published originally as the 1998 Baker Street Journal Christmas Annual

Out of print in that form, but reprinted in

“A Remarkable Mixture,” available for order at


Since 1934, there have been 60 BSI annual dinners. (There were none in 1935, 1937, 1938, or 1939.) We now know what happened at some of them in our distant past, and more about the Irregulars who graced the scene, were it Christ Cella’s speakeasy, the venerable Murray Hill Hotel, or the olympian Racquet and Tennis Club. If you could go back in time to attend just one BSI dinner from years gone by, which one would it be? The very first, in 1934, when Alexander Woollcott rode across Manhattan in a hansom cab with Vincent Starrett to crash the party? Or the 1941 dinner, when Rex Stout came for the first time, and electrified Irregulars with “Watson Was a Woman”? The 1946 dinner, when the premiere issue of The Baker Street Journal arrived arrived at the last moment to be handed out? The 1948 “committee in camera” dinner, when the BSI's future hung by a thread upon Christopher Morley’s discontent? Or perhaps the dinner — the date still uncertain — when Jim Montgomery sang “Aunt Clara” for the first time.

    It’s not easy to choose, but I would plump for the 1940 dinner ahead of all these. It revived the BSI after four years of dormancy, and ushered in a new era at the Murray Hill Hotel. It was a publication party for the first BSI anthology of Writings About the Writings, Vincent Starrett’s 221B: Studies in Sherlock Holmes, with most of its contributors present that night. It was Edgar W.Smith’s first dinner. It was the only one attended by all three Morley brothers, Christopher, Felix, and Frank. It was the only one ever attended by a Conan Doyle, Sir Arthur’s son Denis — and the decades-long feud between the BSI and the Conan Doyle Estate dates to that night. Frederic Dorr Steele, Sherlock Holmes’s greatest American illustrator, was there. So were P. M. Stone, W. S. Hall, Robert K. Leavitt, Harvey Officer, James Keddie, Earle Walbridge, and other legendary figures from the BSI’s early days.

    What we knew by 1990 about the 1940 dinner was published in Irregular Memories of the ’Thirties. But “Education never ends, Watson.” We know a good deal more now. Mistakes can be corrected, assumptions confirmed, missing passages filled in, and hitherto-unsuspected aspects revealed. And we can get a glimpse of the magical evening of January 30, 1940, in a BSI dinner photograph — apparently the first ever taken — which in 1990 we did not know had ever existed. That a photo had been taken that night came to light later in a letter from James Keddie of Boston to Vincent Starrett. Only a few dozen men had been present that night, and it seemed unlikely that a copy would ever surface now, after all these years. Yet less than six months later, and purely by coincidence, the picture turned up.

    In this the first of the BSJ’s revived Christmas Annuals (a pleasant custom begun by Edgar W. Smith in the 1950s, but lost along the way), we begin by reprinting the account of the 1940 BSI dinner which appeared in Irregular Memories of the ‘Thirties. Certain names and phrases will appear in boldface: they are Irregular Hypertext links (i.e., turn the pages until you come to the right one, just like Chris Morley or Edgar Smith would have) to annotations which begin on page 10. Much new is there: the dinner photo and a key to it, letters from Vincent Starrett, Edgar W. Smith, James Keddie, and Christopher Morley, Starrett’s telegram to the BSI dinner, Morley’s handwritten menu, autographs of the Irregular diners that night, the picture of Sherlock Holmes that Frederic Dorr Steele drew that night, the first BSI membership list Edgar W. Smith compiled, and more.

    January 30, 1940, was a golden evening, an evening of “entertainment and fantasy” as Edgar W. Smith had promised the Irregulars. We are pleased to be able to bring this additional information to you. My thanks go to Ray Betzner, Peter Blau, George Fletcher, Mary Hazard, Jamie Hubbs, Leslie Klinger, Jerry Margolin, Glen Miranker, Dan Posnansky, Steven Rothman, Peter Ruber, and Bill Vande Water for their assistance and contributions to this undertaking; to the University of Minnesota Library’s Sherlock Holmes Collection for certain items there; to Donald Pollock and Michael Whelan for their support; and to Mr. Ronald Mansbridge, with special gratitude for his memories and encouragement.

From Irregular Memories of the ‘Thirties  (Ch. 16)

Finally, after a Great Hiatus of nearly four years, plans were made — than to the imminent publication of 221B: Studies in Sherlock Holmes — for another BSI Annual Dinner, the first since 1936.


In his introduction to 221B: Studies in Sherlock Holmes, Vincent Starrett told readers more about the Baker Street Irregulars than they had yet heard from any other source, but in doing so he made one unwitting historical error: “Although the original plan of the Irregulars was to foregather annually on the anniversary of Sherlock's birth,” he wrote, “— worked out as falling on January 6 — no meeting ever has been held on that date. The dinner of December 7, 1934, indeed, is the last meeting of formal record, at this writing.”

    This, as we know now, was wrong. There had been the 1936 annual dinner. Starrett could be excused for overlooking it, since he had been out of the country at the time, on an extended tour of duty. But he went on to implicate Christopher Morley in defense of such a deplorable situation: “To quote Mr. Morley, who holds the exalted office of Gasogene,” Starrett continued, “the Baker Street Irregulars are ‘too wise to hold stated meetings, which would belie their name and take the fun out of their indoctrinated amateurishness.’” Perhaps this discouraging thought was culled from some letter Starrett had received from Morley after his return from China in 1937; at any rate, it is difficult to dismiss the suspicion that Morley had simply ceased to care very much about BSI dinners which would, perforce, be something more than cozy gatherings of his particular cronies.

    Others did care very much, however, particularly Edgar Smith, who was now a member of The Five Orange Pips, but had not yet had an opportunity to attend a BSI dinner; and it may be that even Morley’s heart was softened by the impending publication of 221B, to judge from the following letters by Smith to Morley and Starrett:

[TL]                                      December 29, 1939

Dear Porky:

Many thanks for your Christmas wishes. I didn't get a blue carbuncle, or, for that matter, did I even get a goose - but the day was a very pleasant one notwithstanding.

I am glad to learn that the book is to be published on January 30. The date crept up very quickly, and when I finally reached Earle Walbridge yesterday, to look over the proofs of my section, I found a number of errors which it is now probably too late to correct, since Miss Prink at Macmillans tells me the binding has already started. The changes I would have made are of a rather minor character, and probably if it were not my own child I would not be conscious of the few warts that disfigure it.

The idea of celebrating publication by a dinner on January 30 is an excellent one. There being no Goldini's or Marcini's available, the Murray Hill Hotel seems to meet the necessities next best. I should be very happy to join the Morley-Latham committee to help in the arrangements. I doubt that time remains to enable the development of an essay on the Obliquity of the Ecliptic, but it is barely possible, if I apply myself assiduously, that I might have ready for confidential distribution for those present, a typewritten copy of the Gazetteer on which I have recently been making fairly decent progress.

I had been planning to take a two weeks' holiday in the south toward the end of the month, but in view of this epic occasion, I have now changed my plans, and shall be leaving on January 12, and returning on the 29th. Anything I can do toward contributing to the preparations for the event I shall therefore have to undertake during the next two weeks. I hope you will call upon me for any assistance I can give.

Congratulations on the admirable manner in which you handled our subject on the "Information Please" program week before last. After having placed Irene Adler so patly in St. John's Wood, it was unfair of [Clifton] Fadiman to ask you to name the street. I have found out (by looking it up) that it was Serpentine Avenue. Incidentally, I think you did us all a service by naming Mycroft Holmes as the detective who solved his problems without ever visiting the scene of the crime or seeing the evidence. Even though that wasn't what the questioner intended, the description fitted perfectly.

I await your call for my services.

Sincerely yours,

(Edgar W. Smith)

[TL]                                        January 22, 1940 

Dear Starrett:

Your letter of January 10th has just reached me here in Florida --

I, too, feel that I am on the dead end of a telephone.

I have just telegraphed Miss Prink as follows:

"Received from Starrett today copy your letter to him third his to you tenth Stop Believe your suggestion for insertion eight page cancel preferable course to follow in view cost element and desirability avoid delay publication date Stop If Morley agrees entirely acceptable to me proceed accordingly thanks."

God forbid that I should saddle even the potential royalties with a charge of $120! The errors will probably be discernible only to the inner circle of the cognoscenti, and to those select few they can easily be explained away. Our dearly beloved public won't know Staphonse from Staphouse (if that's not in the eight pages) and even if they do find ground for pinning us down, the controversy might actually be profitable. I was altogether too finicky, anyway, in writing you as I did, and I hope you'll forgive me. After all, Watson himself erred even more heinously.


It won't be a meeting of the Irregulars at all, on the 30th, without you there. I'm more sorry than I can tell you that personal matters will keep you away. I hope everything comes out satisfactorily, and that you will be East again before too long.

Best wishes, [illegible sentence]

Sincerely yours,

(Edgar W. Smith)

One chore which Christopher Morley had assigned Smith was to send out the notices for the dinner — and out they went, by postcard, postmarked as well as dated on January 9, 1940:

                          January 9, 1940

A meeting and dinner of the BAKER STREET IRREGULARS will be held at the Murray Hill Hotel, Parlors F & G, at 6 P.M., Tuesday, January 30th. Terms Dutch.

    The Macmillan Company promises the members gratuituous advance copies of Mr. Starrett's forthcoming anthology, "221-B."

    Dress or disguise informal or optional.

    It is believed that Mr. Felix Morley of the Washington Post will speak on "Sherlock Holmes and the Press." Other entertainment and fantasy also in arrangement.

    Please inform the undersigned promptly of your intention to attend so that the Gasogene and the Tantalus may make accurate plans.

(Signed) Mrs. Hudson

Phone - Circle 7-6500   

per Edgar W. Smith, Buttons

1775 Broadway - Room 1800

New York City.

And on January 30, 1940, the Baker Street Irregulars gathered for their annual dinner once more. Shortly afterward, Edgar Smith — now the BSI’s Buttons, an extra-Constitutional office later to be superceded by the grander and rolling title of Buttons-cum-Commissionaire — sent out to those on the mailing list he had received from Christopher Morley some minutes of the annual dinner. It was the first of an unbroken series of annual minutes prepared by Smith through 1960, the year of his death. Without those minutes, we would scarcely know what went on at the annual dinners of the ’Forties and ’Fifties, not to mention this earlier revival dinner at the close of the ’Thirties.


held on

Tuesday, January 30, 1940

at the

Murray Hill Hotel, New York City


John J. Connolly   

Basil Davenport   

Elmer Davis      

N. V. Dimitrieff   

Denis P. S. Conan Doyle   

Charles W. Force   

Henry James Forman   

Dr. Chas. Goodman      

Peter Greig      

Wm. S. Hall      

Howard Haycraft   

Harry William Hazard, Jr.

