BACK                    GRIEF & GREED ?

Isaac Mordecai Howard and the Robert E. Howard estate,
June 1936 - March 1937

                                                    Isaac Mordecai Howard - Photo courtesy of Norris Chambers

(Most of the letters mentioned in this essay are unpublished. Since this article relies heavily on these unpublished documents, and rather than cluttering the essay with footnotes, I have indicated references only for the more accessible published letters.)

"What shall I do now unto thee, my son?"

      ROBERT E. HOWARD's suicide on June 11, 1936 and Hester Jane's death, on the following day, could only deal a very severe blow to Isaac Mordecai Howard, Robert's father and Hester Jane Ervin's husband. Isaac had been prepared for this shock for some time now; he knew his wife was dying, and was expecting his son's suicide: he thus wrote to Frank Torbett on June 22: "I had known all along that Robert might do something rash and even desperate when his mother died but I did not think he would do this before she went."1 He expressed the same idea in almost all his letters of that time (to E. Hoffman Price, June 27; to H.P. Lovecraft, June 29 or to W.J. Proctor, July 11). The sense of loss and shock permeates those early letters, and understandably so.

        Later in the month of June, however, a definite change begins to pervade the letters. As part of the shock was slowly wearing away, other interests began to emerge, and these were concerned with his son's writings first, and the money that be could derived therefrom second.

        In a letter from Howard's agent Otis Kline to Carl Jacobi, dated 2 July 1936, Kline confirms the news of Howard's death, and adds: "He finished his last story for Weird Tales, which had bought his first story, and took it to 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." The source from this last paragraph evidently comes from a now-lost letter from Isaac Howard to Otis Kline. The reference to the Weird Tales story episode, highly melodramatic as it is, is also strange: it is not related in any of the other surviving letters recounting Howard's death. Besides, it is well attested that Howard had ceased writing stories for Weird Tales about one year before; had he then written one new weird tale before committing suicide? One can only wonder as to what lies behind this dramatic description of Howard's "last story".

        On that same day, July 2, Farsnworth Wright, editor of Weird Tales, wrote Torbett: "Besides your letter, his father very kindly wrote me details, and also forwarded the manuscripts of two stories intended for me." It now appears that there was not one, but two stories intended for Weird Tales… The letter from Isaac Howard to Wright has not survived, but the details of it can be reconstructed from a letter he wrote to Otis A. Kline on August 29, 1936, where we can read:

There were two manuscripts ready to be mailed to Weird Tales, one was "Black Hound of
Death Fire of Asshurbanipal" [sic] and "Dig Me no Grave". There was a notation on back of
envelope directing me to send these to Weird Tales in case of his death... I have a letter in which Mr. Wright accepts "Black Hound of Death Fire of Asshurbanipal" for $100 and "Dig me no Grave" for $50.00. These were the last stories he wrote and were mailed after his death and are not paid for.
        This passage is particularly interesting for several reasons. First of all, it casts some heavy doubts as to Isaac Howard's familiarity with his son's writings. An unfamiliarity which we will have ample occasion to detail. As every person at least a bit aware of Howard's writings, "Black Hound of Death Fire of Asshurbanipal" is actually two stories, "Black Hound of Death" and "Fire of Asshurbanipal". Were there three stories, then ?

        Granted, the old man was still under severe shock, but is it at all possible that he found a notation on the back of the envelope instructing his father to send these to Weird Tales ? Or was the episode entirely invented by Isaac Howard, for reasons we'll have to explore?

        It is absolutely impossible that there was a typescript for "Black Hound of Death" with instructions to mail it to Weird Tales, for the simple reason that this story was received by Kline, then Howard's agent, in 1934 and sold May 13, 1936 by this same agent.

        The two typescripts that were thus sent to Wright were "Dig me no Grave" and "Fire of Asshurbanipal"; Wright indeed accepted these and published them a few months later. From this, it is of course perfectly possible to imagine that Isaac Howard made a mistake when examining the titles of these stories, though it is hard to see why REH would write that "Black Hound of Death Fire of Asshurbanipal" should be mailed to Weird Tales.

