Correspondence between Wilson Shepherd and R. H. Barlow

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Szerző: Howard Phillips Lovecraft • Év: 1932

(a) Barlow advertises as magazine trader in various popular magazines.

(b) Sep. 25. Shepherd answers advts. in a formless and illiterate-looking letter with (presumably fake) dictation marks. He mentions various books and magazines he has to trade, including a complete file of Weird Tales.

(c) Barlow, wishing the complete W. T. file for 1923–4–5, writes Shepherd, offering to trade a set of 8 bound volumes of Amazing Stories in technically defective condition for this file.

(d) Oct. 2. Shepherd replies with a strange and rambling sort of agreement—implying conditional acquiescence—which he asks Barlow to sign. Barlow complies. Shepherd replies favourably, inquiring certain particulars about bound volumes offered, and about modes of transportation.

(e) Oct. 5. Barlow carefully and accurately explains condition of A. S. file offered, and gives suggestions as to best transportation. Asks Shepherd for final decision. At this period he is, for imperative family reasons, going back and forth between Fort Benning, Ga., and Washington, D.C.

(f) Shepherd, in a postal sent Oct. 9, enthusiastically agrees to the trade proposed by Barlow, saying he will send desired items postpaid upon receipt of reply.

(g) Barlow, upon returning to Ft. Benning from Washington, ships Shepherd the bound A. S. file as agreed—expecting a 1923–4–5 file of W. T. in return.

(h) Shepherd, immediately upon receiving this shipment, sends Barlow a package of very ordinary magazines which were not ordered and which Barlow already had—back numbers of Science Wonder Stories, Science Wonder Quarterly, and Amazing Stories Quarterly—together with a list of titles and prices purporting to be an invoice of the shipment. This invoice lists not only the items actually sent, but the complete W. T. file for 1923–4–5 asked for; ALTHOUGH THE WEIRD TALES FILE IS NOT INCLUDED IN THE SHIPMENT. The prices quoted on all items are absurdly exorbitant—total value of shipped material (which did not include W. T.) not exceeding $4.00 at ordinary market rates.

Before Barlow has had time to protest about this peculiar and erroneous shipment, he receives a letter from Shepherd (arriving the next day) dated Oct. 15th but with postscripts of the 17th, and purporting to go out simultaneously with the shipment. This letter is so wild, irrelevant, and irrational that Barlow writes friends (as recalled without prompting by H. P. Lovecraft) that he believes he is dealing with an insane man. This letter of Shepherd’s opens with an acknowledgment of the A. S. file from Barlow, but a complaint that it was in “very BAD condition”. [It was not, and Barlow had explained in detail every technical defect.] It continues with a statement that, despite the “bad condition” of this shipment, Shepherd is sending Barlow the magazines he asked for in good condition. [Actually he did not send any magazines asked for, but sent some not asked for.] He gives rambling remarks on the “high value” of what he says he is sending, and (evidently thinking that Barlow wished magazines for speculative re-sale) adds the name of a Chicago collector* who he says would probably buy them at a good price, since he had previously made Shepherd a high offer. Shepherd explains his own non-acceptance of that offer in a virtually insane way—saying that he is so attached to his books and magazines that he cannot bear to sell them—so trades them instead! He further adds that he has for trade or sale (despite his scruples) a complete set of “Science Fiction Magazine and its sister magazine INTERPLANETARY STORYS, which is 202 in 1915” [sic]. [QUERY—DID ANY SUCH MAGAZINES APPEAR IN 1915 OR AT ANY OTHER DATE, OR DID SHEPHERD INVENT MYTHICAL TITLES? No one has ever heard of these, despite inquiries.] In this letter were tucked two queer postscripts alleging that the writer was leaving on that day (Oct. 17) for Lovering, Montana, “in the middle west”, on a hunting trip with a friend named William Wells, and earnestly asking Barlow not to write him until his return, which he puts at “Jan. or Feb.” in the first P.S., and “after Xmas” in the second P.S. The second P.S. concludes: “Will send you a card when I return, so we can trade some more. THIS IS IMPORTANT. W. S.”

The foregoing letter—illiterate, incoherent, and misspelled—is either the rambling of a mentally defective person, or the effort of a very dull, ignorant, and naive (though rattily cunning) person to put over a fraud.** The mention of two probably non-existent magazines, and the two childish postscripts evidently designed (by one whose simplicity must have been extreme) to prevent an early complaint and investigation by Barlow, speak for themselves.

This, then, is the situation. Barlow has sent Shepherd a bound file of Amazing which he has fully and accurately described, on the understanding that a W. T. file is to be sent in return. Shepherd at once sends a shipment of magazines which were not asked for, but with a pseudo-invoice implying that the shipment contains both these magazines and the W. T. file which was asked for. The desired W. T. file, however, is missing.

 

Barlow v. Shepherd

 

This shipment of unwanted goods with false invoice is followed by a letter in which the following points should be especially noted:

 

1. Shepherd complains of condition of A. S. file. This is probably false, since they were sent in good shape and with safe packing. [He later denies having made this complaint.]

2. Shepherd falsely says he is sending the magazines asked for.

3. Shepherd makes peculiar and infantile remarks about re-sale.

4. Shepherd claims to have files of probably non-existent magazines.

5. Shepherd’s attempts to cut off or delay investigation by Barlow by means of two irrational and curious postscripts.

 

Let us now consider the aftermath.

