Letter on Clark Ashton Smith

E. Hoffman Price

By not referring to my memoir of C.A.S. in Tales of Science and Sorcery, I may avoid the worst features of a rehash of that composition done when I was still shaken by the impact of his death. No doubt some tales improve with retelling. This one can not.

In mid-1964, driving home from Denver, I paused in Old Auburn, and readily found the railway crossing which in 1934 had been my first landmark in my search for his hillside retreat. This time, I found only total confusion. The once wooded slopes beyond the old-time city limits were now so jammed with dwellings that after a few retracings and fresh starts, I gave up, and with resignation induced by recollecting that Heraclitus had said, "You can not step twice into the same river. . . " The Smith cabin, I knew, had been destroyed by fire, late in 1957, but I had hoped to find the clearing where it had been, long ago, and the wind-fallen oak under which Clark and I had put our cots, when a night's sleep would give us a fresh start for more talk in the morning. This is one of my persistent memories: the mornings, the afternoons, and the evenings by the fallen oak. And the peak of all this came when Clark and I drank Holland gin in memory of his late father.

Now, lacking an Indian to direct me, I went back to Old Auburn, where Clark used to pick up his mail. There was a little while for remembering, and then, egg foo-yung at the Chinaman's, and back to the present, and to the road leading home.

Whenever I drive to Monterey and its environs, whether to the sports car races at Laguna Seca, or thru Pacific Grove to the Buddhist convention at Asilomar, there are sad-happy moments: for while this is a region of many associations, the memories of Clark take charge. There was the time, long ago, when we and others drove from Redwood City to Monterey for tao fo yuk -- that certain Chinaman put ginger root into the sauce, and otherwise flavored in a way not known to the local chefs. And, that last time I saw him in Pacific Grove and took pictures of him and Carol — this in August, 1955. However frail and worn he looked, wine and good fellowship swept back the years, and for awhile, it was as though we were sitting again by the fallen oak near the Auburn cabin: except that now he was happier, and in a way I had never before seen.

That afternoon and evening, we refuted Heraclitus: we did step a second time into the same river, the same yet a different and finer stream! Old memories, in a new setting. Although I knew well, and told him, that I would not again be a writer, it was also as if, for the while, I was indeed a writer, in the spirit of times past. Our sitting together evoked ancient days — and since these were not really dead, this was not a necromancy at all! And when finally I left, I was happy from knowing that some other sayings of Heraclitus had demonstrated its validity. This, our final meeting, is the most alive and living of all its predecessors. And from things I inferred, after hearing of his death, it may well be that the curious tangle of reciprocal confusions, which combined to prevent a subsequent meeting, was a benefit in sad disguise. So say "they" who knew of his progressively failing health. Perhaps this is what he sought wordlessly to tell me, during that strange "meeting" after his death, which I described in my Arkham-published memoir. And now, my best wishes to you.


From: Emperor of Dreams: A Clark Ashton Smith Bibliography, Donald Sidney-Fryer. Donald M. Grant, 1978.

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