“Disputation, Confrontation,

and Dialectical Hullabaloo”

Those felicitous words were how Old Irregular Robert G. Harris (“The Creeping Man,” BSI) described the spirit of the BSI’s annual dinners at the Murray Hill Hotel and Cavanagh’s in the 1930s through the 1960s, before growing numbers brought it to an end by forcing the annual dinner to move to many round tables (instead of close proximity as shown in the 1947 photograph on the website’s The BSI page), in huge banquet rooms in overplush hotels and clubs, ever since. To keep the spirit alive, we have this department for occasional items of Irregular controversy.

(May 2nd)  This is, we understood, the month these plates are to be sent to auction if still unpurchased from the dealer who displayed them in the hucksters room during the BSI weekend in January. . . .

The Mystery of the THREE Irregular Plates!

May 10th:  A few days ago, I was contacted by a British reporter writing a story about the auction, which will take place May 21st at Mullock’s auction house in Ludlow, Shropshire. With a somewhat florid description of the plates’ relationship to the 1940 BSI annual dinner and 221B: Studies in Sherlock Holmes (for which that dinner was the publication party), Lot 221b is for one  of the two plates, mounted on a wooden plaque, we saw at the hucksters room in New York in January, displayed by Spanish antiques dealer Javier Doria.  We also saw a second brass plate embedded in a wood tray there:

But when I looked at Lot 222 at Mullock’s website, I was astounded to see an entirely different plate-tray than the one I saw in New York -- this one:

What I’ve learned from Mr. Doria and from Mullock’s is that the Lot 222 plate-tray above was not in New York because the plates’ owner in Zurich had sent it to London for a private showing, and now it’s being sent to auction.  So there are at least three of these Irregular plates!

I learn further that the other plate-tray, the one we saw in New York in January, has been sold privately, to someone who saw it in New York and acted as agent  for the actual purchaser whose identity Mr. Doria does not know. 

As with the other two plates, the wooden back of the third has some curious but only partially revealing items pasted to it, such as these:

This new tray also has attached to it a small white plaque as well:

What are we to make of this?  FVM would be Frank Morley, third of the three brothers; the Wardman Park was a prestigious apartment hotel in Washington, D.C.  (Frank in 1943 was trade editor at Harcourt, Brace in New York.)  Felix in 1943 (and at the time of the 1940 dinner) was president of Haverford College in Pennsylvania, alma mater to all three brothers; I know of no connections of his to Broad Street, i.e. New York’s Wall Street financial district -- though Broad Street was home to the American Bank Note Company, whose senior executive Allan M. Price, an Irregular at the 1940 dinner, and member of Christopher Morley’s Three Hours for Lunch Club, was clearly in the middle of this mystery.  “Never a crossword” likely refers to Frank’s Sherlock Holmes Crossword in 1934, the BSI’s first entrance exam.  “BSI Institute of Higher Studies”  -- well, the only time I remember a Morley using such a phrase was Christopher once, describing The Five Orange Pips as Sherlockiana’s Institute of Higher Studies, but that was later on, in the second half of the 1940s.

May 11th:  Thaddeus Holt Esq., late of The Sons of the Copper Beeches of Philadelphia, and a member of The Five Orange Pips of New York, rightly reminds me that the Broad Street that would have meant most to the Morley brothers is not the one in New York’s Wall Street district, where Allan Price’s American Bank Note Co. was located, but the major thoroughfare of that name in their own native Philadelphia. Christopher Morley once said of it, in his essay “South Broad Street” (see Christopher Morley’s Philadelphia, pp. 27-31), “In the course of a three-mile stroll from the City Hall down to the South Broad Street plaza one may see almost every variety of human interest.”  (I have not mentioned my lapse on this vital point to my Philadelphia wife. She has enough on me already.)

     I think we must keep in mind that this small plaque could have been attached to the tray long after the creation of the brass plaques, and have had nothing to do with them originally.

This is a mystery worthy of Sherlock Holmes himself.  I hope to be able to learn and tell you more later, including the auction results.

The Mystery of the Two Irregular Plates

For the connoisseur of BSI History, of chief interest by far during the BSI weekend in New York this January 2013 were the two brass plates displayed at Saturday morning’s hucksters room by Madrid antiques dealer Javier Doria. Something like 9½ by 13½ inches in size, mounted on wood plaques one of which bore the handles of a tray, they looked to my first glance like plates designed to print enormous currency bills, because both included the Great Seal of the United States and the mystical Annuit Cœptis seal also found on the reverse of the U.S. one-dollar bill.

Instead they honored the Baker Street Irregulars, 1940’s annual dinner at the Murray Hill Hotel, and Vincent Starrett’s anthology of BSI writings 221B: Studies in Sherlock Holmes, for which that January 30th, 1940 dinner—first in four years—was a publication party, with everyone present receiving a copy of the book hot off the press. (See my BSJ Christmas Annual about that dinner.) Both plates feature a profile of Sherlock Holmes by Frederic Dorr Steele, as well as conspicuous mentions of the Baker Street Irregulars, the book’s title, the MacMillan Company that published it, the BSI dinner and the Murray Hill Hotel where it was held.

But there are interesting differences between the two plates as well. One has, on either side of Steele’s art (on both plates, surrounded by the words “Sir Arthur Conan Doyle • Literary Agent”), two fingerprints engraved inside circular labels. Both say, in the bottom half, “Partner in Crime”; in their top halves, the one to the left of Steele’s art has Vincent Starrett’s name, the one to the right Harold S. Latham’s. Latham was Trade Editor at MacMillan, and presumably in 1933 also responsible there for publishing Starrett’s own Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. (I regret that Latham’s 1965 memoir My Life in Publishing, brought out by Dutton rather than MacMillan, fills 256 pages of reminiscences without once mentioning Vincent Starrett, Sherlock Holmes, the BSI, or these extraordinary plates.)

However, gazing at this plate first, the morning of January 12th, I noticed along the bottom edge (of both plates) three statements of import. The one at the plates’ left corners reads THE BROAD STREET IRREGULARS. In the center, LAMBIE & BARROWMAN. And at the right corner, AMERICAN BANK NOTE Co. And when I saw the last of those, I realized who must be the key to this mystery—though whether this key will unlock the mystery entirely is a different issue. For one of the first Baker Street Irregulars, present at the 1940 dinner, was an American Bank Note Co. executive named Allan Price. Its offices were at 70 Broad Street in New York’s financial district, illuminating the “Broad Street Irregulars” statement. But the LAMBIE & BARROWMAN only baffles me. Helen Lambie and Mary Barrowman were key witnesses in the Oscar Slater murder case of 1927, in which Conan Doyle interested himself, but why their names should be on these plates, I have no idea. It may have been a private joke we will never understand, or mean something else. But since guessing is damaging to the logical faculties, I decline to do so.

Allan Price’s name actually appears on the second of the two plates, in a smaller medallion below Steele’s art, encompassing a Victorian shilling (not for another ten years a token of BSI membership), its circular label reading Allan M. Price above, with the words “Holmes Maker” below. Where Starrett’s and Latham’s fngerprints were on the first plate, are this time eight banners wrapping around columns near the left and right edges bearing the fancifully named dishes served at the 1940 BSI dinner, given on that night’s menu reproduced on p. 225 of my book Irregular Memories of the ’Thirties, and in my BSJ Christmas Annual.