Frank Henry

Malcolm Johnson   

Warren Jones      

James P. Keddie   

Mitchell Kennerley   

Robert K. Leavitt

  1. F.R. Mansbridge

Dr. Harrison Martland

Christopher Morley

Felix Morley

  1. F.V. Morley

Harvey Officer

Allan M. Price

David Randall

Edgar W. Smith

Frederic Dorr Steele

  1. P.M. Stone

J. W. Thomson

Pierson Underwood

Earle Walbridge

Lawrence S. Williams

Peter Williams

John T. Winterich

Mr. Christopher Morley, as Gasogene and Tantalus in common, presided.

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.

With this refinement, the toasts were drunk; first to The Woman, then to Mrs. Hudson, then to Dr. Watson's Second Wife.

The Constitution itself, in accordance with precedent and requirement, was read.

Mr. Christopher Morley announced that the meeting, which was held as usual on a date at variance with the constitutional specification, had been called to celebrate the publication by Macmillans of 221B - a compilation of the writings of various members of the Society. A copy of the book, presented with the compliments of the publishers, was put at each place.

The Gasogene-Tantalus introduced Mr. Denis P. S. Conan Doyle, who spoke charmingly on the subject of "My Father's Friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes." Addresses were also made, at greater or less length, by Mr. J. W. Thomson, Mr. James P. Keddie (on the subject of the orthodox Coal-scuttle lent for the occasion); Mr. Harvey Officer, Mr. Frederic Dorr Steele, Mr. Edgar W. Smith, Dr. Harrison Martland, Mr. F. V. Morley, Mr. Basil Davenport, Mr. Peter Greig, Mr. F. R. Mansbridge, and Mr. Robert K. Leavitt.

The Gasogene-Tantalus read a telegram received from Mr. Vincent Starrett, whose unfortunate absence from the meeting can be compared only with the intolerable absence of Mrs. Hudson from the Baker Street scene. The meeting voted spontaneously to send greetings and a fully autographed copy of the book to Mr. Starrett, an action which, in the preoccupations which ensued, was probably not accomplished.

Mr. Morley also read a letter from Mr. Cecil For(r)rester, who expressed his sympathy and pledged his assistance in the Society's research in the matter of his ancestral relations with a certain governess.

The piece de resistance of the evening was the presentation of a paper by Mr. Felix Morley on "The Significance of the Second Stain," which dealt convincingly, if somewhat metaphysically, with the current political and diplomatic implications foreshadowed by this 19th Century account of international intrigue. A copy of this erudite paper has been made a part of the records of the meeting.

There being no further business, the meeting adjourned to pursue its character studies of "A Scandal in Bohemia."


It was clearly a memorable occasion. We are able to reproduce opposite the appropriately fanciful menu of the evening — it initiated a custom of oysters, pea soup, curried chicken, and a sweet which was observed by the BSI for many years (until, Robert G. Harris says, the Irregulars meeting every January, at Cavanagh’s by then, grew so many for the room, that diners no longer had the elbow-room to wield an oyster fork). And below is the attractive illustration which Frederic Dorr Steele drew for it. Later that year, he wrote the few words about it that follow, in  a letter to Allen Robertson of Baltimore (then unknown to the BSI, but later founder
of The Six Napoleons of Baltimore, and “The Reigate Squires,” BSI). Steele’s letter appeared posthumously in the January 1949 Baker Street Journal, as “My First Meeting with Sherlock Holmes.”

    “There can be no question of ‘effrontery’ betweeen Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts [wrote Steele]. I like to include myself among these altho I have frankly confessed that I am most un-erudite, and most forgetful even about stories I myself illustrated. . . . The fourth dinner of the Baker Street Irregulars took place on the evening of January 30th (at the old Murray Hill Hotel, the perfect spot). It was the best one since the December 1936 [sic] dinner which I described in the New Yorker (and in 221B). Chris Morley was once more the Gasogene, and I made for him a little sketch for the menu card: Sherlock examining the food and analyzing the wines, and taking no chances. Under this was the caption ‘We cannot be too careful, Watson.’ The seriousness of these devotees is shown by the fact that five different men came to my chair and asked me practically the same question — ‘Pardon me, Mr. Steele, I can’t seem to identify this quotation: will you tell me what story it was taken from?’”


There is also extant a letter from Steele to Vincent Starrett about this drawing, quoted in the previously cited unpublished memoir by Steele’s son Robert: “I had an absurdly hard struggle with my Sherlock. I tore up two or three attempts to do it from an old drawing, finally put on my old dressing gown and posed for it in the mirror.” And in a letter to Edgar Smith dated December 13, 1942, Christopher Morley wrote: “Would Freddy Steele like to design a menu card or would we use again the one he did years ago? (I enclose it — but what I did with the original drawing I have no notion — I was moving all my papers from the Sat Review about that time & there’s a ten to fifteen year accumulation of oddities that I have never properly unpacked and don’t know when I shall.)”

    This was also the first time the Baker Street Irregulars met at the Murray Hill Hotel, where the BSI dinners would continue to be held — cocktails in Parlor F, dinner and program in Parlor G — until the New York landmark was finally torn down in the late ’Forties, to be great regret of many sentimental people. Located at 41st and Park Avenue in Manhattan’s Murray Hill district, the venerable hotel had seen better days by the time the Baker Street Irregulars arrived in 1940, but it captured and preserved the atmosphere of Victorian London far better than any other possibility in New York at that time (let alone today). It was, the Irregulars agreed with Steele, “the perfect spot.”

    The 1940 dinner might not have included every Irregular of that era with whom one would wish to dine, but it was a fine list nonetheless. There was Edgar W. Smith, and not one, not even two, but three Morleys, including Frank, in from London. There were some veterans of the Three Hours for Lunch Club and the Grillparzer Sittenpolizei Verein, like Frank Henry, Malcolm Johnson, Bill Hall, Mitchell Kennerley, and Robert K. Leavitt. There was Elmer Davis, the author of the BSI’s Constitution and Buy-Laws. There were Crossword Puzzle winners like Basil Davenport, Harry Hazard, Harvey Officer, and Earle Walbridge. There was Frederic Dorr Steele himself, of course. There were interesting newcomers, like Howard Haycraft, and John Winterich, a protégé of Morley’s at the Saturday Review of Literature, Harrison Martland, Medical Examiner of Newark, New Jersey, and David Randall, from Scribner’s bookshop on Fifth Avenue. There were James Keddie and P. M. Stone from Boston. There was even a Conan Doyle (for the first and nearly the last time).

    Denis Conan Doyle was the eldest son of Sir Arthur’s second marriage (his mother, Lady Conan Doyle, would pass away later in the year), and Trustee of a very active literary Estate indeed. In the United States on Estate business, making Sherlock Holmes publishing and radio and motion picture deals, and doing some lecturing on his father’s Spiritualist cause as well, he had been invited to the BSI dinner by Christopher Morley. His talk that evening, Morley reported in writings reprinted earlier in this volume, was “probably the most charming discourse to which we have listened.” Later, though, as Morley also observed, Denis Conan Doyle (not to mention his sometimes volcanic younger brother Adrian) came to regard the BSI as some sort of conspiracy dedicated to usurping their father’s reputation and accomplishments. His journey to that unfortunate position began at this 1940 dinner. We are indebted to the late Will Oursler (“The Abbey Grange,” BSI) for an account of Denis’s reaction to the evening’s proceedings, published originally in Oursler’s article “Sherlock Holmes — Dead or Alive?” in the May 1953 issue of Bluebook magazine:

Edgar W. Smith, prominent Sherlockian and secretary, or “Buttons,” as he is called, of the Irregulars, informed this writer that the trouble began several years back, when Denis Conan Doyle attended a Baker Street dinner in New York. . . . According to Smith, Denis listened with bewilderment to the various toasts offered to Holmes and his entourage, and to the scholarly reports on various aspects of the investigator’s career.

  At last he turned to Smith and whispered under his breath, “I don’t understand this! My father’s name has not been mentioned.”

    Smith whispered that he would explain the whole thing later. He added that it was probably the highest compliment ever paid in the history of literature.

    “No other writer, not even Shakespeare,” Smith afterward pointed out to Denis, “can boast of creating a character so vivid that people believe in the character rather than the author.”

    “But what role is my father supposed to have played in all this?” Sir Arthur’s son demanded. “Surely, no one could believe that Dr. Watson—”

    Smith hurriedly unfolded the Irregulars' whimsical concept. “Dr. Watson wrote up the cases, of course. They were all quite factual. Sir Arthur was — so to speak — the literary agent.”

    He went on to describe how, in the lore of the Irregulars, Doyle is pictured as a struggling young physician, delighted at the chance to “peddle” the cases his friend Dr. Watson had written up.

    Young Denis shook his head in grave disapproval.

“Grave disapproval” doesn’t even begin to describe the eventual attitude that Denis and Adrian Conan Doyle adopted toward the Baker Street Irregulars, but that is a story for another day.

Certainly one would love to have been a fly on the wall that night, or, even better, archy the cockroach darting among the drinks on the table, to hear Denis’s charming discourse, and all the other scholarship and tomfoolery that transpired that night, the first BSI dinner in four long years. (We do have Edgar Smith’s minutes, though, and of the talks, Felix Morley’s erudite mycroftian paper was published later, in Edgar Smith’s 1944 anthology, Profile by Gaslight.) Probably there was no question in Irregular minds that night that it would not be another four years until the next dinner — certainly not in Smith’s. His course was set, unto the end of his admirable life, and it is worth repeating the tribute paid to him by Christopher Morley, in his 1946 BSJ “Clinical Notes of a Resident Patient”:

The happiest achievement of the B.S.I. was when it attracted the attention of our devoted Edgar Smith. Very different from Woollcott, he wrote in a vein of decorous modesty asking if he could be put on the waiting list and offered to undergo any sort of inquest of suitability. It was plain from the first that here was THE Man. After the Woollcott condescension most of us were content to go on without any Stated Meetings . . . but Mr. Edgar Smith’s affectionate zeal, not less than his Sherlockian scholarship, his gusto in pamphleteering, his delight in keeping orderly records, and his access to mimeographic and parchment-engrossing and secretarial resources, all these were irresistible. I don’t suppose that any society of Amateur Mendicants has ever had a more agreeable or competent fugleman.

