“Certain Rites, and Also Certain Duties”
Unsuspected Sources of Baker Street Irregularity

Published 2009 by Hazelbaker & Lellenberg, 84 pp.

In print: $15.00 postpaid in the United States

Order from the publisher, P.O. Box 32181, Santa Fe NM 87594.

This volume was brought out in January 2009 for the BSI’s seventy-fifith anniversary. As the foreword below states, a breakthrough in regard to the chapter entitled “The Friendly Sons of St. Vitus,” about what Elmer Davis based his BSI Constitution & Buy Laws upon, prompted me to put it together hastily for the BSI’s 75th anniversary, in large part out of past papers for Five Orange Pips dinners. It was dedicated “In memory of Dee Alexander and Ronald Mansbridge, two treasured correspondents who were there.” Miriam “Dee” Alexander had been Edgar W. Smith’s second Irregular Secretary at GM Overseas Operations during 1949-49, and in her old age had a memory for detail about her boss, his family, and his Irregular friends that was remarkable. She died in Bronxville, N.Y., in January 2001. Ronald Mansbridge (“A Case of Identity,” BSI) when he died in September 2004 was closing in on his 101th birthday which would have occurred on November 11th that year. Born in England and coming to the United States in 1928, he spent forty years as U.S. representative of Cambridge University Press, appointed to that position by the great British Holmesian S. C. Roberts. At the time of his death Ronald was the sole living survivor of the last BSI annual dinner at Christ Cella’s old speakeasy in 1936, and the first Murray Hill Hotel dinner in 1940.



Christ Cella’s Speakeasy

Private Life and Correspondence

The Second Most Endangered Toast in New York	

The Friendly Sons of St. Vitus

The Third Garrideb

The Musgrave Ritualist

Edgar Gets His Bachelaureate

The Late Mr. Mansbridge

Codenamed McMurdo

Adrian’s Picture Book and the BSI

The BSI at Seventy-Five

Irregular Index


Some of the contents of this seventh volume of BSI Archival History, taking the form here of occasional papers, were prepared originally as talks for annual dinners of The Five Orange Pips, who provided a suitable audience for historical discoveries for which the world was not prepared, or at any rate not yet complete to my satisfaction.

    This was particularly true of chapter four of this volume — for my money, the most interesting discovery about the BSI’s beginnings in some time. It was broached to the Pips in 2001, but the smoking gun did not come to light until the final days of last October. Once that item was in hand (appropriately enough, the day of the Pips’ dinner), I decided to put together this volume to mark the 75th anniversary of the Baker Street Irregulars.

    That meant doing it in a scant two months, over the holiday season, if it were to appear upon the January weekend. It has been a rush; and for any betraying signs of that which escaped notice to survive in this volume, my apologies. Philip Shreffler and M. E. Rich, editors emeritus extraordinaire, proofread it for me, but under the same pressure of time, and any errors that survive in this volume were made by me. I hope its revelations about the BSI’s beginnings and early years will compensate for its faults.

    This volume’s title, a quotation from the chapter of The Valley of Fear entitled “Lodge 341, Vermissa,” seems appropriate to me for many reasons. The eleven chapters:

 revisit the East 45th Street speakeasy where the BSI was gestated over many lunches out of the sight of others, and where the earliest dinners were held;

 examine the influence of, and some ties created between New York and else-where by, the first great American work of Holmesiana: Vincent Starrett’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, which had its own 75th anniversary last year;

 expose a barely realized history of tampering with the BSI’s Constitution & Buy Laws, and the pernicious effect upon our whisky-and-sodality’s toasts and the roots of Baker Street Irregularity that they commemorate;

 reveal for the first time the true and unsuspected source of our Constitution & Buy Laws, belying the sober, owlish appearance of its author, Elmer Davis, familiar to us from the photographic record of that era;

 provide a first-hand account of the Sherlock Holmes Crossword, the instant artifact devised by the big-brained Frank Morley, published in May 1934 by his brother Christopher as a membership exam for the BSI;

 make known the circumstances, not captured in Edgar W. Smith’s minutes for the 1940 BSI dinner, that turned The Musgrave Ritual into one of our staple rites; 

 delve deeper than ever into the background of Buttons-cum-Commissionaire Edgar W. Smith, even if without managing to solve quite all the mysteries about that remarkable self-made man and autodidact; 

 take one more look back at the entire era through the memories of Ronald Mansbridge, who died in 2004 two months short of his 101st birthday;

 declassify the personnel file of a Pip and candidate-Irregular of the late ’40s who vanished from our circles in 1950 into the Central Intelligence Agency; 

 since 2009 is the 150th anniversary of A. Conan Doyle, the founder of our feast, shed new light upon the schemes of the BSI’s hated rival on the Surrey shore, his badly-sprung offspring Adrian Conan Doyle.  

 and finally, conclude with an essay written for the Sherlock Holmes Journal five years ago about The Baker Street Irregulars as it approached its 70th anni-versary, with some new commentary about developments since.

