The Revised Adolphe Danziger de Castro
The following article was published in the Spring 1997 (Number 36) Lovecraft Studies, a small, academic journal for devotees of H. P. Lovecraft and fiction of the weird. It describes a phase of Danziger's writing career where he used ghostwriters to revise and improve his writing. Most notable among those ghostwriters was horror writer H. P. Lovecraft. The table of contents below was not part of the original publication but is provided here as a means of quickly navigating to selected sections of the article. The format for references to notes is standard for Lovecraft Studies.
During his 99-year lifetime Adolphe Danziger (known as Adolphe de Castro after 1921) was a rabbi, journalist, lawyer, dentist, American vice-consul to Madrid, and more. To the literary world, he is best known as one of Ambrose Bierce’s protégés and a one-time collaborator. However, followers of the career of H. P. Lovecraft know him as one of Lovecraft’s revision clients. During the late 1920s and early 1930’s, de Castro was one of many writers that hired Lovecraft to edit and improve the quality of their works.
Danziger/de Castro wrote from early in his life until his death in 1959, out-producing most of his mentors and revisers through longevity and persistence. Over the course of a seventy-year career, his writing included a collection of short stories, a novella in collaboration with Bierce, at least four volumes of poetry, five published and more than a dozen unpublished novels, a "photoplay" (film script), a published monograph of Talmudic history, an unpublished monograph concerning the history of Sephardic Jews, a biography of Bierce, and his own unpublished autobiography. He accomplished all of this in addition to an intermittent career as a journalist and editor, producing hundreds, possibly thousands, of articles and columns. However, the superior intellect that allowed him to successfully master half a dozen other occupations failed him in his quest to be an important literary figure. His career in literature was a succession of failures and near misses punctuated by a series of deceptions and ploys contrived to make his reputation surreptitiously rather than by merit. Throughout his career he employed the skills of other writers, includng Bierce and Lovecraft, to remedy his writing weaknesses.
Danziger first used a reviser during his association with Ambrose Bierce in the late 1880s and early 1890s. He met Bierce in San Francisco in 1886 while practicing there as a dentist. Over the next several years, he became a protégé, currying favor with Bierce as did many young Central Californian writers of the period. Bierce responded kindly to the attention, supporting Danziger’s literary aspirations with his favorable reviews and, in 1889, the publication of Danziger’s poem "A Vision of My Mother," in his column "Prattle" which appeared in the San Francisco newspaper, the Examiner. They were also partners in founding a subsidy publishing business that printed Bierce’s poetry collection Black Beetles in Amber. While other contemporary young writers were just as easily destroyed by Bierce’s acclaimed caustic wit, Danziger’s literary career profited significantly from the association, and his circle of social and artistic contacts grew.
In 1891, Danziger and Bierce collaborated on one of the lesser known literary frauds of their day. Danziger found the story, "The Monk of Berchtesgaden" by Richard Voss, in a German monthly magazine. He was so impressed with it that he translated the story into English. Bierce heard about the translated story through a friend, and upon reading it assured Danziger that with a little "fixing up" it would be quite publishable. Danziger then contracted Bierce to edit the story to improve on his "poor English" and prepare the story for publication. In October of that year, the story, with the new title "The Monk and the Hangman’s Daughter," was published in serial form in the San Francisco Chronicle under the byline "Dr. G. A. Danziger and Ambrose Bierce." The story was well received and the following year was issued as a book by Schulte, a small Chicago publisher.
The partnership began to unravel when Schulte went bankrupt and didn’t pay the authors’ royalties. It deteriorated further when Danziger claimed, in San Francisco social and journalism circles, that he was the primary author of "The Monk" and that he had been swindled out of his share of the proceeds for it. Bierce responded in "Prattle," stating: "I wrote every word of [it] as published. Until Dr. Danziger saw that it was a creditable book he never, so far as I know, professed to have done more than translate the German story by Dr. Voss upon which it was founded" (Bierce May 8,1892). The disagreement erupted into a public falling-out between Bierce and Danziger. Where Bierce had previously defended Danziger in "Prattle," he now used the column to attack him, saying that one incident "... illustrates (to me [Bierce]) one of the countless disadvantages of a literary relationship with an outmate of a detaining-pound for wild asses" (Bierce July 3, 1893). The ultimate failure of this relationship surprised nobody but the partners themselves because, as O’Connor put it, "An odder combination of businessmen - Bierce the perennially broke, Danziger the schemer and dreamer... can hardly be imagined" (193). The failure of the publisher for "The Monk" along with the rocky nature of the relationship between Bierce and Danziger, kept the book from being a significant success.