And Smith was tireless. Hardly pausing to rest after the BSI dinner, he wrote the following letter to Vincent Starrett:

[TL]                                               February 5, 1940

Dear Starrett:

It was like Baker Street without Mrs. Hudson to sit down at a meeting of the Baker Street Irregulars and to count you among the missing. In every respect but this the dinner at the Murray Hill Hotel last week was a roaring success, and the book -- however it may ride the seas -- was properly launched. In my capacity as Buttons, I shall be sending you as sober an account of the evening as I can see my way clear to put together.

Meanwhile, and with 221B still rolling off the presses, I am sending you a first very rough-and-ready copy of the Gazetteer which you have egged me on, from time to time, to write. It isn't as comprehensive a thing as I had thought it might be -- perhaps I should add hotels and clubs and restaurants to the list of countries, U.S. states, cities, towns and London streets in order to swell the total. Anyway, let me know what you think of it, and how it might be improved, and perhaps for Christmas or some time before I can get my bargain-price printer to put it in type.

I hope things are going well for you, and again let me say that your absence was a matter of very genuine regret indeed to all of us who look to you as mentor and guide -- to say nothing of your status as sponsor and editor of the Book of the Day.

Sincerely yours,

(Edgar W. Smith)

Lone Star Ranch - S. Virginia Rd

Reno, Nevada


                                    27 Feb: 1940

Dear Smith -

I've been negligent. I've not even acknowledged your fine Gazetteer, and now comes your report of the B.S.I. brawl. Hearty thanks. You may imagine how I wanted to be with you! Keddie sent me a jolly letter about it, which, with yours, goes into the permanent records.

Re the Gazetteer: I'm inclined to agree with you that it might be extended to advantage by a listing of the more important clubs and restaurants, etc. But it's a fine job, and a great contribution to the next yearbook. I hope you will print it separately first, however.

I imagine we should not too often bring out a volume of ana; the public might easily tire of us. I am constantly shocked by the general apathy about Holmes. I have recently encountered persons who never even heard of him.

My time here seems to be drawing to a close; but I don't yet know what the next work is. Sooner or later I hope to get back East. Just possibly I may take a flyer in Hollywood first. This place is limbo.

The B.S.I. affair must have been a masterpiece. The turnout seems to have been impressive. There was a short session of the Irene Adler division here in Reno, at which I presided - Basil Rathbone being at the Wigwam Theatre in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Miss Adler (pro tem) was the only other member present; a satisfactory arrangement.

All the best to you.


(Vincent Starrett)

Nothing New Under the Sun?

221B: Studies in Sherlock Holmes

In his essay in Irregular Memories of the 'Thirties discussing this first BSI anthol-ogy of Writings About the Writings, neither Robert G. Harris nor his unknowing editor managed to identify Richard D. Altick, who had contributed an essay on “Mr. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Samuel Johnson” that Harris judged “superb.”

So it should be, from someone who (born 1915) had by 1990 long been one of the nation’s foremost authorities on Victorian literature and culture. Professor Emeritus of English Literature at Ohio State University today, Dr. Altick is the author of many books, including the evocatively titled Victorian Studies in Scarlet in 1972. He is still at work, and his most recent book, a study of the first ten years of Punch, was published in 1997.

Dr. Altick wrote his paper on Holmes and Johnson as an undergraduate at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. How he came to write to Vincent Starrett in Chicago, he no longer remembers, but from his papers at Franklin & Marshall come these two letters from Starrett, who encouraged him, commented on his paper, and saved it until 221B came along as a convenient outlet a few years later.

525 Cornelia Avenue



                                    6 May, 1935

Dear Mr. Altick:-

I know of no other such study as the interesting one you suggest, although it is perhaps odd that the idea did not earlier explode in the skull of some devoted Sherlockian. On the last page of his masterly study of Doctor Watson (Faber & Faber, London, 1931), S.C. Roberts, the distinguished Johnsonian, does indeed indicate an interesting parallel between two incidents of the great companionships - i.e., that in August 1763 Johnson walked down to the beach at Harwich with his friend Boswell, where the pair "embraced and parted with tenderness"; and in August 1914 Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson trysted and parted at Harwich, after "intimate converse" beside the same sea - but beyond the bare hint (if it was a hint) there is nothing of your idea in the whole paper.

It seems to me more than likely that Doyle wrote that scene in His Last Bow quite deliberately, knowing it for what it was - a friendly para-phrase of the parting between Johnson and Boswell; although it may of course have been subconscious. Certainly he was completely familiar with his Boswell - see his Through the Magic Door.

You have chosen a delightful subject for your thesis; and you will pardon me if I hope that you will treat it not too seriously, but with a touch of humor. Certainly I shall be happy to have a copy of your paper - entire - and I trust that you are right in believing it to be publishable.

I shall look forward to it.


Vincent Starrett

525 Cornelia Avenue



                                    29 July 1935

Dear Mr. Altick:-

I am just home from a vacation to find your letter waiting for me. I am sorry you had to wait so long for an acknowledgment of your MS - which I received, read, and enjoyed. It seems to me that you have made out an excellent case and I hope you may find an editor who will publish the paper. You will be more likely to find one favorable to the idea of publication, I think, if you will abbreviate the essay skillfully; its length just now is against it, I'm afraid. I have been wondering who might like to have it. The difficulty is that it is rather too scholarly for any of the really popular journals - and they are the only ones that pay worthwhile rewards. Such a journal as the Virginia Quarterly Review might care for it. Recently (within a year) I had the same problem on my hands - and found no American editor whatever for a Sherlockian essay which has since found place in an English Symposium or anthology issued as a book. If in editing the ms. you can "brighten" it up for lay consumption, however, you might find it acceptable to a popular journal. In any case, try such journals as Atlantic, Harper's, and the school quarterlies.

Thank you for sending this essay; I shall preserve it in my collection.

I am leaving Chicago inside of a week, I think, for a voyage around the world; so in closing I must wish you - in my absence - all good luck in your efforts.


Vincent Starrett

A few years later, an editor was interested in publishing the essay — the best of all possible editors for Sherlockian work, Vincent Starrett himself. And the New York Times Book Review for February 18, 1940, reviewing 221B: Studies in Sherlock Holmes, took note of the essay: “Richard D. Altick traces a delightful parallel between Johnson-and-Boswell and Holmes-and-Watson. . . . These are delightful ‘studies,’ brought to us with a captivating gravity and an irresistible élan.” Whether or not the first public notice of Professor Altick’s scholarship, 221B brought him an early one in what proved to be a long and distinguished academic career.

Extended Tour of Duty

A mistake on my part about Vincent Starrett’s whereabouts during 1935-37. I had thought that he was sent to China by the Chicago Tribune as its Far Eastern correspondent. It was, instead, a trip around the world of his own, paid for by the sale of his 1935 novel The Great Hotel Murder to the movies. Starrett’s journey began in the Orient and ended in Europe, with his first visit to London in some years. H. W. Bell was there at the time, and when Bell died in 1947, Starrett recalled in his “Books Alive” column in the Tribune walking up and down Baker Street with Bell, arguing about which house had been Sherlock Holmes’s.

“To Quote Mr. Morley”

The quotation is from Christopher Morley’s “Notes on Baker Street” in the Saturday Review of Literature, January 28, 1939, not from any letter Starrett received from him.

Member of The Five Orange Pips

This independent Sherlock Holmes society had been founded in New York in 1935 by Richard W. Clarke and four others, and Edgar W. Smith had found his way to it in 1938. A membership list of the Pips as of 1940, compiled by Smith, has survived. It includes the members’ chosen noms de canon, a practice of the Pips which may have inspired the Titular Investitures adopted by the BSI later under Smith’s leadership.



Henry Baker

Gordon Knox Bell

154 East 66th Street

New York, N.Y.

Jephro Rucastle

Richard W. Clarke

17 East 42nd Street

New York City

Sir Henry Baskerville

Benjamin Clark, Jr.

c/o White Weld Company

40 Wall Street

New York, N.Y.

Reginald Musgrave

Owen P. Frisbie

c/o H. Wolff

508 West 26th Street, N.Y.C.

Dr. Thorneycroft Huxtable

Edgar W. Smith

638 Prospect Street

Maplewood, N.J.

Victor Trevor

Norman Ward

c/o Brett & Wyckoff

400 Madison Avenue, N.Y.C.

Jack Woodley

Frank Waters

Bedford Hills

New York

The Murray Hill Hotel

The Murray Hill Hotel has been addressed twice in the BSI’s Archival History series, “The Murray Hill Hotel” in Irregular Records of the Early ’Forties and “Farewell to Parlors F and G” in Irregular Proceedings of the Mid ’Forties. The photograph below is of the lobby, looking past the reception desk and grand staircase at the corridor which led to the private meeting rooms.

Morley-Latham Committee

Since Morley’s letter of December 23, 2939, below was unavailable for Irregular Memories of the ’Thirties, this reference in Edgar W. Smith’s reply resisted explanation. Unable to identify Latham, I offered a complimentary copy of the next volume of BSI History to anyone who could. It was won by Mr. Ronald Mansbridge. Long the Cambridge University Press representative in New York, he had known Harold S. Latham as Trade Editor at the Macmillan Company — Cambridge U.P.’s distributor in America.  [For more about Harold Latham and the BSI, go to “The Mystery of the Three Irregular Plates.”]

Your Call For My Services

I had been under the impression that Edgar W. Smith, eager for the BSI to convene again for what would be his first annual dinner, had suggested the Murray Hill Hotel as an appropriate place. This too was wrong. The suggestion of the Murray Hill, as well as the impetus for the 1940 BSI dinner, came from Christopher Morley. But it bespoke his confidence in Smith, who had yet to attend a BSI dinner, when he turned first to him for help organizing the 1940 affair.

    A copy of Morley’s letter to Smith below went to Vincent Starrett in Chicago, with the handwritten note: “Merry Christmas, Vincenzio. Will this work? It must! Chris.”

Green Escape

Roslyn Heights

New York


                                    December 23, 1939

My dear Thorny,

I wish you a happy Christmas; and even a blue carbuncle if that is your desire.

