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Robert Hayward Barlow (May 18, 1918 – January 1 or 2, 1951[1]) was an American author, avant-garde poet, anthropologist and historian of early Mexico, and expert in the Nahuatl language. He was a correspondent and friend of horror writer H. P. Lovecraft and was appointed by Lovecraft the executor of his literary estate.[2][3]

Born at a time when his father Lieutenant Colonel Everett Darius Barlow, was serving with the American Forces in France, Barlow spent much of his youth at Fort Benning, Georgia, where his father was stationed but also moved from army post to army post in his earliest years. as a result, he never received much formal schooling but he was a brilliant youth and pursued his education on his own. [4] Around 1932 Col. Barlow received a medical discharge, retired on disability from the army and settled his wife (Bernice Barlow) and son in the small town of DeLand, in central Florida where he built a lakeside homestead.

Family difficulties later forced Robert H. Barlow to move to Washington, D.C., where in 1934, as the son of a retired army officer, he received treatment for over-strained eyes at an army facility before returning to DeLand in 1935. In 1936, he received training at the Kansas City Art Institute, where Thomas Hart Benton was one of his teachers, and subsequently at San Francisco Junior College. Barlow settled for a time with the Beck family in Lakeport, California, where he helped publish H. P. Lovecraft's Commonplace Book and several other items from Beck's Futile Press. From Lakeport was mailed the second and final issue of his legendary amateur magazine Leaves, which he and Lovecraft had planned together before the latter's death.

Following a suggestion from an interested counsellor and friend, Barbara Mayer, that Barlow make the study of Mexico's antiquities his goal, he went to Mexico in 1940-41, studied at the Escuela Nacional de Ciencias Biologicas, and upon his return to California received the B.A. degree at the University of California in 1942. Returning to Mexico as a permanent resident, he joined the staff of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico. In 1944 he received a Rockefeller Foundation and in 1946-48 a Guggenheim Fellowship. He became head of the Department of Anthropology at Mexico City College, which position he held at the time of his passing on January 2, 1951.

According to fellow anthropologist Charles E. Dibble, "In the brief span of a decade, Barlow gave Middle American research an impetus and perspective of enduring consequence. His contributions in Mexican archaeology, classical and modern Nahuatl, Mexican colonial history, and what he preferred to call "Bilderhandschriften" are of lasting importance." Dibble compared Barlow's zeal for searching for and deciphering little known or dimly recalled codices and colonial manuscripts to that of Zelia Nuttall.[5] Barlow has been referred to as "the T. E. Lawrence of Mexico. [6]

Barlow had written as early as 1944 that he had "a subtle feeling that my curious and uneasy life is not destined to prolong itself".[11] He killed himself at his home in Azcapotzalco, D.F, Mexico, on the first or second of January, 1951, apparently fearing the exposure of his homosexuality by a disgruntled student.[12][13] On that afternoon, he locked himself in his room, took 26 capsules of Seconal, leaving pinned upon his door in Mayan pictographs "Do not disturb me. I want to sleep a long time."[14]

William S. Burroughs, then studying Spanish, the Mexican codices and the Mayan language under Barlow, briefly described his death in a letter to Allen Ginsberg, dated January 11: "A queer Professor from K.C., Mo., head of the Anthropology dept. here at M.C.C. [Mexico City College] where I collect my $75 per month, knocked himself off a few days ago with overdose of goof balls. Vomit all over the bed. I can’t see this suicide kick."[15]

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  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R._H._Barlow