Beginning a series of footnotes for Robert E. Howard’s letters. Most are far too obscure for publication.
Toward the end of 1928, Harold Preece, one of Robert E. Howard’s correspondents, was complaining about a nose problem. In his ca. October or early November 1930 letter, Howard responded:
Well, Harold, I’m sorry to hear your nose is troubling you again. I hope it will get alright. My own nose is nothing to brag about, having been broken several times. Man is a frail and very imperfect piece of nature.
Howard brings it up again in the ca. Dec 1928: “Hate to hear about your nose. What is that—sinus trouble, or septum or what? It must be Hell. Be careful about it.” Little details like this stick in my brain for some reason so, when I stumbled on the following passage from “The Spirit of Old” by Harold Preece, I immediately made the connection:
Within a month [of meeting Hildon V. Collins, a member of The Junto, in Waco] necessity forced me to undergo an operation upon my nose. Hildon went with me to the doctor’s office on the day of the operation. He conducted me back to the hotel and sat up all night with me. In a few days I was able to go to my home in Austin and recuperate. Hildon assisted me in getting my baggage to the station, seeing also that I was comfortably seated on the train. All this kindness to a youth he had known a short time [. . .]”
So the timeline for Preece’s nose trouble goes like this:
On July 13, 1928, Robert E. Howard and Harold Preece attended a prize fight together in Fort Worth, Texas (see “Dula Due to Be Champion” in Collected Letters vol. 1). That August, Howard wrote to Preece in Waco: “Glad you enjoyed our reunion at Fort Worth. I sure as Hell did. Yes, I’d have liked to have been with Truett, Hildon and yourself at Waco.”
“The Spirit of Old” appears in the December 1928 issue of The Lone Indian, a “tribe paper” put out by a member of the Lone Scouts of America, an organization to which both Preece and Collins belonged (Clyde Smith, Truett Vinson, and possibly Robert Howard as well). In the article, Preece explains when he first met Collins:
Two months previous to the time of this writing, I came to Waco, Texas, to fill an assignment made by the concern by which I am employed [the city directory crew]. Shortly after arriving, I became acquainted with Hildon V. Collins, LSB, who joined the LSA in 1926. We became quite intimate friends.
If tribe papers came out the month before the date on their covers, we can assume that the “time of this writing” is sometime in October or November, which places the time that Preece first met Collins around August. But in a letter from Waco, Texas, dated Thursday, July 26, 1928, Preece told Tevis Clyde Smith: “I wish you could have been with Truett, Hildon, and myself, the early part of the week. We had a prolonged and interesting session, and nothing was too sacred for the gamut of conversation.” That would place the meeting early in the week of July 23, 1928.
So, putting it all together, Preece tells Howard about his nose trouble sometime in July or August, possibly at the boxing match. A week and a half later, Preece meets Hildon V. Collins for the first time, somewhere around July 23. “Within a month,” Preece has an operation on his nose with Collins taking him to the doctor’s office and then seeing him to the train station to recuperate in Austin, this would be in late August or September. And we can do a bit better than that.
As luck would have it, Preece was a stickler for starting his letters with dates and places. His September 15 letter to Tevis Clyde Smith is from Waco. The September 30 letter is from Capital Station in Austin and begins, “Back home again. It is my intention to attend the State University for the spring term. I think that I can stand Austin for the next nine months, provided I am going to school.” So I’m betting that the operation happened between September 15 and 30.
All of which would end up like this in a footnote:
Well, Harold, I’m sorry to hear your nose is troubling you again 1
1 Preece had an operation on his nose at Waco in September.
And people say I’m obsessed.