Pt. IV: Edgar Rice Burroughs And The Accreted Personality

April 28, 2012


Edgar Rice Burroughs


The Accreted Personality

Part IV


R.E. Prindle

Edgar Rice Burroughs


Launched In Life (1896-1912)

As critical as Ed’s first twenty years were, the next eight years would set the seal on his life. Along with the two critical events of the first twenty years he would add two more. For a more detailed account of the 1896-1900 period see my four part essay Four Critical Years In The Life Of Edgar Rice Burroughs here on I, Dynamo or its first publication site Bill Hillman’s superb ERBzine.

Having graduated from MMA Ed now found himself facing the very difficult task of launching himself in life. This is a terrible, terrible time in any young man’s life. As Ed is going to enlist in the Army in Detroit without going back to Chicago to even say goodbye to his parents and friends including Emma who is waiting for him one has to assume that he resented his father for abandoning him to the Military school.

The abandonment was extremely painful to him so that he would later visit the same experience on his sons as well as his second wife Florence’s very young son. All the boys rejected Military school as he had although Ed relented and let them come back home. Coming back home was probably in emulation of what he hoped his father would do but didn’t.

At this point then, as Freud would say, Ed was troubled by reminiscences. He had fixated on those two major trouble spots, his confrontation with John the Bully and his abandonment by his father coupled with his troubled school years when he was shifted from school to school unable to form any stable relationships. During the rest of his life he would never be able to stop moving, changing residences some forty odd times. So, his path is clear before him.

For various reasons Ed’s first choice for a career was as an Army officer. He had taken the exam for West Point but failed the cut. In this year after graduation then with West Point lost Ed was very, very despondent. If he had waited while showing promise as an instructor at the Michigan Military Academy it is quite possible that his Commandant, Col. Rogers, and Capt. King might have been able to obtain an appointment for him. But in May of 1896 Ed abandoned his post without notice to enlist as a private. In the military abandoning one’s post is an unforgivable offence. Ed forfeited whatever goodwill he had obtained.

In his despair he asked the recruiter to be sent to the most godforsaken post they had. The Army had just the place for him; it was in blazing hot Arizona at a post called Fort Grant. The pacification of the Apaches was still going on. Ed realized he had made a horrid mistake. The details are not necessary here but Ed appealed to his father to get his early release from his obligation. His father did this, apparently combined with a medical release based on what soldiers called ‘a tobacco heart.’ In other words, he scammed his way out. This came back to haunt him a couple decades later after he became famous when an old soldier wrote to ask him if he was the Ed Burroughs with the tobacco heart.

There were a few negative memories then of his brief stint in the Army. However the stay in Arizona was so memorable that Ed fell in love with the country. He liked Arizona and he really liked and admired the Apaches. One of his two cowboy novels took place in Arizona and both his Apache novels. In studying for background for his Apache novels Ed became something of an expert or, at least, very knowledgeable. I’m sure he could have lectured on both the Apaches and Old Arizona.

Thus Ed was becoming familiar with the country, Illinois, Michigan, Idaho, Massachusetts, Arizona and soon Mormon Salt Lake City and then New York City and California. He was quite entranced by the desert.

At the time the Mormon experience was quite new for the US and a hotly debated topic. Ed visited Salt Lake in 1898 while he and Emma lived in the city for several months in 1903-04. I don’t recall that he wrote anything about Utah but Mormon religion may have figured in his religious ideas.

His contemporary, Zane Grey, who also loved the desert wrote extensively about the Mormons, indeed, his most famous novel, The Riders Of The Purple Sage discusses them. Another Mormon novel that might have influenced him was Harry Leon Wilson’s The Lions Of The Lord of 1903.

Now released from his obligation and stranded in Arizona Ed had no choice but to return to Chicago and home. To make the trip remunerative his brothers who had bought a herd of Mexican cattle employed him to attend the cows on their train ride to the slaughterhouse in Kansas City. Always inept businessmen his brothers had purchased a starving straggle of cows that gave Ed some interesting memories and experience that would figure in his novel, The Return Of The Mucker.

