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Volume 6706

Autobiographical Sketch I: Tells All
Autobiographical Sketch II: Amazing!

An autobiographical Sketch
by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Rob Wagner's SCRIPT :: July 9, 1932

Peter Stan Art .

I am sorry  that I have not led a more exciting existence, so that I might offer a more interesting biographical sketch; but I am one of those fellows who has few adventures and always gets to the fire after it is out.

I was born in Peking at the time that my father was military advisor to the Empress of China, and lived there, in the Forbidden City, until I was ten years old. An intimate knowledge of the Chinese language acquired during those years has often stood me in good stead since, especially in prosecuting two of my favourite studies, Chinese philosophy and Chinese ceramics.

Shortly after the family returned to the United States I was kidnapped by gypsies and held by them for almost three years. They were not unkind to me, and in many respects the life appealed to me, but eventually I escaped and returned to my parents.

Even today, after the lapse of many years, I distinctly recall the storm-torn night of my escape., Pedro, the king of the gypsies always kept me in h is tent at night where he and his wife could guard me. He was a very light sleeper, which had always presented a most effective obstacle to my eluding the clutches of my captors.,

This night the rain and wind and thunder aided me., Waiting until Pedro and his wife were asleep, I started to crawl toward the tent flap. As I passed close beside the king one of my hands fell upon a hard metal object lying beside him; it was Pedro's dagger. At the same instant Pedro awoke. A vivi lightning flash illuminated the interior of the tent, and I saw Pedro's eyes fixed upon me.

Perhaps fright motivated me, or perhaps it was just anger against my abductors. My fingers closed upon the hilt of his dagger, and in the darkness that followed the lightning I plunged the slip steel blade deep into his heart. He was the first man I had ever killed; he died without a sound.

My parents were rejoiced by my return, as they had long since abandoned all hope of ever seeing me again. For a year we travelled in Europe, where under a tutor, I pursued my interrupted education to such good effect that I was able to enter Yale upon our return.

While at Yale I won a few athletic honours , annexing both the heavy-weight boxing and wrestling championships; and in my senior year I captained the football team and the crew. Graduating summa cum laude, I spent two years at Oxford and then returned to the United States and enlisted in the army for a commission from the ranks.

At the end of two years I received my appointment as a second lieutenant and was attached to the 7th Cavalry. My first active service was with Custer at the battle of the Little Big Horn, of which I was the sole survivor.

My escape from death during the massacre was almost miraculous. My horse had been shot from under me, and I was fighting on foot with the remnant of my troop. I can only guess at what actually occurred; but I believe that the bullet that struck me in the head must have passed through the head of the man in front of me and, which its force spent, merely have stunned me.

I fell with my body between two small boulders; and later a horse was shot above me, his body falling on top of mine and concealing it from the eyes of the enemy, the t wo boulders preventing its weight from crushing me. Gaining consciousness after dark, I crawled from beneath the horse and made my escape.

After wandering for six weeks in an effort to elude the Indians and rejoin my people, I reached an army outpost, but when I attempted to rejoin my regiment I was told that I was dead. Insistence upon my rights resulted in my being arrested for impersonating an officer.

Every member of the court knew me and deeply deplored the action they were compelled to take; but I was officially dead, and army regulations are army regulations. I took the matter to Congress, but had no better success there; and finally I was compelled to change my name, adopting that which I now use, and start life all over again.

For several years I fought Apaches in Arizona; but the monotony of it palled upon me, and I was overjoyed when I received a telegram from the late Henry M. Stanley inviting me to join  his expedition to Africa in search of Dr. Livingstone.

I accepted immediately and also put five hundred thousand dollars at his disposal, but with the understanding that my name or my connection with the expedition was not to be divulged, as I have always shrunk from publicity.

Shortly after entering Africa I became separated from the relief party and was captured by Tippoo Tib's Arabs. The night that they were going to put me to death I escaped, but a week later I fell into the hands of a tribe of cannibals. My long, golden hair and my flowing mustache and beard of the same hue filled them with such awe that they accorded me the fearful deference that they reserved for their primitive gods and demons.

They offered me no harm, but kept me a prisoner among them for three years. They also kept in captivity several large anthropoid apes of a species which I believe is entirely unknown to science., The animals were of huge size and of great intelligence, and during my captivity I learned their language, which was to stand me in good stead when I decided, many years later, to record some of my experiences to the form of fiction.

I finally escaped from the cannibal village and made my way to the coast, where, penniless and friendless, I shipped before the mast on a wind-jammer bound for China. Wrecked off the coast of Asia, I eventually mad my way overland to Russia, where I enlisted in the imperial cavalry. A year later it happened to be my good fortune to kill an anarchist as he was attempting the assassination of the Czar; for this service I was made a captain and attached to the imperial bodyguard.