Nothing in contemporary Irregular correspondence I’ve read has as much as hinted at the existence of these extraordinary plates. It is not clear when they were made, let alone why. Surely not for the BSI annual dinner itself, or there would be mention of them in Edgar W. Smith’s minutes (pp. 222-24 in Irregular Memories of the ’Thirties, and in my Christmas Annual’s appearances as well). On the plaque on which the second plate is mounted, there is a separate rectangular label, ivory in appearance and attached by two small screws, reading in its entirety:




But the only event of that date in Toronto associated with MacMillan that I’ve so far been able to identify (in The Literary Legacy of the MacMillan Company of Canada by Ruth Panofsky) was the visit of MacMillan director George Platt Brett Jr. from New York after the sudden death of Hugh Eayrs, the Canadian branch’s principal,. (I am not forgetting Vincent Starrett was born in Toronto, but it was not on the July 11th of  his birth-year 1886.)

So who was Allan Price, without whom these plates could not have been made by the American Bank Note Company?

Allan Murray Price was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on May 11, 1896. His father Henry Allan Price, Brooklyn-born as well, was a widely-known concert singer and recitation artist whose wife often accompanied him on piano. Price attended Brooklyn’s Polytechnic Preparatory School, and Hotchkiss School in Connecticut, before starting at Yale in the class of 1919. He was in glee club, ROTC, and fencing at Yale, and a member of Alpha Delta Phi fraternity. (Also class of ’19, and in that fraternity at the time, was Pierson Underwood, later a noted musicologist—another Irregular of the 1930s and ’40s, likely through Price’s introduction. They sat together at both the 1936 and 1940 BSI dinners.)

However, after America entered World War I, Price broke off his studies to enlist in the Navy on May 17, 1917, remaining in it until April 17, 1919. That spring, Yale conferred upon him a B.A. honoris causa.


A photograph of the young Allan Price in the Navy in 1917.

   Price, at right, at the 1940 BSI dinner. (At left, his friend and Yale fraternity brother, musicologist Pierson Underwood.)

Returning to Brooklyn, he became a claims investigator in the New York insurance offices of  the T.G.R. Pierson Co. In 1920 he joined the American Bank Note Co. at 70 Broad Street, remaining there the rest of his life, as a salesman until 1935, then as its manager of domestic sales. On March 27, 1924, in Scarsdale, he and Harriette Lorraine Woodruff of New York (Smith College, class of ’21) were married, to live and raise their children Cynthia and Woodruff at 1349 Lexington Ave.

At some point, Allan Price became part of Christopher Morley’s Three Hours for Lunch Club. While an American Bank Note Company officer might seem unusual given the club’s mostly literary connections, we have it on the authority of Robert K. Leavitt and other undoubted members. (Price was a member of an ostensibly more suitable club for a business executive, the Bankers, founded 1915 with clubrooms atop the Equitable Building at 120 Broadway: about this club, see “New Bankers’ Club Is World’s Biggest,” New York Times, July 1, 1915.)

The record is mute as to whether Price attended the January 6, 1934, birthday party for Sherlock Holmes at the Hotel Duane, but that May he submitted a “near-perfect” solution to Frank Morley’s Sherlock Holmes Crossword in the Saturday Review of Literature, earning himself a place at the BSI’s “first formal meeting” at Christ Cella’s on June 5, 1934, and the first annual dinner there December 7, 1934. He was back for the January 1936 annual dinner, and after the BSI’s four-year hiatus, the January 30, 1940, annual dinner at the Murray Hill Hotel.

He also attended the 1941 dinner, but was not present at 1942’s or 1943’s, and perhaps was suffering by then from the chronic heart disease of which he died at home, age 46, on February 16, 1943. A brief obituary appeared in the New York Times the following day.

While Price left us no written record as an Holmesian, he would not have been given table-space at either the Three Hours for Lunch Club nor Morley’s BSI had he not been an articulate gentleman of erudition and humor. In the March 1917 Yale Literary Magazine is the following poem by him, indicating a literary streak despite a mundane vocation, in addition to a knowledge of the Canon sufficient to be a Sherlock Holmes Crossword solver in 1934:

                             HARBOR SUNSET—NEW YORK

Seaward, a sapphire sky is strung with veils

Of smoke from harbor-craft. White jets of steam

Arise in cottony clouds, pink-flushed, a-gleam

With slanting rays, that strike the gliding sails,

New-white, or brown and patched from fighting gales—

Like sheets of flashing gold the white sails seem.

The sun has gone, but one forgotten beam

Kindles to flame the Goddess’ torch—then pales.

The city’s myriad windows spring alight,

One after one, until the huge pile glows.

While on the water moving lamps appear,

Their long reflections telling which the night

And which the harbor. And above all goes

The slim young moon o’er sky, star-filled and clear.

There are other mysteries about the plates. On the back of the wood plaques are newspaper clippings and other labels, some bearing the rubber-stamp mark MDIVANI PARIS 1948, indicating that the plates came into the possession of Denis Conan Doyle, who had attended the 1940 BSI dinner, and was married to the fake Georgian princess Nina Mdivani; and Javier Doria prepared for New York a sheet showing the likely migration of these precious plates into those parvenu hands, long before he came across them in the course of business in Lucerne.

But for us, the principal mystery is how and when the brass plates came to be in the first place. All information gratefully received!

(January 19, 2013)

Return to the Welcome page.

A Dog That Didn’t Bark

The Saturday Review of Literature is now on-line (www.unz.org/Pub/SaturdayRev), and I find it didn’t review Ronald Knox’s Essays in Satire when it came out in 1930. The only person who mentioned the book there during its first several years in print seems to have been May Lamberton Becker of its monthly “Reader’s Guide” column in those days.  I found this capsule biography for her on-line: 

May Lamberton Becker (August 26, 1873 – April 27, 1958) was a journalist and literary critic. She was born in New York and at the age of 20 married the pianist and composer Gustave A. Becker in 1893. Their only daughter Beatrice was born September 20, 1900. By 1908 the marriage had broken up and later ended in divorce. She died at her daughter's house, in Epsom, Surrey, England, in April 1958, aged 84. May Lamberton Becker made her name as a literary critic and for more than forty years wrote a weekly ‘Readers Guide’, first with the New York Evening Post, then with the Saturday Review of Literature and finally in the weekly book section of the New York Herald Tribune, of which she later became literary editor. She was well-known as a lecturer on literature and drama.  

She mentioned the book, and (without naming the essay) “Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes,” three times in her column:

The Reader’s Guide, July 26, 1930, p. 13.

S.C. writes from Chicago: “I suppose the phrase that leaps to the mind of millions of people when they hear the name Sherlock Holmes is, ‘Quick, Watson, the needle.’ It is curious, and true, that this line does not occur in any of the Doyle stories about Holmes, neither does it occur in the Gillette play — unless my researches have been uncommonly faulty. Where in the world did it start?" 

    There was at least one among the millions to whose mind it does not leap. This was the late Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whom I immediately consulted. He said he never heard the phrase, and that it “sounds amusing.” Mr. Stanley Morison, author of John Bell (Cambridge University Press), who can give you chapter and verse on anything about Sherlock Holmes, says it comes from a burlesque of the Gillette play, popular in England at the height of the Holmes furore; the needle introduced was built on the lines of a bicycle pump, only considerably larger. It is sweet to start a Holmes fan upon his dear topic; Christopher Morley should know something of this, being of this company. S.C. is clearly one; notice that he has been conducting “researches.” The most enlivening of these in recent years — indeed the most enlivening that have been conducted — may be found together with a number of other excellent amusements in Ronald Knox’s Essays in Satire (Dutton). Here the problem of whether Holmes ever did come back from that bout with Moriarity [sic] over the cliff and write the later stories, is resolved with the utmost sobriety and after the methods of higher criticism. This, by the way, is the book with the high-hearted satire, “Jael’s Hammer,” which was passed about from hand to hand in the little review in which it first appeared till copies all came to bear the inscription “Return without fail to So-and-so.”