Thus, the partnership was short-lived and by 1894 they had parted company with Bierce accusing Danziger of questionable financial practices. Danziger temporarily revived the association in 1900 with talks of doing a stage version of "The Monk" in New York. By 1903, however, the association dissolved again, when Danziger used his relationship with Bierce to ask Phoebe Hearst for financial support. Bierce never spoke or corresponded with Danziger again.
In 1932, years after Bierce’s disappearance into Mexico, the fraud was exposed by Frank Monaghan in an article in the journal American Literature. He summarized his study: "... of the two thousand five hundred lines of Der Monch about fifty have been deleted; the others have been translated literally or closely paraphrased. To this approximately seventy lines have been added by either Bierce or de Castro; of these seventy only ten are significant..." ("Ambrose Bierce" 347). Some of Bierce’s biographers seem to have taken little notice of this revelation, though, and "The Monk" is often referred to as a significant milestone in Bierce’s career because it is the only extended length story he ever "wrote." A later anthology of Bierce’s work explains, "Naturally, these findings do not impugn the stylistic excellence of the English version, which, Danziger’s limitations as a stylist being what they were, it seems safe to credit to Bierce" (Wagenknecht xix). The same conclusion was reached by Lovecraft, years before, and reported in a letter to his colleague and fellow writer Donald Wandrei; "I, personally, would be willing to take oath from a knowledge of his crude construction ability & absolute lack of colour-sense, that neither plot nor atmosphere are de Castro’s." In the end de Castro didn’t even get credit for the fraud.
II. The Morphy revision of "The Fatal Letter"
In 1893 Danziger published his short-story collection, In the Confessional and the Following, through the subsidy publishing business that he started with Bierce. Although the relative success of the collection over Bierce’s Beetles in Black Amber was another factor contributing to the demise of their partnership, it is more significant as the source of connections with other authors. The collection was the primary source for a number of stories that Danziger, now de Castro, later used as material to be revised by hired editors and republished. The first story de Castro resurrected from the collection was titled "The Fatal Letter," a light-hearted domestic comedy of mistaken identities, false suspicions, and romances.
More than thirty years after the original publication, de Castro contracted for Edward A. Morphy to revise "The Fatal Letter." Morphy was a journalist in San Francisco in the early 1890s and made a reputation for himself as one of Hearst’s sensationalist reporters. After twenty years of writing and traveling throughout the British Empire, Morphy closed out his years as the editor of the San Francisco newspaper, The Argonaut, until the late 1930s. It is during this period of his life that Morphy revised "The Fatal Letter."
As if defining the pattern for decades of revisions to de Castro’s writing, Morphy’s revision of the story took the form of a complete rewrite, retaining the essential elements of the story, the plot, the main characters, and the setting, but none of the prose. The revised story has so little in common with the original that Morphy re-titled it "Mr. Lannigan’s Error." In Morphy, de Castro chose someone of his own generation and in doing so, may have incurred the same problems that he had with in own writing – the style of the revised story was dated. There is no evidence that the revised story was ever submitted for publication, or that it was ever published.
III. Lovecraft Revises "A Sacrifice to Science"
The next story resurrected from In the Confessional was "A Sacrifice to Science" which had also been previously published in the magazine The Illustrated Californian. The story was the first of three chronologically overlapping revision projects in which de Castro attempted to engage Lovecraft. In late 1927, de Castro wrote to Lovecraft to ask him about his revision services. Although he balked at Lovecraft’s fees, de Castro convinced Lovecraft to revise "A Sacrifice to Science." As he often did with such poor quality originals, Lovecraft did not simply revise, but rather wrote a new version of the story titled "Clarendon’s Last Test." De Castro submitted the story under his own name and in November 1928 it was published as "The Last Test" in the pulp magazine Weird Tales (Vol. 12, No. 5).