Once back in Chicago in 1897 Ed found a cold reception as a disturber of the peace. While ostensibly a native Chicagoan Ed had had little contact with the city since he was fourteen. He had no place of real affection in their hearts except for a few. He had lost contact with Chicago mores being placed almost on the level of an immigrant. Among the few who had memories of him was his future wife Emma Hulbert. Emma had been keeping herself for him since the incident on the corner with John. Quite remarkable since Ed had been absent from Chicago for most of the time.

However, sometime after Ed joined the Army when it appeared that he would be gone for good Emma began to be courted by one Frank Martin. Frank was serious intending Emma for his wife. I have been unable to dredge up much on Frank but he was the son of a millionaire railroad man. He was very unhappy with the return of Ed.

So, in fact were Emma’s parents who looked at Ed as a ne’er-do-well and with some justice. His recent Army escapade merely confirmed the fact in their minds. In order to encourage Frank’s suit Ed was forbade the house.

Ed was now cast adrift with no plans for the future. He didn’t realize it as yet but he had burned all bridges leading to a military career. He took a job with his father at the battery factory while making a stab at art school. He apparently saw himself as a newspaper cartoonist but finding the instruction not to his liking he dropped out deciding to return to Idaho.

His brothers were less than enthusiastic at his return. They were failing as ranchers thus having no need for Ed’s services. They bought him a stationery business in Pocatello, presumably to get him off the ranch. Ed tried very hard to enlarge the business by mail order beyond Pocatello but to no avail. Pocatello was so small one wonders how the former owner maintained the business. He liked it enough to buy the business back six months later. Ed took part in the Spring roundup then made the fateful decision to return to Chicago.


In his absence Frank Martin’s courtship of Emma seemed to be progressing well and then the bad penny turned up again. Frank tolerated the interruption until the summer of 1899 when he decided to eliminate his competition. This was when Ed’s life was bent again. His third major memory fixation. This one would make him really dingy.

Frank determined to have Ed killed. Of course one doesn’t do such things oneself, one hires others to do it. His father got the private car off the sidetrack and he, Frank and Frank’s friend R.S. Patchin invited Ed on a trip to New York with a return through Montreal and Toronto. Just like Tarzan Ed had one of those mental lapses that led him into the trap. Perhaps Tarzan‘s lapses were based on this one. (Once again, for a fuller account see my Four Crucial Years In The Life Of Edgar Rice Burroughs).

I believe that Frank hired a couple of thugs in Chicago to be in Toronto when the private car was shunted to a sidetrack. He, Patchin and Ed then went honky tonkin’ in Toronto’s red light district where the thugs accosted Ed coming out of a bar. They let him have it with a lead pipe or a sap in the forehead laying Ed out with a major gash in his forehead spewing blood every which way.

The thugs then fled while Frank and Patchin took Ed to the hospital. He was released, the train leaving immediately the next morning for the crossing into the US.

This blow was a serious one leaving Ed dazed and confused for weeks while the memory of it is repeated in every single novel he wrote. It is a major theme with innumerable variations. Tarzan has the roof of a cave fall on his head during an earthquake. That’s how the blow felt to Ed. When he had recovered his bearing sufficiently in order to thwart Martin he asked Emma to marry him which was duly done on January 31, 1900. Emma had gotten her man. Just goes to show, money isn’t everything.

The marriage must have killed Papa Hulbert who died a few weeks later. In the meantime Emma’s parents so distrusted Ed that they insisted the couple live in their house; a humiliation Ed did not soon forget. He would never invite his mother-in-law to Tarzana although his son eventually did bring his grandmother on his own. One wonders what the Hulberts might have feared from their new son-in-law that they required such close supervision.