    Speaking of Sherlock, R.T.B., New York, has sent me a copy of the publication of the Detective Story Club, “Secret Orders,” for January of this year, with a list of twenty-two lost tales of Sherlock Holmes, not counting ten mentioned in the Case Book. These are, of course, cases to which he refers by name in talk with Watson; one of these, “The Adventure of the Second Stain,” was afterwards written, but teasers like “The Affair of the Amateur Mendicant Society,” ‘Ricoletti of the Club Foot and His Abominable Wife,’ and “The Adventure of the Tired Captain,” remain in the inkpot. 

    Holmes and Watson are safe to stay with us for at least another American generation; so I learned at the Lincoln School of Teachers College not long ago. The children were presenting famous characters in hastily improvised costumes; each was allowed to speak one short sentence, cross the stage, and leave the company to guess who he was. Two ten-year-old boys in dressing-gowns took their seats across from each other at a table, each with a pipe in his mouth. The audience looked a bit puzzled till one spoke. “Elementary, Watson!” said he, and the school cried out the dear detective's name as one child. 

The Reader's Guide, August 8, 1931, p. 45.

But for a beginning [of literary use of satire], get Ronald Knox’s Essays in Satire (Dutton) to see how it should be done in rapier technique, the neat swordsmanship whose victim doesn’t know his head is off till he sneezes. In this delightful volume you will find “Jael’s Hammer,” a discussion of church unity in the great sardonic tradition, and several amusing examples of higher criticism used with contemptuous ease for laughable purposes — for instance, the identification of the pseudo Sherlock Holmes as indicated by internal evidence in the later books. 

The Reader's Guide,’ November 12, 1932, p. 244.

S.G., Boston, Mass., asks which detective story is prefaced by an excellent essay on the technique of writing detective fiction. “I have an idea it may be one of Ronald Knox’s books.” The first essay of this kind to be used as a preface was affixed to The World's Best Detective Stories (Scribner), edited by Willard Huntington Wright [a.k.a. S.S. Van Dine]; it remained the best study of its kind till Dorothy Sayers performed a greater service for students of the type by her masterly preface to The Omnibus of Crime (Viking). Since then she has made another for The Second Omnibus of Crime. The first two of these are now in reprint editions. Ronald Knox’s contribution is in quite another sort of book, Essays in Satire (Dutton), a perennial delight to at least a dozen different kinds of readers. The detective story addict is delighted by his treatment of the Sherlock Holmes records in the light of the higher criticism — a lovely piece of ratiocination backed by the minute attention to detail marking the true Sherlockian.

But SRL’s “true Sherlockian,” Christopher Morley, with two columns in the magazine, was indifferent to Knox’s effort; or at any rate, silent. I think I’m correct that he never mentioned Knox’s paper in print anywhere until, as a sort of afterthought, in his outburst of enthusiasm over S. C. Roberts’ Doctor Watson in his SRL “Bowling Green” column of March 7, 1931, p. 645:

The pleasantest reading encountered lately was S. C. Roberts: Doctor Watson, one of Faber and Faber’s Criterion Miscellany pamphlets (one shilling in London). Mr. Roberts, distinguished Johnsonian, offers a biographical reconstruction of Sherlock Holmes’s friend and attempts to resolve the famous problem of Dr. Watson’s marriages. A delightful bit of serio-spoof, a Must item for all Holmesians. The first Mrs. Watson (nee Mary Morstan, you remember) died during the period between 1891 and 1894 while Holmes was supposed to be dead in Reichenbach gorge. But Holmes himself, in the story of the Blanched Soldier, speaks of  another Mrs. Watson existing in 1903.

    Mr. Roberts has carefully studied all the clues and offers the ingenious suggestion that the Deutero-Mrs. Watson was the cool and aristocratic (but also imprudent) Miss Violet de Merville of the story The Illustrious Client. Mr. Roberts says:—

        Watson’s second marriage took place at the end of 1902 or the beginning of 1903, a few months after the affair of the Illustrious Client. Now this adventure must have made a more than ordinary impression upon Watson’s mind. Instinctively chivalrous, he was a man to whom a woman in trouble made a specially vivid appeal. Violet de Merville, moreover, was “beautiful, accomplished, a wonder-woman in every way.” After the terrible exposure of the true character of her fiance, what more natural than that Watson should, after a fitting interval, make inquiries as to her recovery of health and spirits? It may be objected that Miss de Merville moved in exalted circles, and that a retired practitioner would not have the droit d’entree to her society. But here a significant fact must be considered. Miss de Merville’s father was a soldier, and a soldier who had won distinction in Afghanistan — “de Merville of Khyber fame.” With such a father-in-law Watson would at once be on common ground. 

    Mr. Roberts goes on to the specially ingenious suggestion that the story (The Mazarin Stone) which follows the first allusion to Watson’s second marriage may be from the hand of Mrs. Watson II. It is not told by Dr. Watson himself, and it may well be that in the preoccupation of resuming medical practice, the good doctor turned over to this accomplished lady the task of editing one of the memoirs. The objections to Mr. Roberts’s theory are grave, however. In the first place we nowhere learn, in the story of the Illustrious Client, that Dr. Watson actually met Miss de Merville; Holmes speaks of it as a possibility (“Perhaps you may meet her before we are through”), but Watson himself makes no comment. It was about the 14th of September 1902 when the horrid episode of Baron Gruner and the vitriol took place. After so serious a shock it would have taken Miss de Merville some time to recover. We know that she was fond of Mediterranean cruising; I think it most probable that she would have gone for a winter voyage to recuperate; and it is improbable that she could have already become Mrs. Watson by January 1903. 

    The other possible candidate for Dr. Watson’s hand would be Kitty Winter; she was imprisoned for vitriol-throwing but given “the lowest possible sentence.” On the whole I fear that Mr. Roberts’s theory, though very tempting, is difficult to accept. 

    But his essay, together with that of Father Ronald Knox in Studies in Satire, is a necessary addition to the Holmes-Watson codex. 

Dr. Hill Barton says this doesn’t constitute another nail in Ronald Knox’s coffin, but I am a stubborn carpenter.

2010’s Great Debate: “Dr. Hill Barton” vs “Rodger Prescott of evil memory”

and begin with the debate, mentioned last week at the website’s Blog, between yours truly and Dr. Richard Sveum of The Norwegian Explorers (“Dr. Hill Barton,” BSI) at the recent Sherlock Holmes Collections weekend at the University of Minnesota’s Andersen Library.

    On that occasion, Dr. Sveum championed the Baker Street Irregulars party line that Ronald Knox created Sherlockian scholarship, and Christopher Morley brought it to America and spread the gospel. Your humble Irregular historian endeavored to demonstrate that this is a myth myth of long standing, but myth nonetheless. Following are Dr. Sveum’s opening statement, my opening statement, his rebuttal, and my rebuttal.

opening statement of Dr. Sveum

In the Sherlock Holmes Collections Newsletter, June 2009, I wrote the “50 Years Ago” column about Evelyn Waugh’s 1959 biography of Msgr. Ronald Knox. You might say I received hate mail from Jon objecting to my statement, “Ronald Knox (1888-1957) was the English theologian who started literary scholarship in Sherlockiana.”

On January 14, 2010, in New York, I sat listening to Jon defame Msgr. Knox, so I foolishly challenged him to come to Minnesota and, using Oxford Union rules, debate the Motion that Ronald Knox founded Sherlockian Scholarship. I will lay out my case for Knox, then Jon will oppose the motion. I will then respond, then Jon, and then we will open it up for questions.