        Supposing Isaac Howard simply made a mistake, there would only remain for us to ascertain which of these stories was indeed the last one written by a Howard who was preparing to commit suicide a few hours later. According to Dr. Howard, this was "The Fire of Asshurbanipal": on November 7, 1936, he thus wrote Farnsworth Wright: "I have received the manuscript [of] "The Fire of Assurbanipal". Howard Payne has asked me to see if you would permit them to place this manuscript in Robert's Library; because it was the last story he ever wrote and they wanted it because it was his own typing."

        It seems strange indeed that Howard would write fantasy stories in June 1936. No later than May 09, 1936, in his last letter to August Derleth, Howard confided: "I haven't written a weird story for nearly a year, though I've been contemplating one dealing with Coronado's expedition on the Staked Plains in 1541. A good theme if I can develop it."2. As it stands, Howard did begin a story on these lines, (later titled "Nekht Semerkeht" by Glenn Lord), but he did not go further than a first draft dwindling to a synopsis and an unfinished second draft. It should be noted that this unfinished story, though a fantasy, was firmly rooted in the American/Mexican west, as could be expected from a Howard that was increasingly writing western stories only. He thus explained in his last letter to Lovecraft:

I find it more and more difficult to write anything but western yarns. I have definitely abandoned the detective field, where I never had any success anyway, and which represents a type of story I actively detest. I can scarcely endure to read one, much less write one. Attempts to make a living by writing historical fiction proved a flop, though a certain editor is considering a series of piratical yarns, if I can remodel the first to suit his tastes. But I am not expecting much from it. I have become so wrapped up in western themes that I have not, as yet, written a follow-up yarn for the last Oriental adventure novelet bought by Street Smith, though Kline’s been urging me to get one in circulation. I will write some more, doubtless, but even my interest in things Oriental is waning in comparison to my interest in the drama of early America. The new editor of Argosy has asked me to create a new western character on the order of Breckinridge Elkins, and I’ve made one in the person of Pike Bearfield of Wolf Mountain, Texas. I don’t know how he’ll come out. If I can get a series running in Argosy, keep the Elkins series running in Action Stories, now a monthly, and the Buckner J. Grimes yarns in Cowboy Stories, I’ll feel justified in devoting practically all my time to the writing of western stories. I have always felt that if I ever accomplished anything worthwhile in the literary field, it would be with stories dealing of the central and western frontier.3
        When we add to all this that the last story Howard had sent to Weird Tales was the Conan story "Red Nails", about one year before, in July 25, 1935, the very idea that he would spend his last few days writing stories for Weird Tales becomes highly spurious. Monetary reasons can't explain this, since Weird Tales paid on publication, and, at this time, was incredibly behind in its payment, as Howard was well aware. At the time of Howard's death, he was owed over $1,300 dollar by the magazine.
        With this in mind, it becomes interesting to take a closer look at those two stories.

        "Dig me no Grave", eventually published in the February 1937 issue of Weird Tales, has a complicated history. It is in fact a rewrite of a story that had been submitted, in 1929, to Ghost Stories, under the title "John Grimlan's Debt". The story was rejected, and rewritten later as "Dig me no Grave". "Dig me no Grave" is a contemporary story, and part of Howard's short body of fiction that is clearly derivative of the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Its protagonists are Conrad and Kirowan, who are featured in some of the stories Howard was writing when under the influence of Lovecraft's style, that is to say late 1930 to mid-1931. That the story is placed in a contemporary setting is worth repeating here, for it is stated in the text that the action occurs in 1930. And this is very probably the year when this new version was completed.

        "The Fire of Asshurbanipal" seems to be yet another similar example. Two versions of the story exist; one is straight adventure, and the other, the one published in Weird Tales in December 1936, is its supernatural version. And once again, we are in presence of a story than was written probably in late 1930 or 1931, since there are various references to Lovecraft's deities in the story. In the Fantasy version of the story, the characters make reference to a magician named "Xuthltan". This name occurs in one other Howard story, this time for a city, and this is in "The Black Stone", one of Howard's other Cthulhoid tales, written in late 1930…

        "Dig Me no Grave" and "The Fire of Asshurbanipal" were thus very likely part of a small group of stories that were salvaged from the unpublished files in mid-to-late 1930, and rewritten as Lovecraftian stories when this writer's influence was indeed very strong on Howard, probably in the hope of quick sales to Weird Tales. Howard very probably did not write these in June 1936, and logically wouldn't go and see his mother to tell her that "it is finished".
        When Isaac Howard was repeating that these stories were the last his son wrote, one of which shown his mother while she was dying, he was thus simply not telling the truth.
What were then his motives?