 

(i) Upon receipt of the foregoing strange letter of Oct. 15–17, Barlow at once writes Shepherd (despite the puerile cautionary postscripts), telling him that the magazines received were not those ordered, and asking him to send the 1923–4–5 file of Weird Tales at once, as promised.

(j) Shepherd (having apparently cancelled his “middle western” hunting trip and forgotten all about it) replies on a postcard (from Oakman) “. . . magazines sent at once please advise when you receive them. Am glad you were so pleased with others I sent.” This obviously constitutes an admission that the desired W. T. file was not in the shipment of Oct. 15 despite the pseudo-invoice—and it also refers to an alleged statement of Barlow’s (that he was “pleased” by the “other” magazines sent) which was never made. BUT NO MAGAZINES (despite statement above) ACCOMPANIED OR FOLLOWED THIS CARD.

(k) Barlow—in Washington again—replies to the foregoing card as follows: “Dear Sir: You don’t understand. I have never gotten the Weird Tales you promised to trade me for the Amazing Stories I sent you. You sent me some things I already had and did not need or want instead. Please send me the 1923, 1924, and 1925 Weird Tales at once. Yours sincerely, R. H. Barlow.”

 

Note this actual text in view of irrelevant reply.

 

(l) Replying to the foregoing on a postal postmarked Nov. 8 (from Oakman—the trip with Mr. Wells being still postponed!), Shepherd presents the ensuing illiterate and irrelevant scrawl which Barlow believes to be a deliberate bit of insulting jeering aimed at a neatly gypped victim:

“Sir—Am very glad that you are so satisfied with my mags. as to comment on them two times, it will be glad to let you have all the books and mags. you said you wanted in your letter. but the Argosys. but if you make a good enough offer I might trade. please let me Know what you Will Give at once. Respectfully W. S.”

[The crude cunning implied in this card contrasts oddly with the utter naiveté of Shepherd as elsewhere displayed.]

(m) Barlow replies to the foregoing irrelevant and possibly insolent card as follows:

“Dear Sir—Your postal card received. I have not yet received the years 1923, 1924, and 1925 of Weird Tales (in good condition) which you said you had sent. Please send them at once as agreed upon. Yours sincerely, R. H. Barlow. P.S. If you don’t straighten out this matter at once I shall turn your letters over to the Postal Authorities and let them do as they see fit. R. B.”

(n) Shepherd replies to the foregoing at length—with an illiterate pretended résumé of the correspondence betwixt him and Barlow; in which he tries to tell Barlow that the latter wrote things he didn’t write, and also misrepresents his own past correspondence—with incredible naiveté, as if Barlow had no letters—or no memory—to consult! He begins by telling Barlow that the latter in his first letter asked for an option on the W. T. file (which he did) and also on some Argosy issues (which he did not)—offering in return an Amazing file “in frankly very poor condition”. Continuing, he says that he agreed to reserve the desired magazines for Barlow if the latter would sign a definite option; and that he offered to throw in some other items to compensate Barlow for committing himself to this option. Further, he denies that he asked Barlow to send the Amazing file when the latter did—despite documentary evidence to the contrary—and claims that when he told Barlow (in the strange letter of Oct. 15–17) he was sending “the magazines asked for”, he meant the thrown-in items . . . for which he thought Barlow had asked. Evidently he does not know (or thinks he can successfully deny!) what he wrote in the strange letter; for he claims that he reported the Amazing set “in fair condition”, whereas he really complained [falsely] to Barlow that they were in “very BAD condition”. He ignores his own silly postscripts to that letter, and says he expressed a desire to do some more trading. [How more, when the original trade was not complete?] Shepherd then invents a purely fictitious reply which he says Barlow sent—instead of the complaint (of un-ordered magazines recd., and non-receipt of ordered file of W. T.) which Barlow really did send. He claims that in this reply Barlow reported everything received in “wonderful” condition, and that Barlow did not expect W. T. file to be included. He claims that, in the same letter, Barlow asked him to continue holding the W. T. file until he could arrange for it [. . . as if B. had not already sent the Amazings forming his side of the trade! If the magazines sent by S. were only to clinch an option, then what did he think B. sent the Amazings for?]. He ignores completely the pseudo-invoice—also his own reply to Barlow’s first com-plaint—in which he said “magazines sent at once—advise me when you receive them.”

The utter simplicity of S. in fancying he could make B. believe the transaction was otherwise than it had been, really presents a psychological problem—unless there was an element of pure conscious bluff.

(o) At this point Barlow drops the matter in disgust. Shepherd has B.’s file of Amazing, worth about $31.00, and Barlow has a file of duplicate junk not worth over $4.00—with no W. T. file in sight. B. does not believe that S. ever had a W. T. file—suspicion in this direction being augmented by S.’s description of probably non-existent magazines of 1915 et seq.

 

HERE RESTS THE CASE

 

* He first gives the name of a Pennsylvania man in typewriting, and speaks of the high price as offered by him. Then he crosses out this name and substitutes that of the Chicagoan in pencil—letting what is said about the offer stand.

** Viewed maturely, and in light of the full transaction, the evidence seems to point to the latter conclusion.

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