I actually heard John Bennett Shaw explain the Cult of Sherlock Holmes and began my collecting mania with the Shaw 100, and organize my bookshelves by the religious categories: Canon, Apocrypha, and Writings about the Sacred Writings. I thought everyone knew that Sherlockian Higher Criticism and calling Holmes the Master was due to Knox’s religious influence. I was shocked to learn that Mr. Lellenberg objected.

2011 will be the 100th anniversary of the lecture “Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes,” and by it the founding of Sherlockian scholarship, by Ronald Knox. In the introduction of Knox’s 1928 book Essays in Satire, he writes, “That Sherlock Holmes paper was written, I believe in 1911, for the Gryphon Club at Trinity; it has been read to various societies, I suppose, above a score of times, and twice published, in The Blue Book and Blackfriars.”

For those bibliographers, “Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes” has been published six times, the first being The Blue Book (conducted by Oxford undergraduates) Vol. 1, No. 2 (July 1912), 111-32, and was included in Edgar Smith’s 1958 The Incunabular Sherlock Holmes and James Edward Holroyd’s 1967 Seventeen Steps to 221B.

As a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford in 1911, Christopher Morley heard Knox’s lecture “Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes” and wrote about it in Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson: A Textbook of Friendship (1944). The lecture was a mock-serious inquiry into inconsistencies in the Sherlock Holmes stories, and a satire on Biblical Higher Criticism. Ronald Knox in his 1918 autobiography A Spiritual Aeneid writes that part of a don’s function is to read papers to undergraduate societies. He planned to write two, one on St. Paul for theological societies and one on Sherlock Holmes for secular societies, but found the Sherlock Holmes paper would do for both since it was interpreted as a religious tract. He took the Sherlock Holmes stories as a form of literary art and divided them into eleven characteristic divisions with Greek names. Knox invented a controversy about authenticity of the stories with comments by imaginary German scholars. Knox’s paper started our cult and Morley brought it to America.

Of special note is that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote a letter to Knox dated July 5, 1912, which Waugh quotes in his book. “I cannot help writing to tell you of the amusementand also the amazementwith which I read your article on Sherlock Holmes. That anyone should spend such pains on such material was what surprised me. Certainly you know a great deal more about it than I do,” and he continued for four pages to discuss the criticism in detail. Steve Doyle will soon publish the entire letter in a book by Notre Dame Professor Michael Crowe titled Ronald Knox and Sherlock Holmes: The Origin of Sherlockian Studies.

In the letter Conan Doyle plays the Game and refers to the commentators as the learned and profound Sauwosch and the no less erudite Piff-Pouff, and ended with “renewed amazementat the trouble you have taken.” The Great Game and Sherlockian studies were blessed by the Literary Agent.

So who exactly was Ronald Knox? Msgr. Ronald Arbuthnott Knox was an English theologian, priest and crime writer born February 17, 188, 122 years ago. The sixth and last child of an Anglican Bishop, he attended Eton College and took a first in Classics at Balliol College, Oxford, in 1905. By 1910 he was a Fellow at Trinity College, ordained an Anglican priest in 1912, and became a Roman Catholic in 1917.

“Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes” was written during his conversion from Protestant Anglican to Roman Catholic. The Church sent him to teach school in Hertfordshire from 1919-1926. He was able to return to Oxford in 1926 as a chaplain for Roman Catholic students.

There to supplement his meager stipend as chaplain he began writing classic detective stories, publishing six in all including five novels and a short story featuring Miles Bredon, who is employed as a private investigator by the Indescribable Insurance Company. In 1930 he was a founding member of The Detection Club along with Dorothy L. Sayers. He wrote the introduction to The Best Detective Stories 1928-1929, and in it he codified the rules of the game—and Golden Age mysteries were considered games, different than our game.

According to Knox, a detective story “must have as its main interest the unraveling of a mystery, a mystery whose elements are clearly presented to the reader at an early stage in the proceedings, and whose nature is such as to arouse curiosity, a curiosity which is gratified at the end.” Knox’s “Ten Commandments” (or Decalogue) are as follows:

  1. 1.The criminal must be mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to know.

  1. 2. All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course.

  1. 3. Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.

  1. 4. No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end.

  1. 5. No Chinaman must figure in the story.

  1. 6. No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.

  1. 7. The detective himself must not commit the crime.

  1. 8. The detective is bound to declare any clues which he may discover.

  1. 9. The stupid friend of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal from the reader any thoughts which pass through his mind: his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader.

  1. 10. Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.

The biography of Ronald Knox by Evelyn Waugh is an interesting story. Knox chose Waugh to write his biography before he died. Both Knox and Waugh were converts to the Roman Catholic Church. They were brilliant, came from middle-class families, were educated at Oxford, were temporary schoolmasters, wrote satire, and enjoyed the company of the British Catholic aristocracy. Knox helped Waugh by proofreading Brideshead Revisited and asked him to be his literary executor in 1950. Enthusiasm: A Chapter in the History of Religion (1950) by Ronald Knox was dedicated to Evelyn Waugh. Waugh dedicated the Knox biography to Katharine Asquith and Daphne Acton. Msgr. Ronald Knox lived first at Lady Acton’s Aldenham in Shropshire from 1933 to 1947, and at the Manor House, Mells, Somerset, from 1947 until his death in 1957, the country home of Katharine Asquith.

Knox left Oxford in 1939 and was told by the Church to stop writing detective stories. Living in Shropshire, he was able to devote his time to translating the Vulgate Bible into English, a project that took nine years. The Waugh biography was controversial by implying that Cardinal Bourne, Archbishop of Westminster, did not use Knox’s talents wisely. The book was nearly condemned by the Roman Catholic Church. Msgr. Barton, the senior censor, confirming the “Hierarchy’s displeasure” because it violated the unwritten law that bishops are not criticized in any public way.

In his will, Ronald Knox left his manuscripts and copyrights to Evelyn Waugh and the royalties to the Asquith family. Waugh published Literary Distractions by Ronald Knox in 1958. In ch. XIV, Detective Stories, the rules that he first wrote in 1924 were reprinted with commentary. The Detection Club adopted his rules for their code of ethic. The Detection Club also put out three serial novels, with each member writing a chapter full of clues and passing it on; Ronald Knox contributed to all three.

In 1932 Knox wrote a review of H. W. Bell’s Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson: The Chronology of Their Adventures and Thomas Blakeney’s Sherlock Holmes: Fact or Fiction? entitled “The Mathematics of Mrs. Watson,” which was published in the November 12th New Statesman. It was later reprinted in Baker Street Miscellanea 2:8-11, 1975. Knox wrote “The Mystery of Mycroft” for H. W. Bell’s Baker Street Studies in 1934. His final contribution to Sherlockian literature was “The Apocryphal Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the First Class Carriage,” a pastiche that appeared in The Strand Magazine in 1947. Dorothy L. Sayers in the foreword to her 1946 Unpopular Opinions wrote:

The game of applying the methods of the “Higher Criticism” to the Sherlock Holmes canon was begun, many years ago, by Monsignor Ronald Knox, with the aim of showing that, by those methods, one could disintegrate a modern classic as speciously as a certain school of critics have endeavoured to disintegrate the Bible. Since then, the thing has become a hobby among a select set of jesters here and in America. The rule of the game is that it must be played as solemnly as a county cricket match at Lord’s: the slightest touch of extravagance or burlesque ruins the atmosphere.

Waugh notes that thirty years after “Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes” was published, it had brought Knox a form of fame he found tedious. Knox wrote to an editor who asked for a review, “I can’t bear books about Sherlock Holmes. It is so depressing that my one permanent achievement is to have started a bad joke. If I did start it.”