When I was in Chicago a week ago I learned from Vincent Starrett that his book 221-B is actually to be published on January 30. At once I suggested that we solemnize the date by a dinner of the B.S.I. I propose that you and I appoint ourselves a committee, perhaps together with Harold Latham of the Macmillan Company, to arrange this matter. I will write at once to Vincenzio telling him he must plan to be in NY on that date.

Since Christ Cella's place on 45 Street, where we used to hold meetings, has been modernized and the old upstairs room there no longer exists (he has only a not very attractive cellarage; which makes me think of The Fiend of the Cooperage; do you know it?) I am wondering if the Murray Hill Hotel would not be a singularly pleasant place for the meeting? We could have one of their private dining rooms, which are so entirely in the Baker Street manner and decor.

I have somewhere a sort of tentative list of members of the B.S.I.

It was never very orderly or complete; but I think for the happiest results we shd restrict the gathering to a really seeded and salted group; not so many that the value of the discussion wd be lost.

You yourself would, I hope, perhaps feel inclined to present a proceeding of some sort; I mean a few remarks on the Obliquity of the Ecliptic, or whatever may be momently on your mind.

Just for the fun of starting trouble, I am sending a copy of this both to Starrett and to Harold Latham of Macmillan; who will I'm sure see to it that each convive gets a presentation copy of the Book. (HSL please note!)

I hope I may assume that like Peterson the commissionaire, or No, it was Henry Baker, you are carrying a white goose and walking with a slight stagger. I note by the way three Henry Bakers in the Manhattan phone book. Should the BSI send a goose to Mrs. Henry Baker?? Perhaps

I am indelicate.

Yrs, dear sir


illegible sentence

Another copy of Smith’s letter provides the whole: “Best wishes, meanwhile, and to hell with the dotting of i’s and the crossing of t’s — it’s essential truth that counts, after all.”

    And there was a postscript: “P.S. I’ve finished the Gazetteer. It isn’t so hot, in my opinion — only about 400-500 place names, and many of the richest ones not geographical at all. Now that I have it, I don’t know what to do with it. I’ll send you a copy as soon as the typing is finished.”

Terms Dutch

Edgar W. Smith did not quote a price for the dinner on the postcard notice to the Irregulars. Perhaps he would have scared some off if he had: one surviving record suggests it was $7.50, which would have been staggering in 1940 (and a huge increase over the 1936 dinner’s $3.00). A cost estimate I recently saw for a businessman visiting New York in 1941 gave $3.35 a day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But other evidence suggests a more reasonable $5.00 for drinks and dinner that night, and perhaps the $7.50 included some ancillary costs as well.

Mailing List

Beginning in 1945, Titular Investitures were conferred at the annual dinners to denote membership in the BSI. Prior to that, membership was less clear a matter. Up to 1946, when The Baker Street Journal began, Edgar W. Smith as Buttons communicated with the membership through memoranda to the BSI, sometimes enclosing whatever membership list was current at the time.

    Only one of these lists has been found so far, dated December 5, 1940. The cover letter from Smith’s secretary at General Motors, R. V. Mouillerat, follows the list.

    That it was the first one Smith prepared is indicated by a letter to Christopher Morley dated three days later (November as the month, in Irregular Memories of the ’Thirties, p. 248, was in error): “I have added two names to the official membership list which I inherited from you and which governed attendance at the [1940 BSI] dinner: that of H. W. Bell, who was unaccountably omitted from the list of those invited to last January’s celebration; and that of Dr. Julian Wolff, whose notable Sherlockian maps qualify him, I think, beyond any suspicion of a doubt for membership. I hope in my menial capacity as Boots [sic], I have not, in doing this, incurred the wrath of my Gasogene and Tantalus.” Presumably the Morley list from which Smith worked was the 1935 one printed in Irregular Memories of the ‘Thirties (pp. 131-32).

    There are forty-eight names on the somewhat woolly list, below, and they bear some analysis, following Miss Mouillerat’s cover letter.




Bartlett, Edward R.       

c/o Richard E. Thibault, Inc.

10th Avenue & 37th Street, N.Y.C.

Bell, H. W.       

37 Brimmer Street, Boston, Mass.

Connolly, John J.       

Central Avenue, Scarsdale, New York

Davis, Elmer       

c/o Saturday Review of Literature

420 Madison Avenue,N.Y.C.

Davenport, Basil       

c/o Book of the Month Club

385 Madison Avenue, N.Y.C.

Dodge, Laurence P.       

Newbury, Mass.

Fadiman, Clifton       

c/o The New Yorker Magazine

25 West 43rd Street, N.Y.C.

Footner, Hulbert       

218 W. Lanvale Street, Baltimore, Md.

Force, C. Warren       

500 Fifth Avenue, New York City

Goodman, Dr. Charles       

11 West 42nd Street, N.Y.C.

Greig, Peter       

347 Madison Avenue, N.Y.C.

Henry, Frank       

2 Sutton Place South, N.Y.C.

Hall, William S.       

110 East 31st Street, N.Y.C.

Haycraft, Howard       

404 East 55th Street, N.Y.C.

Hazard, Harry William Jr.

83 Montague Place, Montclair, N.J.

Johnson, Malcolm

c/o Doubleday Doran

14 West 49th Street, N.Y.C.

Keddie, James, Sr.       

234 Clarendon Street, Boston, Mass.

Keddie, James, Jr.       

234 Clarendon Street, Boston, Mass.

Kennerley, Mitchell       

15 East 53rd Street, N.Y.C.

Latham, Harold S.       

c/o The Macmillan Company

60 Fifth Avenue, New York City

Leavitt, Robert K.       

31 Walbrooke Road, Scarsdale, N.Y.

Longwell, Dan       

c/o Life Magazine

Rockefeller Center, N.Y.C.

Mansbridge, F. R.       

c/o The Macmillan Company

60 Fifth Avenue, N.Y.C.

Martland, Dr. Harrison

Newark City Hospital, Newark, N.J.

(Office of Medical Examiner)

Morley, F. V.       

Harcourt Brace & Company

383 Madison Avenue, N.Y.C.

Morley, Felix       

Haverford College, Haverford, Pa.

Morley, Christopher       

c/o Saturday Review of Literature

420 Madison Avenue, N.Y.C.

Officer, Harvey

681 Lexington Avenue, N.Y.C.

Price, Allan M.       

72 Broad Street, N.Y.C.

Randall, David       

c/o Scribners Publishing Co.

597 Fifth Avenue, N.Y.C.

Reinke, Harrison L.       

Deerfield, Mass.

Robinson, H. M.

2 Beekman Place, New York City

Robinson, Stuart

913 N. 65th Street, Philadelphia, Pa.

Rosenbach, Dr. A. S. W.       

15 East 51st Street, N.Y.C.

Smith, Edgar W.

1775 Broadway (Room 1800) N.Y.C.

Starrett, Vincent       

222 W. Adams Street, Chicago, Illinois

Steele, Frederic Dorr

c/o The Players Club

16 Gramercy Park, N.Y.C.

Sterling, John C.       

c/o The McCall Company

230 Park Avenue, N.Y.C.

Stolper, B. J. R.       

509 West 121st Street, N.Y.C.

Strunsky, Simeon

c/o The New York Times

229 West 43rd Street, N.Y.C.

Swiggett, Howard

1264 Colonial Road, Hewlett, Long Island

Tunney, Gene       

230 Park Avenue, N.Y.C.

Underwood, Pierson

R.F.D. #1, Ridgefield, Conn.

Walbridge, Earle

14 East 73rd Street, N.Y.C.

Williams, Lawrence S.

121 Engle Street, Tenafly, N.J.

Winterich, John T.       

Brayton Park, Ossining, N.Y.

Woollcott, Alexander

450 East 52nd Street, N.Y.C.

Wolff, Dr. Julian       

69-09 108th Street, Forest Hills, N.Y.

Edgar W. Smith

1775 Broadway

New York


                             December 6, 1940

Dear Mr. Starrett:

With this note I am sending you a list of the members of the BAKER STREET IRREGULARS. I might tell you that the addresses may not be 100% correct, but I think you will find them O. K. except in a very few instances. This list has been compiled in a piecemeal fashion from many sources but as time goes on we hope to show improvement! Just for good measure I have included a list of the members of the FIVE ORANGE PIPS, too.

The extra copies of the DISTAFF SIDE OF BAKER STREET for Miss Longfellow are enclosed.

Mr. Smith is about the busiest person on earth at the moment, although he has taken time out to read your new book BOOKS ALIVE which he thinks is excellent. Just as soon as he gets a little breathing spell he is planning to write you a lengthy epistle. Meanwhile, he sends you his very cordial greetings.

Sincerely yours,

(R.V. Mouillerat)

Secretary to Mr. Edgar W. Smith

On this list are two hitherto-unsuspected names, B. J. R. Stolper and Howard Swiggett, respectively a professor of English at Columbia University who scandalized his colleagues by contending that literature should be taught by writers, and a novelist well-known in his day, with links to the New York Police Commissioner, and later to certain cryptic wartime British missions in New York. Christopher Morley cited Swiggett in an Irregular way once, in his March 4, 1939, “Trade Winds” column. But beyond that, their Irregular con-nections in 1940 are a mystery, and their names do not appear again in surviving Irregular records.

    The other names on Smith’s list are familiar ones, though some of them are surprises to see here. They can be classified by a number of categories (some fitting under more than one):

The Morley Boys: Christopher, Felix, and Frank.

Three Hours for Lunch Club & Grillparzer Sittenpolizei Verein: Elmer Davis, Charles Goodman, W. S. Hall, Mitchell Kennerley, Robert K. Leavitt, and Gene Tunney, plus at least one other, non-fiction and mystery writer Hulbert Footner, whose only known connection with the BSI is his name on this 1940 list.

Morley’s Doubleday, Doran cronies: Frank Henry, Malcolm Johnson, Dan Longwell.

Sherlock Holmes Crossword solvers: Edward Bartlett, Basil Davenport, Laur-ence Dodge, C. Warren Force, Harry Hazard, Harvey Officer, Allan Price, Harrison Reinke, Stuart Robinson, and Earle Walbridge. (A few names in other categories were also men who had sent the Saturday Review of Literature correct solutions to Frank Morley's 1934 Sherlock Holmes Crossword: Elmer Davis, Malcolm Johnson, and Vincent Starrett.)

Notables at the 1934 dinner: H. W. Bell, Vincent Starrett, and Frederic Dorr Steele.

