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Duke University Press Books
Brother Men: The Correspondence of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Herbert T. Weston

Brother Men: The Correspondence of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Herbert T. Weston

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Brother Men is the first published collection of private letters of Edgar Rice Burroughs, the phenomenally successful author of adventure, fantasy, and science fiction tales, including the Tarzan series. The correspondence presented here is Burroughs’s decades-long exchange with Herbert T. Weston, the maternal great-grandfather of this volume’s editor, Matt Cohen. The trove of correspondence Cohen discovered unexpectedly during a visit home includes hundreds of items—letters, photographs, telegrams, postcards, and illustrations—spanning from 1903 to 1945. Since Weston kept carbon copies of his own letters, the material documents a lifelong friendship that had begun in the 1890s, when the two men met in military school. In these letters, Burroughs and Weston discuss their experiences of family, work, war, disease and health, sports, and new technology over a period spanning two world wars, the Great Depression, and widespread political change. Their exchanges provide a window into the personal writings of the legendary creator of Tarzan and reveal Burroughs’s ideas about race, nation, and what it meant to be a man in early-twentieth-century America.

The Burroughs-Weston letters trace a fascinating personal and business relationship that evolved as the two men and their wives embarked on joint capital ventures, traveled frequently, and navigated the difficult waters of child-rearing, divorce, and aging. Brother Men includes never-before-published images, annotations, and a critical introduction in which Cohen explores the significance of the sustained, emotional male friendship evident in the letters. Rich with insights related to visual culture and media technologies, consumerism, the history of the family, the history of authorship and readership, and the development of the West, these letters make it clear that Tarzan was only one small part of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s broad engagement with modern culture.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822335412
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication date: 04/13/2005
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 328
Product dimensions: 6.13(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875–1950), most well known as the author of the Tarzan books, was one of the bestselling American authors of the early twentieth century. Millions of copies of his books sold during his lifetime.

Herbert T. Weston (1876–1951) was a businessman in Beatrice, Nebraska.

Matt Cohen is Assistant Professor of English at Duke University.

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Brother Men


Duke University Press

Copyright © 2005 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-3541-2


[N]ewer formations of manhood ... affectively and ideologically isolated men in a newer form of individualist competitiveness. -DANA NELSON, National Manhood

I always knew that [Theodore] Roosevelt had me in the palm of his hand, but until his death I never suspected that I also had a personal feeling for the man. His going has put a real crimp in me. It is said that no man is necessary-but to my way of thinking, we could much better spare the next ten greatest men in the USA. Honestly I dont know what in hell we are going to do without THE Colonel! -HERBERT T. WESTON TO EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS, 15 January 1919

As I may have intimated once or twice, people mean a lot more to me than things or places. I get more that way the older I get, and I just could not have a better time than to just jimmy around with you Burroughses. I think your children are peaches. I wish I could have seen more of them. [...] What I would like to do would be to hang around the Burroughs Wyoming ranch house for a few days (I could sleep in the 4d truck) and have you pay no attention to me, and watch you come and go, read your books, play with the rats, be bitten by Lobo and Jet, ride a horse andshoot a little golf. Not strenuous perhaps, but joy enough for me! -WESTON TO BURROUGHS, 13 April 1927

I WAS IN GRADUATE SCHOOL in Virginia, working on the last stages of a dissertation about bachelors in America and deeply interested in the complicated relationships among emotion, economics, and identity in men's lives of the nineteenth century. Needing a break, feeling the isolation of sustained writing, I headed to Beatrice, Nebraska, to spend a few days with my mother and my grandmother. While I knew that they would ask me how my work was coming along (the unsettling litany of graduate school: "Is your dissertation finished yet?"), I also knew that they would not press me about my interpretations of the residual culture of ascetic masculinity or the connections between postcolonial anxiety and imperialist manhood in American fiction. I could relax; or so I thought.

After I had finished describing some of the more entertaining parts of my research-on men's lives in the bachelor hotels that began to proliferate during the Gilded Age-my grandmother wondered out loud if, considering my focus on men's friendships, I might be interested in "the Burroughs letters." My mother immediately agreed that I would, and they began talking about people and places from our family's past that were completely unfamiliar to me. Becoming aware of my confusion, they explained that my great-grandfather, Herbert Weston, and the author of the Tarzan books, Edgar Rice Burroughs, went to military school together and afterward sustained a lifelong correspondence, much of which was currently right there in our house. My mind swam with questions: How many letters were there? What period did they cover? Did we only have half of the correspondence, as is usually the case with such collections? Their answers astonished me: There were hundreds of items, including letters, photographs, telegrams, postcards, and drawings; they dated from the early years of the twentieth century to after the Second World War; and most important of all, my great-grandfather kept carbon copies of his letters. As I delved into the collection, my vacation ended and I did not even notice.