Lovecraft, in a letter to his elder aunt Lillian D. Clark, to whom he wrote often, described "The Last Test" as "the story that ruined my winter." In another letter to his friend and writer Frank Belknap Long, he described the experience:
Because of Lovecraft’s role in creating the story, it was republished in its edited form in the 1970 book of anonymous collaborations by H.P. Lovecraft called The Horror in the Museum and Other Revisions, edited by S. T. Joshi, and in its original form in Crypt of Cthulhu, Ashes and Others in 1982. A side-by-side comparison and the collateral descriptions with the republications make it clear that the success of the 1928 version was due almost entirely to the "editing" hand of Lovecraft. Despite that, de Castro paid Lovecraft only $16 of the $175 he received for the story.
IV. "Portrait of Ambrose Bierce"
In October 1926, de Castro published an article "Ambrose Bierce as He Really Was" in the magazine American Parade. A significant focus of the article was de Castro’s explanation for Bierce’s 1913 disappearance into revolution-torn Mexico. He claimed that Bierce had been shot by soldiers under orders from Pancho Villa. In the subsequent notice in the New York Times Book Review, the editor expressed serious doubt about the validity of the story, "Mr. de Castro does not tell us how he obtained the information, and lacking that, one may still be permitted to regard the fate of Ambrose Bierce as an unsolved mystery" ("Current" 18). De Castro responded in a letter supporting the earlier article with additional elaborate claims of getting the information from Pancho Villa himself ("Times" 27). The story was never widely believed despite the lack of a provable alternative. However, it did set the stage for de Castro to more fully exploit his prior relationship with Bierce by writing a biography.
In late 1927, even while Lovecraft was working on the revision of "The Last Test," de Castro began to tell him about a project he called "Bierce and I." In early 1928, de Castro persisted in trying to interest Lovecraft in doing revisions to the newly retitled "Ambrose Bierce" for a percentage of the profits.
Even before Lovecraft read the manuscript, he began to form an opinion of it based on his appraisal of de Castro. In a letter to Wandrei he said, "I am inclined to share the saline admixture with which you will peruse the de Castro Bierce memoirs; for as you say, people with special claims view facts & events through an atmosphere of oddly refractive & polarising properties. The old codger seems harmless & affable enough - but he has an ax to grind."
During the second quarter of 1927, Lovecraft, having tired of continuous proposals from de Castro for revisions done for a share of future profits rather than Lovecraft’s customary cash-in-advance, suggested that de Castro contact Frank Belknap Long, a young writer who Lovecraft was bringing into the revision business. De Castro struck a bargain with Long having him complete revisions on the manuscript in trade for the opportunity to write a signed introduction to the book. However, Long spent only two days completing his revisions, and the resulting manuscript was still of poor quality. In another letter to Wandrei, Lovecraft reported the progress, "…since the revision [by Belknap] no less than three publishers have rejected the MS on the ground that the style is still too crude, & the material still too ill-proportioned! … And yet, at that, there’s certainly great stuff in the book; real source material that no future Bierce student (if such the coming years may hold) can afford to overlook."
Apparently Lovecraft’s interest in the material prevailed over his reluctance to work without pay. In May of 1927, with Long’s set of revisions and the introduction complete, and despite de Castro’s continued haggling over fees, Lovecraft finally conceded to read the book fully and prepare a synopsis and list of suggestions, but not to do complete revisions.
The book was published by Century-Appleton of New York as Portrait of Ambrose Bierce in early 1929. It was one of five Bierce biographies that were published within a period of a year and a half. The majority of contemporary reviews of the book were mostly unfavorable and de Castro’s biography was considered to be similar to those that were produced by George Sterling and Walter Neale, also Biercian protégés.