Members by 1935, according to Morley's list that year: Ronald Mansbridge, Harrison Martland, John Sterling, Lawrence Williams. (A few men on that 1935 list, one or two of whom had been at the ’34 and ’36 dinners, are absent from Smith’s 1940 list, for reasons unknown except for the humorist Don Marquis, who had died in the interim. The most surprising absence in 1940 is Dr. Gray Chandler Briggs of St. Louis, one of the great early figures in Sherlockiana (see “Dear Starrett—”/“Dear Briggs—” and Irregular Memories of the ’Thirties). Others are Henry H. Jackson of Barre, Vermont, a Crossword solver, and Morley’s friend and Grillparzer crony Buckminster Fuller.

Members by the 1936 dinner: Pierson Underwood, the musicologist. (Also ab-sent on Smith’s 1940 list, among those who had been at the 1936 dinner, was writer-editor Henry James Forman, who attended the 1940 dinner too, perhaps as a contributor to 221B: Studies in Sherlock Holmes. His paper “The Creator of Holmes in the Flesh” reads as if it had originally been a talk — perhaps at the ’36 dinner, about which we have few details.

Ones who came into the BSI at the 1940 dinner: John Connolly, Peter Greig, Howard Haycraft, James Keddie (his son James Jr. also appears on this list, though he would not attend the annual dinner for another year or two), David Randall, and Edgar W. Smith himself.

Added after the 1940 dinner: Julian Wolff.

    A few more details about some of these Irregulars of the ’30s and ’40s can be provided now, for the record. C. Warren Force (died 1959) was in the tar business — founder and chairman of the Hydrocarbon Products Company, Inc., and a director and the treasurer of the Tar Distilling Company and Old Colony Tar Company at the time of his death. Allan M. Price (died 1943) was manager for domestic sales at the American Bank Note Company. Lawrence S. Williams (died 1940), who brought his son Peter to the 1940 BSI dinner, was art director at the American Book Company, a well-known book and print collector, and an author of children’s travel books. (It was he who suggested Rex Stout as a good speaker at the 1941 BSI dinner, to refute Somerset Maugham’s recently-published denigration of the Sherlock Holmes stories.)

    Of other names on this list, Harold Latham was, as we have seen, Trade Editor at the Macmillan Company responsible for publishing 221B: Studies in Sherlock Holmes. Some were literary friends whom Morley liked to count as Irregulars. Clifton Fadiman had been a protégé of Morley’s at the Saturday Review of Literature, and was a fellow Book of the Month Club judge and panelist on the radio show Information, Please! (See Smith’s letter to Morley of December 29, 1939, on p. 3 above.) A. S. W. Rosenbach was a great bookseller and book collector, and a mentor of Morley’s. Henry Morton Robinson was a popular writer whose 1943 Saturday Review article about the BSI, “Baker Street Irregularities,” was reprinted in Irregular Memories of the ’Thirties. Simeon Strunsky at the New York Times, “dean of grammarians,” as Morley liked to call him, had been on the 1935 membership list as well, though he (like Rosenbach) never attended a BSI dinner. John Winterich was a prominent critic who had also been a colleague of Morley’s at the Saturday Review of Literature.

    The most surprising name on Smith’s list is Alexander Woollcott. Since Smith was working from a list supplied by Morley — Woollcott’s name was on the 1935 list, but crossed off on the only copy surviving to be printed in the September 1960 Baker Street Journal — we must wonder about the legend of Woollcott cast out into utter darkness after crashing the 1934 dinner, and publishing his mocking account of it in The New Yorker. Robert K. Leavitt swore to this version of history in “The Origin of 221B Worship,” his 1961 memoir of the BSI’s early years. (See Irregular Memories of the ’Thirties for both articles.) Smith, on the other hand, clearly considered Woollcott an Irregular both before and after 1940. His inscription in the copy of Appointment in Baker Street that he sent Woollcott in 1939 read “To Alexander Woollcott in appreciation for loyal work as a Baker Street Irregular,” and in 1944, the year following Woollcott’s death, he referred to him in Profile by Gaslight (to Leavitt’s lasting annoyance) as a founder of the BSI. Would Smith have added Alexander Woollcott to the BSI’s membership list without consulting Christopher Morley? I think the odds are greater that Woollcott was on the list Morley had supplied.

    Still, one can’t be sure. In a letter to Morley on May 10, 1939, discussing the progress of 221B, Vincent Starrett mentioned that “Incidentally, I’ve included tentatively Woollcott’s bit on the Gillette dinner in 1934, from the New Yorker, as a sort of pendant to Fred Steele’s contribution from the same journal, which mentions the dinner. Do you approve? It is a rather good gossipy piece, with some good Holmes stories, including the Abdul Hamid yarn; and although slight it gives us W’s name for the table of contents, which [Simon & Schuster] thought would be a good selling point. All this in your ear. What do you think?” I have not seen Morley’s reply, but Woollcott’s New Yorker article about the 1934 dinner did not appear in 221B. (It did in the next BSI anthology, Edgar W. Smith’s Profile by Gaslight, but by then Woollcott had been dead a year, making Morley less likely to object that Woollcott might crash the BSI dinner a second time.)

    One or two names missing from the 1940 list indicate that even Edgar W. Smith had his organizational lapses. P. M. Stone of Waltham, Mass., had been in Sherlockian circles since the late ’Thirties, was a contributor to 221B, and had at-tended the 1940 dinner — as he would the ’41 dinner a month after this list. Other veteran BSIs-to-be not on it, but at the ’41 dinner and many more to come, were Philip Duschnes the bookseller, Charles Honce the A.P. editor, and James Nelson the publishing executive. One more missing name, William C. Weber, had been at the 1936 dinner, and the 1940 too, despite the silence of Smith’s minutes on that score.

    The real dog in the night-time is the absence of any but Smith from The Five Orange Pips. It was not until 1945 that any of the original Pips — Gordon Knox Bell, Richard Clarke, Owen Frisbie, Norman Ward, and Frank Waters — began to attend the BSI’s dinners. The Five Orange Pips had been founded in 1935 independently of the BSI, perhaps in blissful ignorance of its existence; and for ten years they regarded the BSI as the lesser body. Smith eventually coaxed the Pips into the BSI, and then struggled to save them in 1947 when Christopher Morley felt the BSI had grown too large and unruly.

Books Alive

This was a 1940 collection of essays by Vincent Starrett, published by Random House, with an “Unconventional Index” by Christopher Morley. Starrett later used the title for his bookman’s column in the Chicago Tribune, which appeared Sundays for some twenty-five years.

The Canonical Toasts

At the 1940 dinner, some strange things happened to the Irregular toasts. In the first place, they were declared no longer canonical but Conanical — Christopher Morley’s whimsical way of tipping his hat to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in his son Denis’s presence. Next, the toast to “Mycroft” is missing. Third, the wording of another one is not what Elmer Davis’s BSI Constitution & Buy-Laws calls for: “The Second Mrs. Watson” is the correct formulation, not the corrupted “Dr. Watson's Second Wife,” an error which has persisted.

    More serious still, two more toasts stipulated by our Constitutional ar-rangements are absent altogether, and missing ever since. Robert K. Leavitt, BSI by way of the Grillparzer Club well before 1934, railed about it to Julian Wolff many years later, when Wolff had succeeded Smith as the BSI’s Commissionaire. “Has nobody ever made the point of legal order,” he demanded to know in a letter dated November 5, 1966,

that all these dinners are unconstitutional for lack of one Conanical toast specified in the original Elmer Davis document as recorded in the Saturday Review of Literature of Jan 27, 1934? That roster, as you can see by consulting library files of the S.R.L., occurs in the “Bowling Green” [column] of that date. It reads, “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 own overtones for all genuine Sherlockians, were:— ‘Mrs. Hudson,’ ‘Mycroft,’ ‘The Second Mrs. Watson,’ ‘The Game Is Afoot!’ and ‘The Second Most Dangerous Man in London.’” These were suggestions, if you will, at the original meeting, but they were approved, and the Davis Document makes them Constitutional. Why, then, the omission of “The Second Most Dangerous Man”? As a charter member, I call for a prompt and continued honoring of the wise provisions of The Founding Fathers.

And when Wolff inquired about this, Leavitt explained, on November 16, 1966:

As to The Second Most Dangerous Man: The query about his identity 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!”  As him and dare him, for me, to deny it.

Orthodox Coal-Scuttle

Resting imposingly on the long table at which the BSI dined on January 30, 1940, was an “orthodox coal-scuttle,” authentically Victorian, which James P. Keddie had hauled from Boston by train for the occasion. Keddie spoke about it that night, according to Edgar W. Smith’s minutes. Keddie, who had come from Scotland as a child, had a particular interest in this Baker Street relic in which Sherlock Holmes kept his cigars. When Christopher Morley had wondered a few years before why Holmes would keep cigars in such an ostensibly inappropriate place, Keddie replied in a letter which Morley printed in his “Bowling Green” column in the June 27, 1936, Saturday Review of Literature:

The coal box was an ornament, and in it were stored such details of fireside comfort as slippers, unread magazines and so forth. Why not cigars? An uncle of mine who must have been a contemporary of Watson in Edinburgh continued to put the sundries of his evening comfort in the coal box — which never had held coal — until his death a few years ago. It was, I tell you, an ornamental piece of furniture, and when the fire needed replenishing, the bell-pull at the end of the mantel-piece brought the servant lassie from the kitchen with a cannily measured “scuttle” of coal, from which the fire was fed with great daintiness and dexterity. I have in my possession a coal box which to my knowledge is nearly fifty years old, but which, until it fell into the hands of the philistines in this country had never held so much as a spoonful of coal. In that instance, the coal box, which stood by the fireplace chair, had been used by my mother and by my grandmother before her for the odds and ends of sewing and knitting utensils that a Scotswoman picks up in the afternoon that even her time of rest may not be entirely wasted! No, no, my dear sir! You must concede Holmes his coal box.

    Although Keddie was a contributor to 221B: Studies in Sherlock Holmes, he came close to missing the 1940 dinner until Morley unearthed his address barely ten days before. That was getting late to make plans to attend, apologized Morley; but Keddie made it nonetheless. Edgar W. Smith sat next to Keddie at the dinner, and the two men hit it off — less than three months later, Smith was in Boston to join the Keddies Sr. and Jr., P. M. Stone, and H. W. Bell at the Victoria Hotel, to found the BSI’s first scion society, The Speckled Band of Boston.