	I hope readers will enjoy these papers, and perhaps find them useful to research of their own as I continue with mine. I have left more or less untouched a personal aspect that was part of papers composed originally for the edification of The Pips, regarding the tribulations, triumphs, and stalemates of historical re-search. As others know, the way is generally long, usually difficult, often frus-trating, and occasionally bitter. Speaking for myself, I wouldn’t have missed the experience for the world.

As always, I owe thanks to many people and institutions for assistance and support in researching the contents of this collection, and helping me to prepare them for publication in two hurried months.

  Ray Betzner, Peter Blau, Steve Doyle, George Fletcher, Andy Fusco, Tim Johnson, Jerry Margolin, George McCormack, Julie McKuras, David Musto, Steve Rothman, Philip Shreffler, Paul Singleton, Dan Stashower, Bill Vande Water, and David Weiss helped provide information and materials for this book, and I appreciate their time, knowledge, efforts and generosity. I benefited es-pecially from knowing the late Miriam “Dee” Alexander and the late Ronald Mansbridge, to whom this volume is dedicated.

    Many libraries were also sources of information and primary source materials: The Library of Congress, the Free Library of Philadelphia, the New York Public Library, the Pentagon Library, the library of the Century Assoc-iation of New York, the University of Minnesota Library’s Sherlock Holmes Collections, and the libraries of Georgetown and Yale Universities.

    The public records office of Bethel, Conn., and the registrar’s office of New York University provided valuable, if confounding, data about Edgar W. Smith. Frank Houdek and Tim Spencer of E Clampus Vitus kindly disclosed some secrets of their Lodge to me, and I hope are not compromised by this grateful acknowledgment. Adrienne Williams of Oceanside Books in Cleveland, Ga., recognized the easily-missed value of The Ledger to the BSI’s history, and Michael Greenbaum of Janus Books in Tucson, Ariz., would not accept money from me for it. Nicholas Utechin commissioned “The BSI at Seventy” for the Sherlock Holmes Journal in 2003, and Roger Johnson, his successor as editor, urged its inclusion here. And I am grateful to the Office of the Historian of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, in my experience the one unfailingly reliable part of that peculiar institution.

    Finally, my thanks to Sigerson and The Pips for their attention, encourage-ment, and discretion over the ten years that some chapters in this volume have been in making their public appearance.


From the book:


The Second Most Endangered Toast in New York

W.S.H., secretary of the Baker Street Irregulars, has allowed us to look over the minutes of the first meeting of the club. Among other business it appears that the matter of an official toast was discussed. It was agreed that the first health must always be drunk to “The Woman.” Suggestions for succeeding sentiments, which will have their overtones for all genuine Holmesians, were: “Mrs. Hudson,” “Mycroft,” “The Second Mrs. Watson,” “The game is afoot!” and “The second most dangerous man in London.”

                                          Saturday Review of Literature, January 27, 1934

Toasts were important from the very start of Baker Street Irregularity, even before there was a BSI. Christopher Morley preceded the January 6, 1934, founding party with a “Sherlock Holmes and Cocktails” mock-exchange that he wrote for that day’s issue of the Saturday Review of Literature.1 The list of toasts proposed and drunk at the Hotel Duane that day were reported in the Saturday Review on January 27, 1934; and on February 17th Elmer Davis’s Constitution & Buy Laws for the BSI, presented by the same organ to the public, had Buy Law 1 stating that “An annual meeting shall be held on January 6th, at which those toasts shall be drunk which were published in the Saturday Review of January 27th, 1934; after which the members shall drink at will.”

    So ordered! — Well, you’d think so, wouldn’t you.


Webster defines the verb “to amend” thus: 1) to put right; 2) to change or modify for the better; and 3) to alter, esp. in phraseology; to alter formally by modification, deletion, or addition. The BSI’s Buy Laws have been amended many times over the years, usually unremarked by the membership (seen but not observed, Sherlock Holmes might say), and only one of those times seems to have had even a semblance of procedural legitimacy. As we proceed, pray ask yourself at strategic intervals whether any of these amendments were for the better or not.

