A Review

The Low Brow And The High Brow

An In Depth Study Of Edgar Rice Burroughs’

The Mucker And Marcia Of The Doortstep


R.E. Prindle

Part II

Background Of The Second Decade- Personal


     Erwin Porges’ ground breaking biography Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Man Who Invented Tarzan is the basic source for the course of ERB’s life.  John Taliaferro’s Tarzan Forever is heavily indebted to Porges adding little new.  Robert Fenton’s excellent The Big Swinger is a brilliant extrapolation of Burroughs’ life taken from the evidence of the Tarzan series.

     Porges, the first to pore though the unorganized Tarzana archives, is limited by the inadequacies of his method and his deference for his subject.  His is an ideal Burroughs rather than a flesh and blood one.  Matt Cohen’s Brother Men: The Correspondene Of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Herbert T. Weston has provided much fresh material concerning ERB’s character.

     Bearing in mind always that Weston’s evaluation of Burroughs in his August 1934 letter in reply to Charles Rosenberg, whoever he was, about ERB’s divorce is one man’s opinion nevertheless his statements can be corroborated by ERB’s behavior over this decade as well as throughout his life.  My intent is not to diminish ERB in any way.  Nothing can take away the fact that Burroughs created Tarezan, but like anyone else he was subjected to glacial pressures that distorted and metamorphosed his character.

     During the Second Decade as he experienced a realization of who he was, or who he had always thought he should be, or in other words as he evolved back from a pauper to a prince, he was subjected to excruciatingly difficult changes.

     A key to his character in this period is his relationship to his marriage.  It seems clear that he probably would never have married, stringing Emma along until she entered spinsterhood while never marrying her.  He seemingly married her to keep her away from Frank Martin.  As he later said of Tarzan, the ape man should never have married.

     Rosenberg in his letter to Weston (p.234, Brother Men) said that ‘…Ed says he has always wanted to get rid of Emma….’  The evidence seems to indicate this.  After ERB lost Emma’s confidence in Idaho, gambling away the couple’s only financial resources, his marriage must have become extremely abhorrent to him.  I’m sure that after the humiliations of Salt Lake City this marriage had ended for him in his mind.  That it was his own fault changes nothing.  He may simply have transferred his self-loathing to Emma.

     That Emma loved and stood by Burroughs is evident.  that he was unable to regain her confidence is clear from his writing.  The final Tarzan novels of the decade in one of which, Tarzan The Untamed, Burroughs burns Jane into a charred mess identifiable only by her jewelry show a developing breach.  Probably the jewelry was that which ERB hocked as the first decade of the century turned.  Now, this is a fairly violent reaction.

     ERB states that he walked out on Emma several times over the years.  In Fenton’s extrapolation of Burroughs’ life from his Tarzan novels this period was undoubtedly one of those times.  There seems to have been a reconciliation attempt between Tarzan and Jane between Tarzan The Untamed and Tarzan The Terrible.  Then between Tarzan And The Golden Lion and Tarzan And The Ant Men ERB’s attempt to regain Emma’s confidence seems to have failed as Jane chooses the clown Tarzan- Esteban Miranda-, one of my favorite characters- over the heroic Tarzan -ERB – in Tarzan And The Ant Men.

     This undoubtedly began ERB’s search for a Flapper wife which took form in the person of Florence Gilbert beginning in 1927.


     Weston says of ERB in his disappointment and rage over ERB’s divorce of Emma that ‘…the fact that Ed always has been unusual, erratic and perhaps queer, has been his great charm and attraction for me…’ (p.223, Brother Men)   There’s a remote possibility that ‘queer’ may mean homosexual but I suppose he means ‘odd’ or imcomprehensible in his actions.  The evidence for this aspect of ERB’s character is overwhelming while being well evidenced by his strange, spectacular and wonderful antics during the second decade.  When Weston says of him that ‘…there is no woman on earth that would have lived with him, and put up with him, except Emma…’ there is plenty of reason to accept Weston’s opinion.

     Part of ERB’s glacial overburden came from his father, George T. who died on February 13, 1913.  Burroughs always professed great love for his father, celebrating his birthday every year of his life, although one wonders why.

     Apparently George T. broadcast to the world that he thought ERB was ‘no good.’  His opinion could have been no secret to Burroughs.  Weston who says that he always maintained cordial relations with George T., still thought him a difficult man, always dropping  in to visit him on trips through Chicago said that George T. complained to him, ERB’s best friend, that his son was no good. While without disagreeing with George T. up to that point, Weston said that he thought there was plenty of good in ERB but that he just hadn’t shown it yet.  Kind of a back handed compliment, reminds me of Clarence Darrow’s defense of Big Bill Haywood:  Yeah, he did it, but who wouldn’t?’

     Such an opinion held by one’s father is sure to have a scarring effect on one’s character.  How exactly the effect of this scarring worked itself out during this decade isn’t clear to me.  Perhaps Burroughs’ mid year flight to California shortly after his father’s death was ERB’s attempt to escape his father’s influence.  Perhaps his 1916 flight was the same while his move to California in 1919 was the culmination of his distancing himself from his father.  That is mere conjecture at this point.

     Now, what appears erratic from outside follows an inner logic in the subject’s mind unifying his actions.  What’s important to the subject is not what obsevers think should be important.


     The scholars of the Burroughs Bulletin, ERBzine and ERBList have also added much with additional niggardly releases of material by Danton Burroughs at the Tarzana archives.  One of the more valuable additions to our knowledge has been Bill Hillman’s monumental compilation of the books in ERB’s library.

     Let’s take a look at the library.  It was important to ERB; a key to his identity.  Books do furnish a mind, as has been said, so in that light in examining his library we examine the furnishing  of his mind.  The shelves formed an important backdrop to his office with his desk squarely in front of the shelves.  ERB is seated proudly at the desk with his books behind him.

     How much of the library survived and how much was lost isn’t known at this time.  Hillman lists over a thousand titles.  Not that many, really.  The library seems to be a working library.  There are no the long rows of matching sets by standard authors.  The evidence is that Burroughs actually read each and every one of these books.  They found their way into the pages of his books in one fictionalized form or another.  Oddly authors who we know influenced him greatly like London, Wells, Haggard and Doyle are not represented.

     Most of the works of these authors were released before 1911 when Burroughs was short of the ready.  Unless those books were lost he never filled in his favorites of those years.  That strikes me as a little odd.

     It is generally assumed that he picked up his Martian information from Lowell, yet in Skelton Men Of Jupiter he says:  ‘…I believed with Flammarion that Mars was habitable and inhabited; then a newer and more reputable school of scientists convinced me it was neither….’  The statement shows that Camille Flammarion’s nineteenth century book was the basis for Burroughs’ vision of Mars while Lowell was not.  Further having committed himself to Flammarion’s vision he was compelled to stick to it after he had been convinced otherwise.  When that understanding was obtained by him we don’t know but at sometime he realized that the early Martian stories were based on a false premiss.

     Thus, his Mars became a true fiction when his restless, searching mind was compelled by judicious reasoning of new material to alter his opinion.  That he could change his mind so late in life is an important fact.  It means that behind his fantasy was a knowledge of solid current fact.  The results of his pen came from a superior mind.  It was not the maundering of an illiterate but amusing boob.

     Organizing the books of his library into a coherent pattern is difficult.  I haven’t and I Imagine few if any have read all his list.  Based on my preliminary examination certain patterns can be found.  He appeared to follow the Chicago novel by whomever, Edna Ferber’s So Big is a case in point.  Seemingly unrelated titles can be grouped aorund certain Burroughs’ titles as infuences.

     In 1924 when Marcia Of The Doorstep was written ERB had already formed his intention of leaving, or getting rid, of Emma.  He began a fascination with Flappers that would result in his liaison with Florence.

     After the move to Hollywood in 1919 a number of sex and Flapper potboilers find their way into his library.  The tenor of literature changed greatly after the War showing a sexual explicitness that was not there prior to the Big Event.  To be sure the graphic descriptions of the sex act current in contemporary literature was not permissible but the yearning to do so was certainly there.  Language was retrained but ‘damn’ began to replace ‘d–n’ and a daring goddamn became less a rarity.

     Perhaps the vanguard of the change came in 1919 when an event of great literary and cultural import took place.  Bernarr Macfadden whose health and fitness regimes had very likely  influenced Burroughs during the first couple decades decided to publish a magazine called “True Story.”  The magazine was the forerunner of the Romance pulp genre while certainly being in the van of what would become the Romance genre of current literature.

     The advance was definitely low brow, not to say vulgar, indicating the direction of subsequent societal development including the lifting of pornographic censorship.  Pornography followed from “True Store” as night follows day.