Monaghan, who also exposed the "Monk" fraud, took de Castro to task for his factual innaccuracies: "We realize anew, when we have checked the twentieth factual error in the volume, that the gods were never circumscribed by mortal facts, nor is Mr. de Castro" ("Review" 208). Among the most amusing errors is the fact that de Castro placed his own birth date 7 years later than he would in subsequent autobiographical writing (1866 rather than 1859). Monaghan also criticizes the book for its "… verbosity, sentimental drivel, and numerous inaccuracies…" ("Review" 208). A contemporary Bierce biographer held a similar view of de Castro, characterizing him as having "naive disregard for the principals of historical research" (McWilliams 151). Another reviewer, Robert Morss Lovett, was even more negative, characterizing de Castro as "a dentist with literary aspirations" (435). Lumping "Portrait" in with Neale’s book, Lovett continued, "Neale and de Castro write from highly personal points of view… De Castro is unbelievably naïf in his admiration" (436). Yet another reviewer, Herbert Goreman, echoed the same criticism, "...he is incapable of disentangling Bierce’s work from his personality and the result is a tremendous overevaluation and excessive praise" (4). Later Bierce biographers expanded the criticism to include de Castro’s apparent ulterior motives. For example, "... the waters of Bierce studies have been so thoroughly roiled by writers washing their own dirty linen - notably Adolphe de Castro, Walter Neale, and even George Sterling..." (Grenander 160).
Not all of the reviews were negative and some saw another side to de Castro’s book. De Castro purposely wrote a memoir of his relationship and interactions with Bierce rather than a definitive biography. In the introduction to the book he says, "… When I sat down, with blank paper before me to write about Ambrose Bierce I had no intention of attempting any serious appraisal of his poems, stories, and criticism" ("Portrait" xi). This interpretation of de Castro’s motives is repeated in the preface written by Long: "Because Mr. De Castro has written so simply and sincerely, and whithal so finely, of friendship he has, it seems to me, produced a document of unassailable integrity" ("Portrait" ix). Of the reviewers, Goreman seems to have been the first to understand what de Castro tried to do with the book, and he offset his minor criticism of de Castro’s overzealous praise of Bierce saying: "... there is much that is instructive in Mr. de Castro’s more intimate work, in spite of the high coloring and overpraise. He gives the personality of the man,..." (4). Monaghan was impressed by the same aspect of the book and balanced his negative appraisal of the style and accuracy of the book by praising its historical value:
While Portrait is de Castro’s most enduring writing contribution, it is a book of uneven quality and importance. It is possible that the book’s outward appearance as a biography, de Castro’s apparent closeness to Bierce, and the absence of a prior biography of Bierce, built an expectation that Portrait would be the definitive biography. With that framework, reviewers failed to find the potential usefulness that Lovecraft saw, and castigated de Castro for not meeting their expectations. Perhaps the real significance of the book is that it tells the reader as much, if not more, about de Castro than about Bierce. However, given the inaccuracies in book, it better interpreted as a demonstration of de Castro’s psychology than as a factual accounting of his life.
V. Lovecraft revises "The Automatic Executioner"
At the end of 1928, de Castro sent Lovecraft a copy of his short-story collection, In the Confessional, for review. Having already republished "A Sacrifice to Science" de Castro next had Lovecraft consider "The Automatic Executioner." Lovecraft worked on revisions to the story in the summer of 1929. He compared the work to "The Last Test" in a letter to August Derleth, calling it "…a damnable revision job from old De Castro… It is like what I did for him in 1927-8 – doctoring up some fictional junk he wrote in 1893." Despite his distaste for the work, Lovecraft didn’t turn down the work, largely because de Castro paid in advance (perhaps from the proceeds of the sale of "The Last Test").
Through Lovecraft’s extensive revisions the story became "The Electric Executioner." De Castro published it under his own name in the August 1930 Weird Tales (Vol. 16, No. 2). Like "The Last Test," it was republished in its edited form in The Horror in the Museum and Other Revisions and in its original form in Crypt of Cthulhu, Ashes and Others in 1982. Again, a side-by-side comparison and the collateral descriptions with the republications make it clear that the success of the 1930 version is due almost entirely to the "editing" hand of Lovecraft.
