The Friendship Between

Christopher Morley and Buckminster Fuller

Louise Morley Cochrane

(Privately printed in the U.K. by Sidaway & Barry, 2015), 158 pp.

Written by Christopher Morley’s daughter Louise before her death in 2012, and brought out between covers now by her children, to the benefit of we who care about the founder of The Baker Street Irregulars! It made its debut last May at the Grillparzer Club of the Hoboken Free State’s annual Christopher Morley birthday party, held in Roslyn, N.Y., where Morley’s long-time home “Green Escape” was. The book had been proposed by Morley’s visionary friend Buckminster Fuller back in the mid-1970s, in order to record “the friendship between two quite disparate personalities of the twen-tieth century, and the influence they had on each other in the course of their lives.” Morley, a man of letters if one ever lived, described his friend in 1938 as “an engineer, inventor, industrial designer, a very botanist of structure and materials” and “a student of Trend,” and the experience of knowing each other was a bit like C. P. Snow’s The Two Cultures coming together and exploding like the fissile spheres of an atom bomb. They inspired each other, and fed off each other’s strengths.

On p. 32 of Irregular Memories of the ’Thirties, Fuller is mentioned by Robert K. Leavitt as an “Holmesian aborigine” during the early years of that decade, and he appears on Morley’s mid-’30s membership list for the BSI (p. 132 there), though with no address given. The non-BSI journalist Henry Morton Robinson averred, in a December 4, 1943, Saturday Review of Literature article (which the BSI did not regard highly; it appears as ch. 13 in ’Thirties) that “Buckminster Fuller, perpetrator of the Dymaxion car, hired a Central Park hansom and clopped to the [1934 BSI] dinner as Dr. Watson.” No data corroborating this assertion is known to exist, or that Fuller even attended that dinner (or any other BSI dinner as far as I recall). This book states that “Bucky never became a Baker Street Irregular although he had enjoyed conversations with Vincent Starrett about Penang lawyers and many occasions with Bill Hall, another of Chris’s close friends who was an active participant.”

Leavitt still claimed in the 1960s that Fuller had been an early BSI, albeit one largely ignorant of the Canon (’Thirties, p. 157). Students of Irregular history will learn little new about the BSI per se from this book. But it sheds some new light on Morley’s composition of Sherlock Holmes’s Prayer in 1944, which Fuller was one of the first to see, and provides interesting insights into Morley’s relationship with people swept into the early BSI’s orbit, like Don Marquis in the 1930s and Morley’s secretary Elizabeth Winspear at 46W47 in the 1940s, until she went off to war. There are welcome references to Christ Cella’s and Billy the Oysterman in Morley’s literary and social life, and to the Saturday Review of Literature where the BSI presented itself to the world. And this book’s discussion of Morley’s changing mood postwar—noting that by 1947 he “was becoming more withdrawn and disinclined to company unless he himself had arranged the meeting”—helps explain the BSI’s existential crisis of 1947-48 examined in detail in Irregular Crises of the Late ’Forties.

But readers will learn a good deal from this book about Morley himself, and his Three Hours for Lunch Club preceding the BSI and giving it much of its early tone and personalities. In his letters to Fuller, Morley let himself be very candid about how he saw things. “I’m not apologizing, even to myself, for putting on an act when I feel like it,” he tells Fuller in one ripe letter, in June 1939: “It’s sometimes a hell of a good act, worthwhile in itself. The proportion of solemn arses is very high in the U.S.A., especially in the learned professions. EG the Phi Beta Kappa campaign for Defense (of Intellectual Freedom!) They have sent me a booklet: ‘Phi Beta Kappa Fortifies Its Sector in the Defense of the Humanities’ etc. ‘Membership in Phi Beta Kappa is the Apex of Achievement in America’s Educational Pyramid.’ The kind of people who can solemnly emit such horsewind and turtlepoop haven’t even begun their secret education.”

And there was more: “The great American character was once the Newly Rich. Now it’s the Newly Educated. It is the inferiority complex of the newly cultivated, the intellectual climbers, that gives them their passion for dressing up and going to public festivity. It is the incurable humility of some that drives them in congregations. They still are secretly astonished at being allowed to walk into the lobby of a smart hotel without being heaved out.” (Or the Yale Club, he might snort today in our direction.)

Louise Morley Cochrane closes this lengthy letter by remarking: “The letter was not signed. No one else could have written it.” We can agree, grateful for such intimate looks into the BSI’s founder’s life and thoughts.