     The magazine coincided with the emergence of the Flapper as the feminine ideal of the twenties.  In literature this was abetted by the emergence in literary fiction of F. Scott Fitzgerald.  His Beautiful And Damned is a key volume in Burroughs’ library forming an essential part of Marcia.  To my taste Fitzgerald is little more than a high quality pulp writer like Burroughs.  I can’t see the fuss about him.  He riminds me of Charles Jackson’s The Lost Weekend and vice versa.  In fact, I think Jackson mined the Beautiful And  Damned.  Plagiarize would be too strong a word.

     “True Story” caught on like a flash.  By 1923 the magazine was selling 300,000 copies an issue; by 1926, 2,000,000.  Low brow was on the way in.  Vulgarity wouldn’t be too strong a word.  Macfadden had added titles such as “True Romances” and “Dream World” to his stable.  His magazine sales pushed him far ahead of the previous leader, Hearst Publications, and other publishers.  Pulpdom had arrived in a big way.

     Where Macfadden rushed in others were sure to follow.  The sex thriller, the stories of willful and wayward women, which weren’t possible before, became a staple of the twenties in both books and movies.

     ERB’s own The Girl From Hollywood  published in magazine form in 1922, book form in 1923, might be considered his attempt at entering the genre.  Perhaps if he had thrown in a few Flapper references and changed the appearance and character of his female leads he mgiht have created a seamless transition from the nineteenth century to the twenties.  A few Flapper terms might have boomed his ales much as when Carl Perkins subsititued ‘Go, cat, go’ for go, man, go’ in his Blue Suede Shoes and made sonversts of all us fifties types.

     Certainly ERB’s library shows a decided interest in the genre from 1920 to 1930.  Whether the interest was purely professional, an attempt to keep up with times, or personal in the sense of his unhappiness in his marriage may be open to question.  I would have to reread his production of these years with the New Woman in mind to seek a balance.

     Still, during the period that led up to his affair with Forence ERB seems to have been an avid reader of Flapper and New Woman novels.

     He had a number of novels by Elinor Glyn who was the model of the early sex romance.  He had a copy of E.M. Hull’s The Sheik, that shortly became the movie starring Rudolph Valentine with its passionate sex scenes.  A ‘Sheik’ became the male synonym for Elinor Glyn’s ‘It’ girl.

     Of course, the influence of Warner Fabian’s Flaming youth of 1923, both book and movie, on ERB is quite obvious.

      Just prior to this relationship with Florence he read a number of novels by Beatrice Burton with such sexy titles as The Flapper wife-The Story Of A Jazz Bride, Footloose, Her Man, Love Bound  and Easy published from 1925 to 1930.

     I would like to concentrate on Burton’s novels for a couple reasons; not least because of the number of her novels in ERB’s library but that when Burroughs sought publication for his low brow Tarzan in 1913-14 he was coldly rebuffed even after the success of his newspaper serializations.  The disdain of the entire publishing industry was undoubtedly because Burroughs was the pioneer of a new form of literature.  In its way the publication of Tarzan was the prototype on which Macfadden could base “True Story.”  Not that he might not have done it anyway but the trail was already trampled down for him.  In 1914 Burroughs violated all the canons of ‘polite’ or high brow literature.

     A.L. Burt accepted Tarzan Of The Apes for mass market publication reluctantly and only after guarantees for indemnification against loss.  Now at the time of Beatrice Burton’s low brow Romance genre novels, which were previously serialized in newspapers, Grosset and Dunlap sought out Burton’s stories publishing them in cheap editions without having been first published as full priced books much like Gold Seal in the fifties would publish paperback ‘originals’ which had never been in hard cover.  Writers like Burton benefited from the pioneering efforts of Burroughs.  G& D wasn’t going to be left behind again.  Apparently by the mid-twenties profits were more important than cultural correctness.

     As ERB had several Burton volumes in his library it might not hurt to give a thumbnail of who she was.  needless to say I had never read or even heard of her before getting interested in Burroughs and his Flapper fixation.  One must also believe that Elinor Glyn volumes in ERB’s library dating as early as 1902 were purchased in the twenites as I can’t believe ERB was reading this soft sort of thing as a young man.  Turns out that our Man’s acumen was as usual sharp.  Not that Burton’s novels are literary masterpieces but she has a following amongst those interested in the Romance genre.  The novels have a crude literary vigor which are extremely focused and to the point.  This is no frills story telling.  The woman could pop them out at the rate or two or three a year too.

     Her books are apparently sought after; fine firsts with dust jackets go for a hundred dollars or more.  While that isn’t particularly high it is more than the casual reader wants to pay.  Might be a good investment though.  The copies I bought ran from fifteen to twenty dollars, which is high for what is usually filed in the nostalgia section.  Love Bound was forty dollars.  I bought the last but it was more than I wanted to pay just for research purposes.

     There is little biographical information about Burton available.  I have been able to piece together that she was born in 1894.  No death date has been recorded as of postings to the internet so she must have been alive at the last posting which woud have made her a hundred at least.

     She is also known as Beatrice Burton Morgan.  She was an actress who signed a contract with David Belasco in 1909 which would have made her fifteen or sixteen.  Her stage name may have been Beatrice Morgan.  The New York Public Library has several contracts c. 1919 in her papers.

     One conjectures that her stage and film career was going nowhere.  In The Flapper Wife she disparages Ziegfeld as Ginfeld the producer of the famous follies.

     Casting about for alternatives in the arts she very likely noticed the opening in sex novels created by Macfadden and the Roaring Twenties.  The Flapper Wife seems to have been her first novel in 1925.  The book may possibly have been in response to Warner Fabian/Samuel Hopkins Adams’ Flaming Youth.

     As the motto for his book he had “those who know, don’t tell, those who tell, don’t know.’  The motto refers to the true state of mind of women.  Burton seems to have taken up the challenge- knows all and tells all.  Flapper Wife was an immediate popular success when taken from the newspapers by G&D.  Critics don’t sign checks so while their opinion is noted it is irrelevant.

     Burton apparently hit it big as the movies came afer her, Flapper Wife was made into a movie in 1925 entitled His Jazz Bride.  Burton now had a place in Hollywood.  Burroughs undoubtedly also saw the movie.  What success Burton’s later life held awaits further research.  As there is no record of her death on the internet it is safe to assume that when her copyrights were renewed in the fifties it was by herself.

     There are a number of titles in the library having to do with the Flapper.  The library, then gives a sense of direction to ERB’s mental changes.  There are, of course, the Indian and Western volumes that prepared his way for novels in those genres.  As always his off the top of his head style is backed by sound scholarship.

     The uses of the various travel volumes, African and Southeast Asian titles are self-evident.  I have already reviewed certain titles as they applied to Burroughs’ work; this essay involves more titles and I hope to relate other titles in the future.  So the library can be a guide to Burroughs’ inner changes as he develops and matures over the years.

     The amont of material available to interpret ERB’s life has expanded greatly since Porges’ groundbreaking biography.  Much more work remains to be done.

     The second decade is especially important for ERB’s mental changes as his first couple dozen stories were written beginnng in 1911.  Moreso than most writers, and perhaps more obviously Burroughs work was autobiographical in method.  As he put it in 1931’s Tarzan, The Invincible, he ‘highly fictionalized’ his details.  For instance, the Great War exercised him greatly.  From 1914 to the end of the War five published novels incorporate war details into the narrative:  Mad King II, Beyond Thirty, Land That Time Forgot, Tarzan The Untamed, and Tarzan The Terrible as well as unpublished works like The Little Door.  Yet I don’t think the extent that the War troubled him is recognized.  The man was a serious political writer.

     Thus between the known facts and his stories a fairly coherent life of Burroughs can be written.  My essays here on the ERBzine can be arranged in chronological order to give a rough idea of what my finished biography will be like.

     Burroughs was a complex man with a couple fixed ideas.  One was his desire to be a successful businessman.  This fixed obsession almost ruined him.  He was essentially a self-obsessed artist and as such had no business skills although he squandered untold amounts of time and energy which might better have been applied to his art than in attempts to be a business success.

     In many ways he was trying to justify his failure to be a business success by the time he was thirty rather than making the change to his new status as an artist.

     As a successful artist he was presented with challenges that had nothing to do with his former life.  These were all new challenges for which he had no experience to guide him while he was too impetuous to nsit down and thnk them out properly.  Not all that many in his situation do.  Between magazine sales, book publishing and the movies he really should have had a business manager as an intermdiary.  Perhaps Emma might have been able to function in that capacity much as H.G. Well’s wife jane did for him.  At any rate book and movie negotiations diverted time and energy from his true purpose of writing.