Starrett’s Telegram

Because of money, and his second wife’s health, Vincent Starrett never made it back to New York for a BSI dinner after the one in 1934. On the occasion of the 1940 dinner, however, the editor of 221B: Studies in Sherlock Holmes was not even in Chicago, a mere overnight run on the 20th Century Limited to New York. He was across the prairies and over the Rockies in Reno, Nevada, in the process of getting a divorce from his first wife, Lillian Hartsig, in the days when six weeks’ residence in “The Biggest Little City in the World” was the quickest way.

    But Starrett wished to be at the BSI dinner, which was in honor of his new book, and he sent the following night letter to the Irregulars:

Researches in Reno while keeping Holmes fire burning promise large disclosures in future yearbooks stop Circumstances leading to Watson's fourth and seventh marriages suggested by revelations here stop Oldest inhabitant recalls elderly tallish man called Altamont who once segregated three queens unethically while game was afoot and barely escaped with hen pheasant's life stop  Greetings to Irregulars and warn them to avoid first and second cabs the third may be safe     VINCENT STARRETT

Good old Starrett! was the cry around the table.

Fully Autographed Copy of the Book

Edgar W. Smith’s minutes say that “The meeting voted simultaneously to send greetings and a fully autographed copy of the book to Mr. Starrett, an action which, in the preoccupations which ensued, was probably not accomplished.” But other Irregulars’ copies did make the rounds of the table. Some of them have survived, and are quite interesting. Pictured in their entirety are the signatures in Harry Hazard’s copy of 221B

Bill Hall’s copy bears the affectionate raspberry Christopher Morley often sent his old friend’s way.

It also bears the notation “$5.00 cash” which was probably the true cost of the evening. (Not of the book, which was $2.50, and compliments of the publisher that night.) James Keddie’s copy bears a drawing of Sherlock Holmes by Frederic Dorr Steele, probably one of his 60-second specials. 

Jim Keddie Jr. published it later on the program for the 1946 Speckled Band dinner. Steele’s hand was steady, but some signatures show signs of having been inscribed a few rounds of drinks later. From a “This is my book—Damn it!!” in J. W. “Tommy” Thomson’s copy, he seems to have had difficulty getting it back. In that same copy, William C. Weber declared himself “Judge Lynch,” his pen-name as chief mystery book reviewer in the Saturday Review of Literature. (See Howard Haycraft’s introductory note to Judge Lynch’s essay in Haycraft’s Art of the Mystery Story, 1946.)

Fanciful Menu of the Evening

The pattern followed by the BSI for quite a few years thereafter, of oysters (“shall the world be overrun by”), pea soup (as in London fog), curried chicken (minus one ingredient as served in “Silver Blaze”), and a sweet, was set by Christopher Morley whose handwritten draft of the printed menu has survived. (Perhaps it was a grin at his brother Felix, the international affairs expert who would be speaking at the dinner on “The Adventure of the Second Stain,” that fog lay thickest in the government quarter in the menu’s Pea Soup Whitehall. Of course, the postwar nickname for the new State Department building in Washington, D.C., to this day, is “Foggy Bottom,” and not from the old name of the particular district alone.)

Letter from Steele about this drawing

The quotation from this letter, taken from an article by the artist’s son, was incomplete. The full text now seen indicates that Steele was referring not to the drawing for the 1940 menu, but to the later one done for the 1943 BSI dinner, from “The ‘Gloria Scott’,” which the BSI History series uses for its covers now.The full quotation is “I had an absurdly hard struggle with my Sherlock (who was supposed to be producing the missing story, worse luck). I tore up two or three attempts to do it from an old drawing, finally put on my old dressing gown and posed for it in the mirror.” The parenthetical passage which had been missing held the clue.

Frank, in from London

Frank V. Morley had been in town a couple of years now. After some years as an editor at Faber & Faber in London (where he had published S.C. Roberts’ Doctor Watson in 1931, and had shared offices with another Sherlockian, T. S. Eliot), FVM had returned to New York in 1938 to be trade editor at the Harcourt, Brace company.

Randall, from Scribner’s Bookshop

“Dave Randall, of Scribner’s Rare Books Dept.,” said Christopher Morley’s “Trade Winds” column of February 10, 1940, “celebrated the recent convention of the Baker Street Irregulars by showing in a Fifth Avenue window some of Vincent Starrett’s remarkable collection of Holmes and Watson firsts. This meeting was held to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Sherlock Holmes’s first appearance in American ink (Lippincott’s Magazine, February 1890).” Not a great way to sell copies of the real reason for the 1940 dinner, Vincent Starrett’s 221B: Studies in Sherlock Holmes — especially since lack of funds had forced Starrett to sell that superb collection of his the year before! Randall hoped to resell it intact to someone, perhaps a library where it would be available for scholarly use, but in 1943 finally offered it up piecemeal. To do so, he and Starrett produced a catalogue still highly desirable for its own sake, both for the many splendid items at what today seem sheer giveaway prices, and for the rich canonical fantasy which Starrett and Randall wrote into it.

    Meanwhile, Starrett was already building a new Sherlock Holmes collection, with a big start in August 1940 from Logan Clendening.  (See Irregular Records of the Early ’Forties.)

Nearly the Last Time

When this was written in 1990, the hope was that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s sur-viving child, Dame Jean, might come to New York for a BSI dinner. Dame Jean Conan Doyle did not share her brothers’ antipathy toward the Baker Street Irregulars, and in fact was pleased to accept membership in 1991. But age and health problems stood in the way of the trip. Her death in 1997 brought the Conan Doyle line to an end.

“Keddie Sent Me a Jolly Letter”

about the dinner, as did Christopher Morley several times before and after. Here, in chronological order, are Vincent Starrett’s letter to Morley of December 27, 1939, Morley’s to Starrett of January 2nd and January 16th, 1940, Morley’s of February 1st reporting the dinner, and James Keddie’s exuberant February 7th letter. All three of Morley’s were typed by his secretary Elizabeth Winspear, who added a little greeting of her own to one of them.)

    Morley and Keddie were old friends of Starrett’s. Keddie, a publisher of his as well, at the company where he was vice-president, took it upon himself each year to write Starrett a report of the dinner. His son James Keddie Jr. took over the pleasant chore upon his father’s death in November 1942.

222 W. Adams St


[HL]                                      27 Dec: 1939

Dear Chris —

Alas! On January 30, barring accidents, I shall be four weeks along in a Reno residence of six, in an effort to procure a divorce which will enable me to marry Ray. You will understand that I can't, therefore, be in New York on that date. Can't we make it later? After all, the actual day is not important. Suit will be filed as soon as possible after my residence (six weeks) is established; and if there is no opposition there will be no delay. If we are met with hostility, the case will have to be argued, and I've no way of knowing how long it might take.

All this within your ear; but the circumstances being what they are, you will understand why I can't be any place but Reno on January 30.

I could and would, of course, if the dinner were postponed, keep you posted as to developments, and the probable time I should be free to make a New York visit.

Sorry to be a spoilsport; but the other thing is imperative and very near my heart.

Failing all, why not go ahead without me?

All thanks for Christmas wishes and the jolly leaflet. And regards to all the B.S.I.


(Vincent Starrett)

The Saturday Review of Literature

420 Madison Avenue, New York City

[TL]                                January 2, 1940


It is very grievous that January 30 is not possible for you but of course one understands. The feeling here is that we had better have our dinner anyway, as the members are eager. Latham writes me from Macmillan that he will see that a complimentary copy goes to everyone. We will try to keep the actual dinner within the blood royal, but as soon as it has taken place Macmillan can make good boblicity out of it to help the book.

I know what a painful time you are going through, old son; all my affectionate sympathy. I suggest you write me a long pointillistic message which I can read at the meeting.

Yours for newer and better decades,

(Christopher Morley)

The Saturday Review of Literature

420 Madison Avenue, New York City

[TL]                              January 16, 1940


I have the most superb theory: my brother Frank says it's another example of the Binomial thesis: the only accounting for contradictory allusions to Mrs. Watson's mother and aunt is that these two ladies were twins. That accounts for the Doctor's confusion: he never knew which one his wife was visiting. This will be broken on the world at the dinner.

My brother Felix has a subtle scheme which he will bring direct from the State Department in Washington.

You and Latham and Edgar Smith are making a mountain out of a moudiewarp. There are no errata that cannot be decently covered in a small, tipped-in slip. Jesusgod, I will prepare slip myself. It will identify the first edition.

Now don't worry about anything but set your thews upon writing me a notable communiqué which can be read at the meeting. Blessings, old horse!

Yours, the Molehilleer,

(Christopher Morley)

(per Wini - Hey!)

The errata slip in 221B, as by Jane Nightwork, reads: “In the unavoidable absence of the Editor, a volunteer hand must call attention to the curious incident of what the Proofreader did in the night-time. Indoctrinated students will deduce that (by an innocent misunderstanding) a portion of this work was set from unrevised copy, and this first edition will remain identifiable by a number of irregularities, notably in Mr Edgar Smith’s valuable concordance. Anomalies inseparable as between the traditional British and American texts are impossible to reconcile: e.g., is it Riding Thorpe or Ridling Thorpe? was it the first Mrs. Watson’s mother, or her aunt, whom she was visiting at the time of the Five Orange Pips? But, simply to put the reader on the alert, a few obvious corrections may be noted” — and Miss Nightwork, perennial Ph.D. candidate at McGill University, went on to provide five, which readers may look up for themselves.

The Saturday Review of Literature

420 Madison Avenue, New York City

[TL]                                      February 1, 1940

                          (Dictated Jan. 31)


Everybody is too pooped this morning to be able to give you any intelligible report but I must let you know at once that the evening was a grand success in every way. We sat down 36 in number; your telegram was read and loudly applauded. Macmillan sent up a copy of the book for everyone; there was a charming letter from Cecil Forester which I will show you at opportunity; and my brother Felix came from Washington to read a really admirable paper on the significance of the Second Stain.

The only sadness is that I intended to have a copy signed for you by all those present, and in the general uproar this did not get done. However, it was signed by several at a most successful meeting of the Irene Adler division or Ladies' Auxiliary held immediately after the dinner. This is going to you by mail.

Yours always,

(Christopher Morley)



The John Newbery Press

234 Clarendon Street, Boston, Mass.

[TL]                                February 7 1940


My dear Starrett:

Since you seem not to have heard the news, I am sending this by pony express so that you may know at once that the Irregulars met, feasted, d---k, and thought of you. Copies of 221-B were distributed and autographed more or less by all present, and a jolly good time was H. by A.