Both Christopher Morley and Ronald Knox died in 1957. Knox is gone but not forgotten and is especially remembered by us for starting Sherlockian scholarship.

opening statement of Mr. LELLENBERG

Well— I am no expert in false-memory disorder, but must point out that none of us remembers Ronald Knox starting Sherlockian scholarship. We weren’t around in 1911, nor in the early ‘30s when the scholarship took off and the BSI and Sherlock Holmes Society were founded. What you think you remember is what others have told you — and odds are, they weren’t around then either.

We have come to think that “the Master” and “the Sacred Writings” are religious affectations derived from Knox’s talk. It was as you say a rather juvenile talk, with its Monsieur Piff-Pouffs and Herr Bilgemanns. When did it come to be perceived as the origin of our scholarship? Edgar W. Smith remarked in 1958 that Knox’s death was “mourned by all who look to him as the originator of the Sherlockian critique.” So the notion that Knox was the genesis was afoot fifty years ago — though Smith, we shall see, felt otherwise.

In fact not many then had read Knox’s paper. Dr. Sveum in mentioning where it appeared over the decades glossed over the fact that it didn’t appear anywhere Holmes devotees could read it until 1928 in England and 1930 in America, when it was included in Knox’s Essays in Satire. And after that, only a few times at infrequent intervals, the last 26 years ago, and never in the Baker Street Journal or Sherlock Holmes Journal.

But the myth says Morley heard Knox’s talk at Oxford and spread the gospel in America. I grew up in that faith myself. But when I started researching the BSI’s history, reading dozens of essays and hundreds of letters by our founding fathers, slowly it dawned upon me that they weren’t talking about Ronald Knox. It was somebody else they were talking about.

Knox was not the first to peer into the Canon. Others had done so a decade earlier, Arthur Bartlett Maurice in The Bookman in America and Frank Sidgwick in The Cambridge Review in England, in January 1902 as Hound of the Baskervilles was appearing serially. Smith opened The Incunabular Sherlock Holmes with their work, not Knox’s. Knox’s paper, in fact, is only the seventh in the anthology’s chronologically ordered contents.  (And they omit Andrew Lang’s 1904 essay.)

Yet we need not argue that they any more than Knox shaped our scholarship. Someone else did, and was in the thoughts of the BSI’s and Sherlock Holmes Society’s scholars and founders in 1934.

And least of any of them did Christopher Morley need Knox’s example. Morley was inflicting examinations in the Canon upon his brothers Felix and Frank long before 1911, and forming, in turn-of-the-century Baltimore, a Sherlock Holmes club with other youngsters. The evangelistic Morley had all the makings of a cult leader from the start, without Knox to inspire him.

As for Morley bringing Knox’s paper to America, we don’t even know if he heard it in 1911. No diaries or appointment books exist, no letters indicate he did. On the sole occasion he referred to it as having been given at Oxford while he was there, in 1944 in Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Morley did not actually say he heard it. If you not only see but observe the reference, you find the BSI’s founder vague and indefinite about that.

But let us assume Morley did — for it reinforces my point that he didn’t bring it to America and spread the gospel. By the time Morley arrived in Oxford in 1910 at age 20, having discovered girls, booze, and ambition, his boyhood Sherlock Holmes enthusiasm had gone dormant — and by his own admission it was still dormant when he came home in 1913 to begin his career as a writer.

Only in 1926, said Morley in the Saturday Review of Literature that year, was his enthusiasm rekindled. Not by Knox, but an unnamed printer he met in New York; and what rekindled it was an impromptu trivia game of the kind Morley had often played as a boy with brothers and chums. “We found ourselves,” he reported, “embarked on a mutual questionnaire of famous incidents in the life of Sherlock Holmes” — the “delicious minutiae” Morley extolled in “In Memoriam Sherlock Holmes,” the first Complete Sherlock Holmes’s 1930 preface, in which Morley never mentions Knox.

It was a game Morley proceeded to transfer to a luncheon club of his wherein the BSI gestated (or perhaps marinated) at his favorite Manhattan speakeasy. Robert K. Leavitt’s indispensable “Origin of 221B Worship,” a first-hand account of our origins, tells how competitive examination in the Canon at those lunches in the late ’20s and early ’30s gave birth to the BSI.

In 1930 “Studies in the Literature” came out in America, but it wasn’t Morley’s kind of game, and he went his own way. It was Dorothy Sayers who said that “the rule of the game is that it must be played as solemnly as a county cricket match at Lord’s; the slightest touch of extravagance or burlesque ruins the atmosphere.” And Morley played by the same rule: no Bilgemanns or Piff-Poufs for him.

Several things prompted Morley in late 1933 to found the BSI. Prohibition ended, and Americans no longer had to drink furtively in little back rooms. Another that October was Vincent Starrett’s Private Life of Sherlock Holmes — a rapturous tribute barely mentioning Knox. And the decisive factor was another development of which Starrett and Morley were keenly aware, and led to England’s society as well: a 1931 monograph riveting Holmes devotees as Knox’s paper had not.

Let us investigate that. In 1932 T. S. Blakeney’s Sherlock Holmes: Fact or Fiction? said:  “A certain body of critical writings has already grown up, and it will be evident throughout this work to what extent we are indebted to them.” What Blakeney noted about Knox were his limitations: that his paper was based on only a portion of the Canon. Who stood out instead as source and strawman for canonical scholarship was Cambridge’s S. C. Roberts. Declared Blakeney: “Roberts has achieved for Watson what he and other scholars have accomplished for Boswell.”

Roberts earned this accolade through two critical works, influential where Knox was not except in terms of refutable error that Roberts exposed in the lesser of them, a 1929 leaflet called A Note on the Watson Problem. To give its context, Edgar Smith in the preface to the 1955 edition of H. W. Bell’s anthology Baker Street Studies, said: “It is true that as far back as 1912 a young priest named Ronald Knox had contributed an article to the Oxford Blue Book in which a tongue-in-cheek probing of some esoterica in the Saga was tentatively undertaken” — words lending little support to the idea that Knox was our scholarship’s fountainhead. 

Smith continued: “if we may judge from the casual tenor of much that [he] wrote (including a blatant misquotation of the most famous single passage in the Canon), his essay was not inspired so much by a profound curiosity about the Master’s life and times as by a desire to poke fun for its own sake at [German biblical] Higher Criticism then having a European vogue.”

Smith explained that Knox’s paper, appearing in Essays in Satire, “elicited a rejoinder in 1929 from S. C. Roberts in A Note on the Watson Problem, and the foundation for what was to follow may be said by that action to have been laid.” The importance of that observation by a student, contributor, and editor of Holmesian scholarship like Edgar W. Smith cannot be overstated. Roberts, said Smith, is the foundation of Holmesian scholarship.

He said so because of the biographical treatment of Watson that Roberts was commissioned to write in 1930. Doctor Watson, published by Faber & Faber in early 1931, had tremendous impact upon devotees on both sides of the ocean. It not only entranced, it showed what could be done, prompting further effort by others — not least Christopher Morley. It was in Morley’s hands quickly, and he praised it lavishly in the Saturday Review of March 7, 1931. We know no earlier example of Morley so much as mentioning Knox.

In 1932 Bell’s Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson: A Chronology of Their Adventures also gave Roberts first place among students of the Canon, while referring to Knox but once. — Starrett’s Private Life discussed Roberts’ treatise in detail, while barely mentioning Knox. — And the BSI’s founders paid even less attention to Knox. Elmer Davis, reviewing Starrett’s Private Life in December 1933, discussed Roberts almost more than he did Starrett’s book, without once mentioning Knox. Morley, for his 1933 collection of essays Internal Revenue, added to In Memoriam’s 1930 text a lengthy discussion of Roberts’ Doctor Watson; Knox went unmentioned once again. And with the BSI launched in 1934, Knox might not have existed to tell from what Morley wrote that year. “Was Sherlock Holmes an American?” and “Doctor Watson’s Secret,” a jewel of chronological exegesis, built upon Roberts’ Doctor Watson without mentioning Knox.