        When we examine his letters and known actions from this particular time-frame, one thing becomes evident: Isaac Howard was trying to secure as much money as possible. This fact in itself is not particularly shocking - though the method was quite unorthodox - because one can perfectly imagine that Isaac Howard needed money in those difficult weeks. That this need was permanent seems doubtful, his assertions to the contrary notwithstanding. He had a large number of patients, and, contrary to the widespread myth, most of these did pay for their cares. One person who knew Dr. Howard intimately in those times reports: "it is true that most people during the depression did not have money to pay the doctor, but he always seemed to have plenty of money and never complained. He did mention that some people couldn't pay. That was true for my father also during his practice. He had thousands of dollars on the books when he quit"4. Mrs. Howard's condition had of course severely drained the family's resources, but this came to an end with her death. (Robert Howard's income for the first few months had been extremely important ($1,400 according to Dr. Howard), and died with over $2,000 in cash and savings.)

        During those weeks, Isaac Howard's decisions would often oscillate between those of a bereaved man and those of a man who was interested in what he could get from his son's properties. Thus, a few weeks after his son's and wife's deaths, he bought a granite stone for the burial lot and had their coffins replaced. At the same time he had no problems with the gruesome act of driving the car in which his son had literally blown his brains out.

        In late July, after having tried in vain to hire several people to help him sort his son's writings, Isaac Howard eventually enlisted the aid of Howard's friend Norris Chambers (who was also the son of Dr. Howard's best friend) and that of a woman, possibly Kate Merryman, Mrs. Howard's nurse in her final days. What had happened in the meantime is that Isaac Howard had enlisted the services of Robert Howard's agent, Otis Adelbert Kline.

        On July 27, 1936, Dr. Howard sent what was to become the first of a long series of business-only letters:

Received letter from you this [day] containing a check for $58.20. I also received a check from Popular Fiction Co. Indianapolis, Indiana, for $60.00 and signed by William R. Springer, Pres & treasurer of Popular Fiction Co. I note on the back of this check, that this Popular Fiction Co. has claimed First American Magazine and Radio Rights to Manuscripts. I did not know and cannot tell under what terms Robert carried on with Farnsworth.
I am going to ask if you will make the collections from Weird Tales for Robert's moneies for 5%. I want to know if Robert surrendered all of his rights to these people, and frankly, I do not believe he did. I intend to submit his poems and manuscripts un-published to you, on a basis of 10% as I find it stated on [the] back of [the] check. […]

If Robert was operating under [the] kind of contract that I find printed on the back of this check, he was evidently giving up all of his rights, and the reason I wish to employ you to make collections from Weird Tales for the money they are now owing him, is in order for you to definitely ascertain just what rights he surrendered and just what rights he retained. Since Robert's death, I have had letters from certain writers who have intimated to me that sometime the game was not played exactly square. I do not wish in any way to question any agreement Robert may have had with his publishers, but I certainly want to know exactly the terms under which he sold his stuff.

If it suits you to make this collection for 5%, please indicate it by writing me at once. The manuscripts will go forward to you sometime this week as well as Robert's poems, and from here out, if you accept this proposition, handling the stories on a 10% basis and handling Weird Tales collections on a 5% basis, and handling his poems on a 10% basis, making such reservations as will protect my son's rights just the same as if he were living. Please let me have your answer at once; when I sign one of these checks with this printed contract, I realize that I am simply giving away all his rights."