Morley was in great fettle, as indeed was Uncle Felix also. Frank made a speech about something or other. "But after all," said he, "there are delicacies, there are shades, there are nuances, there are niceties..." He insisted on describing himself (his oration came late) as "The Third Garrideb"; which, all things considered, wasn't bad!

And Edgar Smith had an exciting item to exhibit: The covers (the

book itself had been lost) of an obviously old copy of "Side Lights on Horace" by Dr. Thorneycroft Huxtable. I carried a coal scuttle of the Baker Street variety to New York, and it was placed in triumph, and, I hope, in complete vindication of Watson's reporting, in the middle of the table - we kept the cigars in it. Or rather, we PUT them in it; they didn't keep!

But, alas, there was the shadow of Professor Moriarty on the party.

You had been detained, and the chef had apparently been "got at." He had prepared a curry for us. Now, as Holmes has pointed out, Curry is an excellent disguise for the taste of opium, and (you remember) would be the logical flavor to use in food into which opium was to be introduced. Mrs. Hudson's dog not being available, we tried it on a guest who said that ours "was a purely artificial science" (whatever that is). Alas, he survived - and we ate the curry!

Denis Conan Doyle made a neat little address in which he stuck to the tradition of the Irregulars and told us about his father's acquaintance with Holmes. He said that his father had known Holmes very intimately, and he even went so far as to say that Holmes's mental processes had influenced his father's thinking. He mentioned that his father also had known Dr. Watson, but probably not so well - at least he didn't seem to understand him as well as he did Holmes.

Frank [Felix — Ed.] Morley proved (I think!) that Watson's clear-sightedness had enabled him to envision Chamberlain and Anthony Eden, and he read descriptions of the callers at Baker Street in the matter of "The Second Stain" that quite bore him out. He also suggested that only Hitler could have written the impetuous and irresponsible letter which caused all the trouble.

Of course Christopher himself in person (but he WAS a moving picture!) was the glowing heart of the nebulae. It was an epic night, and quite the most stimulating evening I've had for some time.

And, by the way, I think having vindicated Watson in the matter of the coal scuttle, it now behooves me to vindicate him in the Persian Slipper. I have found a place in New York where they "sometimes" have them; and another place where they do have the Moroccan slippers which they DO sell SINGLY now and then! Ah! for what purpose? Would you settle for a Moroccan Slipper, my dear Starrett?

Somebody took a picture of the crowd at the beginning of the affair. I haven't seen my copy of it, but the proof was all right. Have you arranged for a copy, or shall I send you one - or get one and hold it for you?

Of course I'll hold your JOURNEYS for you! Just say when!

BOOKS ALIVE: Man, oh man, WHAT a title, and doubly good for your book because none has a greater faculty for bringing books ALIVE than you. Good luck to it! And, yes, I'll hang on to the remaining two chapters I have and use them (I am sure) before your book goes into print.

Meantime your second Desert Island article is in the hands of our make-up editor. It should be out not much later than March first. By the way, if she has to trim it down a little, would you mind too much? It shall be treated tenderly, and any excisions will be made so as to leave no scar. I hope it won't have to be done at all!

Odd you should use the Wordsworthian phrase about "The world being

too much with you." I hadn't seen or thought of that for ages - until yesterday! And there it is again in your letter today! But don't, my dear Starrett! Don't LET it! Take a long view, look at the stars, and remember that we all die. It's good advice, and I have taken it myself in moderate doses from time to time, and always with good effect. By the way, it's the only bit of sense in an otherwise nonsensically delightful book. The words are uttered by the butler. I don't recall his name - nor the name of the book. Do you happen to?*

With affectionate greeting and the best of good wishes,


(James P. Keddie)

*"Serena Blandish"  [in Starrett’s handwriting — Ed.]

All the Best to You

Edgar W. Smith’s reply to Starrett’s letter of February 27th (p. 9) introduces an-other Irregular, Dr. Julian Wolff, who after Smith’s death in 1960 would lead the BSI for many years.

Edgar W. Smith

1775 Broadway

New York

[TL]                                    March 7, 1940

Dear Starrett:

I was glad to get your note of February 27th, and to learn from it that you may be coming back East soon.

I haven't heard how "221-B" is selling, but the reviews have been very good. Did you know that Simon & Schuster are bringing out "The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars"? What can that possibly be about, and who, if anyone, is done in?

Since the first draft of the Gazetteer, I have added about 150 more names - still without resorting to bars or theatres - but more important, I have fallen in with Dr. Julian Wolff, who made a couple of neat little maps of spots in the stories about a year ago (I asked him at the time to send copies to you), and he is doing a bang-up job with London, England, the Continent and the world - creations that will be well worth framing and hanging. We are thinking of putting out the Gazetteer together about June 1st, as a private effort, illustrated with reductions of these maps, which would really touch it off. I'll see that you get copies of the first tirages of the maps, in a couple of weeks or so.

Wolff showed me an item he has from the American Journal of Surgery

for March, 1936. I had photostats made of it, and am sending you a copy herewith, in case you haven't seen it.

Of the Gazetteer, more anon. Of course it will need an introduction! And where, in all conscience, can I turn? 

All the best to you, and I hope we shall see you here soon.


Edgar W. Smith

Irene Adler Division

In his February 29, 1940, letter to Edgar W. Smith, Vincent Starrett said:

The B.S.I. affair must have been a masterpiece. The turnout seems to have been impressive. There was a short session of the Irene Adler division here in Reno, at which I presided - Basil Rathbone being at the Wigwam Theatre in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Miss Adler (pro tem) was the only other member present; a satisfactory arrangement.

“Miss Adler (pro tem)” in Reno that night, January 30, 1940, is suspected (by me, at any rate) to have been Miss Ann Ross of Reno, Nevada, his lawyer’s secretary there. Starrett had the highest opinion of Miss Ross and Mr. Anthony Turano as people as well as professionals, they clearly reciprocated, and he socialized with them during his weeks in Reno. In his previously cited 1942 letter to Esther Longfellow, when she was anticipating some work in Reno, Starrett said: “Ann is also a newspaper woman. They are both admirable human beings, and Tony is a writer of some excellence. . . . Ask Turano anything you want to know about the place. He’s a good guide and he has a fine philosophy, in spite of the fact (or perhaps because of it) that he’s a divorce lawyer. He’s more finely-fibered than most of the other lawyers; and he and Ann are “nice people” too; you’ll need them for friendly, human companionship.”

    Who the members were of the Irene Adler Division with which Christopher Morley and other Irregulars convened immediately following the BSI dinner in New York is a mystery, however. But considerably clearer now is Edgar W. Smith’s closing line in his 1940 minutes: “the meeting adjourned to pursue its character studies of ‘A Scandal in Bohemia.’” Smith was not so much tactful as deliberately opaque when it came to BSI association with the Fair Sex. Readers of Irregular Records of the Early ’Forties will recall that the institution of “The Woman” during the annual dinner’s cocktail hour, begun in 1942, was disguised in his minutes by unrevealing references to “unrecorded preliminaries.”

A Picture of the Crowd

For many years, it was believed that BSI dinner photographs commenced after World War II, with the one of the 1946 dinner. And none have been found from 1941 through 1945, though some pictures were taken by others at the BSI’s special Trilogy Dinner at the Murray Hill Hotel on March 30, 1944. (See Ir-regular Proceedings of the Mid ’Forties.)

    So it was a surprise when James Keddie’s letter above referred to a dinner photo, and a thrill when a print turned up in the hands of Mary Hazard, daughter-in-law of the late Irregular whose it had been: Harry Hazard, a solver of the Sherlock Holmes Crossword in 1934.

The photograph captures the BSI at its moment of revival. Christopher Morley (still beardless at this time) is at the head of the table, in black tie, leaning to catch something Frederic Dorr Steele is saying to him. Morley’s brothers flank them on either side. Denis Conan Doyle is off to himself a bit in the corner; not intentionally perhaps, but capturing a sense of the remove between the Conan Doyle Estate and the BSI. Across the table from him, a nonchalant David Randall tilts his chair back, his hand stuck in his pocket. Edgar W. Smith is down the table on the opposite side, not yet at its head where he soon will be for the rest of his life. James Keddie sits next to him, and on the table nearby is the orthodox coal-scuttle he has brought from Boston. Copies of 221B: Studies in Sherlock Holmes litter the table. Standing against the wall are two of Morley’s closest friends, Bill Hall in deerstalker, and Robert K. Leavitt, whose Irregularity goes back to Grillparzer and Three Hours for Lunch Club days. Newcomers P. M. Stone and Howard Haycraft, sitting against the wall further down, preserve a serious demeanor. Across the table, Charlie Goodman and his brother Jack beam at the camera, while Mitchell Kennerley the bookman, who will take his own life ten years hence, studies the back of his hand somberly. Further down, Harvey Officer, soon to be the BSI’s first songster with his Irregular anthem “The Road to Baker Street,” smiles shyly at the camera. The owlish bespectacled man at the bottom of the picture may or may not be Elmer Davis; across from him, Earle Walbridge makes another appearance in what will long stand as the record for unbroken attendance at the annual dinners. Basil Davenport turns toward Peter Greig, as Ronald Mansbridge raises a wine-glass in salute.


1.  Earle Walbridge

2.  Peter Greig

3.  P. M. Stone

4.  Howard Haycraft

5.  Basil Davenport

6.  Ronald Mansbridge

7.  John Winterich

8.  William S. Hall

9.  John Connolly

10.  Robert K. Leavitt

11.  Henry James Forman?

12.  Edgar W. Smith

  1. 13. William C. Weber

14.  James P. Keddie

15.  Harry Hazard, Jr.

  1. 16. Denis P. S. Conan Doyle

  2. 17. J. W. Thomson?

  3. 18.Felix Morley

  4. 19. Frederic Dorr Steele


  1. 21. Christopher Morley

  2. 22.Frank V. Morley

  3. 23.

  4. 24.David A. Randall

  5. 25.Mitchell Kennerley

  6. 26.

  7. 27.Charles Goodman

  8. 28.

  9. 29.Jack Goodman

  10. 30.Harrison S. Martland

  11. 31.Pierson Underwood

  12. 32.Allan M. Price?

  13. 33.Harvey Officer

  14. 34.? [Elmer Davis?

35. N. V. Dimitrieff

Morley told Vincent Starrett that thirty-six had sat down to dinner. Thirty-five men appear in the photograph, and thirty-five names in Edgar W. Smith’s minutes.