There’s a sad side too, though. It records Morley’s growing sense of mortality in the late 1940s and early ’50s, a glimpse of which we had previously on p. 430 of Irregular Crises of the Late ’Forties, in a March 1950 letter of his to Doubleday’s Kenneth McCormick about Morley’s fears for his health. Then in 1951 came the first of several strokes. “He made a remarkable recovery though his right hand and right side were affected,” says Louise Morley Cochrane, and a letter from Morley in 1952 says the stroke “left me with a semi-palsied right hand; so typing slow & clumsy, handwriting almost illeg.”—a terrible fate for someone to whom the ability to write meant so much. A second stroke came in 1953, and “greatly reduced his activities. He never went into the Knothole [his writing cabin at home] again, nor would he allow anyone else to sort his papers.” After a third stroke in 1955 “he required round-the-clock nursing care and remained bedridden for the rest of his life,” which came to an end on March 28, 1957.

The BSI went on, of course. By then its fortunes had long been in the hands of Edgar W. Smith—Morley remarking to Fuller in 1944 about having sent Smith (perhaps prophetically) a copy of The Martyrdom of Man, “the wonderful book so highly praised by Sherlock Holmes.” But even in his final years Morley went on writing poetry, his daughter noted. He was not a great nor even a very good poet, but he loved doing it, and despite his first stroke’s handicap “he was still able to write enough poems to complete a final small collection called Gentlemen’s Relish (1955).” One poem, first published in the Saturday Review of Literature on October 2, 1954, was “Elegy to a Railroad Station,” a tribute by an ageing man who still considered himself a Main Line Boy, to the Broad Street Station of his Philadelphia childhood that had been razed in 1953. I include it here elegiacally in this review of a book I’m grateful to have read.

I’ve always been in love with railroad stations:

By no means least of man’s superb creations.

Particularly I rate high

Old London termini,

Liverpool Street (cathedral of catarrh)

Where antique bathtubs in the cellar are;

And you may know

Altars of the great gods To and Fro

At Paddington, Euston, King’s Cross, Gare du Nord,

La Salle Street in Chicago, Windsor Montreal,

The Lackawanna on Hoboken shore,

The B & O beloved Mount Royal, Baltimore.

Even little Roslyn, on fish-shaped Paumanok,

Where the Long Island falters, still in hock—

Too many I love, to list, but of them all

None ever gave me quite such sublimation

As Broad Street Station.

Maybe tops of all I rank it

Because it was there, by jeepers,

Walt climbed aboard the Pullman Palace Sleepers

And tucked his noble beard outside the blanket.

I repeat your glory. Broad Street Station!

The proper shrine, the true Main Line,

Of Immortality the Intimation;

Such offsteam blowing,

Such bells, and hells of coming and going.

Suburban cowcatchers’ dainty snouts.

Beautiful barytone All abooaard shouts.

Drive wheels, and firebox glowing.

Nothing was so holy as the Local to Paoli

(15 and 45) when we were youngalive

For Wynnewood, Ardmore, Haverford, Bryn Mawr

Or anywhere along the P.R.R.

Then, as child, boy, student, family man,

We were too self-occupied to scan

That gigantic arch of joys and pains

When trains were really trains.

There beneath tall wheels, fierce jets of steam,

We guessed the bulk and power of a dream;

To shorten space and anguish to appease

The engine rests at crouch and purrs at ease.

People cry God bless you’s and So long’s,

Gates contract or widen like lazy-tongs—

Goodbye, Goodbye! No wonder I

Preserve in pure imagination

My memory of Broad Street Station.

A limited number of copies of this valuable book are available for a minimum donation of $25.00 payable to the Christopher Morley Knothole Association, plus $5.00 payable to Harrison & Linda Hunt for shipping in the U.S. Both checks should be mailed to the Hunts at 113 North Street, Catskill N.Y. 12414. Inquire at

Reviewed by Jon Lellenberg, BSI

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Two works by Russell McLauchlin, BSI.

Through the generosity of Christopher Music BSI, editor of the new Amateur Mendicant Society history From the Lower Vault (reviewed below by Donald Yates BSI), I have just read the late Russell McLauchlin’s 1943 book Roaming Holidays: A Preface to Post-War Travel. McLauchlin (1894-1975) was the Detroit News cultural critic for many years, and the book consists of 21 short broadcasts he did over radio station WWJ in the winter of 1942-43, when such things were scarcely imaginable at a time of global total war. His vignettes are based a good deal on pre-war travel of his, from his home state’s and Canada’s lake districts and wildernesses to sites in Europe, not only ones like London and Paris, but obscure ones as well both then and now. I suspect that he and I are the only Baker Street Irregulars who’ve ever been to Tromsø, Norway, above the Arctic Circle. (Well, Nils Nordberg too, he tells me from Oslo.)