The letters would be worth publishing if they were only rich and lively documents illuminating Edgar Rice Burroughs's daily life and career, but they are much more than that. They are uncharacteristic as a collection, not least because they survived the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression. The forms of labor (agriculture and popular literature) and capital (land investments) that these men engaged in buffered them from the worst effects of the crash. Burroughs bought an airplane during this time; and both men took up home movie making, with all the expensive equipment that entails, as a hobby (they did use cheaper paper for their letters during the Depression). But the letters have further value. Until now, only fragments of a few letters from Burroughs's vast correspondence have been published. This collection of documents will enable cultural historians to examine an important American author and his most famous product in great depth.

Some have already done so; in fact, Tarzan, if not Burroughs himself, has emerged at the center of recent debates among cultural studies scholars and theorists interested in the development of mass media, imperialism, and gender and sexuality. With these letters we can begin to bring this symbolic analysis into dialogue with Burroughs's social and intimate lives. The letters and images offer a fascinating, detailed look at masculine self-generation during a time of tremendous change. Because these two men were products of the 1870s and 1880s, their correspondence traces their encounters with modernity and America's rise onto the world stage. They were friends and old school buddies, but they were also in business with each other. Both struggled with masculine self-definition-Burroughs early, Weston late-and discussed their problems with a circle of male friends. A near-constant ironic banter shapes the letters, but there are many moments of powerful emotional self-exposure as well. Within these pages readers will find a panorama of the difficulties, advantages, and possibilities of middle-class white manhood in the early twentieth century.

The quotations that begin this introduction trace my own rethinking of some critical assumptions about manhood. Dana Nelson's work on masculinity illuminates our understanding of both the means and the costs of the generation of white masculine subjectivity. As her comment shows, however, there remains a pervasive sense that, in Bryan Garman's words, "most bourgeois men sought to shun close emotional attachments" at the dawn of the twentieth century. Weston's response to the news of the death of Theodore Roosevelt is an example of the kind of national emotion that Nelson has taught students of American cultural history to perceive: Weston's "personal feeling" for a man he had never (as far as we know) seen forms a romance of citizenship with the dead president as ideal partner. The final image, which collapses Roosevelt's kaleidoscopic career into his military identity, signals Weston's participation in a national imaginary that posits individuality in the service of ideals-in this case, of Roosevelt's famous "strenuous life." But the final quotation complicates this reading. Here Weston imagines the dissolution of his identity into the Burroughses' in a perpetual visit to Tarzana, Burroughs's California ranch. A national subservience becomes an intensely personal one ("I think your children are peaches") and an idyll of leisure ("shoot a little golf"). Weston's final pronouncement, "Not strenuous perhaps, but joy enough for me," replaces Roosevelt's strenuousness with the ecstasy of intimate proximity.

This introduction will first trace the biographical and historical backgrounds of Burroughs and Weston. Some areas-politics, sports, and travel-are discussed at length and with considerable coherence in the body of the correspondence and need little further discussion here. Burroughs's life has been written about extensively by other scholars. Because the letters offer an unprecedented sense of the ways the two men's lives related to each other, I have chosen to integrate the story of their lives rather than treating each man separately. This story lays the groundwork for the claims of the final section of the introduction, which brings the evidence of the letters into the larger current debate among cultural historians about the nature of male subjectivity and the uses of homosocial intimacy.

Beginnings: Lifelong Side-Partners

"Remember my Father and my Mother's family settled this town, and I am the ole Original Sin if there are any" -WESTON TO BURROUGHS, 13 April 1927

Ed Burroughs and Bert Weston were born less than a year apart, in September 1875 and April 1876, Burroughs in Chicago and Weston in Lincoln, Nebraska. Burroughs grew up in the rapidly expanding gateway to the West, while Weston spent most of his childhood in his small hometown, Beatrice. But despite this apparent disparity in their early environments, the men shared quite similar socioeconomic situations. Both boys grew up in well-off families and were established white males in communities that were financially and ethnically diverse.

Burroughs was the youngest son of Mary Evaline and George Tyler Burroughs of Chicago. George Burroughs had been a major in the Union Army during the Civil War, and in his civilian life became one of the owners of the American Battery Company. Edgar Rice grew up in a large brick home on Washington Boulevard in the West Side with his brothers George, Harry, and Frank, and came of age in a family whose position as owners of production meant that children had much expected of them. Carlo Rotella writes of turn-of-the-century Chicago:

Chicago was the right place at the right time, a city visibly produced at near-miraculous speed by the industrial transformations, population movements, and rapid urbanization shaping the terrain of America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The central place of a vast region stretching from the Rockies to the Cumberland Gap and from the Mississippi Delta to the north woods, commanding the rail and water routes along which passed extracted resources and manufactured goods, a center of heavy industry as well as a center of commercial and financial activity, Chicago was early twentieth century America's "national economic city"-the prototypical modern industrial metropolis.

Burroughs's brothers George and Harry drew energy from the development of industry in Chicago and its concomitant culture of professionalization. In 1889 they graduated from the Sheffield Scientific School, Yale's renowned engineering program. After working for their father at the American Battery Company they moved on to ventures of their own in western mining. From the standpoint of nineteenth-century male gender politics, they set a high mark for Edgar, who had already shown signs of restlessness in school and a sickly constitution.