The amazing thing about life is that one fails to see just how adventuresome it is. If 1896 to 1900 had been packed with action the next four years in his life would be no less so. Back at work at his dad’s battery factory 1901 became a year of crisis as the battery business collapsed. Ed saved the business, at least temporarily, by convincing the fire department to buy from the firm. Ed’s father probably wasn’t keeping up with battery technology so the firm continued to slowly sink.

And then Ed came down with the dreaded typhoid fever. Often a killer, Ed survived the disease but a great strain was placed on the couple’s finances. Perhaps while recuperating Ed read the new novel by Owen Wister titled The Virginian. The book revived memories of the Johnson County War in Wyoming that Ed had peripherally experienced while containing the romantic adventure of the Wilderness Honeymoon.

One can fault Ed for making the disastrous decision to seek to emulate the honeymoon by moving back to wilderness Idaho but his brain wasn’t exactly healthy. It was nearly impossible for him to think straight. He couldn’t even recognize people on the street; he suffered from excruciating headaches from sunup to late in the afternoon every day. There must have been internal bleeding with a clot on the frontal lobe from his bashing in Toronto. The typhoid attack must also have lessened his mental vigor. Whatever the reason Ed packed up all his and Emma’s belongings, put them on a train along with the dog and went back to Idaho.

The couple had no money but what they could borrow and no place to stay in Idaho. Ed put up a one room balloon shack into which he moved Emma. You didn’t need the crystal ball to realize Emma wouldn’t tolerate such primitiveness for long.

The couple’s situation was that they had forty dollars to their name, might as well have been a million miles from anywhere, no source of income, no plans to earn any and no real idea of where to go and no money to get there. God, what an unenviable situation.

Ed’s brother Harry now no longer a rancher and living alone in Parma said he would give them a place to stay across the State in that location, I hesitate to even call it a town. They had to spend the night in the station hotel. Here Ed committed the most egregious mistake of his life and the last of his major fixations. He chose to go downstairs to join a poker game in the hopes of increasing his stake. Naturally the sharpers cleaned him out. Now completely broke this was the great crisis of his marriage. While Emma still loved him, never thinking of leaving him, she completely lost confidence in him. The repercussions from this incident would sour the marriage until Ed took up with Florence in 1927 and ended the marriage seven tortured years for Emma later.

There was nothing to do in Parma. Harry got him a job on the Oregon Shortline RR in the Salt Lake yards. After spending several months there in 1904 the couple returned to Chicago. Ed was still broke, no job, no prospects and a wife to support. Could life ever look grimmer?



The four key events of Ed’s life were now integral parts of memory where they subconsciously influenced his actions against his conscious will. As can be seen all four were suggestions which indeed all memory is. Thus because all information goes into the memory banks it does so as suggestion. Suggestion is how all information is received. For instance education is nothing but suggestion. It is suggestion for beneficial use, a way to manage your memories. The psychology of Ed’s period was the result of 100,000 years of accumulated educational memory. It was only in his time that it finally became possible to begin to understand how the mind functioned. That’s after 100,000 years of effort by the human mind. Ed’s work is full of speculations on psychological matters.

In 1904 at the age of twenty-nine carrying the psychological detritus of his early years and now those of his young manhood, Ed had to find his way through life.

As his youthful expectations had been disappointed leaving him with at the very least a low grade depression Ed had to figure out a way to reverse his seeming fate and regain his position as a prince among men. The question for him was how. His first choice was a military career. That avenue was closed to him because he had abandoned his post in 1896. He made a futile attempt to join the brigade of his hero, Teddy Roosevelt, when that worthy formed his Rough Riders to take part in the Spanish War of 1898. He was once again rejected. Not yet willing to give up he was ready to abandon Emma for a position in the Chinese Army of the rebel Sun Yat Sen.

Such a hope was not as far fetched as it may sound. The hunch backed near cripple Homer Lea had been recruited by Sun Yat Sen to serve as a General in China in which Lea led a column in the relief of the embassies during the Boxer Rebellion. Unfortunately Lea was the exception and not the rule. Ed was turned down. Even in the Great War Ed was willing to chuck not only Emma and the kids but his career as author to be a mere war correspondent. The soldiers life to him was obviously the highest calling. Rule out a military career for Ed.