Davis was also at Oxford in 1911, and his Constitution refers “the study of the Sacred Writings.” But Davis was a devotee long before, and in any event the term “Sacred Writings” does not appear in Knox’s talk. There was little religious terminology in Knox’s paper, which satirized German scholarship, not religious rites. Leavitt called the study of the Sacred Writings “pure Davis-ese.” Not until 1941, in an unpublished memoir about the BSI’s beginnings, did Morley allude to it: “since the Irregulars refer to [Doyle’s] works as ‘The Sacred Writings,’ perhaps he may be nominated ‘The Sacred Writer’”— but as a nod to his old chum Elmer, saluted by name immediately afterwards.

There is no hint of Knox in that 1941 memoir about the BSI’s beginnings, nor in Morley’s rewriting of it in 1946 for the Baker Street Journal. What Morley identified specifically as the BSI’s inspirations were William Gillette’s Farewell Tour of 1928-32, Roberts’ Doctor Watson, Starrett’s Private Life, and Davis’s Roberts-besotted review of Starrett in the Saturday Review.

Let’s look at England’s Sherlock Holmes Society next. Its founding in 1934 was reported at length by R. Ivar Gunn, who had been at Oxford at the same time as Morley. He named all present, and Knox was not. Messages from absent friends were read that night, from Blakeney, Starrett, Morley, and Desmond MacCarthy, but not from Knox. Attendees discussed the impetus behind their new club: of mention of Knox there was none, nor in connection with the BSI whose recent founding was discussed. But: “A genial note of welcome was struck by placing in front of each member a copy of Mr. Roberts’ masterly study of Dr. Watson.” And was S. C. Roberts present? As Governor Palin would say, you betcha.

By now you may have recalled the curious incident of the dog in the night-time. Knox’s talk cracked up Oxford lads compelled to read nineteenth-century biblical criticism, but in our scholarship and movement, Knox is only a latter-day saint: no evidence of having been in Morley’s mind when his zest for Holmesiana was revived in 1926, nor when he turned his luncheon club into a Baker Street club, nor when he founded the BSI. Only much later was Knox grafted onto our movement retroactively, assigned a place he had not occupied in the 1920s and ’30s.

It was a knoxious thing to do. Our scholarship’s starting point is Frank Sidgwick’s examination of Watsonian chronology in 1902, and our movement was triggered by S. C. Roberts’ brilliant study of Watsonian biography in 1931. We should be conscious and appreciative of that. Not only did Roberts’ Doctor Watson instantly captivate Blakeney and Bell, Starrett and Davis, and others when they read it, it did Morley too—

And earlier than anyone else in America, earlier than even most in England, for Morley had an “in”: the Faber & Faber editor who commissioned Roberts to write Doctor Watson was Christopher Morley’s brother Frank.

rebuttal by dr. sveum

The Baker Street Journal for December 1992 has an article by Jon Lellenberg entitled “Logan Clendening: Canonizing an Irregular Saint” which starts out:

We Baker Street Irregulars possess more than a few religious parallels in our structure and lore. For example, Sherlockiana’s beginnings in a 1912 parody of contemporary biblical exegesis by Ronald A. (later Monsignor) Knox; and in calling Sherlock Holmes the Master, one need not subscribe to the blasphemies of Samuel Rosenberg, or his heretical adherents, to admit that we refer not only to Holmes’s masterful accomplishments but also to the death-and-resurrection theme in the Sacred Writings.


Poor Jon, I’m sorry to hear that you lost your faith in Knox and no longer believe that Christopher Morley brought the gospel to America. Not who started the BSI, but who do we credit with founding Sherlockian Scholarship. So you propose S.C. Roberts as your cornerstone, propped up by Frank Morley?

S. C. Roberts in his 1966 book Adventure with Authors writes:

It was not until 1928 that I was led into the mock-solemnity of Holmesian scholarship. In that year the editor of the Cambridge Review invited me to review the omnibus edition of the short stories of Sherlock Holmes together with R. A. Knox’s Essays in Satire. I had often heard about the brilliant paper on “The Literature of Sherlock Holmes” which Knox had read to college societies and was delighted to find it included in the book. This essay was indeed germinal . . .

. . . As I read Knox’s essay and re-read some of the stories, it occurred to me that I might well carry on his own style of scholastic criticism. To his gallery of savants (Sauwosch, Backnecke, Piff-Pouff, etc.) I added one or two of my own (Keibosch, Pauvremutte) and expressed some doubts about the reliability of Knox’s textual scholarship. Finally, I urged that serious students should devote their energies to the elucidation of das Watsonischechronologieproblem.

Roberts goes on to say that it was Desmond MacCarthy who first printed his early life of Watson essay in Life and Letters. After he wrote about Watson’s later life the two essays were combined for the Criterion Miscellany series and there by association with Frank Morley. In the 1952 preface to Holmes and Watson: a Miscellany he recorded his debt to R. A. Knox’s famous essay. Roberts reports that, later reading Waugh’s biography, he sadly learned that Knox “was entirely out of sympathy with the later cult.”

Vincent Starrett’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes reprinted “A Final Examination Paper on the Life and Work of Sherlock Holmes” by E. V. (“Evoe”) Knox, editor of Punch and Ronald Knox’s oldest brother. Starrett includes a reference to Essays in Satire published in America by E. P. Dutton in 1928 with the comment: “An important critical study cast in the mould of a satire.” Thanks to Karen Murdock and George Vanderburgh we have Sherlock Alive: Sherlockian Excerpts from Vincent Starrett’s “Books Alive” Column in The Chicago Tribune 1942-1967. (Starrett’s Private Life footnote quotes Father Knox, but it comes from his Trollope essay “A Ramble in Barsetshire” and not from “Studies in the Literature.”) From his column in 1957: “’Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes,’ written in 1911, was the first important contribution to Holmesian scholarship, a critical ‘spoof’ that is today a Sherlockian classic.” And in the midst of the Cold War in 1960: “. . . Ronald Knox who inaugurated the Holmes cult with his “Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes” (1911)—unless the Russians can prove an earlier date.”

The Knox brothers, much like the Morleys, had an early interest in Sherlock Holmes and wrote to Doyle in 1905 their “Sign of Four” letter. Knox also wrote the Decalogue Symposium, an early play with Sherlock Holmes along with sixteen named characters from history and literature along with New Women, Bimetallists, Flagellants, Seventh Day Baptists, and Choruses of Virtue and Vices.

I want you to hear Knox’s own words from the opening of “Studies in the Literature”:

If there is anything pleasant in life, it is doing what we aren’t meant to do. If there is anything pleasant in criticism, it is finding out what we aren’t meant to find out. It is the method by which we treat as significant what the author did not mean to be significant, by which we single out as essential what the author regarded as incidental. 

There is, however, a special fascination in applying this method to Sherlock Holmes, because it is, in a sense, Holmes’s own method. “It has long been an axiom of mine,” he says, “that the little things are infinitely the most important.” And it is, is it not, as we clergymen say, by the little things, the apparently unimportant things, that we judge of a man’s character.