     His attempt to single handedly  run a five hundred plus acre farm and ranch while writing after leaving Chicago ended in a dismal failure.  Even his later investments in an airplane engine and airport ended in a complete disaster.  Thank god he didn’t get caught up in stock speculations of the twenties.  As a businessman he was doomed to failure; he never became successful.  It if hadn’t been for the movie adaptations of Tarzan he would have died flat broke.

     Still his need was such that he apparently thought of his writing as a business even going so far as to rent office space and, at least in 1918, according to a letter to Weston, keeping hours from 9:00 to 5:30.  Strikes me as strange.  Damned if I would.

     At the end of the decade he informed Weston that he intended to move to Los Angeles, abandon writing and, if he was serious, go into the commercial raising of swine.  The incredulousness of Weston’s reply as he answered ERB’s questions on hog feed comes through the correspondence.

     Think about it.  Can one take such flakiness on ERB’s part seriously?  Did he really think his income as a novice pig raiser would equal his success as a writer with an intellectual property like Tarzan?  Weston certainly took him seriously and I think we must also.  There was the element of the airhead about him.

     A second major problem was his attitude toward his marriage and his relationship with Emma.

     He appears to have been dissatisfied with both at the beginning and decade and ready to leave both at the end.  According to the key letter of Weston ERB was an extremely difficult husbnad with whom Emma had to be patient.  As Weston put it, no other woman would have put up with his antics.  Unfortunately he doesn’t give details of those antics but the indications are that Emma was a long suffering wife.

     ERB’s resentment of her apparently became an abiding hatred.  Danton Burroughs released information about ERB’s third great romance with a woman named Dorothy Dahlberg during the war years of WWII through Robert Barrett the BB staff writer in issue #64.

     After having been estranged from her husband for about a decade Emma died on 11-05-44, probably of a broken heart.  ERB returned to Los Angeles from Hawaii to dispose of her effects.  Arriving on 11/19/44 after visiting his daughter he met with Ralph Rothmund in Tarzana where he proceeded to get soused, apparently in celebration of Emma’s death.

     To quote Barrett, p. 25, Burroughs Bulletin #64.

     After Ed met with Ralph Rothmund, he opened a case of Scotch and took out a bottle after which he drove to Emma’s home in Bel-Air- where he and Jack “sampled” the Scotch a couple times.”  From Bel-Air Jack drove Ed to the Oldknows, some friends also in Bel-Air, where they continued to sample the Scotch.  After this visit Ed and Jack returned to Emma’s home at 10452 Bellagio Road, where Jack brought out a nearly full bottle of bourbon.  Jack asked the maids to postpone dinner for 30 minutes, while they waited for Joan and Joan II.  This evidently irritated the two maids as they both quit  and walked out on them!  Ed reported in his diary that after the two maids walked out, ‘we had a lovely dinner and a grand time.”

     That sort of strikes me as dancing on the grave of Emma which indicates a deep hatred for her on the part of ERB.  We are all familiar with the storyof ERB’s pouring the liquor in the swimming pool humiliating Emma in front of guests which she stood so Weston must have known what he was talking about.

     There is a certain hypocrisy in Burroughs now getting blotto in celebration of Emma’s death.  Between the two of them in the space of a couple hours ERB and his son, John Coleman, finished a fifth of Scotch and went ripping through a bottle of bourbon.  I don’t know how rough and tough you are but that would put me under the pool table.

     In this inebriated and hostile state they apparently had words with what I assume to have been Emma’s long time maids.  Maids don’t walk out because you ask them to hold dinner for a few minutes.  Being a maid is a job; they don’t respond that way to reasonable requests.  So in his drunken state ERB must have been offensive about Emma or the maids causing their reaction.

     Thus sitting totally soused  in the ‘alcoholic’ Emma’s home they ‘had a lovely dinner and a grand time.’  The woman was both good to him and good for him but it isn’t incumbent on any man to see his best interests.  There was a crtain dignity lacking in ERB’s behavior at this good woman’s death, not to mention the hypocrisy of getting thoroughly jazzed.


      The decade also witnesses the unfolding of ERB’s psyche from the repressed state of 1910 to an expanded and partially liberated state at the end of the decade when he fled Chicago.  Pyschologically ERB was always a dependent personality.  He let his editors both magazine and book bully him and take advantage of his good will.  He also needed a strong role model which is one reason his literary role models are so obvious.

     From 1911 to 1916 he seemed to lean on Jack London as his role model.  The problem with London is that we can’t be sure which of his books ERB read as he had none of his books in his library.  It seems certain that he read London’s early Gold Rush books.  ERB’s hobo information is probably based on London’s The Road and then he may possibly have read The Abyssmal Brute which is concerned with the results of the Jack Johnson-Jim Jeffries fight and a preliminary to The Valley Of The Moon. 

     It is difficult to understand how Burroughs could have read much during this decade what with his writing schedule and hectic  life style.  Yet we know for a fact that between 1913-15 he found time to read Edward Gibbon’s massive The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire.

     At the same time additions to his library from this decade are rather sparse, the bulk of the library seems to have been purchased from 1920 on.  Still, if one assumes that he read all the books of London including 1913’s Valley Of The Moon, then it is possible that his cross=country drive of 1916 may have been partially inspired by Billy and Saxon Roberts’ walking tour of Northern California and Southern Oregon in that book as well as on ERB’s hobo fixation.  Certainly London must have been his main influence along with H.H. Knibbs and Robert W. Service.  He may have wished to emulate London by owning a large ranch.

     I suspect he meant to call on London in Sonoma during his 1916 stay in California but London died in the fall of that year which prevented the possible meeting.  With the loss of London Burroughs had to find another role model which he did in Booth Tarkington.  He does have a large number of Tarkington’s novels in his library, most of which were purchased in this decade.  Tarkington was also closely associated with Harry Leon Wilson who also influenced ERB with a couple two or three novels in his library, not least of which is Wison’s Hollywood novel, Merton Of The Movies.  Just as a point of interest Harry Leon Wilson was also a friend of Jack London.

     ERB’s writing in the last years of the decade seems to be heavily influenced by Tarkington as in Bridge And The Oskaloosa Kid, The Efficiency Expert and The Girl From Hollywood.

     Burroughs was an avid reader and exceptionally well informed with a penetrating mind so that his ‘highly fictionalized’ writing which seems so casual and off hand is actually accurate beneath his fantastic use of his material.  While he used speculations of Camille Flammarion and possibly Lowell on the nature of Mars he was so mentally agile that when better information appeared which made his previous speculations untenable he had no difficulty in adjusting to the new reality.  Not everyone can do that.

     I have already mentioned his attention to the ongoing friction between the US and Japan that appeared in the Samurai of Byrne’s Pacific island.  In this connection Abner Perry of the Pellucidar series is probably named after Commodore Matthew Perry who opened Japan in 1853.  After all Abner Perry does build the fleet that opened the Lural Az.  Admiral Peary who reached the North Pole about this time is another possible influence.  The identical pronunciation of both names would have serendipitous for Burroughs.

     As no man writes in a vacuum, the political and social developments of his time had a profound influence on both himself and his writing.

     The effects of unlimited and unrestricted immigration which had been decried by a small but vocal minority for some time came to fruition in the Second Decade as the Great War showed how fragile the assumed Americanization and loyalty of the immigrants was.  The restriction of immigration from 1920 to 1924 must have been gratifying to Burroughs.

     I have already indicated the profound reaction that Burroughs, London and White America in general had to the success of the Black Jack Johnson in the pursuit of the heavyweight crown.  The clouded restoration of the crown through Jess Willard did little to alleviate the gloom.  Combined with the sinking of the Ttitanic and the course of the suicidal Great War White confidence was irrevocably shaken.

     Burroughs shared with London the apprehension that the old stock was losiing its place of preeminence to the immigrants.  This fear woud find its place in Burroughs writing where he could from time to time make a nasty comment.  His characterization of the Irish is consistently negative while his dislike of the Germans first conceived when he saw them as a young man marching through the streets of Chicago under the Red flag was intense.  Their participation in the Haymarket Riot combined with the horrendous reports of German atrocities during the War reinforced his dislike almost to the point of fanaticism.  While the post-war German reaction in his writing was too belated he had been given cause for misinterpretation.

     Always politically conservative he was a devoted admirer of Teddy Roosevelt while equally detesting Woodrow Wilson who was President eight of the ten years of the Second Decade.  When the Bolsheviks took over Russia in 1917 polarizing public opinion into the Right and Left ERB was definitely on the Right.

     By the end of the decade the world he had known from 1875 to 1920 had completely disappeared buried by a world of scientific and technological advances as well and social and political changes that would have been unimaginable in his earlier life.  The changes in sexual attitudes caused by among others Krafft-Ebbing, Havelock Ellis and Margaret Sanger would have been astounding.

