Why did Robert E. Howard commit suicide?
I am not going to speculate on why Robert E. Howard chose to end his life, but on the morning of June 11, 1936, he walked out of the house and into his car. He then shot himself in the head. He didn’t die right away.
His mother which he had taken care of for many months had slipped into a coma. She had been ill with tuberculosis. When she fell into a coma Robert stayed by his mother’s side for the next couple of days. When he was made aware that she wouldn’t wake up from the coma he made his decision and chose to end his life.
Howard walked out to his 1935 Chevrolet sedan, took the gun from the passenger compartment, rolled up the car windows, and shot himself in the head. The bullet entered above his temple, through his brain, and exited behind and slightly above his ear. The bullet then hit the edge of the top of the door and glanced off through the glass.This was a few minutes past eight in the morning.
After Robert shot himself his father carried him into the house where he lingered for eight hours but didn’t wake up before he was declared dead. His mother lasted another day. She died on June 12, 1936, shortly after 10 o’clock in the evening, without gaining consciousness.
Was there a suicide note?
There have been many who believed that Robert E. Howard left a suicide note before he took his own life, but that has later been dismissed.
Rusty Burke published the article “All Fled, All Done” in The Dark Man: The Journal of Robert E. Howard Studies (Winter 2001), in which he identified Howard’s source for the final line of the couplet, a poem titled “The House of Cæsar” by Viola Garvin. Each of the five stanzas of the poem ends with the line “The Feast is over and the lamps expire!”
All fled—all done, so lift me on the pyre—
The Feast is over and the lamps expire.
There was a slip of paper with those lines found in Robert E. Howard’s wallet after his suicide and the lines have now become legendary.
Kate Merriman who was the last nurse for Hester Howard was one of the persons L. Sprague de Camp interviewed for his book, Dark Valley Destiny. She said that after Robert and Hester were both dead, Doctor Isaac Howard told her they had to straighten out Robert’s room, and sort out all the papers, so he could find things to sell to the pulps. Paper was scattered everywhere, a real mess to sort out. As they were working their way through the papers she picked up one item, read it, and said “Look Doctor Howard! It’s a will!”. She told de Camp that the will left everything to Lyndsey Tyson who loaned him the gun. Howard’s father took it, got very angry, and walked out of the room with it and didn’t return for a few minutes. When he finally did, he no longer had the will and told her “Don’t you dare ever tell anyone about that!”. And so she didn’t (according to her), at least not until she talked to de Camp.
We know that it was Lyndsey Tyson’s gun. Lyndsey told the lawyer that Robert had used his gun and he didn’t want anything to do with any of it. He was quite upset. Decades later, when talking to Glenn Lord, Lyndsey told him that was the dumbest thing he ever did. He should have taken those rights when he had the chance, maybe he could have gotten rich.
The judge that was handling the estate of REH following his death delayed and delayed and delayed, perhaps because the lawyer told him what was happening, and the judge was giving Lyndsey time to come forward. Doc Howard wrote a couple of nasty letters to the judge asking him to hurry the hell up, he needed the money in the bank account to pay bills. Lyndsey never came forward back then, and so after way longer than necessary, maybe 9 months or a year, the judge finally closed the estate and gave all the rights to Doc Howard as the nearest living kin, under the “intestacy” laws of Texas. (Intestacy is for when there is no will). If Robert had kids, they would have gotten all of it. Anyway, under Texas law, contesting the disbursement of an estate has to be done within a certain time period. So it was long done and nothing can change it.
The gun Lyndsey Tyson lent Robert was a .380 ACP. The term “ACP” comes from “Automatic Colt Pistol”. It was a designation created to mark the engineering of John Moses Browning. Known as one of the most influential weapons designers of all time.
Introduced by Colt in 1900 and shortly thereafter followed by Browning, the .380 ACP, also called the 9mm Browning Short, is not a good choice for self-defense. The velocity of the bullet varied depending on the projectile (shape and frontal area), casing and load. It does not have great stopping power.
The Colt Automatic Pocket Model was introduced in 1903 in .32 caliber and chambered for .380 in 1908. Being low powered it has a fixed barrel, the slide not being locked thereto, so spring pressures are activated by the pressure of the exploding cartridge to eject the fired shell and a fresh cartridge is fed into the chamber. This is the blowback system. There is no external hammer on this model. Changes were made in 1911, but the gun was issued in pretty fair numbers thereafter, in both calibers, up through the Second World War.
The Tyson family donated the gun to the Museum which was not exactly thrilled to receive it. The family had tried to sell it for big bucks for a couple of decades. They finally gave up and just gave it away. The gun now resides in a safety deposit box in the Cross Plains Bank.
Sources and more information:
I am not a scholar and have tried to avoid information I don’t trust or can’t back up. Much of this information is available online. I’ve found some of it here:
- Kirkus Reviews.
- Reflections about the Death of Robert E. Howard by Javier Martin Lalanda.
- Information from Paul Herman (about the will, the owners of the gun and where it is located).
- Exhibit “A” by Eric Carlson from The Hyperborian League #2. Provided by Lee Breakiron.
- Old Colt – website showing various models for the 1908 Pocket Hammerless which utilized the .380 ACP cartridge.
- Widener’s Guns, Ammo & Shooting Blog. Facts about ACP Ammo.
- The Dark Virtues of Robert E. Howard – Intercollegiate Studies Institute (isi.org)
- A Shiver in the Archives: “All Fled, All Done”: Redux on Robert E. Howard’s Famous Couplet
- Afterword from the second volume of the Conan Chronicles by Stephen Jones.
- Released: 1908
- Bullet Diameter: .355 inches
- Case Length: .680 inches
- Bullet Weights: Usually 80 to 120 grains
Not to be confused with the .38 ACP (“thirty-eight”), the .380 ACP (“three eighty”) has been a popular self-defense round ever since its release. It has a slightly smaller profile than the .38, yet maintains consistent power and performance.