It was while in his Majesty's Service that I met my wife, a lady-in-waiting to the Czarina; and when, shortly after we were married, my grandfather died and left me eight million dollars, we decided to come to America to live.

With my wife's fortune and mine, it ws unnecessary for me to work; but I could not be idle; so I took up writing, more as a pastime than as a vocation.

We lived in Chicago for some years and then came to Southern California, where we have lived for more than thirteen years at that now famous watering place, Tarzana.

We have eleven children, seventeen grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

I have tasted fame -- it is nothing. I find my greatest happiness in being alone with my violin.

The End

Edgar Rice Burroughs fans, of course, have always been fascinated with the exciting life
that ERB shared with us in the above Autobiography.
A few years later he decided to have a bit of fun with the details of his life
and wrote the following truth-stretching and rather unbelievable account for Amazon pulp magazine.
We present this amazing tall tale for our fellow fans who love ERB's fantasy fiction. 

Amazing Stories Magazine ~ 1941

In the first place, I don't like this assignment. If I tell the truth about myself, it will make dull reading. If I tell all the truth, it will be very embarrassing for me. But who ever takes his hair down and tells all the truth about himself?

According to the orthodox an d approved introduction to an autobiography, I should tell all about my birth; but unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, I can recall absolutely nothing about it. I don't even know that I was there. 

Another cruel thing about an autobiography is that one is supposed to tell the exact date of one's birth. Oh, well, what's the difference? I was born on Wednesday. I think I got around that very neatly, for how many of you know that September 1st, 1875, fell on a Wednesday?

But I can go back much farther than that: My first ancestor of record (barring Adam) was Coel Codevog, King of the Britons, who ruled in the Third Century. There! You see it was just as I suspected: As soon as you start writing your autobiography, you start bragging. You don't say a word about Stephen Burroughs who was such a notorious forger and jail breaker in early New England days that a book was written about him. I probably inherited my bent for writing from him.

Early childhood: Probably the less said about that the better. Fortunately for me, nearly everyone who knew me then has carried his damning evidence to the grave. Let it lie and moulder: That will save me from lying.

Education: I had a lot of it, none of which stuck. After an advanced course in a private kindergarten, where I majored in weaving mats from strips of coloured paper, I went as far as the sixth grade in the old Brown School in Chicago. That school has a roster that sounds like a Who's Who: Lillian Russell, Flo Ziegfeld, and dozens of others whose names I cannot recall. Then along came a diphtheria epidemic, and our parents yanked half a doze of the boys out of public school and put us in Miss Coolie's Maplehurst School for Girls! Were our faces red!

Miss Coolie endured us for one semester, after which most of us were sent to the Harvard School on the South Side. Somewhere along the cow path of my education I had a private tutor; then I was sent to Phillips Academy at Andover, Massachusetts. They stood for one semester before they asked my father to take me out of there. 

He did. He took me to The Michigan Military Academy at Orchard Lake, Michigan, which had a sub rosa reputation as a polite reform school I remained there four years as a cadet, ending up as a second ranking cadet officer; then I went back as assistant commandant and cavalry instructor. 

Somewhere along the line I went to Idaho and punched cows. I greatly enjoyed that experience, as there were no bathtubs in Idaho at that time. I recall hang gone as long as three weeks when on a round-up without taking off more than my boots and Stetson. I wore Mexican spurs inlaid with silver. They had enormous rowels and were equipped with dumb bells. When I walked across a floor, the rowels dragged behind and the dumb bells clattered: You could have heard me coming for a city block. Boy! was I proud!

After leaving Orchard Lake, I enlisted in the 7th U.S Cavalry and was sent to Fort Grand, Arizona, where I chased Apaches, but never caught up with them., After that, some more cow punching; a storekeeper in Pocatello, Idaho; a policeman in Salt Lake City: gold mining in Idaho and Oregon; various clerical jobs in Chicago; department manager for Sears, Roebuck and Co.: and, finally Tarzan of the Apes.

For thirty years I have been writing deathless classics, and I suppose that I shall keep on writing them until I am gathered to the bosom of Abraham. In all those years I have not learned one single rule for writing fiction, or anything else. I still write as I did thirty years ago; stories which I feel would entertain me and give me mental relaxation, knowing that there are millions of people just like me who will like the same things that I like.

The readers of this magazine have been very generous to me, and in return I try to give them the best that I can. No man can ring the bell every time; but he can always try; and your generous support, as evidenced by the letters you write to the editor, are, I can assure you, an incentive to a writer to do his best for you. 

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Wait . . . There's More . . .
One of our ERBzine features from 1996

Compiled by Bill Hillman
A life history of "OB - the Other Burroughs"--
The Edgar Rice Burroughs gleaned from
 prologues, introductions, forewords, and the novels themselves

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