Exploring the Life and Works of Edgar Rice Burroughs
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by Edgar Rice Burroughs
From Rob Wagner's SCRIPT, July 1932.
In case it is not obvious, the author, Mr. Burroughs, was at his creative best when he supplied this short autobiographical sketch to Rob Wagner in 1932. Yet, it must be said that the ERB described in this short piece MUST be the Ed Burroughs who appeared in a number of adenture stories published between 1911 and 1944.
— The Editor.
A brief note to readers..
In researching the history of Mr. Burroughs, many interesting facts were found; which would have made for a fairly interesting read. However, a different approach was chosen for Mr. Burroughs. We think you will agree that it is the best approach....
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 favorite 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 his 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 vivid lightning flash illuminated the interior of the tent, and I saw Pedros 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 slim 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 honors, annexing both the heavyweight 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, with 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 two boulders preventing it's 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 Tip-poo 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 such good stead when I decided, many years later, to record some of my experiences in 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 windjammer bound for China.
Wrecked off the coast of Asia, I eventually made 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 was 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.