     The horse had been displaced by the auto.  Planes were overhead.  The movies already ruled over the stage, vaudeville and burlesque.  Cities had displaced the country.  The Jazz Age which was the antithesis of the manners and customs of 1875-1920 realized the new sexual mores so that the Flapper and Red Hot Mama displaced the demure Gibson Girl as the model of the New Woman.

     When ERB moved from Chicago to LA in 1919 he, like Alice, virtually stepped through the looking glass into a world he never made and never imagined.  A Stranger In A Strange Land not different in many ways from the Mars of his imagination.

Go to Part III- Background Of The Second Decade Social And Political




A Review

The Low Brow And The High Brow

And In Depth Study Of The Edgar Rice Burroughs Novels

The Mucker And Marcia Of The Doorstep


R.E. Prindle


Part One


     By the time Burroughs took up his pen to write at the age of 36 he had a lifetime of frustration and humiliation behind him.  Born into an affluent family, their means had petered out by the time young Burroughs reached manhood.  Thus he who had been born a prince had become a pauper.  ERB felt this keenly.  His problem became how to regain his position, his exalted destiny.

     The most direct and possible approach was to become an officer in the Army.  Burroughs closed that avenue early in life by botching his relationship with Colonel Rogers and Charles King of the Michigan Military Academ.

     He began a promising career at Sears, Roebuck but he found success there would be of a very anonymous sort as the member of the team.  Fearing to disappear into mercantile obscurity he aborted that career abruptly quitting his job with no prospects.

     In what may have been one of the most important decisions of his career he joined up with a patent medicine manufacturer named Dr. Stace.  This phase of his career has not been properly investigated.  Reasoning from inferences in the Corpus it seems reasonable that he and Stace ran afoul of the law.

     A Pure Food And Drug Act had been passed in 1906 which temporarily at any rate made the sale of patent medicines illegal.  A few years later the Supreme Court would once again legitimize their sale provided the contents were properly labeled.  For the time being there was a problem with the law.  Erwin Porges’ Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Man Who Invented Tarzan briefly discusses the relationship in this manner. p. 105:

Stace, whom Ed found very likable, had grown ashamed of the patent medicine business and was casting about for a more reputable type of livelihood.  His qualms may have been reinforced by the dubious attitude of the United States Government: “Alcola cured alcoholism all right, but the Federal Pure Food And Drug people tooke the position that there were worse things than alcoholism and forbade the sale of Alcola.”

     The portion in quotes is presumabley from Burroughs although Porges fails to properly identify it if so.

     Since the Pure Food And Drug people acted against Dr. Stace it is only fair to assume the police were involved and depending on how far Dr. Stace fought it, probably a Grand Jury.  It is probable then that Burroughs’ seeming intimate knowledge of police methods and Grand Juries was learned at this time.

     As Stace’s office manager it is possible that ERB bought into the company and was therefore more intimately involved.  Certainly he did not sever his relationship with Dr. Stace as a result of these legal actions, but instead formed a corporation or partnership with him immediately after to sell courses in salesmanship.  Hardly more respectable than patent medicines.

     As one usually found advertisements for such courses in the back of pulp magazines one can conjecture the status of the enterprise and also its chances of success.  The company bearing the name Burroughs-Stace did fail quickly.  Notice that Burroughs name came before that of Stace.

     Now, Alcola being an illegal product it could not have done ERB’s reputation much good to be associated with it.  Continuing his relationship with Dr. Stace in another questionable business would only confirm ERB’s rputation for operating on the legal borderline.  In later years Burroughs, while not denying that he had been associated with Stace, claimed to have never seen those people since the time thus attempting to dissociate himself from them.

     Thus ERB’s prospects loomed shakily.  As these events occurred in 1909-10 he was facing a lifetime of marginal jobs leading ever downward or taking the million to one chance of becoming a successful author.  Not too long after terminating his relationship with Dr. Stace he took up his pen.  Fate began to blow a strong wind into his sails, so to speak.

     However, if I am correct, he was now looked at askance by ‘polite’ society.

     His first writing efforts were a success.  So successful that he could get anything he wrote into print.  this began to bear fruit in 1913, two years after he began writing, when he could throw over his day job and become a self-supporting writer.

     Thus he was able to realize his ambition to regain his status of a prince after an interim of nearly thirty years.

     He still had to explain himself to himself and Emma as well as to Chicago in general.  Much of his output of 1913 would attempt to do just that; especially the first of the two works under consideration here:  The Mucker. 


     The psychological baggage Burroughs brings to his writing to exorcise is considerable.  When H.G. Wells portrayed ERB as insane in Mr Blettsworthy Of Rampole Island there was an element of truth while the case was overstated.  ERB  was apparently able to disappear into himself whiie he was writing thus living an alternate reality which is what Wells was talking about.

     The ability to do so is probably why Burroughs’ writing has such immediacy, why his improbabiities are so believable.  One wonders what would have become of his mind if he hadn’t become a successful writer.  Perhaps the pseudonym he adopted for his first book, Normal Bean, was more to convince himself than others.  Bean as slang for head or mind.  Certainly his reaction to his success appears to border on the irrational.

     His psychological compression was so great that he nearly went off the rails in 1913 in his first blush of success.  It is impossible that he wasn’t being observed by others.  It is impossible that others didn’t consider him a phenom.  The Mars Trilogy and Tarzan were such strange creations for the times that he had to be viewed with wonder.  While one can never be sure when he is being referred to in the fiction of other writers it seems to me that there are resonances of Burroughs in such writers as John Dos Passos and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

     If he had designed his actions to get talked about he couldn’t have come up with anything more spectacular than his trip to California mid-1913 after a successful half year.  For the full year he would earn over ten thousand dollars.  This sum in 1913 was reaching the lower limits of super affluence.  You couldn’t add much to your comfort with more than ten a year, the rest was conspicuous consumption.  It all depends on which multiplier you use but the one I use brings the income out in today’s dollars as between three and five hundred thousand dollars.

     Sudden affluence after years of scrabbling for a living can do strange things to your mind.  ERB’s was rocked to its foundations.  He went crazy in his rush to spend his money.  A clothes horse like his wife Emma came into her own.  In his rush to spend ERB spent his income before it was earned.  He was literally broke between  checks from his publishers.

     Then in mid-1913 an event occurred which might have triggered his flight from Chicago to California.  The Black boxer, Jack Johnson was conceded his title in 1910 when he defeated the White favorite, Jim Jeffries.  He had actually won the title in 1908 when he defeated then champion Tommy Burns.  Whites were reluctant to acknowledge his claim to the title until he had fought Jeffries who the Whites thought was the ‘real’ champion because he had retired undefeated.

     Having disappointed White hopes by defeating Jeffries, Johnson was then set up on a morals charge and convicted in what amounted to a kangaroo court.  About to lose his appeal Johnson skipped the country in July of ’13 rather than go to jail as an innocent man.

     The Affair Jack Johnson had had a tremendous effect on Burroughs who was an ardent boxing fan.  Thus his novel The Mucker  deals extensively with the Johnson Affair.  I believe that since his assocition with Dr. Stace Burroughs was considered quasi-legit at best and hence in the same boat with a Johnson.

     When Johnson split it seemed to cause an equal reaction in Burroughs.  Johnson went East to Europe while ERB went West to California.  In july of ’13 ERB began work on his realistic Chicago novel The Girl From Farris’s.  This work was undoubtedly intended to explain his actions between 1899 and 1911.  Once he got started he immediately ran into writer’s block being unable to continue the novel.  Before he could continue he had to work out several issues.  Thus he did what was for him a very unusual thing.  He began the book in July of ’13 only finishing it in March of ’14.  In between he wrote five other novels in his usual rapid fashion.  the were, in order  The Mucker, The Mad King Pt. 1, The Eternal Lover Ptl 1, Beasts Of Tarzan and The Lad And The Lion.   The entire set of six stories then are all closely related and should properly be understood only as aspects of the same novel- The Girl From Faris’s. 

     We are going to consider only the first of the inner five, The Mucker, here.  Thus the trip to California begins to work out the redemption or Salvation of Edgar Rice Burroughs.  The whole set might be titled:  Edgar Rice Burrougs In Search Of Himself.  

     One must not underestimate the influence of the two or possibly three central events in Burroughs’ life; his confrontatin with John The Bully in 1884-85, the 1899 trip to New york with the Martins and his dramatic relationship with Dr. Stace.  One cannot devalue his relationship with his father or Charles King, nor the very influential visit to Idaho where he came under the influence of Lew Sweetser, but his first three seem to dominate his life and work.