        But getting in charge was much more difficult that Isaac Howard thought. On August 31, he wrote Kline:
I am hot, tired and mad. I drove thirty miles to the County Seat and back today. Twice I have appeared before the county court and asked that they close the estate of Robert E. Howard and release me as Administrator, and also my Bondsmen. Twice they have refused… I have succeeded in closing the estate of his mother, but the court obstinately refuses to close Robert's estate. The objection I find to my work as an administrator will be outlined as near as I can.
        These difficulties had in fact already been detailed in the previous letter, dated August 29:
I had asked the court to permit me to close the estate. It became an estate because Robert left his mother his Insurance and he died before she did; therefore we had to settle this as an estate and in so doing, the court ordered Robert's business to be settled as an estate. It seems that they will not allow me to close the estate until business pertaining to Robert's writing and etc. have been definitely settled. They seem not to be satisfied for me to deal with you outside of written contract and have so informed me that it must be acceptable to the court before we can proceed farther…. All that Robert had was mine and all that his mother had at her death was mine but the court has refused to declare my heirship until I have things settled satisfactorily to them. I assure you that it is quite a handicap because they demand settlement from me and every penny of money that comes into this estate. They also refuse to let me close the estate or release the bonds until such time as they see fit… In the meantime; however, try to get a check from Weird Tales. I need money to carry on under this administratorship. I am compelled to use money from it.
        Thus, Robert Howard, who had been preparing to commit suicide three times in less than a year, who had, each time, "set his house in order", had left his insurance to his mother, knowing of course that she would not need it very long, since she was dying. It is difficult to tell if Robert Howard expected his father to commit suicide or die from the shock: he had instructed the Otis Kline agency to send all checks to his father in a letter dated June 9, 1936, two days before the suicide, but, at the same time, had asked the sexton of the cemetery to prepare the lot for three burials. At any rate, it would be hard not to notice that Robert Howard, who had planned his suicide so carefully, who had even bought the burial lot, had not left a will, causing his father to be left in a very difficult situation.

        Among the Lyon Sprague de Camp's papers at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin were the following notes, a summary of an interview with Ms. Merryman, (Mrs. Howard's nurse), preparation material for what was to become De Camp's biography of Howard:

Ms. Merryman, 3/7/78.

She volunteered about finding [Robert's] while she + Dr. H. [Howard] were sorting through piles of papers that he had scattered all over the floor that night. The doctor had purchased a new leather cover trunk (large) to put the papers in + they were trying to put together the scattered sheets for the various stories + pack them neatly in the new trunk.

She came upon a handwritten sheet which she read and saw that it was a will leaving all his property to [Lindsey] Tyson. She said, "Look at this Doctor." He took it, read it, and said "Don't tell anything to anyone about this." And this was the last she or anyone else ever saw of it. Then later IMH swore solemnly that R. had died intestate.

This is independent confirmation of what L. Tyson himself told us the same day. He (L.T.) said a few days after the suicide, a lawyer in town stopped him on the street and told him R had willed everything to him, But that the doctor had destroyed the will. L. Tyson was disturbed + upset + didn't even ask for details Didn't want to profit from his friend's loss anyway, but he now resents it - feeling everybody's making money on Robert but him. (from a contribution of Paul Herman to the Robert E. Howard-Innercircle internet mailing list)

        The very strange lack of a will would thus be easily explained. Then, either Robert Howard did not expect his father to live longer than him, and hence left his properties to his (Robert's) best friend, or else he thought his father would survive him, but voluntarily left his properties to someone else. The first proposition is possible, but seems unlikely; if the second was averred, it would go a long way toward explaining Isaac Howard's ambivalent positions after his son's death, a strange mixture of grief and greed. At any rate, in the "absence" of a will, Isaac Howard's position was to remain difficult for quite some time. On September 4, he wrote a very harsh letter to Farnsworth Wright, who replied on the 6th:
My sympathy is not feigned, but entirely sincere. It was a great shock to me to learn of your son's death; all the more shocking to me because of my own sickness (encephalitis letargica), which, though its further progress was stopped five years ago by electrical fevers, had already progressed so far that it is physically impossible for me to even sign my name in ink.)… I must correct the impression that I or anyone else connected with Weird Tales " put in our pockets" the money that was due your son during the period when Weird Tales was in the throes of the depression. Fact is, I often did not know from one month to the other whether I could receive any money at all from the magazine; and I often received nothing (a serious condition, with my wife and son Robert to take care of); and it has been years since I received more than a fraction of the salary I used to get. My wife and I borrowed on our life insurance up to the limit of the policy's capacity; and when I got my veteran's bonus this year it all had to be applied on repayment of the loan from my life insurance.
        Isaac Howard immediately replied, and indicated that he "was indeed sorry to know of [Wright's] physical condition", and added: "I think I shall be more patient about things in the future".