As Ed didn’t return to his father’s business he either didn’t want to or as the business was slowly failing there was no money available to employ him. Nor did his father have the influence to get him favorable treatment from business friends. This period from 1904 to 1912 is the one of many jobs that so many writers love to recite. We are usually assured that Ed couldn’t get or keep a good job. This was not true. He changed jobs restlessly. Midway through the period he landed an executive position at Sears Roebuck in which he excelled. His salary at Sears was 250.00 per month or 3000.00 per year. This was a creditable salary. Unskilled labor was lucky to pull down 750.00 a year on which it was possible for a family to survive. Ed’s salary was enough for he and Emma to have a comfortable life while Ed was so well thought of that he might easily have advanced to the 5,000.00 to 10,000.00 class within a reasonable time. Ten thousand was enough to live as well as possible except for extravagant luxury habits. So, Ed had an escape from poverty which he consciously refused to take.

His reason, most assuredly, was that there was no redemption in a corporate identity. He couldn’t regain his position as prince. His literary characters, John Carter and Tarzan, were not only heroes and princes but nearly, if not actually, deified as gods. Sears could never offer that so Ed, certainly inexplicably to Emma, chucked the job. He did so with less than no expectations.

He said that he took up the pen as a last resort and less than honorable occupation. One presumes he meant for a warrior. Perhaps warrior was his first choice but I suspect that like his mentor, Charles King, he would have taken up the pen as a sideline to show his versatility.

In point of fact Ed had been subconsciously training himself as a writer at least since his confrontation with John. In Return of Tarzan he has that hero and jungle god sitting around the Paris library reading desultorily. Tarzan’s purpose in the library was to learn everything there was to learn. One suspects that Tarzan’s activities in Paris were a reflection of Ed’s in Chicago. As with Tarzan as Ed flipped the pages he came to the conclusion not overly sagely that it was impossible to learn everything there was to know.

Nevertheless he read away absorbing numerous novels and scientific tracts that he would put to use in his own writing. Meanwhile he had a wife to support with two new additions. In what must seem a comical interlude Ed organized a company that purported to sell some Rube Goldberg version of a pencil sharpener. Always the executive Ed wrote the sales manual and sent other poor fish out to sell the sharpeners. This idea was ridiculous to the point of stupidity but it indicates a subconscious desire.

As Ed said, while he waited for the orders to roll in he sharpened his own pencil and began to write A Princess Of Mars. Surely a joke is intended in there somewhere, subconscious, but still a joke.

The Mars novel was not his first effort. Perhaps in an attempt to organize his mind he had put down a sequence of thoughts in a novelette titled: Minidoka. There is a dispute as to whether the story was written circa 1903-05 or circa 1908-09. I opt for the later date if for no other reason than he says the story is written in Ragtime Talk. Ragtime was a hipster patois that also indicates the Ed and Emma were leading some sort of Bohemian life. This would be self-evident if he had put his Du Maurier reading to use.

Thus as 1911-12 loomed on his horizon it was do or die time. He would play his last hand as he had in Idaho in a winner takes all attempt. He wrote out the first half of A Princess Of Mars and sent it into Munsey’s All Story Magazine. He was lucky to find a receptive editor, one Metcalf, who told him to finish the story and send it in. Metcalf sent back a check for 400.00. Just to be clear this money was not peanuts. Valuation is difficult to assess but in today’s terms one might consider the sum as 30 to 40 thousand dollars. I mean, you know, a schooner of beer was only a nickel as compared to God knows how many dollars today depending on location and venue.

There would be some trying moments as Metcalf rejected his second submission but with his third Ed hit the jackpot- the character of the century- Tarzan Of The Apes. If only it had been that easy.

Part V will attempt a resume of Ed’s literary preparations from 1900 to 1912.



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