     A major consequence of his confrontation with John The Bully is that it declassed him.  ERB’s Animus became part prince, part pauper; part outlaw, part orthodox as demonstrated in The Outlaw Of Torn.   The trip in the private rail car showed him how far down the economic scale he was and how far he had to climb.  Although he won the hand of Emma from Martin I think it very likely that when he and Emma returned from Idaho Martin renewed his attentions to Emma.  He undoubtedly drove one  of the big new automobiles with which the impoverished ERB could not compete.  About all he could do if he thought Emma’s affection were wobbling was to get her pregnant.  In 1908 and 1909 the couple had two children in rapid succession although they could afford them no more than in their first eight years of marriage.

     Thus ten years after had taken Emma to Idaho, for reasons that are unclear to us, he took her to California.  Always the wastrel he made the trip in the most expensive way possible.  The family went first class.

     As Porges quotes him ERB says:  “I had decided I was too rich to spend my winters in Chicago so I packed my family, all my furniture, my second hand automobile and bought transportation to Los Angeles.

     This was not the most rational move for a man who had written an “Ode To Poverty” not too long before.  He had no assurance of being able to write or sell stories, without the sale of which he would be stranded, broke twenty-five hundred miles from his home.  Of course he still had all his furniture.  There was no one who could help him financially.  It is interesting to speculate on what sort of job he would have applied for.

     Why would a man do this?  ERB had apparently bought his used car, a Velie, at the beginning of 1913 when for all practical acounts he was still broke.  Why the urgent need to hop a train?  I think the reason can be traced back to Frank Martin.  The humiliation of the trip East in a private railcar in 1899 and the subsequent stay in the Bowery while the Martins  lived on Riverside Drive had to be compensated.  While ERB couldn’t afford a new car he rushed out to buy a used one which was apparently as much as he thought he could afford at the time.  On the other hand as his characters always say of themselves:  For me. to think is to act. if the Martins among other ‘plutocrats’ wintered in Florida then as ERB could still not compete with them financially he went West.

     Arriving in LA he and family drove the second hand Velie down to San Diego with the furniture apparently entrained for the same destination.

     During this period ERB’s behavior is absolutely zany.  Unable to stay put in LA he moved to Coronado which is a sand spit on the west side of San Diego Bay.  North Island Naval Air would be built on the North end of it.  The Carriers used to be docked on the ocean side as their draft was too great for the Bay.  Disliking Coronado he moved back across the bay to the first low ridge of hills that separates the city proper from the Bay.  He apparently was near the crest as he said he could look over it to the East.  When I was in the Navy in San Diego I thought this small ridge only a couple miles in length had the most deligthful climate on Earth.  I still think it does.  So, in 1913-14 before 101 became a major noisy highway at the base of the hill ERB was living in as close to paradise as anyone in this world can ever get.

     It was here he explored his psychological problems.


     Burroughs because of his encounter with John The Bully, had been rendered susceptible to ‘low brow’ influences.  His subsequent life with its constant moving from school to school, from Illinois to Idaho, to Connecticut, to Michigan, to Arizona and back to Illinois had not put into contact with too many ‘high brow’ influences.

     In constrast, his wife Emma Hulbert, had been trained to high brow avocations from childhood.  I’m sure that one of the objections of her parents to ERB was that he was so detestably low brow.  Emma, afer all, had been trained to the opera which is the epitome of high brow.  Emma often referred to ERB as a low brow during their marriage which can be somewhat trying.  If one contrasts The Mucker with Marcia Of The Doorstep it will become immediately apparent that the former is low brow and the latter is intended to be high brow.  So the dominating theme of The Mucker is between the low brow Billy Byrne and the high brow Barbara Harding.  The problem as it surfaces when the two come into contact is how Barbara is to turn the low brow mucker into a high brow or at least into a low brow with good speech and mannerisms.  This may have been a daily conflict between ERB and Emma in real life.

     The first question is how far ERB identifies with Billy Byrne.  It is my contention that Billy is an alter ego conditioned by ERB’s confrontation with John The Bully.

     I have explained elsewhere that terror may be used to introduce a hypnotic suggestion.  Terror opens the mind to suggestion.  In ERB’s case when he was in terror of John he accepted the suggestion that because John was terrorizing him he was an admirable person to be emulated.  Of course this went against the teaching of his family so that ERB now divided his Animus nearly equally between his father/family and John.  Even though his family training commanded his first allegiance, John declassed him so that he mentally assumed the traits of this hoodlum Irish boy.  In a sense ERB split his personality.

     As would be expected the assumption of John’s characteristics caused a personality conflict which it was necessary to resolve.  One must assume that by 1913’s Mucker ERB was aware of his peronality conflict and began the attempt to write it out.

     For those new to the term a mucker was one who wallowed in the muck of society, a low class person with very little or no redeeming social value.  Thus Burroughs is dealing very harshly with both himself and Byrne/John.

     It may be assumed beyond doubt that John was first generation immigrant.  As he was twelve when he confronted ERB in 1884-85 he must have been born in 1872.  He may actually have been born in Ireland or was at least the son of immigrants hence his Irish prejudices against the English would be very strong while the Irish at the time were considered on a social and racial par with the Negro  or perhaps even below.  Combining these social disadvantages he was raised in Chicago’s great West Side which ERB with undisguised horror describes.

     He also very carefully indicates that Byrne was not an inherently bad person but was strictly a product of his environment.  He could have been anything raised in a different social setting.  Nurture over nature.  An interesting liberal opinion in an age when heredity was accredited to a criminal type.  By explaining Byrne as a product of his environment Burroughs was also justifying himself.  Indeed, how could he have learned the social graces to which he was entitled by birth having been brought up viewing the underbelly of society.  Probably ERB did not become acquainted  with the social graces or high brow point of view until he married Emma.

     If his social education began with his marriage to Emma then Byrne’s begins when he and Barbara Harding are brought into close contact on ‘Manhattan Island’ in the river of their Pacific island locale where they ‘play house.’  Thus there is more than sufficient evidence to indicate that Byrne and Burroughs are similar.  Both names even begin with a B.

     As he is part of Burroughs’ psyche ERB has to exonerate Byrne as well as rehabilitate him into someone at least that Burroughs can respect.  This is the burden of the book.

     After a youthful life in which Byrne makes the best of a bad situation, during which he became competent to survive and dominate in a difficult environment, Byrne takes a step up by becoming involved in boxing.  Thus he goes from a no brow to a low brow.  Already a fearsome street brawler Byrne becomes a formidable scientific boxer as well.  He is good enough to be a sparring partner with the Big Smoke himself.  This must have been before July 1913 but no earlier than say 1911.

     Sometime in 1912 or early 1913 Byrne is falsely accused of murder by one Sheehan who Byrne had defeated in a fight when they were twelve.  Billy had earlier saved a policeman’s life who was being savagely beaten by a rival gang on Byrne’s turf.  The policeman now returns the favor by advising Byrne to get out of town which advice Billy take seriously not unlike Jack Johnson.  Thus Johnson goes East, Byrne goes West at exactly the same time.  Coincidence?

     Billy bobs up in San Francisco about the same time that ERB shows up in the sunny Southland.  They both reach California at the same time.  Another coincidence?

     Unfortunately for Billy he gets shanghaied by the guy he intends to roll.  He is taken aboard the Half Moon.  The ship on which Henry Hudson explored New York’s Hudson River was named the Half Moon so there is a little joke here as Barbara and Byrne reside on a Manhattan Island in their Pacific location.

     Being shanghaied wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened to Byrne for while he is aboard he is forced to learn discipline- putting a little organization into his chaotic mind.  The Half Moon might also stand for the MMA in ERB’s memory.  He was more or less shanghaied into attendance when his father made him return after he had run away from the school.  Then, under the tutelage of Charles King who he respected he learned the rudiments of self-discipline.

     Even though Byrne is a sort of wildman Burroughs shows the greatest respect for him.

     Byrne’s next civilizing lesson comes when the Half Moon pretending distress captures the Harding yacht aboard which Byrne is transferred.

     The yacht named the Lotus, perhaps after Tennyson’s poem ‘The Lotus Eaters.’  The Lotus Eaters sat around all day in idle forgetfulness which was a pretty good description of the Harding party and another joke.  Burroughs had a copy of Tennyson’s poems in his library so the association is probable, besides which as Burroughs had a strong grounding in Greek mythology he would have been familiar with the Lotus Eaters from his Homer.

     Burroughs, who had never been to sea, knew nothing of the ocean.  His source for sea matters most probably was Jack London.  ERB was a great admirer of London but as he had nothing in his library one can only guess at what he had read.  There’s pretty good evidence for The Call Of The Wild and The Sea Wolf.  He may have picked up his South Seas lore from London’s Son Of The Son (The Adventures of Captain David Grief  in my edition).  The last book was published in 1911 but Burroughs probably had read it.  As he would project the making of Melville’s Typee into a movie in the ’30s it is possible that he was already familiar with that book and Melville’s other South Sea romance, Omoo at least as early as 1913.