        The exact nature of Isaac Howard's patience and understanding was outlined in his next letter to Kline, four days later:

I wrote Mr. Wright perhaps while in the state of mind that I should not have written anyone…. I am very tired of this administration and I want a release as quick as I can it, so deal with these reprint rights [from Weird Tales] for the best bargain you can get. Close it up, and we will dismiss the thought of any court motion. Then keep a continued pressure on Weird Tales for collection. As a matter of course you will, because your money comes like mine. Yours is commission, of course, but it is all collected in the same way by yourself as an agent.
        This letter concluded with an enquiry as to a possible sale of poems to Weird Tales. Dr. Howard wrote: "Please tell me if Weird Tales wants any of those poems. I still insist if they want the poems… that they pay for them when they get them, and sell them to them with only the first American Serial rights, and after that they will revert to me." On September 17, he was repeating much of the same thing: "just here let me ask you if Weird Tales wanted any of the poems on the terms I offered; and again tell me, please, if Weird Tales hold only the first American Serial rights to the poems they have published….and if Weird Tales only hold the first American Serial rights I want to know of it."

        And in February 1937, as the situation of the poems had not yet been cleared, Isaac Howard remembered Wright's medical status: "Mr. Kline, this is a postscript in which I wish to say to you confidentially that Mr. Wright is not a healthy man. He wrote himself to that effect. I do not question Mr. Wright's integrity in the least, for I know he is an honest man. But Life is uncertain, death is sure. Those manuscripts have been lying in the W.T. office for months, and I want you to get them at once."

        Judge Carpenter, after long negotiations, eventually declared the Robert E. Howard Estate closed in early November 1936. Isaac Howard commented this decision in a letter dated November 10, to Farnsworth Wright: "Judge Carpenter was a hard boiled old skate, very jealous of Robert's rights, like yourself; once you said Robert was your discovery; Judge Carpenter seemed to consider Robert as his Ward and was very jealous of Robert's rights; so much so at times he interfered with the business we were trying to settle."

        Isaac Howard's next letter to Wright is dated December 19. This letter is the first one to examine for anyone that is interested in the story - really, a fable - that Dr. Howard salvaged his son's magazines collection from the Howard Payne College to save them from destruction and protect his son's writings.
        In that letter, thus, an apparently irate Dr. Howard wrote:

After Robert's death I felt that I wanted by every means possible to keep the memory of him alive. This was what moved me to give his library to Howard Payne College. They asked me for it. I gave them not only his books but also the filed copies of those magazines which contained all he ever wrote to Weird Tales, as well as to other magazines. As you remember, Robert surrendered all his rights to a large part of all the stories published in Weird Tales Magazine.
        We'll pause for an instant to ponder on that last sentence. What has the fact that Howard surrendered all his rights to the stories published in Weird Tales any bearing to the discussion at hand, i.e. salvaging the magazines ?
These magazines were installed and I was particular enough to have Howard Payne College place his Library in a room apart from all the rest of the Library in the college. I took the utmost pains to have this collection placed in such a manner as to preserve it entirely.

I was in the Library one day this week. I find that they are wearing the backs of his magazines. The next thing the leaves will be falling apart, and all that Robert Howard ever wrote will be lost to me if they remain there.

        The solution to this apparent problem seems easy enough: Dr. Howard only has to take those magazines home. But, and we are about to see, this is not the course that he will adopt. In fact, it will take another two months for him to begin to salvage some - but not all, far from it - of the magazines. Why then did Isaac Howard wait a full two months before rescuing those magazines that were in great danger of "falling apart" and thus condemning "all that Robert Howard ever wrote" to be "lost"?