Ronald Knox founded Sherlockian Scholarship in 1911. The influence once germinated, gestated, and in 1928 was boosted by its reappearance which stimulated Christopher Morley and Elmer Davis. It also newly infected those primed by love of the Master like S. C. Roberts and Vincent Starrett. Even Edgar W. Smith in Baker Street Inventory has “Studies in the Literature” as “The first essay in the order of higher criticism.” It was not Knox’s intention to start a game or a cult. But his methodology is what endures. Those that followed who played the game so well must admit that Knox was the unintended founder.

rebuttal by Mr. LELLENBERG

I appreciate Dr. Sveum quoting an article of mine from the Baker Street Journal at me, but that was written in 1992, when my BSI history researches were still young. As I said in my opening statement, I was raised in the Knox faith myself; it was only considerably later that I realized how little there is to it.

Much the same can be said for Dr. Sveum’s citation of Edgar W. Smith’s Baker Street Inventory. It was written in 1945. By the time Smith wrote his introduction for The Incunabular Sherlock Holmes in 1958, he had done his homework too, and learned differently.

And I too have read S. C. Roberts’ Adventures with Authors. But in 1966 he was writing about events nearly forty years earlier; he was now seventy-nine years old and in the last year of his life. Just as Vincent Starrett in 1960 got the date of U.S. publication of Essays in Satire wrong, saying 1928 when it was actually 1930. But we should make too much of their lapses. We must rely instead on what they and others wrote about Knox’s paper around the time it appeared back then — to the extent that they wrote about it at all, which we’ve seen was very little.

I realize some Sherlockians are deeply invested in the Knox myth, even unto multiple revenue streams for the BSI over the next two years. Our Wiggins recently re-asserted the faith in an encyclical letter of sorts to Irregulars, though strangely it did not arrive in my in-box. But a kind Irregular forwarded it to me, and in it I saw quoted the same two authorities on behalf of the Knox myth. Said this letter,

One of the great Holmesians, Sir Sidney [sic] Roberts, wrote this homage to Knox in 1952: “It was Monsignor Knox’s famous essay that first beckoned me to Baker Street.”

Homage? If you read what Roberts wrote about Knox’s paper in A Note on the Watson Problem in 1929, what you actually find is scholarly scorn mingled with the irritation of Cambridge University Press’s head man confronted by something beneath its professional standards, as for example when Roberts wrote “It is a matter of some surprise that this article, first written in 1911, should now be issued unrevised and without reference, even by way of a footnote, to the investigations of later scholarship.” Instead of homage, Roberts took notice of Knox’s paper by publishing a demolition of its arguments, which he was able to do in fewer pages than Knox had taken, getting him commissioned to write something longer that got the Canon right: his monograph Doctor Watson,  published in 1931 to universal acclaim.

And people at that time, when so much was suddenly stirring in canonical scholarship, did not believe Knox was its founder. The Cambridge Review, for example, opened an editorial entitled “A Plea for a More Liberal Spirit in the Criticism of the Sherlock Holmes Canon” in its November 11, 1932, issue with the following words:

    The question of the Sherlock Holmes canon is once more before the public, and it will not be out of place to make some remarks on it in these columns, the place in which the Higher Criticism of the Holmes saga was first originated by Frank Sidgwick in 1902.

    It is not unfair to say that the article then published by Sidgwick has determined the whole tendency of this branch of learning. He was mainly concerned with pointing out discrepancies and very serious ones in the dates of the “Hound of the Baskervilles”; and since that time, critics have faithfully followed his method, have concentrated their attention on questions of chronology, of text, of the minutiae of the literary technique. It is true that they have now succeeded in doing a thing which Sidgwick himself hardly envisaged they have directed this textual criticism to the solution of the difficult problems of the Holmes canon; but this is hardly so much an innovation as a natural continuation of the work of Sidgwick.*


The recent BSI encyclical letter went on to say:

Vincent Starrett wrote in his “Books Alive” column in March 1945, “When Ronald Knox inaugurated the Holmesian higher criticism, in 1912, he did so on a note of solemn mischief that still sets the tone for all research students in the literature of Sherlock Holmes.” 

Starrett the newspaperman knew his audience. His Chicago Tribune column was written not for us, but for the masses, “the great unobservant public, who can hardly tell a weaver by his tooth or a compositor by his left thumb.” He knew better. Knox’s paper did not set the tone for all subsequent students of the Canon, certainly not for Starrett himself whose 1933 Private Life of Sherlock Holmes did not echo the Knox tone in the slightest, which is why we still read it when we don’t bother to read Knox. In the early 1930s, Starrett paid very little attention to Knox, as we’ve seen — but great attention to S. C. Roberts instead.

“Who are we to argue with such giants?” the encyclical letter concludes.

Who are we? We are Sherlockians and Irregulars, and should adhere to what Christopher Morley called “the metal actuality of Baker Street doctrine.” Like Sherlock Holmes, we do not take things on faith. We do not form theories in advance of the facts. We do not see Rache on a wall and conclude that Miss Rachel has done this dreadful thing. That’s for Lestrade and Gregson. We are not dogmatists, we are independent thinkers. We investigate. We search out and examine clues. We follow the trail. And the trail leads us not to Ronald Knox, but S.C. Roberts –- and even his fellow Cantabrigian Frank Sidgwick, who first tackled Watsonian chronology in 1902.


“Dr. Ainstree” (Robert Katz) said (August 19, 2010, 2:46 p.m.) ...

The always learned and erudite Dr. Hill Barton does a fine job delineating the history of Ronald Knox and his essay. However, he faces one basic problem in trying to prove that the Knox essay was the basis for Sherlockian scholarship. The essay is simply not scholarly. It is funny, in a silly way, for a few pages, and then becomes tedious. Finally, one comes away from the Knox paper not really learning new or insightful about Holmes. The meticulous Rodger Prescott comes nearer the point, but does not deliver the knockout blow. While it is true that Sidgwick and others wrote important papers, papers with real content, before Knox, it was Morley who put it all together. Between his work in Saturday Review and his founding of the BSI, this truly was the basis of the long-term study of the Canon, both institutionally and in print. But then, Dr. Ainstree is also a son of Haverford College. . . .

“The Trepoff Murder” (Russell Merritt) said (August 19, 2010, 11:35 p.m.) ...

Thanks again for the goad to read S.C. Roberts. I discovered I had two books by him, the collection of Sherlock Holmes stories he edited for Oxford University Press, and the jumble he anthologized as Holmes and Watson: A Miscellany. When I started reading him on Watson, I immediately recognized why I stopped the first time around — he plunges into matters of Canonical chronology, which, unhappily, I was deeply uninterested in at the time. But even when he turned to his survey of Watson's career, I now think that the grace and subtle wit of his style would have escaped me. Oddly, I never connected him with the elegant S. C. Roberts who wrote on Samuel Johnson, a great hero of mine when I was in grad school.

    I only wish you had told your audience more about Roberts in your talk. It seems to me telling that he is so less well-known than Knox. I think it may have been a master stroke that you stoked your reader's interest in Roberts and then let the reader do his own homework.  You are never boring.

Mr. Lellenberg replied:

Time in the debate was scant, but even my detailed and documented paper that will appear in the Sherlock Holmes Journal next summer won’t have a huge amount to say about Roberts himself, for he’s already far better known to the SHJ’s principal audience: British himself with a reputation as a scholar and academic publisher, and a co-founder of both the 1930s and 1950s Sherlock Holmes Societies there. But go to “Entertainment and Fantasy” in the Essays section of the website to read the last part (“Closing Memories”) by Ronald Mansbridge: Ronald had been one of his students at Cambridge in the mid 1920s, and then worked for him as the U.S. representative for Cambridge U. P. from about 1932 to Roberts’ death in 1966, and has lovely things to say about him there.