    But to confound us, in the photograph are at least two men whose names are not in Smith’s minutes: William C. Weber (no. 13), a 1936 Irregular who will be around in the 1940s, and Dr. Jack Goodman (no. 29), in his sole known appearance at a BSI dinner. Their signatures are in surviving copies of 221B from that night. So are the signatures of two more men not named in Smith’s minutes, who may be among the unidentified faces in the picture: Ernest S. Colling, a former New York Evening Post colleague of Morley’s (its movie critic, who helped turn Morley’s 1922 novel Where the Blue Begins into a play in 1925), and H. W. [Henry Watson] Kent, secretary of the Metropolitan Museum of Art for many years, president of the Grolier Club from 1920-24, and a member there until his death in 1948.

    None of the seven surviving copies of 221B I have seen bears all the signatures of everyone we can say was at the dinner. Absent from all seven are the signatures of Elmer Davis, Malcolm Johnson, and Warren Jones, all of whose names are in Smith’s minutes. Davis and Johnson are familiar Irregular names, but Warren Jones remains an unknown. (So is N. V. Dimitrieff, identified by Harry Hazard as no. 35, although a Nikolai Dimitrieff of New York, 1890-1978, is listed in the Social Security Death Benefits archive.)

    Comparing signatures in one copy of 221B after another makes for further confusion Some men seem to have stayed glued to their seats throughout the signing session, as the copies of Starrett’s book made their way around the table, while others seem to have gotten up and roamed around the room, signing one copy here, another copy there. Or not signing some copies at all. (Or sometimes signing the same one twice, or even three times, as Mitchell Kennerley did Bill Hall’s copy.)

    Three particular signatures appear as a trio in one copy after another — James Keddie, Edgar W. Smith, Henry James Forman — making it likely that Forman is no. 11 in the photograph. On the same principle, if with less confidence, the likelihood is that no. 17 is J. W. Thomson, whom we do not know, and that no. 32 is Allan M. Price, the American Bank Note Company executive who had solved the Sherlock Holmes Crossword in 1934.

    When Edgar W. Smith took on the work of Buttons in January 1940, sending out dinner invitations to the rather casual list of members Christopher Morley provided, and preparing minutes afterward, it was all new to him. This was his first BSI dinner and he was meeting virtually all these men for the first time that night. How well he managed to associate names with faces that evening, when high spirits and hard spirits were the order of the day, is unclear. Of all his twenty years of writing up BSI dinner minutes, it seems safe to say that this is the one most likely to contain some errors in the list of attendees.

    Elmer Davis is an annoying case in point. His name appears in Smith’s minutes, but his signature does not in any of the seven surviving copies of 221B. Is the owlish man at no. 34 in the dinner photograph Davis or not? There is certainly a resemblance, but there are also doubts. Elmer Davis was perhaps the best known national celebrity in the BSI at the time, from his work as a CBS radio newsman. Following the dinner, Harry Hazard prepared a partial key to the photograph.Elmer Davis is not on it, and the face at no. 34 went unidentified. Davis and Hazard had been at the 1936 dinner together — their signatures are both on a surviving copy of that night’s menu.

    How many attended the 1940 dinner? Morley said thirty-six. Smith said thirty-five. On the basis of the signatures in the seven copies of 221B, thirty-six. On the basis of the signatures plus the dinner photograph, thirty-seven, if that is Elmer Davis at no. 34. Take your pick.

    Bill Vande Water has picked up where Harry Hazard left off, and carried on with his typical valiant job of assigning names to faces, but a few remain unidentified. Some names do not appear on either the 1935 or 1940 membership lists, and we will not see them again after this night. Others we shall see again and again, for years to come. A few of them, Irregulars active today were able to know in person before they fell from the ranks.

    One of them is still among us.

Closing Memories

It is nearly fifty-nine years since that night. Yet one man there — the man with the dapper mustache, raising a wine-glass in salute — is still in the ranks. Ronald Mansbridge was born in England in 1905, attended Cambridge University, and came to the United States in 1928 to teach at Barnard College. In 1930 he was appointed Cambridge University Press’s representative here, a position he held for forty years. He arrived in New York with a letter of introduction to Christopher Morley in his pocket; and, with no less a Holmesian than S. C. Roberts as a mentor back home, found himself a Baker Street Irregular on Morley’s 1935 membership list. He attended the annual dinner for the first time in 1936, and is the only living person to have attended BSI dinners at both the Murray Hill Hotel and, before that, Christ Cella’s speakeasy. His “Profile of a New York Irregular,” about Basil Davenport, appeared in Irregular Proceedings of the Mid ’Forties. Mr. Mans-bridge lives in Connecticut, and it is an honor to publish the following reminiscence here.

“Dinner, Christopher Morley”

— Ronald Mansbridge —

The Baker Street Irregulars in the 1930s. What can I remember? Heavens, what can I remember?

    Very little. Of course no one of my generation can forget the overwhelming, all-pervading atmosphere of the Depression, the atmosphere of fear, fear for one’s job, fear for all one’s friends, half of whom were out of work.

    Even if you had a job, you were likely to be desperately poor. Baker Street Irregulars dinner? Good Lord, it’s gone up to $5 this year. Can’t be done. Well, maybe it could go on the expense account. Surely the treasurer would think it highly “irregular.” But I could put down “dinner, Christopher Morley.” That would look ok. Let’s try it.

    The photograph — I’ve been having enormous fun, showing my friends what I looked like nearly sixty years ago. I’m No. 6, sitting next to my old friend Basil Davenport, who has another old friend of mine, Peter Greig, on his right.

    Whom do I remember? Well, naturally, Morley first and foremost. When I arrived in New York in 1928, I had a letter of introduction to Chris from Sheldon Dick, whom I knew at Corpus, Cambridge. I was not a dedicated Holmesian then, but my mentor, S. C. Roberts, was. I met him when I was an undergraduate at Cambridge, attending his lectures on Samuel Johnson, but it was in publishing that he made his reputation. He was Secretary to the Syndics of Cambridge University Press from 1922 to 1948, and more than any other one man he had brought the University Press out of the academic backwaters into the mainstream of publishing. He had given me my job there. He was the author of A Note on the Watson Problem, 100 copies, privately printed at the Cambridge U.P. in 1929. I still have my copy. He could be serious, but never solemn; the lighter side of letters and life appealed to him, and he became prominent in the affairs of both Sherlock Holmes Societies (pre-war and post-war) in England. He ended up with two-thirds of a column in Who’s Who, and many honors: Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge, Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University, and finally Sir Sydney. But to those who knew him well, and loved him, he was always “S. C.,” bluff, friendly but business-like, at ease in any company and in any country — even riding a camel in Egypt, winning a race against another one ridden by an Oxford man.

    I was also given a bit of a nudge by Archie Macdonell, who founded the first Sherlock Holmes Society in England in June 1934. Archie was in the States late that year in connection with his book England, Their England, published here by Cambridge U.P.’s distributor in America, Macmillan, which enabled him to go to the first BSI annual dinner that December. I missed that one, but I happened to follow Archie on a trip across America, about a week behind him, staying at some of the same hotels. It was clear that he had made quite an impression; at one hotel they asked me whether I wanted whisky for breakfast.

    Chris Morley was genial and friendly — especially to those who were young and unknown. But everybody knows that. Can I think of anything new about him? One little episode, perhaps. Cambridge University Press had published Shakespeare’s Imagery and What It Tells Us by Caroline Spurgeon, and I wanted to get publicity for it. In those days the very best place to get a book mentioned was Morley’s “Trade Winds” column in the Saturday Review of Literature. Spurgeon showed the kind of man Shakespeare must have been by tabulating all the metaphors and similes he used, showing him to be familiar with the countryside, gardens, and domestic animals. My wife and I spent three long evenings reading four of Morley’s books and doing the same to him. We came up with a most impressive chart, showing Morley’s mind turned most often to “Food and Drink.” For example, in describing forsythia, he would write “It gleamed in the sun like a plate of scrambled eggs.” We were rewarded with nearly half a page in “Trade Winds.”

    Who else? My friend Basil Davenport, the one man I knew who literally lived in a garret, in the depths of the Depression, supporting himself by writing for that same Saturday Review of Literature — precariously, because the Saturday Review didn’t always have the money to pay contributors. Basil was too proud to accept money from a rich aunt Juliet; but he did let her pay his membership dues at the Yale Club, which he called “the most inclusive club in New York,” and which he liked because he could take their thick correspondence cards and cut them to fit inside his shoes perfectly when the soles wore out.

    And Peter Greig. Peter was a charmer, large bodily, always smiling, confident. Like so many others, he was hit by the Depression, but made ends meet by doing public relations work for various and sundry. Later he started Greig Lawrence & Hoyt, importing whisky from Scotland; I remember the bestselling brand was Loch Fyne — not one of the better whiskies, but at a fairly low price, which was of importance to most of us then. He was the BSI’s food-and-drink expert, and worked with me on the annual Oxford and Cambridge dinners in New York too. We played a game to see who would be the first to telephone the other each year on December 16th, with the words “O Sapienta,” which we always found on that day in our Cambridge Pocket Diaries. We thought it began one of the Collects in the Prayer Book; but we were puzzled at its having a special day. Others at our table thought us quite mad!

    I remember David Randall, and discussion of the cash value of certain Sherlock Holmes first editions. And Elmer Davis. I remember an animated discussion with him once about a book on Horace we had published at Cambridge University Press. I was embarrassed because he knew so much more than I did about the content of the book.

    On the list of members I see Dr. A. S. W. Rosenbach, the great book collector. I don’t remember his attendance at any of the BSI dinners; but I recall vividly that when we would meet him at dinner at the St. Regis Hotel with that most generous host, Howard Goodhart, Rosenbach always had a full bottle of whisky at his place at the table, while the rest of us drank wine. At least the bottle was full at the beginning of dinner.

    Howard S. Latham was the senior editor of the trade department at the Macmillan Company. Although he didn’t attend the dinner, he made arrange-ments for copies of 221B: Studies in Sherlock Holmes to be distributed at the dinner.

    The man who got me started in all this Sherlock Holmes stuff was not present at the dinner. He was back in England — S. C. Roberts, author of A Note on the Watson Problem, and then Doctor Watson, which Frank Morley at Faber & Faber published. It was S. C. who first gave me my job with Cambridge University Press, and I’m sure he would have approved of my putting that $5 on my expense account.

Return to Essays

Return to the Welcome page