     Both myself and other researchers are pretty liberal about ERB’s reading list but as I have cautioned before the bulk of his reading for these early stories had to be done between 1900 and 1911 when he was a very busy man with troubles in mind not to mention excruciating headaches.  Along with newspapers and magazines he surely couldn’t have read more than two or three hundred books if that many.  He may have read a number of sea stories in various magazines at any rate, but his sea lore is second hand, unreliable and unknowledeable.

     He has the Lotus tending Southwest toward the Philippines having begun in Hawaii.  The Philippines is a large archipelago blending into the massive archipelago just South of it, the Lotus should have been in Equatorial waters where the trade winds blow.  Most of your monster storms are further North or South.  I was in the Navy making one tour from California in the East to China in the West, South to Australia and North to Japan.  I had the terrifying experience of passing through a typhoon off Japan which if it wasn’t the storm of the millenium I can’t imagine a greater.  Quite seriously, we all thought we were going to die.  My only thought was that the water was going to be awfully cold when I hit it.

     I do not jest when I say the waves were seventy-five feet high, you’re right, why not make them a hundred, maybe they were a hundred, two would be stretching it.  I was standing on the bridge twenty-five feet above the water line looking straight up at the crest of the waves when we were in the trough.  OK.  A hundred twenty-five then.  We were so far down in the trough there was no wind, nor did the waves break over us, they just slid under the ship raising us to the crests and then we slid down the other side.  I kid you not.

     Then, as we came down from the crest, way up there, at the bottom of the trough the ship slammed into a current bringing it to a complete halt left and right and fore and aft.  These troughs were not rows of waves and troughs, no no, but huge bowls perhaps a mile or more long.  Our ship was three hundred six feet long so there we were a speck, an atom, a proton sitting quietly in the midst of this huge bowl waiting for the swatter of fate to fall.

     I had been thrown across the deck from port to starboard when we slammed into the current.  I scrambled to my feet, noticed that the starboard watch, Engelhardt, was on the way over the side for a tete a tete with Davy Jones.  I knew that Jones didn’t have the time for an ordinary Seaman like Engelhardt or me so I grabbed his belt and pulled him back aboard, then ran over to port to wait to die.

     Now that was a storm.  I don’t know how we rode it out, I thought the end had come, was past.  So, why did I tell that?  Because ERB’s storms are ludicrous and in the wrong place.  A cloud appears, the next thing you know a few indeterminate big waves show up and the ship sinks but the lifeboats survive.  All this in equatorial waters.  Well, if you’ve never been in it, it might sound alright.

     It doesn’t matter because those sudden squalls in ERB’s stories represent his confrontation with John The Bully.  Within the twinkling of an eye ERB’s whole direction of life changed.

  His had been for the worse but Byrne’s was for the better.  This then reflected the change in Burroughs’ own fortunes.

     Byrne and the crew are thrown up on an unidentified island somewhere in the South seas but a fairly large one.  In those years one could believe that there were islands yet to be discovered.  This one has a river big enough to allow for a largish island in the middle.  It is here that Byrne will get his introduction to the finer side of life.  However not before some very exciting and exotic adventures showing Burroughs at his best.

Apart from Jules Verne, who might also be an influence on this book through his The Mysterious Island that had a tremendous influence on Burroughs though the book was not in his library.  ERB seems to be familiar with a number of French authors.  He had The Mysteries Of Paris by the incredible Eugene Sue in his Library, while it is fairly obvious he had been suitably impressed by Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.  The sewer scene in his next book, The Mad King, is indicative of that while Theriere in this book may be a variation on Thenardier.  He was also familiar with Dumas’ The Three Musketeers as there are several references to that one including the sequel to The Mucker, Out There Somewhere, when he indicates an intent to create his own three Musketeers in Byrne, Bridge and Burke.

     As indicated in my Only A Hobo, ERB was probably immersed in US-Japanese relations that were fairly hot at this time as well as remembering the Japanese exhibit at the Columbian Expo of 1893.  He gets his facts right too.

     In this case the island is populated by an indigenous population that has been blended with a group of Samurai warriors from Japan.  Burroughs correctly indicates that the Samurai had come to the island just before Japan was closed to the world in the early seventeenth century.  From about 1620 to about 1860- Perry opened Japan in 1853- no one had been allowed to enter or leave Japan so ERB has been doing his homework.  Over the three hundred years a degenerate society of militant Samurai had combined with the indigenes to create a culture of savages.  An interesting anthropological notion not too unlike The Lord Of The Flies that has been a literary staple for the last sixty years.

     Byrne and Theriere engage in a terrific conflict to rescue Barbara Harding from the Samurai during which Theriere is killed and Byrne seriously wounded.  Barbara Harding nurses him back to health in an idyllic glen by a babbling brook.

     At this point Byrne is reunited with his Anima ideal.  Barbara is going to rehabilitate this guy.  He has made some few steps toward his own redemption but the following is the quality Barabara had to work with as described by ERB p. 17:

…Billy was mucker, a hoodlum, a gangster, a thug, a tough.  When he fought he would have brought a flush of shame to the face of His Satanic Majesty.  He had hit oftener from behind than before.  He had always taken every advantage of his size and weight and numbers that he could call to his assistance.  He was an insulter of girls and women.  He was a bar-room brawler, and a saloon corner loafer.  He was all that was dirty, and mean, and contemptible and cowardly in the eyes of a brave man, and yet, notwithstanding all this Billy Byrne was no coward.  He was what he was because of training (conditioning) and environment.  He knew no other methods, no other code.

     As Burroughs says, up to this time Byrne had been an insulter of women, abusive to the whole female sex, probably including his mother.  It is only now that his eyes begin to open to what Jack London would call the wonder of woman.  How far Byrne reflects ERB’s general attitude toward women isn’t clear although by the end of his life his misogyny was becoming pronounced.  He was certainly no ladies man prior to is marriage to Emma.  I am not certain he would have married if it hadn’t been for the competition with Martin.   The suddenness of his marriage after the Toronto incident indicates a Martin influence or else he was bonkers after the blow.  When he later said Tarzan should never have married he was undoubtedly talking about himself.  He certainly never placed Emma first, being always ready to accept an army commission, fight in Central America, seek a commission in the Chinese army or become a war correspondent all of which would have left Emma and the kids at home.

     At the same time Barbara who had detested Byrne becomes softened to him preparing her to love him once they moved downstream to Manhattan Island.  This may be some romanticized version of ERB’s relationship with Emma after Toronto although she seems to have been fixed on Burroughs from childhood.  At any rate the relationship comes to fruition downstream where the high brow Barbara attempts so raise the brow level of Byrne.

     If one takes high brow, low brow seriously being thought of as a low brow, that is inferior, can be annoying.  Since Burroughs has chosen in his first novel within the cocoon of Girl From Faris‘s  to write around the theme of a low brow hero I think it fair to believe it irritated him to be thought of as a low brow; especially so as in most instances he was much better educated than those who so named him.  Chief among these was his wife Emma.  Whereas she had been trained ot operatic arias ERB played the hillbilly tune Are  You From Dixie?  over and over again on his phonograph.  Hillbilly music really irritates the operatic type.  There must have been constant conflict in the household.

     Emma especially looked down on boxing as low brow.  ERB was an ardent boxing fan, while here he chooses a low brow boxer as hero.  ERB could have some startling opinions on what was high brow.  He thought auto races were high brow.  I don’t know what the crowds were like back then but I’ve been to the stock car races where I found high brows conspicuous only by their absence.

     But, to the Mucker.   Moving downsteam after his recovery on this rather large river coming closer to the estuary they hit an island.  Being bounded as it were by a Hudson on one side and East River on the other they named the island Manhattan.  There’s a nice Expo twist and joke here as in Chicago on the Wooded Island one came upon a Japanese settlement in the middle of the city; here on a Samurai Island in the Pacific one comes upon a Manhattan Island of Americans.  Kind of cute reversal, don’t you think?

     As Billy has to know some details about Manhattan to keep the story moving, Burroughs rather lamely invents a couple trips Billy had made to New York with the Goose Island Kid.    As the boxing scene Burroughs describes, with the exception of the Big Smoke is entirely Irish one might note the origin of the name of The Goose Island Kid.  Goose Island was an area in the Chicago River inhabited by the poorest of the Irish, so the Kid comes from the bottom of the social scale even below Byrne’s origins.  One should contrast this with Burroughs prized English ancestry.

     Burroughs is writing from experience either psychological or real.  Thus one asks when was ERB in New York to acquire his knowledge of the city.  Well, let’s see:  He had an extended stay in 1899.  That was the trip when he got bashed in Toronto.  Then he had a short stay at the the invitation of Munsey.  Most of what he knew must have come from the 1899 trip.