By a strange symmetry, living next door to the Burroughses and their four sons was a family with four daughters (and a young son), the Hulberts. Emma Centennia Hulbert-born, as her middle name suggests, in 1876-and Ed Burroughs formed a friendship when they were quite young that blossomed into romance and marriage in 1900 (in the face of resistance from the Hulberts). Like most residents of Burroughs's neighborhood, the Hulberts were solidly upper middle class. Alvin, Emma's father, operated expensive hotels in Chicago and St. Louis. He was elected alderman of the Twelfth Ward in 1880, a post he filled during the years in which his daughter and Burroughs became friends.

Burroughs had few steady friends other than Emma, in part because sickness, listlessness, and hooky led him to attend at least three different schools in Chicago. After working as a ranch hand for his brothers in Idaho, he was sent to Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, where he lasted almost two semesters. In his brief time there, Burroughs managed to get himself elected class president, evidence of both his popularity and his preference for extracurricular activity over schoolwork. Having proven his intransigence in the classroom, and approaching what his parents thought of as the age of responsibility, Burroughs was sent to the institution that had taken the place of the seminary for the youngest sons of the bourgeois: military school. He enrolled at Michigan Military Academy (MMA) in Orchard Lake, near Detroit, in 1892.

While Ed Burroughs's father was fighting the Civil War, Bert Weston's parents, Jefferson Burns "J. B." Weston and Helen Towle Weston, were building the town of Beatrice in what would soon become Nebraska. The Beatrice settlers may have been somewhat unwilling founders: the town's history claims that the decision to stop in Beatrice was made while the founding families were stuck on a Missouri River sandbar; J. B. was one of the party that surveyed the site ultimately chosen for incorporation. Originally from Maine, J. B. left for the territories in 1857 after graduating from Union College. He and Helen, daughter of Beatrice's first postmaster, were married in 1860. By the time Bert was born, the Weston family was one of the most powerful in Nebraska. J. B. was a lawyer; president of the Beatrice National Bank; and, from 1872 to 1878, auditor of the state of Nebraska, a crucial position during the time of Nebraska's development. Bert was born during his father's tenure in this post. Bert was the youngest of four children, and his letters show a sustained and at times melancholy engagement with what he felt was a responsibility to live up to his family's legacy in the community. His family's position, ties with the Westons who remained behind on the east coast, and an investment in national culture evidenced by the family's large collection of literary books and national periodicals made Bert subject to a set of class expectations similar to those felt by Burroughs.

Though Weston was in some ways a better student than Burroughs, the education system in Nebraska did little to prepare youngsters to attend college at competitive east coast schools. The Westons heard about the relatively new military academy at Orchard Lake and sent Bert there in 1893 after some preparation at the University of Nebraska. During the summer before he left for school, Weston met the woman he would eventually marry: Margaret Butler Collins. Weston's early romance did not come from next door, but as with Burroughs, local connections were important. As he put it in a 1929 letter to Burroughs, "It is a matter of history that Maggie Collins and Bertie Weston officially met-up at the Evans Hotel, in Hot Springs, SoDak, in July 1893." Margaret was from Brooklyn, New York. Her father, Chester, had been involved in a set of railroad contracting ventures in the region, one of which was a partnership with the Kilpatrick Brothers of Beatrice. Much of the couple's early relationship was necessarily epistolary, and a few of their letters survive from his days at Michigan Military Academy.

When Weston and Burroughs first met, then, perhaps in the autumn of 1893, they had much in common. But other obsessions complemented their shared middle-class backgrounds, investment in the culture of masculine character, and romantic involvements. Perhaps the most significant, from the standpoint of joining the social sphere of a military academy, was their interest in football. Their first encounter was, at least rhetorically, love at first sight-mediated by sports: "I have a recollection of the day I arrived," Weston wrote to Burroughs many years later, "and you hard-boiled up to me and asked if I had ever played football. I blushingly replied that I had played two games as end on the Nebraska 'Varsity, and you almost kissed me!!" Both men, but especially Weston, would retain a lifelong interest in football (fig. 1). All the Weston sons spent time at the University of Nebraska, whose nationally competitive team was (and is) a powerful locus of entertainment for the state.

Weston and Burroughs shared another characteristic significant in their historical moment-lack of interest in religion. When filling out his application to Phillips Academy in 1891, Burroughs had put "none" in the blank for "Church Denomination." Weston's family, although officially Episcopalian, had not been particularly religious; he would write to Burroughs, suggestively, "I am no preacher, as well you know." Neither man seems to have objected to organized religion in any political way; in fact, the contents of both men's libraries indicate a long-term interest in learning about a range of theologies (though in Burroughs's case, this could well have been for professional reasons). Certainly, however, their shared resistance to organized religion was one of the things that gave them a common space within which to become friends.


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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

Note on the Text 49

Correspondence 51

Notes 287

Index 301

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