    Elmer Davis’s Constitution & Buy Laws for the BSI, as noted, were published in Christopher Morley’s “Bowling Green” column in the Saturday Review of Literature of February 17, 1934. They were reprinted unofficially in Anthony Boucher’s novel The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars in 1940, and then in January 1944 as one of Vincent Starrett’s extremely rare “Sherlockiana” leaflets from the hand-press of his friend Edwin B. Hill of Ysleta, Texas. The first official publication occurred ten years after the original appearance of the Constitution & Buy Laws, in Edgar W. Smith’s March 1944 “Trilogy Dinner” anthology of BSI Writings About the Writings, Profile by Gaslight — as the lead item in the book’s section on “The Baker Street Irregulars.”

    “The deeper intentions of the Irregulars,” said Smith by way of introduction, “are most clearly suggested, perhaps, in their Constitution and Buy Laws, which were written by the noted authority Mr. Elmer Davis . . . With the gracious permission of all concerned, the Constitution and Buy-Laws of the B.S.I. are hereby reproduced and made public.” The Constitution offered by the BSI’s Buttons to the public (Irregulars and hoi polloi alike) was as Davis had had it in 1934 — but unacknowledged changes had been made to the Buy Laws.

    First, in Buy Law 1, after the words “an annual meeting shall be held on January 6th,” the words or thereabouts had been inserted. At the Pentagon where I spent many years, public statements are subjected to security review before release, and changes may be made for reasons of accuracy or of policy.  This change in the Buy Laws might have been for accuracy’s sake, but what are we to make of the next change? Where the original and true text continues “at which those toasts shall be drunk which were published in the Saturday Review of January 27th, 1934” (“after which the members shall drink at will”), Smith’s 1944 version said “at which the Conanical toasts shall be drunk,” with a footnote (mis)informing readers of Profile by Gaslight that these were: “(1) to ‘The Woman,’ (2) to ‘Mrs. Hudson,’ (3) to ‘Mycroft,’ and (4) to ‘Dr. Watson’s Second Wife.’”

    Accuracy, too, perhaps, in light of current practice at the time? A glance at Smith’s minutes for the 1944 BSI annual dinner, a few months before publication of this version of the Buy Laws, shows that these were the toasts drunk on that occasion.2 And no doubt it was also to spare readers the need to look up the old reference. Yet serious policy implications, as we shall see, were involved.

    As for the term “Conanical,” this change was actually introduced at the 1940 BSI dinner, the one annual dinner in history attended by a Conan Doyle, to wit Denis. It seems that his presence accounts for it, for Edgar W. Smith’s minutes of that night say: “The first order of business under the Constitution was the drinking of the canonical toasts. Revision of this Constitutional requirement was, however, adopted, viva voce, and amendment to the Constitution hereby imposed, in that it is required hereafter that the toast shall not be canonical but Conanical.”3 This was intended as a salute to that night’s prickly visitor and his dear dead Daddy, for all the good it did subsequent relations between the BSI and the Conan Doyle Estate. Some might consider the change properly raised and settled. Others may not. And even if so, it is the only change to the Buy Laws we shall consider of which that could possibly be said.

    What’s more, the 1940 dinner had mangled the toasts. Smith’s minutes continue: “With this refinement, the toasts were drunk; first to The Woman, then to Mrs. Hudson, then to Dr. Watson’s Second Wife.” In short, half the Constitutionally mandated toasts were ignored at that dinner, the first in four years, and one of the toasts proposed was altered in meaning as well as wording.

    We cannot, however, hold Edgar Smith responsible for that night’s laxness. He was not in the Chair. This was his first BSI dinner, and he was some distance down the table from its head.4 As his own minutes say, “Mr. Christopher Morley, as Gasogene and Tantalus in common, presided.” Poor Elmer Davis, the author of our Constitution & Buy Laws, listened to the mangling of his work from the far end of the long table, probably accounting for the forlorn look on his face in that night’s dinner photograph. Morley always had a casual, not to say cavalier attitude toward these things, since he considered the BSI his personal property and plaything, to do with, or to do nothing with, as he pleased.

    A few other changes in the 1944 Profile by Gaslight version of the Constitution & Buy-Laws were editorial, such as adding the words “of Literature” to “Saturday Review” in Qualification B of Buy Law 3.

