Thursday, November 1, 2012

W.C. Morrow (1854-1923)

Writer and Teacher
Born July 7, 1854, Selma, Alabama
Died April 3, 1923, Ojai, California

San Francisco must have been crawling with writers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Many wrote stories of strange and supernatural events. Others are known to students of mainstream literature. Chief among them were Ambrose Bierce (1842-?), Bret Harte (1836-1902), Frank Norris (1870-1902), and Jack London (1876-1916). Others included Joaquin Miller (1837-1913), Charles Warren Stoddard (1843-1909), Edwin Markham (1852-1940), Gelett Burgess (1866-1951), and of course Emma Frances Dawson (ca. 1839-1926), about whom I wrote a few days ago. The list could go on and on, but if you go too much further, you will have to include W.C. Morrow, a teller of weird tales with a reputation out of proportion to his literary output.

William Chambers Morrow was born on July 7, 1854, in Selma, Alabama, son of a slaveholder. The Civil War and Reconstruction put an end to that of course. In 1870, when the census enumerator found them, Morrow's father and mother were keeping a hotel with their sixteen-year-old son in residence. Morrow graduated from Howard College (now Samford University) at age fifteen and moved to California in 1879. There he submitted stories to The Argonaut and the San Francisco Examiner. Morrow's first book, Blood-Money, was published in 1882. His other works included A Strange Confession (newspaper serial, 1880-1881), The Ape, the Idiot and Other People (1897), The Art of Writing for Publication (pamphlet, 1899), A Man; His Mark: A Romance (1900), Lentala of the South Seas (1908), and Over an Absinthe Bottle (pamphlet, 1936). I suspect Bierce would have appreciated the off-kilter and slightly cynical titles.

W.C. Morrow wrote only a few stories. Nevertheless, he is a much admired author. Alice Entwistle, a contemporary and a fellow Californian, wrote in 1900 that he "holds a distinguished place among the short-story writers of the time." Sam Moskowitz echoed her words in 1973:
Morrow, purely on the basis of the stories in The Ape, The Idiot and Other People, ranks with Poe, Hawthorne, Bierce, Chambers, and Crawford as one of the truly great American masters of the horror story. 
Charles Caldwell Dobie claimed Morrow as "a master of the imagination, properly controlled by a lucid style." Weird Tales reprinted several of Morrow's stories, four during the Farnsworth Wright era and one in Moskowitz's version of 1973-1974. The editor Wright was also a San Franciscan. I wonder if he could have known the men and women who helped make his home city a literary hub. Morrow's stories have also been anthologized in Argonaut Stories (1906), 33 Sardonics (1946), and Horror Times Ten (1967).

W.C. Morrow died on April 3, 1923, in Ojai, California, a month after Weird Tales made its debut. He was sixty-eight years old.

W.C. Morrow's Stories in Weird Tales
"The Monster-Maker" (Dec. 1928)
"His Unconquerable Enemy" (Aug. 1929)
"The Permanent Stiletto" (Aug. 1930)
"Over an Absinthe Bottle" (Apr. 1933)
"The Haunted Burglar" (Summer 1974)

An advertisement for The Ape, The Idiot and Other People by W.C. Morrow (1897), created by Anna Whelan Betts (1873-1959).
The Ape, the Idiot and Other People (1897). Image courtesy of John Lehner.
A Man; His Mark: A Romance (1900). Image courtesy of John Lehner. 
Lentala of the South Seas (1908), illustrated by the Western artist Maynard Dixon (1875-1946). Image courtesy of John Lehner.
One of Dixon's interior illustrations for Lentala of the South Seas. Image courtesy of John Lehner.
"His Unconquerable Enemy" appeared in the paperback collection Horror Times Ten, edited by Alden Norton (1967). Sam Moskowitz wrote that the story, "will never be forgotten by anyone who reads it." Note the similarity to the cover illustration of Horrors in Hiding from a couple of days ago.

Postscript: Ambrose Bierce mentioned his friend W.C. Morrow in an essay entitled "To Train a Writer" from 1899. Bierce observed that "Mr. W.C. Morrow, the author of 'The Ape, the Idiot and Other People,' a book of admirable stories, is setting up a school to teach the art of writing. If he can teach his pupils to write half as well as he can write himself he may be called successful." (Quoted in Ambrose Bierce, A Sole Survivor: Bits of Autobiography, edited by S.T. Joshi and David E. Schultz (1998).) Nov. 7, 2012

The remaining five illustrations by Maynard Dixon for Lentala of the South Seas by W.C. Morrow (1908), images provided by John Lehner. Update on January 24, 2015. Thank you, John.
Thanks to John Lehner for images provided.
Text copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley

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