VI. Acrostics on Edgar Allen Poe
In early August 1936, Danziger visited Boston to scatter the ashes of his beloved late wife into Boston Harbor. She had died of tuberculosis the previous February after a long degenerative illness. On his way back to New York, de Castro stopped in Providence, Rhode Island to visit Lovecraft. On August 5th, de Castro joined Lovecraft and Robert Barlow in the church yard of St. John’s below Benefit Street in Providence where they composed rhymed acrostics on the name of Edgar Allan Poe who, when he had visited Providence nearly a century before, had wandered through the same grounds. The title of the resulting sonnets was "In a Sequester’d Providence Churchyard Where Once Poe Walk’d."
In a letter to Lovecraft, de Castro wrote as though he viewed the exercise as having been intended to be spontaneous and apologized to the others for making further revisions to his sonnet. He wasted no time, however, and, without telling the others, he submitted it to Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright for publication. It was accepted and published later in the May 1937 issue. Having learned of de Castro’s success, the others in the group submitted the other acrostics, but they were rejected because Wright wanted to publish only one poem on the theme.
The set of sonnets resulted in a series of letters in which Lovecraft and de Castro traded revisions to the poems and debated whether proper construction of acrostics allowed the use of the subject word within the poem itself. In February 1937, high-school English teacher, and Lovecraft amateur press club colleague, Maurice Moe included the set in a mimeographed booklet as illustrations of the form. In it, fate had the last laugh on de Castro - his final revisions to his poem were accidentally omitted.
VII. Lovecraft’s Relationship with de Castro
Through Lovecraft’s letters, we are given rare glimpses of de Castro’s appearance and personality. In a letter to Clark Lovecraft wrote, "Old Dolph is a portly, sentimental, & gesticulating person given to egotistical rambling about old times & the great men he has intimately known." Describing de Castro in a social setting, Lovecraft wrote "… he entertained everybody with his loquacious egotism & pompous reminiscences of intimacies with the great." In a later letter, he expanded the characterization by describing a business visit to de Castro’s apartment, "As usual he boasted & haggled inconclusively, tried to persuade me to undertake work on a promissory basis, & regaled us with tedious anecdotes of how he secured the election of Roosevelt, Taft, & Harding as Presidents. According to himself, he is apparently America’s foremost power behind the throne!" In other letters, Lovecraft applied a host of creative epithets to de Castro, perhaps allowing himself to write to his aunt what he could not say to de Castro directly, calling him an "unctious old hypocrite," a "pestiferous old leech," a "wily old braggart," and "a queer cuss" (SL 5,44). At one point, when he was particularly unhappy with de Castro, Lovecraft wished upon him the same fate that de Castro had written of Bierce, "I hope he goes down to Mexico and gets shot or imprisoned!"
Yet, despite the epithets, Lovecraft seemed to be willing intermittently to associate with de Castro. On a few occasions, he met with him in his apartment in New York, dined out with him, and once allowed him to join his amateur press club colleagues for a meeting. We can assume that the attraction was neither de Castro’s writing nor his ability to pay for revisions. Therefore, Lovecraft must have seen something else in de Castro that provided sufficient interest despite his character flaws. A series of letters between them in late 1935 and early 1936 provides a possible clue. De Castro had been working for decades on variants of a manuscript that, at the time, he called "The New Way." Several chapters of the manuscript dealt with the history of Palestine surrounding the time of Christ and with de Castro’s interpretation of classical historians’ accounts of the time. The errors that Lovecraft saw in de Castro’s thinking spawned lengthy letters as he used his own knowledge of the classical works to refute de Castro’s points and correct his interpretations. Thus, it would seem that de Castro provided intellectual stimulation for Lovecraft and, perhaps, a willing partner in debate and discussion. Whatever else he may have thought of de Castro, he seemed to appreciate the mental challenges that de Castro presented.