    Their third official publication came only four years later, in the BSI Inc. edition of The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle. The so-called deluxe edition of the book, whose 1500 copies more than sufficed to satisfy the market for it, contained a “Note on the Baker Street Irregulars” by Edgar W. Smith, including the Constitution & Buy Laws. This time two further liberties had been taken with the text. First, the four toasts previously provided by footnote in Profile by Gaslight were now moved, with undue and illegitimate formality, into the body of Buy Law 1.

    More striking yet, the possibility of women in the BSI was quietly struck from this new appearance of the Buy Laws. It arises, you will recall, in Qualification A of Buy Law 3, about special meetings of the BSI. Qualification A begins: “If said two [members] are of the opposite sexes, they shall use care in selecting the place of the meeting,” and so on. Qualification B alludes to said members being excused from the strictures of Qualification A if they are clients of the Personal Column of the Saturday Review. The 1948 BSI Inc. version of the Buy Laws deleted both Qualifications A and B, leaving Buy Law 3 to simply say that “Special meetings may be called at any time or at any place by any one of three members, two of whom shall constitute a quorum.”

    Seventeen thousand copies of Profile by Gaslight had been sold between 1944 and 1948, bringing public attention like never before to Sherlockiana and the BSI. I have seen no letters to Edgar W. Smith backing up what I am about to suggest, but my surmise is that the BSI heard from many people wishing to join after reading Profile by Gaslight, and that quite a few of them were women.5 And that reference to the opposite sex in the BSI was quietly eliminated from the next public appearance of the Buy Laws as a result. “It is by these specifications and mandates that the doings of the Baker Street Irregulars are governed,” said Smith, with uncharacteristic disingenuousness, and I hope with a blush, in his Note on the BSI containing the new version.

    The Constitution & Buy-Laws have been reprinted here and there at other times since then, usually muddling the matter further. For example, in 1967 William S. Baring-Gould (“The ‘Gloria Scott,’” 1952) gave a faulty version to the public in an introductory chapter to The Annotated Sherlock Holmes — unofficial, but broadcast very widely over the years that followed. He seems to have taken his version of the Buy Laws from Vincent Starrett’s new chapter about the BSI in the revised edition (University of Chicago Press, 1960) of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. This appearance referred to canonical toasts which shall be drunk, without identifying them in either Buy Law 1 or a footnote. Then Baring-Gould’s version of Buy Law 3 split the difference between the 1944 and 1948 official appearances by retaining Qualification A but omitting Qualification B. Seventeen years after Baring-Gould, Philip Shreffler (“Jefferson Hope,” 1974), in his otherwise near-perfect anthology The Baker Street Reader (Greenwood Press, 1984),6 unwittingly passed along this faulty Starrett version of the Buy Laws to another generation of readers. Starrett remarked in 1960 that “our constitution and buy laws, written by Elmer Davis, is a unique document that readers may care to see in full,” but that has long been a damn sight harder than it ought to be.

    In 1998 newly installed BSI management produced a fourth official version of the Constitution & Buy Laws, in a leaflet prepared by Ray Betzner (“The Agony Column,” 1987) for members of the public requesting information about the BSI. It was also distributed to those attending that January’s annual dinner. It was an attractive product, that leaflet, and doubtless an improvement on the response to public inquiry under the previous rather testy regime. But by now you should not be surprised to hear that it perpetuated this irregular tradition of tampering with what should be Sacred Writ. The author of our Constitution & Buy Laws was not identified, and the text was mongrel — almost inevitably by now, for one scarcely knew any longer where to go to find the Authoritative Text, unless one was fortunate enough to own the February 24, 1934, Saturday Review in question.7 Buy Law 1 harkened back to the original text by referring to the toasts published in the Saturday Review of January 27, 1934, but they were still dubbed Conanical, and the slack words “or thereabouts” remained in regard to the annual meeting on January 6th. (Qualifications A and B were both present, no longer dangerous now that there were members of both sexes in the BSI, whether or not that is how God and Morley meant The Baker Street Irregulars to be.)

Restoration of “published in the Saturday Review of January 27th, 1934” (Betzner said “Saturday Review of Literature,” which is not as Elmer Davis wrote it, but oh well) still leaves us in violation of our Constitution & Buy Laws, for the toasts drunk at the official annual dinner are NOT those published in the Saturday Review on that date. In addition to “The Woman,” “Mrs. Hudson,” “Mycroft,” and “The Second Mrs. Watson” (not the misleading corruption “Dr. Watson’s Second Wife”), those also included “The game is afoot!” and “The second most dangerous man in London.” In his indispensable “Origin of 221B Worship,” Robert Leavitt tells us that the toast to “The second most dangerous man” arose in Grillparzer days, and played a special role.

