although it's possible there's a connection I haven't come across. If you have information, please pass it along!
Derie, Bobby. "Conan and Canevin: Robert E. Howard and Henry S. Whitehead." Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard and Others. Hippocampus Press, 2019.
"Reverend Henry Whitehead." UCLA Department of Epidemiology, Fielding School of Public Health.