McLauchlin, a Cornell man, became a lawyer after the World War, but instead pursued newspaper journalism as a career. McLauchlin at work below:

Of Sherlock Holmes in this book there’s next to nothing, but of Baker Street Irregularity’s spirit, there is more than a little. In “The Waters of the Earth,” for example, he says something very akin to Christopher Morley’s remark about the Atlantic I recently reported; McL. saying: “There is no phenomenon quite like water, that is able at once to join and separate, to bring peoples together and to keep them apart, to carry commerce and culture and civilization itself to far places, and to stand as a fortress against the hand of an invader.” And of Britain — McLauchlin was consciously Scottish, something cropping up repeatedly — there’s a good deal in the book, including a paean entitled “Oratory in the Park” to the graces and joys of London’s West End, and to the stalwartness of the British people under murderous attack at the time.

Indeed, all the more for that war underway at the time: “I like to think, with our armies and navies operating jointly in this war, with our two mighty nations in a perfect partnership,” he says in a different chapter entitled “The English, God bless ’em”, “that a solidarity in the English-speaking world will be produced and that perhaps this single fact will partially compensate for all the tragedy and misery which the war involves.” The “special relationship” of postwar years, in short. And to an American isolationist he’d encountered who believed we weren’t obliged to England for anything, McLauchlin had a pointed message that resonates with us:

Well—I am. Here’s what I am obliged to England for. I’m obliged for my language and all that my language implies, including Shakespeare and Dickens. I’m obliged to England  for the law under which I live, for the English common law, which was developed through many centuries, is the law of America today, although many heedless Americans do not realize it. I’m obliged to England for about 85 per cent of the social conventions which make community living a pleasant thing. I’m obliged to England for the fine spirit which generally animates the whole diverse activity of sports. And I’m obliged to England for at least nine-tenths of the books which I’ve ever read in all my life.

And “if I have any Anglo-Saxon blood at all, it is such a tiny drop that I do not know its origin. There is no traditional reason why Scottish blood should leap when the name of England is spoken. No,” McLauchlin notes, doubtless hoping that that isolationist was hearing his radio broadcast, “these thoughts of mine are entirely the product of travel and study and reasoning.”

This book was published by Detroit’s Arnold-Powers Inc. press for a local audience where McLauchlin’s name was associated with cultural affairs, the theater, the arts, and books. Still, what sort of audience did he and it expect for a book about travel in a world convulsed by war? Not to mention in one of its most anxious years, and with paper being rationed! But the answer’s in the reading of it: it was written and published for civilized men and women waiting and working for that war to end, with democracy victorious.

Alfred Street by McLauchlin, three years later (Detroit: Conjure House, 1946), does get very specific about Sherlock Holmes in one chapter. McLauchlin grew up devoted to Sherlock Holmes, but in the 1930s and ’40s he was close to Vincent Starrett in Chicago, not Christopher Morley in New York. “We in improbable Detroit, Russell McLauchlin as guru and I as acolyte,” wrote his adult friend and fellow Mendicant Robert G. Harris in Irregular Memories of the ’Thirties, p. 205, “received and transmitted such masterworks from and to the effete of the East, and commonfolk like ourselves elsewhere. If an occasional paper looked particularly choice, one might even send a copy to the Mother Church in New York, but I recall no acknowledgment or reply. I expect they were, if retained at all, shoveled into a box in some backroom. When we became acquainted with Vincent Starrett after he published The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes in late 1933, we found him a more gracious point of exchange. . . .”

And when Starrett created The Hounds of the Baskerville (sic) in Chicago in the mid 1940s, Detroit heard the view-halloo as well. McLauchlin wanted to do the same there — but appears to have worried about his status for doing so. Starrett quickly put his mind at ease. “Your credentials look excellent from where I sit,” he told McLauchlin on September 11, 1946 (Irregular Proceedings of the Mid ’Forties, p. 236),

wherefore, welcome to the BSI. I do these things quicklike, and by fiat. . . . by all means found a Detroit chapter if you can, being careful to let in only the right people; i.e., such as are capable, at least, of contributing a bit of spurious scholarship to the legend, whether they ever do so or not. You are now, yourself, at liberty to write that paper on the Scandal, and I shall look forward to it.