    The toasts missing from BSI annual dinners have, as much as the others, “their own overtones for all genuine Sherlockians,” as Christopher Morley put it in the Book of Genesis. What’s more, the one to Colonel Sebastian Moran — decorated soldier, intrepid big-game hunter, superlative exec to the Napoleon of Crime, and high-tech assassin, in short the sort of man whose abilities are appreciated where I used to work — did reflect a very special role in the making of Baker Street Irregularity. To quote two letters from Leavitt to Julian Wolff (“The Red-Headed League,” 1944): 

    “Has nobody ever made the point of legal order,” Leavitt demanded to know of Wolff on November 5, 1966, “that all these dinners are unconstitutional for lack of one Conanical [sic] toast specified in the original Elmer Davis document as recorded in the Saturday Review of Literature of January 27, 1934?”

    Leavitt went on, in a subsequent letter dated November 20, 1966, to explain the deep significance of “The Second Most Dangerous Man in London”:

The query about his identify was — as Bill Hall will tell you — the original, first, quickie, abbreviated examination for eligibility to membership in the pre-natal Baker Street club. When, in the course of luncheon at Christ Cella’s or elsewhere, some acquaintance would hear about the Sherlock Holmes society and ask how to get in, he would be asked “Who was the Second Most Dangerous Man in London?” If he could answer that one, he might get asked others if anybody present wanted to ask them. But often they didn’t. Hence the membership of people like Don Marquis, Frank Henry, Bucky Fuller and other friends of Chris Morley’s who couldn’t be annoyed with studying the Sacred Writings. As a matter of fact, by God, I doubt like hell if Bill Hall could ever have passed a really probing quiz in those early days. His defense, when threatened with inquiry, was to roar (and I use the word deliberately — ROAR), “Don’t put me to the question!” Ask him and dare him, for me, to deny it.

We see, then, that the BSI has officially promulgated its Constitution & Buy Laws four times beginning in 1934, but that each time the text has been different, and sometimes for policy reasons that were disreputable, indefensible, or inexplicable.8 Other Irregulars have reprinted them unofficially in still-different versions, confusing the issue further.

    That’s no way to run a constitutional convention, ladies and gentlemen. I move the restoration of the original and true text to all future official appearances of the BSI’s Constitution & Buy Laws, and also restoration of the missing Constitutional Toasts to the official annual dinners in January. “They were suggestions, if you will, at the original meeting,” Leavitt told Wolff, “but they were approved, and the Davis Document makes them Constitutional.”

        I so move, and hope someone else will second.


1 See Steven Rothman’s compendium of Sherlockian Morleyana, The Standard Doyle Company (Fordham University Press, 1990), pp. 172-73.

2 Irregular Records of the Early ’Forties, p. 274.

3 Irregular Memories of the ’Thirties, pp. 222-23.

4 See the dinner photograph in “Entertainment and Fantasy”: The 1940 BSI Dinner, 1998’s BSJ Christmas Annual, pp. 30-31.

5 More than a few correct solutions to the Sherlock Holmes Crossword, appearing in Morley’s column in the Saturday Review of Literature on May 19, 1934, as a membership exam for the BSI, had come from women. They were named as solvers in subsequent issues, and one or two were even cozened by Morley, but none of them were admitted to the BSI. See chapter 6, “The Sherlock Holmes Crossword,” in Irregular Memories of the ’Thirties.

6 Since that remark calls for explanation: the sole deficiency of Shreffler’s book was the absence of chronology as a vital Irregular discipline. He omitted same because he was unaware, he told me, of any treatment of suitable length demonstrating the art and science of canonical chronologinalysis. But such a treatment exists in “Dr. Watson’s Secret” by none other than Christopher Morley, in his collection of essays Streamlines (Doubleday, Doran, 1936), so we live in hope of a second edition of Shreffler’s book, not only containing Morley’s essay but correcting the first edition’s faulty version of Elmer Davis’s Buy Laws.

7 Verbum sap.: I purchased an entire 1934 bound run off eBay for some thirty bucks.

8 If this seems too strong, I can accept “illegal, immoral, and fattening.”  

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