Dr Howard explained Wright that:

I have got to do one of two things If I [want to ] preserve his magazines. (The books will stand rough usage) the magazines will not. First, I have got to take those magazines out of that Library or else I have got to ask you this: Will you concede to me the right to have published all of Robert's stories in a paper bound cover, or in as cheap a cover as I can get, in order to preserve his writings for myself? I am not asking you to make this concession to me in order to sell this volume. In making this you can restrict the publication to one or two books only, and not impair your right.

One thing I feel sure, that you will never compile these stories in book form but merely keep them on your files and maybe once in a great while you will use one for a reprint. Mr. Wright, remember this: you will be using this for money. I will use it simply to preserve the writings of my dead son. Yours will be used for commercial purpose. Mine will be used for sacred memory. This is in your hands. Write to me what your conscience dictates you ought to do. Please study it carefully before you reject this request.

        It then becomes clear that the letter was being written only with the intent for Isaac Howard to show Wright that he only wanted to "preserve" the "sacred memory" of his son's writings. Not for monetary purposes. Why then doesn't he rescue those magazines ? And why all those questions on the matter of rights and reprints ?

        In fact, Isaac Howard's interest in the question of the exact nature of the rights retained - or not - by Weird Tales was a long-standing one. We have already mentioned the repeated inquiries as to the poems, but these were far from isolated. Concerning the Conan stories specifically, he had already part of the answer when he wrote Wright that December: in his 31 August 1936 letter to Kline, he had mentioned: "I find I had a letter in which Mr. Wright released Robert the American rights on the following stories which had appeared in Weird Tales…' (followed by a list of the first eight Conan stories published in Weird Tales). And on September 12: "Does Mr. Wright's list show that he has released these book rights on these stories to Robert? Look into the matter. If they won't trade, remember that these are Robert's. I have the letter to that effect. To be sure they will grab and hold all they have and all they can get, but I want you to be sure that every reprint story that we have a right to pay for, we will demand the pay."

        Thus, when he was writing that December 19 letter to Farnsworth Wright, Isaac Howard knew very well that Weird Tales only retained first Serial Rights to their stories, that they would have to pay for reprints, and that at least eight of the Conan stories had reverted back. The logical surmise to all this, then, is that when Isaac Howard was writing this letter, he was only "testing the waters", trying to ascertain what Weird Tales' position would be, were someone to publish a bookform edition of the Conan stories, hence the seemingly odd remark that "As you know, Robert surrendered all his rights to a large part of all the stories published in Weird Tales Magazine." It is an interesting aside to note that Isaac Howard's sudden interest in the fate of the Conan stories emerged in December 1936, that is to say the same month that Otis Kline was closing the deal to publish Howard's Breckinridge Elkins' stories in bookform…

        Very logically, Isaac Howard wrote Kline on February 3, 1937:

I am now asking some information. You know that Weird Tales only have the first Serial rights to not all of Robert's stories. I am thinking about the Conan stories. Weird Tales had only the first rights. Am I not right? If so, I am of the opinion that we can have these Conan stories put in book form. I want you to write me direct about this. If Weird Tales has no further right except the first rights, I don't see why you should not take these stories, whip them into shape of book form and be able to sell them. Please read this letter carefully and answer me at once. Answer fully all questions herein asked….
P.S. If we can sell these stories or have them put in book form, I am going to take the copies out of Howard Payne Library and preserve them and have them published. If I am correct, I don't believe we will have a bit of trouble in having them published. I believe that even Weird Tales would do the job for us.
        Given the above, one could even doubt whether the magazines were so poorly treated as Isaac Howard implied in his December letter. For, and despite the scandalous treatment of the magazines by the Howard Payne staff, Dr. Howard did NOT rescue the magazines. The whole letter to Wright appears to be nothing but a disguised way to learn more of the exact status of the rights retained by Weird Tales.

