Friday, January 18, 2019

"All Fled, All Done": Redux on Robert E. Howard's Famous Couplet

The legend* has altered in the retelling, from a slip found in Robert E. Howard's wallet after his suicide in June 1936, to it being the last thing Howard typed on his typewriter before going out to his car where he shot himself in the head. The couplet is now legendary:
All fled, all done, so lift me on the pyre;
The feast is over and the lamps expire.
Rusty Burke published an article "All Fled, All Done" in The Dark Man: The Journal of Robert E. Howard Studies (Winter 2001), in which he identified Howard's source for the final line of the couplet, a poem titled "The House of Cæsar" by Viola Garvin, which appeared in a poetry anthology Songs of Adventure (1926), edited by Robert Frothingham.  Each of the five stanzas of the poem ends with the line "The Feast is over and the lamps expire!"

Songs of Adventure 1928
Burke also notes that L. Sprague de Camp's assertion in 1966 that the second line of the couplet "seems to be a paraphrase" of a line in the poem "Non Sum Qualis Eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae" by Ernest Dowson became a statement of fact in de Camp's 1975 The Miscast Barbarian. However, Burke notes that others have thought that Howard would not have found many affinities in Dowson's verse, despite the repetition of the line "the feast is over and the lamps expire." 

Burke also looked into the author Viola Garvin, and found two candidates, Viola Gerard Garvin and Viola (Taylor) Garvin.  Burke suggests the first as the author of the poem "The House of Cæsar" for Viola Gerard Garvin published a single volume of verse, Dedication (1928).  Alas, Burke picked the wrong Garvin.

Viola Gerard Garvin (1898-1969) and Viola (Taylor) Garvin (1883-1959) were related by marriage.  Viola Gerard Garvin was the eldest daughter of James Louis Garvin (1868-1947), famous as a London newspaper editor, by his first wife.  And Viola Taylor was James Louis Garvin's second wife, the marriage occurring in 1921, and thus step-mother to (the adult) Viola Gerard Garvin.  The details of their lives and writings are given in entries at my Lesser-Known Writers blog. Click here for Viola Gerard Garvin, and click here for Viola (Taylor) Garvin, who after her marriage wrote as Mrs. J.L. Garvin. 

The poem "The House of Cæsar" appears in her book Corn in Egypt (1926), as the final item in the collection.  Here Mrs. Garvin gives the Dowson line as epigraph at the beginning of the poem, thus showing that she had the Dowson poem firmly in mind when writing her poem; and that Howard had no necessity to have known it. (The Dowson line does not appear in the reprint of the poem in Songs of Adventure.)

The appearance of  "The House of Cæsar" in Corn in Egypt is credited to "1906" and from the acknowledgements, I suspect it appeared in The Westminster Gazette. I present a scan of this version below. The earliest known reprint of the poem comes from Amphora: A Collection of Prose and Verse Chosen by the Editor of The Bibelot (1912).  I add a scan of that appearance at bottom.

Corn in Egypt 1926

Amphora 1912

*Rusty Burke has discussed the evolution of the suicide note story in "The Note" in The Cimmerian, volume 3 no. 1 (January 2006), pp. 5-11.  


  1. Thank you! I love it when my errors result in other researchers digging up information like this. Another fact nailed down!

  2. Thanks, Rusty. I suppose the question remains as to whether Howard had intended merely to quote the last two lines of Garvin's poem and misremembered "All dim, all pale" as "All fled, all done". Still an effective utterance.

    1. Yet as we all do,learn from Our predecessors and paint Our own words.