Tim Johnson said (August 20, 2010, 6:52 a.m.) ...

Some more food for thought. While working on my Holmes/Doyle bibliography I came across an article in the Sunday Telegraph from April 28, 2002. It opens thus:

“All the Knoxes loved jokes and spoofs, as Penelope Fitzgerald shows in her wonderful joint biography of them, The Knox Brothers, just republished. As boys, for example, they wrote a letter to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, denouncing inconsistencies in the Sherlock Holmes stories and including five dried orange pips, in allusion to the threatening letter in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Later, Ronald Knox expanded the joke into an essay called ‘Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes,’ a parody of Biblical scholarship in which he pretended to detect, from careful study of the text, that some of the stories must be fictitious inventions by a drunken Watson. Conan Doyle was delighted by the spoof and wrote to Ronald Knox to thank him.

“Nowadays we’re rather more sensitive. Or so it would seem from the first programme, called ‘Panic in the Streets,’ in a new series, The History of Fear (Radio 4, Monday), presented by the feminist historian, Joanna Bourke. On January 16, 1926, Father Ronald Knox (as he was by then) went into a studio in Edinburgh and delivered a talk over the air called ‘Broadcasting from the Barricades.’ An introductory statement explained that the talk was a work of humour and imagination and would be illustrated with ‘sound effects,’ then a novelty.

   “Knox proceeded to describe a riot of the unemployed in central London as though it were happening in real time. Parliament and the Savoy Hotel were blown up and the Minister of Traffic was hanged from a lamp-post. Meanwhile, an assistant in the studio produced crashes and bangs and even the sound of breaking glass.

    “The broadcast took in many listeners, and Father Knox was much reprimanded in the press....”

My question: is the reprimand of Father Knox continuing?

* Who was Frank Sidgwick?

        What was it he wrote in 1902?

And from the Editor’s Gas-Bag for September 8, 2011:

“Dear me, Father Knox, dear me!’

Re: the “Ronald Knox: Fact or Fiction” debate at the Disputations page, the French scholar Benoit Guilielmo points out to me something telling about Edgar W. Smith’s view: “I think [Smith] didn’t like very much Knox, as he described S. C. Roberts’ Note on the Watson Problem as a “gentle but well-merited attack on the atrocious Holmesian scholarship of that other ‘incunable’, Monsignor (then Father) Knox.” BSJ (OS), vol. 1 no.1 (January 1946), p. 34 n.1.

    Smith was footnoting Christopher Morley’s very first “Clinical Notes by a Resident Patient” column in the BSJ, on this occasion taking the form of a letter from “my good friend Chief Inspector (Retired) Stanley Hopkins,” who toward the end said:

    I am interested in what you wrote me in your last letter: you spoke of Monsignor Ronald Knox and Mr. S. C. Roberts as the two “incunables” (whatever that meant,) of your modern Baker Street studies, but I don’t think you knew that Mr. Roberts’ little biography of Watson (1931) was preceded by Mr. Roberts’ own trial version of the same, his A Note on the Watson Problem1 of which only 100 copies were printed at the University Press, Camb., in 1929. Very few collectors indeed have this pamphlet, but naturally Mr. Roberts sent me one. I thought you would be interested to know about it.

Smith’s footnote in full said: “Mr. Hopkins is slightly in error. The piece in question is not, actually, a trial version of the classic biography; it is, rather, a gentle but well-merited attack on the atrocious Holmesian scholarship of that other ‘incunable,’ Monsignor (then Father) Knox. As such, and since Hopkins is correct in saying that only a hundred copies were printed, the Note is reproduced in this issue of the Journal, so that all who may have missed it may see it now.”

    Roberts’ Note appeared on pp. 29-32 of the BSJ. Smith did not bother to reprint Knox’s paper, then or later, nor has any other editor since. Perhaps Steve Rothman, reading this, will rush to do so in the so-called Year of Ronald Knox coming in 2011, in hopes I’ll stop pointing out this embarrassing fact.

    Mr. Morley’s column in the Baker Street Journal’s debut issue would have been a new opportunity to say he heard Father Knox give his talk at Oxford in 1911, or cite its supposed foundation of our scholarship, or the making of BSI. But he does neither: he calls our attention to S. C. Roberts instead.

[September 8, 2010]

From Benoit later the same day comes this:

In the last paragraph of your Editor’s Gas-Bag you stated:

    “Mr. Morley’s column in the Baker Street Journal’s debut issue would have been a new opportunity to say he heard Father Knox give his talk at Oxford in 1911, or cite its supposed foundation of our scholarship, or the making of BSI. But he does neither: he calls our attention to S. C. Roberts instead.”

In fact there is another important “Clinical Note” from Morley that you omitted to mention in your debate. It is another letter from Stanley Hopkins, published in the BSJ (OS), vol. 2 no. 4, October 1947, p. 397:

During the horrible winter we had here I reread the best of all spuriosa, Rev. Knox’s Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes; I have a horrid notion that very few of your members ever saw it, and think they are having fresh new fun when they are only saying (less wittily?) what Rev. Knox wrote 35 years ago. I have a sad feeling that many of your members only read their own stuff? Tell me I am wrong? For instance Knox’s classical analysis of every Holmes-Watson story into its eleven canonical points: pro-oiminion, exegesis, ichneusis, etc. I was brutally drilled in all those severities at Bedford Grammar School, but I have a feeling they mean less to your vigorous young men.”

“The best of all spuriosa” dixit Morley. Of course this is not a declaration of Knox’s “supposed foundation of our scholarship, or the making of BSI,” as you say. But it’s an enthusiastic evaluation of Knox’s essay and certainly more than a call for attention to any student of the Corpus Watsonicum.

    We shall also note that Christopher Morley concludes his review of S.C. Roberts’s pamphlet Doctor Watson (1931) -- “a delightful bit of serio-spoof” -- stating that “his essay, together with that of Father Ronald Knox in Studies in Satire [sic], is a necessary addition to the Holmes-Watson codex.” (Saturday Review of Literature, March 7, 1931, p. 645). There is just a mention of Morley's review in your debate. I thought it would be interesting to quote here this Knox-Roberts Sherlockian Connection so dear to Morley.

    Like in LADY, the coffin is maybe too large. Don’t you think so ?

Well, like Lady Frances Carfax, there’s still some fight in the corpse, but we shall see. I have to wonder why Morley put these references to Knox’s paper in Stanley Hopkins’ mouth, not his own. Why the separation? Perhaps one clue is found in the remark “I have a sad feeling that many of your members only read their own stuff” -- for by that time Morley was very tired of the BSI, in fact declaring that there would be no more BSI dinners (a draconian position from which Edgar Smith dislodged him only with great difficulty). Morley was happy to denigrate the Irregulars’ sense of scholarship at that point, and to do it here seized upon the one original aspect of Knox’s paper, what he describes above as “classical analysis.”

    But if Morley/Hopkins is correct in suggesting that Irregulars were duplicating something earlier by Knox of which they were ignorant (and most were at the time), it doesn’t seem like he’s making out a case for Knox’s supposed vast influence, only for 1940s Irregulars not knowing their own humane science’s past literature. (Which is not surprising since very few had read it.)

    1931’s Saturday Review comment nodded to Knox in the course of Morley lavishly praising S. C. Roberts’ Doctor Watson at length immediately upon its publication, in England. Never before, to my knowledge, had Morley mentioned Knox anywhere, let alone describe his 1911 paper. (And both this review of Roberts in 1931 and the BSJ column of 1947 were opportunities for Morley to mention hearing Knox’s paper in 1911 and the impression it had made on him, if such had happened, and he did not.)

[September 8, 2010]

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