     On their desert Manhattan Island Barbara, who up to this time had been repelled by Byrne makes an attempt at deconditioning Byrne from a Mucker and reconditioning him as an upper class New Yorker.  the conditioning consists of ridding him of the horrific characteristics attributed to him by ERB while teaching him to speak in an educated manner.  As there was no tableware she couldn’t teach him which fork to use.

     Possibly this scene may reflect on the first couple years of Burroughs’ married life.  Remember that ERB hadn’t been much around polite society from the years of twelve to twenty-five during which he was conditioned to his low brow attitudes.  Emma had been brought up in a high brow environment so that she may have felt the need to isntruct her new husband in some of the finer points of good manners.

     When Frank Martin (see my Four Crucial Years) asked ERB to go to New York with him in 1899 he did so with a heart full of malice.  He was competeing with Burroughs for Emma Hulbert’s favors and, as is commonly believed, he felt all’s fair in love and war.

     The evidence points to the fact that he intended to have ERB murdered in Toronto to clear his path to the woman.  Along the way he must have done his best to humiliate his rival- the mucker Ed Burroughs.

     ERB was moving in much faster company than he was used to.  While coming from a once affluent family his people had fallen on hard times.  ERB’s income was little more than sixty dollars a month while Frank Martin the son of a millionaire could blow that much on dinner every night of the week.

     Riding in Martin’s father’s private railcar one imagines that ERB’s suit compared to the fabulous duds of Martin was laughable.  The contrasts between their two stations must have been even more laughable and very satisfying to Martin.  Martin would have considered himself a high brow to Burroughs’ low brow.

     Once in New York Martin’s hospitality didn’t extend to living quarters.  ERB gives no indication of how much money he took along or where he got it.  I should be surprised if he had so much as two hundred dollars, certainly no more.  However much he had there was no way he could have kept up with the Martins.

     His address while in New York was down on the Bowery while the Martin’s was in a better part of town, perhaps Riverside Drive.  Danton Burroughs has a picture of the three of them- Burroughs, Martin  and Martin’s other companion, R.H. Patchin, on Coney Island.  One hopes Danton will release the photo to ERBzine along with any other information he may have.  Coney Island would be good low brow entertainment to offer Burroughs, something he could afford.

     A possible account of how Burroughs felt during his dependency on Martin can be found in one of the volumes in ERB’s library:  The House Of Mirth by Edith Wharton.  The reading of it must have brought pangs of recognition to ERB.

     In The Mucker Billy Byrne speaks of Riverside Drive and the Bowery in this way:

“Number one, Riverside Drive,” said the Mucker with a grin, when the work was completed: “an’ now I’ll go down on the river front and build the Bowery.”

“Oh, are you from New York?” asked the girl.

“Not on your life,” replied Billy Byrne.  “I’m from good old Chi but I been to Noo York twict with the Goose Island Kid, so I knows all about it.  De roughnecks belong on de Bowery, so dat’s what we’ll call my dump down by de river.  You’re a high brow, so youse gotta live on Riverside Drive, see?’ and the mucker laughed at his little pleasantry.

     In 1913 the only real experience Burroughs had with New York was the 1899 trip so that one can guess that when the Martin party detrained Burroughs as a ‘roughneck’ went to the Bowery while Martin and his group went to Riverside Drive or its equivalent.  Surely Burroughs realized he had been duped at this point and felt it keenly.  Or, perhaps, he didn’t catch on until much later having thought about it for a while.  Referring to the Irish Martin as The Goose Island Kid who took him to New York may be a belated disguised slap in the face.  If Martin read the book I’m sure he would have understood.

     At this point is the novel Barbara begins Byrne’s deconditioning teaching him the Riverside patois thus giving him true English as a second language to his native Muckerese.  Thus Byrne is to some extent rehabilitated as a human being; this follows fairly close that of Jean Val Jean of Les Miserables, however as Billy ruefully learned there is more to reconditioning than language.

     At this point Byrne has a dual personality.  He is the low brow mucker and a high brow mucker in that he has learned certain mannerisms and he can speak both forms of English.

     If the scene on Manhattan Island to some extent reflected the relationship between ERB and Emma then the seeds of his discontent  which will result in divorce have already been sown.  The parting from Barbara at the end of the story may be the first prefiguration of his divorce.

     On the other hand Byrne has been temporarily reunited with his Anima figure somewhat in the manner of Eros and Psyche in Greek mytholotgy which makes him a complete being, his X and Y chromosomes being reconciled.  They are soon split apart again as he and Barbara find their separate ways to NYC.


      Upon Byrne’s return to NYC Burroughs begins to wrestle with the problem of the displacement of a White heavyweight boxing champ with a Black one.  In our age when boxing has become a totally Black sport it is difficult to see the real significance of Jack Johnson’s assumption of the championship for both Whites and Blacks.  The success of Johnson also came at a time when in competition with immigrants the Anglo ‘old stock’ was being displaced from a feeling of rightful preeminence in a country it had made.

     This displacement by immigrant’s also occured at the time when the ranks of the European conquerors of the world had reached their limitations and the conquered began to roll them back.  Thus one has such volumes of the period as Madison Grant’s The Passing Of The Great Race and Lothrop Stoddard’s The Rising Tide Of Color.  The world was mysteriously changing slipping from beneath the White Man’s feet.

     Complementary to the works of Grant and Stoddard, but not influenced by them, was the world of such writers as Zane Grey, Jack London and Burroughs.  A common thread in the world of all three is the displacement of the ‘old stock’ by immigrants.  London has a telling phrase in his excellent and highly recommended Valley Of The Moon when his character Billy Roberts is told that the ‘old stock’ had been sleeping and that now like Rip Van Winkle they were awakening to a new world that had changed while they slept.  This theme would reappear in such works as Booth  Tarkington’s The Magnificent Amerberson’s and Burroughs’ own The Girl From Hollywood of the next decade.

     The social conflicts are treated almost identically by all three authors.

     Richard Slotkin in his Gunslinger Nation attempts an exhaustive treatment of the problem from the Gustavus Myers’ immigrant/unskilled labor point of view which may be contrasted with that of our three masters.  I will discuss this a little later.

     Great changes were in progress.  To try to characterize them from a single point of view as the Myers’ school does is both foolhardy and pernicious.  While the immigrants and unskilled labor have their story it is only their story, a small part of the whole.  While one can sympathize with anyone, anywhere, one cannot necessarily accept their point of view as definitve on which point they do insist.  My heart goes out to everyone but does not rule my head.

     The argument then breaks down broadly between the Liberal Coalition and what name is appropriate for the other side? -the rational? the realistic?, the conservative?.  Why not settle for the Conservative with all its limitations.  Yes, I am unapologetically conservative.  No more limitating actually than calling the irresponsibility of the Coalition liberal.  I fail to see the liberality.

     The argument devolves into the two factions of the ‘old stock’ with the convervative wing being hopelessly outnumbered when the liberal wing aligned themselves along national and racial lines with the immigrants and Blacks and along poltical and religious lines with the Judaeo-Communists or more conveniently- the Reds.  Reds is shorter.

     That writers of the bent of Burroughs, London and Grey have survived at all, let alone remained popular, in such an environment is remarkable indeed.

     From 1910 to 1919 major events that affected our writers occurred and typified the decline of Euroamerica from its pinnacle of self-satisfaction.  The Great War which ran from 1914 to 1918 shattered the image of Euroamerica before the rest of the world  Successful resistance not only appeared possible to the defeated peoples but probable.  Note the advantage Japan took of the debacle.

     A second event almost prefiguring the Great War was the sinking of the great ship RMS Titanic in 1912.  Billed as unsinkable it represented the peak of Euroamerican scientific and technological skill.  When that Grat Ship went down on its maiden voyage it took a great deal of the West’s confidence down with it.  While the West watched in dismay and horror the rest of the world cheered  the West’s discomfiture.  Unsinkable indeed!

     But perhaps the single most disastrous blow to the pride of Euroamericans was when the Black Jack Johnson laid the pride of the Whites, Jim Jeffries, down in the fourteenth on July 4, 1910.  The might Casey, Jim Jeffries, had struck out.  The much despised Negro, Jack Johnson, walked away wearing the world heavyweight championship belt.

     The Whites howled, they rioted but they had shot their best shot and there was no backup.  No contender.  No hope.

     Jack London actually reported the fight.  He was there.  Ringside.  Nor was he charitable toward Jack Johnson.  He said things that might better have remained unsaid.  We have no indication as to what Burroughs thought at the time.  By the time he spoke publicly in The Mucker he had had time to mature his thoughts.

