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Volume 1554

The Low Brow And The High Brow
An In-Depth Study Of Edgar Rice Burroughs Novels:
J. Allen St. John: Mucker - 5 b/w interiorsCover art by Ned Dameron
The Mucker And Marcia Of The Doorstep
R.E. Prindle
The Mucker And Marcia Of The Doorstep Parts: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 |



     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 destiny.

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

Michigan Military Academy

     He began a promising career at Sears, Roebuck but he found success there would be of a very anonymous sort as the member of a team.  Fearing to disappear into mercantile obscurity he aborted that career abruptly quitting his job.

     In what may have been one of the most important decisions of his career he joined up with a patent medicine salesman 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.

     The 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 on 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 took the position that there were worse things than alcoholism and forbade the sale of Alcola."
     The portion in quotes is presumably from Burroughs although Porges fails to properly identify it if so.

     Since the Pure Food And Drug people acted against Dr. Stace it seems 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' seemingly 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 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 reputation 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 On Rampole Island there was an element of truth while the case was overstated.  ERB was apparently able to disappear into himself while 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 improbabilities are so believable.  One wonders what would have become of his mind if he hadn't become a successful writer.  Perhaps his pseudonym of Normal Bean was more to convince himself than others.  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 at 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-year 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 still the 'real' champion because he had retired undefeated.

Jack Johnson Stereoview - at his home
Jack Johnson Stereoview Card

     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 association 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 five were, in order, The Mucker, The Mad King Pt. 1, The Eternal Lover Pt. 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 Farris'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 Burroughs In Search Of Himself.

     One must not underestimate the influence of the two or possibly three central events in Burroughs' life:  his confrontation 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.

J. Allen St. John: Outlaw of Torn - no interiors    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 his 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 the West 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 affections 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 he 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 income 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 Vellie, at the beginning of 1913 when for all practical reasons 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 car 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 private car he could at least travel first class which he did.  While there are many reasons for wanting a car it is very probable that he felt the need to compete with Martin.  Thus rather than wait to be able to 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 the family drove the second hand Vellie down to San Diego with the furniture apparently entrained for the same destination.

Photos copyright Danton Burroughs Archive ? ERB, Inc. ~ Not for duplication
Burroughs Family in San Diego

     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 just North 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 delightful climate on Earth.  I still think it did.  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 him into contact with too many 'high brow' influences.

     In contrast, 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, after 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.

     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 had a split 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 personality 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 or so.  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 made the best of a bad situation, 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 July1913 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 takes seriously not unlike Jack Johnson.  Thus Johnson goes East, Byrne goes West at exactly the same time.  Coincidence?

     Billy bobs up in San Francisco at 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 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 sort of a 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 is 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 poem 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 Sun, The Adventures of Captain David Grief in my edition.  The last book was published in 1911 but Burroughs may have 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 Typee and Omoo 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 newspaper 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 unknowledgeable.

     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, thus 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 millennium 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 it a hundred, maybe they were a hundred, two would be stretching it, I was standing on the bridge twenty-five feet above the waterline 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 some submarine current presented a barrier like a stone wall that the ship slammed into 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 fly 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 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 in life had 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 undiscovered.  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 in this book through his Mysterious Island which 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' Three Musketeers as there are several references to that one including the sequel to this one, 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 which 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 which 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 indigenes to create a culture of savages.  An interesting anthropological notion not too unlike the Lord Of The Flies which 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 Barbara has to work with as described by ERB p. 17:

     ...Billy was a mucker, a hoodlum, a gangster, a thug, a tough.  When he fought, his methods 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 his marriage to Emma.  I am not certain he would have married if it hadn't been for the competition with Martin.  The suddenness of the 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 his 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 to 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 Farris'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 to operatic arias ERB played the hillbilly tune Are You From Dixie? over and over 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 have found high brows conspicuous only by their absence.

     But, to the Mucker.  Moving downstream 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 an East River on the other they named the island Manhattan.  There's kind of 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 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 year 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 instruct 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 competing with Burroughs for Emma Hulbert's favors and, as is commonly believed, 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 were falling 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 in the Bowery while the Martins' 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 an' build the Bowery."
     "Oh, are you from New York?"  asked the girl.
     "Not on your life," replied Billy Byrne.  "I'm from good ol' Chi but I been to Noo York twict with the Goose Island Kid, so I knows all bout 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 left the train 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 in 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; however as he 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 the divorce are already 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 Mythology 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 occurred 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 their feet.

     Complementary to the works of Grant and Stoddard, but not influenced by them, was the work of such writers as Burroughs, Zane Grey and Jack London.  A common thread in the work of all three is the displacement of the 'old stock' by immigrants.  London has a telling phrase in his 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 Ambersons  and Burroughs' own The Girl From Hollywood later in the decade.

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

     Richard Slotkin in his Gunfighter 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 accept their point of view as definitive on which point they 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 conservative wing being hopelessly outnumbered when the liberal wing aligned themselves along national and racial lines with the immigrants and the Blacks and along political 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 skills.  When that Great 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 wildly cheered the West's discomfiture.  Unsinkable, indeed!

     But perhaps the single most disastrous blow to the pride of the Euroamericans was when the Black Jack Johnson laid the pride of the Whites, Jim Jeffries down in the fourteenth on July 4, 1910.  The mighty 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 on 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 Abysmal 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 and 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 they were writing at the same time 2500 miles from each other one would think they may have written on the 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 both because of the fate of boxers and because of the low brow fans.  Later in the book he 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 he and Saxon's poverty he agrees to go back into the ring, 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 hasn'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 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 into the ring once 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 later.  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 Johnson was wrestling with the Johnson Affair in Valley Of The Moon Burroughs was doing the same in his Mucker.  One wonders what a further search of popular literature would reveal.

     In The Mucker Burroughs has gotten Byrne back to 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 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 favorite.  Not only does Byrne imitate Jeffreies 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, much 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 that 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" ( a 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 was 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.  He remembers she lives in New York City and decides to call on her.

     ...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 of the throat- a choking, half-suffocating sensation.
     The attitude of the servant, the splendor 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 this epic of the low brow Billy ends as he walks down the street a study in 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 to him:  I love you Ed, just the way you are.

     Certainly the stories enveloped by The Girl From Farris'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 her 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 Farris'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 be 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.

The Mucker And Marcia Of The Doorstep | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 |

E.R. Burroughs:  The Girl From Farris's 1913-14
E.R. Burroughs:  The Mucker 1913
E.R. Burroughs:  Marcia Of The Doorstep  1924
Warner Fabian:  Flaming Youth 1923  Book and Movie
F.Scott Fitzgerald:  The Beautiful And The Damned 1922
John Ford:  The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence (Film)  1962
Zane Grey:  Novels 1910-1919 inclusive
Bill Hillman:  The ERB/Zane Grey Connection ERBzine 1294-7  2005
Bill Hillman   The ERB/Jack London Connection ERBzine 1271-74  2005
Jack London:  The Abysmal Brute  1911
Jack London:  The Valley Of The Moon  1913
R.E. Prindle:  Four Crucial Years In The Life Of ERB
ERBzine 1340-43 2005
R.E. Prindle  Only A Hobo  ERBzine  1329-34  2004
R.E. Prindle  Something Of Value  ERBzine 1336 2005
R.E. Prindle  Something Of Value Book II  ERBzine 1344  2005
Martin Scorcese:  No Direction Home  (Film)  2005
Richard Slotkin:  Gunfighter Nation 1992
Edith Wharton:  The House Of Mirth  1905

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