        In the next letter to Kline, dated February 19, 1937, Isaac Howard mentions that he has at least decided to salvage his son's "sacred memory" and "writings". At least, some of these, but not all, since he only brought the Weird Tales back, i.e. those that contain the Conan stories, i.e. the ones that he thought he could market in bookform. The rest were left to mould some more at Howard Payne: "I went to Howard Payne this week and I brought all of Robert's filed copies of Weird Tales, that I had given to Howard Payne. I put them in a place of safety and they are now in my possession. Those Conan stories are grand. They will make a fine book; better than The Gent From Bear Creek [sic], and they have only the First Serial Rights, and I have also a list of fine stories with Farnsworth's signature to it, giving Robert back his Book Rights; they are locked in the bank vault and I am going to keep them. I have tried to be very explicit about what I want to do in this letter. I hope I have not been discourteous in stating myself, but I mean business."

        Isaac Howard didn't stop here. After some consideration, he at last decided to bring home ALL of Howard's magazines. And he informed Kline of his decision on March 8, 1937. It could be supposed, this time, that this was done only to preserve his son's "sacred memory", but this was not the case, as the idea of bookform editions was clearly in his mind:

I wish to say this, I have brought all of Robert's filed copies of every magazine that he has ever written for home and placed in a steel chest made for the purpose. The Costigan stories would make a wonderful book. More interesting than the Elkin [sic] stories. If you never read them; this is a rough neck sailor and his bulldog on a wind jammer. He was a slugger from Cork. He fought round the world, in every port from Shangi [sic] to Galveston, Texas. His description is so intense you can hear the leather ringing in every bout. I do not know what it would take to get the book right from Street & Smith.
I know one thing: Weird Tales did not get all Roberts rights, because at the last he took up for himself, and they did not get the rights to the Conan. That would make a mighty fine book.
        Kline replied on April 13, 1937 that he was indeed trying to market the Costigan stories, but that chances were slim, since "[p]ublishers, as a rule, are gun-shy of story-collections". Kline proved unable to sell these stories. (It is interesting to note here that a few months later - in the Fall of 1937 - Fiction House began reprinting the Steve Costigan stories under different titles, with the author given as "Mark Adam". One should not, however, interpret this as an attempt by Isaac Howard to bypass Kline: the fact was standard pulp practice, and "Mark Adam" (as well as "John Starr") were house-names at Fiction House).

        Unfortunately, at this point, the correspondence of Dr. Howard with Kline seems to taper off; or perhaps this part of the correspondence has been lost; only a few letters survive, and it becomes hazardous to put forth hypotheses as to what was happening afterwards. Over the years, Kline did manage to sell some of Howard's stories, most notably Howard's unfinished novel, posthumously titled Almuric. But it was becoming increasingly difficult to sell stories that had been written two to ten years earlier.

        Up to the very last months of his life, Isaac Howard remained intransigent in business matters, and August Derleth reported that he and Otis Kline had "the devil of a time with old Dr. Howard" to conclude the deal (in 1944, a few weeks before Dr. Howard's death) to publish Skull-Face and Others (published 1946).

        The picture of Dr. Howard that emerges from these letters written after his son's death is not a very sympathetic one, to say the least. Certainly all this is insufficient to draw conclusions as to the man's overall character; most of the people who knew him in the flesh found him a sympathetic person, and there is no reason to doubt their word. But all the above casts a dark shadow on this particular time-frame of the man's life and on the exact nature of the relations between Robert Howard and his father. As usual in the Howard family, it seems that "they were lovely and pleasant in their lives" only to those who were not part of that family.

© Patrice Louinet - June 2001.
All rights reserved.


I would like to thank Glenn Lord, who supplied me with copies of the many unpublished letters mentioned and quoted in this essay, and Norris Chambers, who graciously shared his reminiscences of Robert E. and Isaac M. Howard, as well as supplied a digital copy of the Isaac M. Howard picture.
Obvious typographical errors and misspellings in the letters were corrected, and stories & magazines titles standardized.

(1) The Howard Collector vol 1, number 1, Summer 1961. (Back)

(2) Robert E. Howard: Selected Letters 1931-1936, Necronomicon Press, 1991, p. 78 (Back)

(3) Unpublished letter; this passage is reproduced in The Last Celt, D.M. Grant, 1976, pp. 59-60. (Back)

(4) Personal communication from Norris Chambers, 18 April 2001. (Back)








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