     The effect on London was traumatic.  In 1911 he published his book The Abyssmal Brute, his first thoughts on the fight.  The fight not yet out of his system London expressed himself still further in his 1913 novel The Valley Of The Moon.  I’ve said it before.  I’m no Jack London fan.  I’ve only read him more or less at the insistence of ERBzine’s Bill Hillman.  If I had gone to the grave without reading The Call Of The Wild or The Sea Wolf  I wouldn’t have considered it a loss.  Not the same with Valley Of The Moon.  This book along with ERB’s Bridge And The Oskaloosa Kid is one of the neglected masterpieces of twentieth century American literature.  It alone justifies London’s excellent reputation.

     The story is that of two Oakland, California young people, Billy Roberts and his sweetheart Saxon Brown.  While lamenting the displacement of the ‘old stock’ by the immigrants London also makes this a boxing story along the same lines as The Mucker. 

     In fact the stories are quite similar in conception.  If one didn’t know that the authors were writing at the same time 2500 miles from each other one would think they may have written on the same theme as a bet.  London, too, must have been influenced by the midnight flight of Johnson from Chicago.  London makes Roberts an outstanding boxer in the Bay Area.  Roberts gives up boxing because of the fate of boxers  and because of the low brow fans.  Later in the book London  says that Roberts sparred with both Jim Jeffries and Jack Johnson.

     After a  long period of unemployment in an attempt to win a hundred dollar prize to relieve his and Saxon’s poverty he agrees to go back in the ring, the squared circle,  as Burroughs always refers to it.  The fight with the Chicago Terror is very reminiscent of the Jeffries-Johnson battle.  Like Jeffries Roberts hadn’t fought for a long time.  Like Jeffries he was out of condition.  After retiring in 1905 Jeffries had taken up farming, blossoming out to three hundred pounds.  When the call came to redeem the honor of the White species sometime after 1908 Jeffries had to quickly get into condition losing all the extra tonnage.

     He had certainly not regained his top form, timing and mental focus when he climbed into the ring to face Johnson.  I make no excuses for him but as Jeffries said he saw his openings but his unconditioned reflexes didn’t allow him to take advantage of them.  His failure broke the hearts of his followers.

     The battle between Roberts and the Chicago Terror, johnson must have been intended, is probably a replay of the 1910 fight as seen by London.  Out of condition and rusty Roberts gets mauled from start to finish.  In an attempt to salvage special pride London has Roberts at least stay on his feet till the twentieth unlike the fourteenth round fall of Jeffries.

      Toward the end of Valley Of The Moon London has Roberts climb nto the ring again, this time against a Big Swede, sort of polar to the Big Smoke.  In the second of two bouts Roberts has difficulty putting the Big Swede away until the fourteenth.  Also a replay of the Jeffries-Johnson fight with Roberts/Jeffries winning this one, if only in Jack’s dreams.

     Thus the anguish of the loss surfaces three years after.  Now, that the two events, the Titanic and fight get confused in this shuddering defeat of Euroamerica is interestingly made evident in the song Jack Johnson and the Titanic.  In the song Jack Johnson goes down to the steamship line in England to buy passage for his White wife and himself.  He is told that no Black Folks are allowed on the Titanic.  As some sort of divine punishment for refusing him the Great Ship sinks.

     Obviously Jack Johnson couldn’t have been refused as in 1912 he was still in Chicago fighting to stay out of jail.  But the two White disasters became mingled in imagination.

     While London  was wrestling with the Johnson Affair in Valley Of The Moon, Burroughs was doing the same in his Mucker.   One wonders what a further seach of popular literature would reveal.

     In The Mucker Burroughs has gotten Byrne back in New York City.  Broke and with no means of a livelihood the big man-beast turns to the only thing he can do which is boxing.  While London, who had witnessed the fight essentially retold it in Valley Of The Moon, Burroughs who didn’t prepares Byrne to redeem the Whites by fighting and defeating the Big Smoke.  Burroughs doesn’t mention Johnson by name.  He uses Big Smoke, big dinge.

     Burroughs immediately places Byrne in the role of the next hope.    At the time these Whtie boxers were known only as hopes, the term Great White Hope in the completely derogatory sense evolved later.  Like London Burroughs minces no words about Jim Jeffries being his favoirte.  Not only does Byrne imitate Jeffries by fighting from a crouch but ‘Professor’ Cassidy his trainer says:

For a few minutes Billy Byrne played with his man, hitting him when and where he would.  He fought, crouching, just as Jeffries used to fight, and in his size and strength, was much that reminded Cassidy of the fallen idol that in his heart of hearts he still worshipped.

     Winning the fight Byrne went on to meet the #1 contender who he handily defeated.  Having evoked the ghost of Jim Jeffries Burroughs brings in his other hero, Gentleman Jim Corbett.

     The following morning the sporting sheets hailed “Sailor Byrne” ( tribute to Jack London whose hobo moniker was Sailor Jack) as the greatest white hope of them all.  Flashlights of him filled a quarter of a page.  There were interviews with him.  Interviews of the man he had defeated.  Interviews with Cassidy.  Interviews with the referee.  interviews with everybody, and all were agreed that he was the most likely heavy since Jeffries.  Corbett admitted that, while in his prime, he could doubtless have bested the new wonder, he would have found him a tough customer.

     Jeffries, Corbett, Byrne, a combination with so much magic in the names couldn’t help but win back the title to salve the wounded pride of the White species.

     Cassidy wired a challenge to the Negro’s manager, and received an answer that was most favorable.  The terms were, as usual, rather one sided but Cassidy accepted them, and it seemed before noon that the fight was assured.

     Assured in dreams, of course, as this is only a novel.

     It would be quite easy to pass over this part of the tale without realizing its significance but it shows the pain and suffering, the loss of pride that occurred when the championship went Black.  While Burroughs has no difficulty invoking the names of the fallen idol, Jeffries and Corbett, he cannot bring himself to name Johnson referring to him only as The Big Smoke, the big dinge, or the Negro.  The White world was in a deal of pain.

     One can only guess how Burroughs intended to resolve his dilemma of having the fictional Byrne fight the living Johnson or perhaps the story was only a magic incantation to arouse the true hope.  At any event when Byrne next appears in story in 1916’s Out There Somewhere, Jess Willard had already taken the championship back although under dubious circumstances.  By 1916 Byrne’s boxing career is forgotten; there is no mention of it in the sequel.

     Having solved the problem of the championship Burroughs returns to his Anima problem in the romance with Barbara Harding.  Billy remembers she lives in New York City and decides to call on her.  But…

…a single lifetime is far too short for a man to cover the distance from Grand Avenue to Riverside Drive…

     While the above words were spoken about Billy,  Byrne too came to the same conclusion:

     But some strange influence had seemed suddenly to come to work upon him.  Even in the brief moment of his entrance into the magnificence of Anthony Harding’s home he had felt a strange little stricture in the throat- a choking, a half-suffocating sensation.

     The attitude of the servant, the spendor of the furniture, the stateliness of the great hall and the apartments opening upon it- all had whispered to him that he did not “belong.”

     So Byrne feeling his inability to fit in walks away in bitter pride forswearing his love for Barbara Harding.  Still, he could remember her saying back on that other Manhattan Island:

I love you Billy for what you are.

     Thus the epic of the low brow Billy ends as he walks down the street a study of dejection with Barbara’s words ringing through his mind.

     The question here is how much the relationship between Byrne and Barbara is a ‘highly fictionalized’ account of ERB’s own relationship with Emma.  We can’t know for sure how hurt Burroughs may have been by Emma’s calling him a low brow.  Perhaps he longed to hear her say:  I love you, Ed, just the way you are.

     Certainly the stories enveloped by The Girl From Faris’s all deal with his relationship with Emma as his Anima ideal.  The Mad King which follows this story details the problems of the hero getting on the same wave length with the Princess Emma.  He even uses his wife’s real name.  The following title – The Eternal Lover – speaks for itself, Beasts Of Tarzan features a wild chase with Tarzan trying to find Jane who is lost in the jungle, while the last of the series, The Lad And The Lion, details the troubles of the Lad finding his desert princess.  After the Lad he got past his mental block being able to close The Girl From Faris’s.

     So if these stories are read consecutively they record the struggle going on in ERB’s mind to reconcile Emma to his Anima ideal and his Anima to his Animus.  This is a task for not any but the most dedicated Burroughs scholar but I would interested in learning the opinion of any who might attempt it.

     Read only Book One of Mad King and the first part, Nu Of The Neocene, of Eternal Lover in this context.


     Ten years later ERB tackled the problem from the high brow point of view in Marcia Of The Doorstep.

Go To Part Two

Background Of The Second Decade- Personal