The paper, focusing on SCAN and the King of Bohemia in rhyme, was McLauchlin’s hilariously titled “I Can’t Endorse This Czech,” which Edgar W. Smith published in the BSJ’s third issue in 1946. Smith looked up McLauchlin and the Amateur Mendicants on trips to General Motors headquarters in Detroit, and was greatly impressed, reporting to Christopher Morley in March 1947 that the AMS were “easily, under Russ McLauchlin’s guidance, the most erudite of the Scions. There were seventeen present, and the opportunities for earnest and completely satisfying discussion were in sharp contrast to the melees our B.S.I. over-gatherings have become.” McLauchlin himself he called “a true Sherlockian scholar and Watsonian gentleman.” (Irregular Proceedings of the Mid ’Forties, p. 365.) In 1949 McLauchlin became “The Naval Treaty” in the BSI (going on to compose another tale in verse for the BSJ, “I Am Contemplating My Naval . . . Treaty”), with Bob Harris becoming “The Creeping Man” in 1951.

Alfred Street is where McLauchlin had grown up at the turn of the century, and the book is a superb picture of a certain era in American life. He brings to life a time and a place for readers today whose later lives and experiences have been very different. The nature of young boys is largely unchanged, no doubt, but the sense of innocence at that time, where “the war” meant the three-month Spanish-American War, or even somebody else’s Boer War, not the carnage of World War I or II, stirs a yearning in the reader’s breast. (McLauchin understood that carnage perfectly well when he wrote these two books, having served as a second lieutenant in France and Germany in the 32nd Division in World War I.)

And in the chapter “Alfred Street and Baker Street” we learn how McLauchin’s devotion arose. “It was not until fairly recently,” he begins,

that a collection of learned Englishmen and Americans discovered, by intuition so penetrating as to approach the miraculous, that Sherlock Holmes was an actual historical character; exploding forever the theory that he was a fictitious personage, imagined by a man named Doyle. This true faith, I am happy to say, has made much progress in late years and, in our own republic, it has solidified into an active fellowship which calls itself the Baker Street Irregulars.

Not for worlds would I criticize that splendid society, being one of its most devout members. But I do make bold to suggest that it was not first in the field.

The young men, who lived on Alfred Street in this century’s early years, held the faith as firmly as ever did Christopher Morley or Msgr. Ronald Knox.

I knew a great deal about Sherlock Holmes, some years before I learned to read, and so did all my Alfred Street companions. Not only did we consider him a flesh-and-blood mortal, but we had the vague idea that he lived in Detroit and that we were likely to see him walking down the street.

There were two reasons for this, he explained. One was the Return stories appearing at the time in Collier’s Weekly, leading to their parents buying bonus volumes of A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of the Four: “this economical acquisition of a pair of masterpieces naturally prompted the close perusal of the same by our elders, producing much Sherlockian conversation around every fireside on the street. Youthful ears overheard these discussions and the name of the detective grew familiar.” — a pattern doubtless replicated in many American homes then where early Irregulars were children.

So we used to clamor for stories of Sherlock Holmes and my father, a great enthusiast, was always happy to comply, often relying on his own powers of invention for thrilling plots of an impromptu nature. He was careful to inform us that all his stories—even his excursions into fancy—had been collected and written down by a certain Dr. Watson, who enjoyed the incalculable advantage of being the great man’s friend and room-mate.

And something like that went on in every household where Collier’s was delivered by the postman.

The second reason, of course, was William Gillette, whose appearance as Sherlock Holmes, from his play of that name, was familiar by this time, and carried forward by Frederic Dorr Steele’s illustrations of those Return stories in Collier’s Weekly. In April of 1903, when McLauchlin was eight years old (he remembered having been five), Gillette brought his play to Detroit’s Opera House, “and every young gentleman on Alfred Street demanded, with the utmost in passion, to be taken to see him, even if the family were in consequence obliged to temporize with the butcher.” The effect was instantaneous, and permanent. He, and all his friends, became “a brimming reservoir of information about Holmes and Watson and Moriarty and the rascally Larrabee couple;” and “Never again, of course, did we see anything to compare with William Gillette in Sherlock Holmes, and to that decisive statement I am pleased to sign my name today.”