All of the stories for which de Castro used a reviser were later the subject of continued work. It is not clear what de Castro’s motivation was in continuing to work on older, published stories. What is clear is that he was often willing to reuse an old idea. He significantly altered "The Monk and the Hangman’s Daughter" and translated it into Spanish. The rewritten story was titled "La Herencia del Amor" (The Inheritance of Love), and was probably intended for publication in Mexico while he lived there between 1922 and 1925. He minimally revised "The Electric Executioner" and retitled it "The Automatic Electric Executioner." He also revised "The Last Test" creating "The Surama of Atlantis." He made minimal revisons to most of the story but made more substantial changes at the beginning to describe the origin of the shadowy character, Surama, and to the final outcome of the story.
The most substantial revision, "The Green Monster," is an incomplete rewrite of "Mr. Lannigan’s Error." In rewriting the story, de Castro re-arranged some of the scenes, added some, and removed others. The title change comes from the monster that de Castro introduced to the story as a metaphor for the main character’s jealousy about his wife’s relationship with another man and his own self-doubts about his worth as a husband and human being. But since the revisions are incomplete, covering only one-fifth of the story, the intent of the metaphor was never realized.
It is not known if de Castro completed the revisions with the hope that the stories would then be published. However, there is no evidence that any of the stories that de Castro revised again were published in their new forms.
Three Decades of Decline
In the 30 years of de Castro’s writing career after the publication of "Portrait of Ambrose Bierce" he never again had the relative influence or success of his earlier years. With the exception of a couple of poems, all of his professionally published work was issued by 1931. During these last three decades, de Castro wrote nearly a dozen novels, scores of poems, and an autobiography titled "All I Care to Tell." None of these manuscripts was ever published, despite submission to numerous editors and, eventually, the engagement of a number of agents. Thus, with the publication of "Portrait," he had played his last trump card and slid quietly into a literarily obscure old age, occasionally self-publishing his poetry under the name of the subsidy publishing business he had started with Bierce.
Most of de Castro’s literary career was spent struggling against his own inadequacies as a writer. The pinnacle of his career was the decade between 1900 and 1909. During that time he published five books: A Man, A Woman and A Million, Jewish Forerunners of Christianity, Children of Fate: A Story of Passion, The Polish Baroness, and Helen Polska’s Lover, or The Merchant Prince. Prior to that time his single professional publication was "The Monk and the Hangman’s Daughter" plagiarized from Voss and revised by Bierce. After that decade, as his writing grew out of fashion, he seemed to recognize his limitations as a writer and sought the guidance and assistance of better writers, like Lovecraft, for many of his projects, including all that were subsequently published. The last two pieces of fiction de Castro published were the stories rewritten by Lovecraft. The longer he lived, the more dated his writing became and the more it required revision and ghostwriting. Yet, de Castro seems to have been undeterred by the negative reviews and the unbroken chain of rejection letters, and continued writing until his death at the age of 99. His correspondence shows that, at the time of his death, he had several ongoing projects, manuscripts in the review cycle, and a reviser/ghostwriter/agent working to improve and sell his novel "The Tiger of Paris." After his death, de Castro’s determination and unsupported faith in his work survived in his widow. She tried for several years to get "All I Care to Tell" published. She began with de Castro’s acquaintances in the publishing industry, including August Derleth at Arkham House. She tried major publishing houses in New York. She tried literary agents. They all declined for reasons varying from inability to take on a project of that size to it not being right for the current market, that it was "too old fashioned" and "past its time." Finally, her determination faded, and the manuscript, along with de Castro’s other papers and manuscripts, was donated to the American Jewish Archives.
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---. "Prattle." San Francisco Examiner, 3 July, 1893. p. 4, col. 3-4.
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---. H. P. Lovecraft: Selected Letters 5. Sauk City, WI: Arkham House. 1976.
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Monaghan, Frank. "An American Mystery," The Saturday Review of Literature. October 5, 1929, 207-208.
---. "Ambrose Bierce and the Authorship of The Monk and the Hangman’s Daughter," American Literature, II. (January, 1931), 337-49.
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Copyright © 2000-2006 Chris Powell. All rights reserved.