E. HOFFMAN PRICE to
H. P. LOVECRAFT,
dated June 25, 1936
Last page of your letter hit me between the eyes. I don't know what to say. On June third he wrote me post card reporting prodigious bales of sales, for cash, to Argosy, Top-Notch and Action Stories, in each case with an order for a series.
Can you authenticate the story? It seems so damn outrageous I can't believe it. Or is that because I don't want to believe it--just like hearing of Whitehead's death left me a bit numb, so I had to tell myself over and over that he really was dead, and wouldn't write the letter he promised in that last postal card--ye gods, what sinister finality is there in postal cards?
To hell with the blow to literature and/or fiction. I laugh that off. You see, I had twice halted my caravan at his door, and the loss of the man is so damned incomparably greater than the loss to anything as stupid as literature that I can hardly hold the two ideas in my mind simultaneously. Maybe, later, I'll acquire the mental agility.
I appreciate your nomination for writing the obituary. Right now, I don't know what to say. Perhaps it might be easier for those who never met him at all. A complex and baffling personality one can't--couldn't--get all at once. An overgrown boy--a brooding anachronism--a scholar--a gripping, compelling writer--a naive boy scout--a man of great emotional depth, yet strangely self-conscious of many emotional phases which he unjustly claimed he could never put into writing fiction--a burly, broad-faced, not unduly shrewd looking fellow at first glance--a courtly, gracious, kindly, hospitable person--a hearty, rollicking, gusty, spacious personality loving tales and deeds that reeked of sweat and dust and dung of horses and sheep and camels--a blustering, boyish, extravagantly-spoken boy who made up whopping stories about the country and people and himself, not to deceive or fool you, but because he loved the sweep of the words and knew you liked to hear him hold forth--a fanciful, sensitive, imaginative soul, hidden in that big bluff hulk. A man of strange, whimsical, bitter and utterly illogical resentments and hatreds and enmities and grudges--hell--I can't begin to tell you what a man this Howard was. Not a thing I have said, understand, is really true--merely as true as I can make it in my bungling attempt to describe so many facets.
I'm baffled. Describing Howard is like trying to tell you, in words written or spoken, the difference between rye whiskey and bourbon whiskey--only infinitely more difficult. Rye whiskey of course has the flavor of rye--but what does that mean to a man who perchance has never tasted rye in distillation? I can only describe it in terms of itself--and Howard only in terms of Howard. If you met Howard, I can not add; if you did not, I can not start. And the Howard I met may be a different Howard from the one you might have met had you enjoyed my opportunities.
Right now, I sort of feel clubbed on the head. I asked Mashburn to let me monopolize your letter, in that your remarks were esoteric retorts to long-bandied jests and "conversations" so that it would be to a degree unintelligible to him. So I read. We had just spoken of Howard, oddly enough--Then this.
His best works, for the past seven years, did not appear in W.T., but in non-fantastic fields. His earlier weird yarns, plus his "rational" stories of modern times, Texas characters, were the cream; his Conan series were really the dregs of his talent, not the tops.