Few works in our literature capture as this book does the time and ethos of the early Irregulars as they first encountered, and learned to not only love, but study, the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Reviewed by Jon Lellenberg, “Rodger Prescott” BSI, the conductor of this website and of the BSI Archival Histories.

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Prince of the Realm: The Most Irregular James Bliss Austin

by Sonia Fetherston

Baker Street Irregulars, 2014, 174 pp.

Too few today remember Bliss Austin, and it’s good to be reminded of him so expansively. He came into the BSI in 1944, and almost at once received one of the first fifteen Titular Investitures from Edgar W. Smith and Christopher Morley, as “The Engineer’s Thumb.” (A Two Shilling Award from Julian Wolff would follow in 1976.) Bliss was something unusual for the BSI’s Murray Hill Hotel era, a man of scientific and technical education, with a doctorate in chemistry from Yale and a senior post in U.S. Steel’s research department. Yet he was a man of the humanities too, and not of Sherlock Holmes and Conan Doyle alone: Japanese art as well, with a collection of prints that are at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon Museum today.

    Hailing from Washington D.C. originally, he was living in northern New Jersey when he became an Irregular. Later he lived in Pittsburgh, where in the 1970s he mentored its Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers. He died in 1988, one of the BSI’s great personalities and scholars — the “Prince of the Realm” of this book’s title, taken from my obituary for him in the Baker Street Journal at the time. I am not an impartial observer of his Irregular career.

It was in 1984, at the BSI’s 50th anniversary dinner, that Bliss gave a talk about the Murray Hill Hotel era that began my own and others’ interest in the BSI’s history. His not turning it into written form before he died led to my BSI Archival Histories. Bliss evoked that earlier Baker Street Irregularity when giants in the earth became Irregulars, writing so much to edify and entertain everyone else in it. He made a strong impression upon Smith and Morley to be included so soon in the first crop of Titular Investitures, and repaid their confidence in him through the decades that followed as one of the BSI’s leading collectors and scholars, writing for the Baker Street Journal, Baker Street Miscellanea, and his own annual, eagerly awaited, Baker Street Christmas Stockings which have been collected in book form. By the 1980s he was the chief representative of the BSI’s Murray Hill Hotel era and its values, but he was never a relic himself—he was instead someone very much engaged with the present.

Bliss was a stellar collector and bibliographer, making him sometimes a compelling commentator on the Canon’s creation and its creator’s life. He provided encouragement to the young, and was generous not only with his time and knowledge, but with physical items, duplicates he had acquired in his collecting. I was one of his beneficiaries in both ways, but it was his time and knowledge I appreciated most, working with him on his superlative contributions to Baker Street Miscellanea when I was one of its editors, and on an essay by him for my 1987 book The Quest for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He was a gentleman and scholar in the best sense of that expression, and a model contributor to the Writings About the Writings.

Sonia Fetherston, the author of this biography, despite not knowing Bliss, has constructed an informative portrait, deeply researched and thoughtfully written. It’s a shame it shows signs of having been cut down by the publisher to make a “marketable” book well under 200 pp. in length. For example, Peter Blau in his foreword refers to it containing the landmark talk that Bliss gave at the 1976 BSI dinner about BSI “poetess laureate” Helene Yuhasova, but it is not present. (He erred in stating that this would be its first publication: Bliss’s talk is Ch. 2 in my Irregular Crises of the Late ’Forties.) But Sonia’s biography is nonetheless the best and most valuable account we are likely to have of Bliss Austin’s life, and what made him the man and outstanding Baker Street Irregular he was.

No historian like me could fail to appreciate much that’s new here. I find persuasive, for example, Sonia’s surmise that Dr. Rufus Tucker (“The Greek Interpreter,” 1944), an economist who lived close by but worked in Manhattan at General Motors Overseas with Edgar W. Smith, was Bliss’s channel into the BSI. Sonia also does an excellent job on Bliss as a collector, and how he made his collection work for him, and thereby for the rest of us as well. We have important collectors today, but none of them are doing what Bliss did with his collection, so one hopes this book will lead to more from the same.

At the same time, I’d love to know more about Bliss’s first trip to London, when he was in his mid twenties. David A. Randall (“The Golden Pince-Nez,” of Scribner’s Bookstore on Fifth Avenue) first attended the annual dinner in 1940, not 1941. While Park Avenue north of Grand Central was fashionable, the Murray Hill Hotel was south of it. (And a bit rundown when the BSI went there in 1940; but who’s complaining?) The account, pp. 50-51, of the BSI’s existential crisis of 1947-48 is so abbreviated that readers should consult the detailed account in Irregular Crises of the Late ’Forties in order to understand fully what was going on.