That obituary--hell, I don't know what I could write. A lot of silly sounding drool--my effort to say what I found when I went to Cross Plains. How I drove to the "Accursed Mountain" with him. How I went from village to village listening to local lore of mighty slayings, maimings, battles. How he found me an oil driller in operation, presented me to an old Pennsylvania Dutchman, who courteously explained all the finesse of a "Ft. Worth spudder" as compared with other drilling tools. And how Howard, after we left, seriously told me that if the Dutchman had omitted one trivial detail or held out one fine point, he, Two Gun, would go back and maul him to a pulp with his bare hands, just as a lesson and a warning that visiting dignitaries were not to be slighted. How he would from time to time draw his Colt Automatic from the side pocket of his car as he approached locales where his "enemies" might be lurking--how he gravely and seriously queried me as to my enemies. And so on--a man of such dazzling whims and humors and fancies, profound, naive, philosophic, boyish--aw, hell--how would a heap of suchlike drool look in print? How we led the Sacred Cow to pasture--how he had a sense, deeply and unwarrantably ingrown, of his own unworthiness and ineptitude as a writer, How the town despised him as a loafer and varmint and freak, and how it pleased him to have "nationally known" writers visit him, so that these "G-- D-- x--ng x--ng" yokels of Cross Plains will know I at least have friends who amount to something in this writing business, even if I don't." And he'd write me, "My stock went up a good many points since I showed you around town--" Too sincere and hearty to say such things as a "compliment" to a guest; just his incomprehensible and utterly unwarranted self deprecation beyond any traditions of "modesty". Nor was it as a crude bait to "fish" for a compliment to assure him he was quite a great fellow. He was so damn simple and hearty, sincere; so devoid of any cheap tricks of that sort in piecing together those trifling remarks, I can only conclude that it was neither flattery to a guest, nor "fishing" for a compliment, but an humility and sense of inferiority that no one shared with him. So--and I cut this short--how the hell can I write about the man without, through my crudeness of expression and ineptitude of example and interpretation, doing him injustice, making him seem odd, freakish, uncouth--instead of just unique; a person unlike any other? Doubtless he WAS freakish, uncouth, provincial in some respects--when viewed by an UNSYMPATHETIC PERSON--but the man himself had so many diverse aspects that no one, no two, no twenty facets can possibly "characterize" him. Perhaps I liked him well enough to see all these many facets--liked him, so that I joined him in all his freaks and whims rather than viewing them from a detached angle. I can't "interpret" him. Howard was a unit--remove any one facet, and you no longer have Howard, the man of dizzying contradictions. And now my great grief is that en route from Mexico to California I "didn't have time" to detour and spend another day with him--I visited hi, you know, en route from California to Mexico. But I didn't anticipate this. And it leaves me feeling sort of amputated, bludgeoned, robbed or something. And what the hell can I write? I did appreciate his writings, deeply and heartily, and often wrote him to that effect. I was deeply grateful for his encouragement when I went into the fiction writing business in 1932, and often told him so. Our first correspondence of our having simultaneously written to the editor of W. T. a fan letter, each about the other's story--neither suspecting that the other was doing the same.
That hearty, gusty, salty, high invective and prodigious oaths with which he garnished the higher moments of our conversations, when we savagely assailed some of the more effeminate and less virile seeming members of the writing tribe and their foibles. An intolerant, rabid, extreme sort of fellow, Howard, with mighty likes and dislikes--whether reasonable or not, makes no difference.
And that hospitality and cordiality and brotherliness of the reception one gets--though if one were disliked, I fancy one would be greeted with great blocks of cord wood hurled at one's chin, would be mightily kicked in the stomach, dragged through fresh dung newly dropped by Delhi, the Brahma-Jersey cow, keel hauled, and hurled into a cactus patch!
All of these impression, reminiscences, pictures, recollections of the Howard personality would sound a bit odd in print, would they not? But I can't write his obituary in any other vein but his own--gusty, profane, sweaty, vulgar, boisterous, whimsical, gargantuan, fanciful, exaggerated--
And one of the best things he ever wrote appeared under the name "Sam Walser" in Spicy Adventures, a bawdy yarn of high hearted breeziness, saltiness, which--oddly enough--was utterly free of the forced cheap smut that characterizes the book.
Maybe that last bit gives you another angle on that complex Howard I'll never again try to outdo in prodigious oaths and extravagant invective and more extravagant conceits.
Now, write all that into the Eyrie? What he wrote was a joy that lingers, and I have many a time re-read many of his tales--but what he wrote was so god damn insignificant compared to the man himself that I can't be bothered with any appreciations of his writings.
In fact, I feel very much robbed, and I can't waste any emotions on the loss to "literature"--I'm too god damned concerned with how beastly dreary it will be the next time I cross 1100 miles of Texas without swilling mighty flagons of beer and buttermilk with Bob Howard.
If you have any hints on how to write it, how I ought to write, what I ought to write, how to say my say without becoming stereotyped, and yet saying it in a way that an editor could put into print--sound off, and I'll welcome it. And is there any chance that the rumor may be incorrect? I'd hate to waste an obituary like this unpublishable one of today, on any living man.