Sonia calls Bliss Austin the BSI’s “Elder Statesman” on p. 127. Not a term I would use, though all the other fine things she says about him there and on the page following are accurate. But Statesman suggests statesmanship. While vastly respected by Julian Wolff, our Commissionaire from 1961 through most of the ’80s, I don’t know of him ever involving Bliss significantly in the running of the BSI. For that, Julian had his own Irregular circle in New York City. But Bliss was assuredly a great role model for Irregulars. Mike Whelan, the current Wiggins, uses that term, “for the young Irregulars of the ’60s and ’70s,” on pp. 148-49, and gets it exactly right in referring to Bliss’s “courtliness, kindness, willingness to help younger Sherlockians, and sophisticated civility.”

And I think Bliss’s supposed Curmudgeon period discussed on pp. 133-37 is a trifle overstated. The fact that by 1981 he could remark upon the swollen size of the BSI dinner, that it had reached “the maximum number of people but a minimum amount of fun,” made him not a curmudgeon, but a sober observer of an historical reality that neither Julian Wolff nor his successors have been prepared to address.

But these factors do not subtract from an exceptionally valuable contribution to BSI history. All interested in that will want this book, and will relish it. These days the BSI prints books in runs of only 100 copies, a far cry from the 750 it once needed to print for my last three Archival History chronological volumes, all of them sold out today. But this book has made it into a second printing, which shows people still care about the BSI’s history. If you didn’t get it at once after it came out in January, don’t miss this chance now.

Reviewed by Jon Lellenberg, “Rodger Prescott” BSI, the conductor of this website and of the BSI Archival Histories.

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From the Lower Vault: Treasures from the Archives

of the Amateur Mendicant Society of Detroit (1946-1964)

edited by Christopher Music.

Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2015, 183 pp.

$25.00 postpaid; orders to

Into the hands of Christopher Music BSI has fallen the task of preserving the history of one of the earliest Sherlockian societies to appear in the United States, The Amateur Mendicant Society of Detroit, which called its first meeting to order in 1946. The group’s original sparking plug was the ebullient, effervescent Scot, Russell McLauchlin, for many years the entertainment critic at the Detroit News. He was soon joined at the helm of the Mendicants by attorney Robert Harris, and together they guided the scion’s activities with the rollicking blend of Baker Street nostalgia and encouragement for tongue-in-cheek scholarship that has somehow always effortlessly imposed itself on such gatherings.

In 1955, living in Dearborn, Michigan, just outside Detroit, I read a newspaper article about the Mendicants and soon was in touch with Russ McLauchlin. I had been a Holmes admirer from an early age, but my contact with his life and times had up until then been limited to the pages of my copy of the Doubleday Complete Sherlock Holmes, which my mother had given me on the occasion of my graduation from junior high school in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1944. Russ invited me to the group’s next meeting and asked if I could compose something with a Sherlockian connection to read on that occasion. I was then a graduate student at the University of Michigan, working on a Ph.D. degree in Spanish, and put together a talk about one aspect of Holmes’s knowledge of foreign languages. Russ liked it and recommended that I send it to Edgar Smith, who was then editing the Baker Street Journal. It soon appeared in the BSJ, and as if by magic a new world of bonhomie was opened to me, an association that has lasted a lifetime.

When I left the Detroit area in 1957 to accept a position in Michigan State’s Department of Foreign Languages, I discovered that an early member of the Mendicants, Page Heldenbrand, had established a Holmes scion there that he had designated as the Greek Interpreters of East Lansing. After a single meeting, the membership unaccountably dispersed and nothing more was heard of it, although the young Heldenbrand had subsequently become an active participant in the activities of New York’s Baker Street Irregulars.  I was able to revive the “G.I.s” and the group continues, alive and prospering, to this day, as a direct offshoot of Detroit’s Mendicants.

Now, where does Chris Music come in? Well, it appears that the AMS continued to meet until August of 1964 and then fell silent. This hiatus lasted until the mid-1970s, when the Mendicants came to life again. It was during this rebirth of the society, beginning in 1975, that Tom Voss joined the group. Voss eventually became the group’s Gasogene (i.e. Chief Instigator). When a second hiatus occurred, the accumulated papers comprising the Mendicants’ archives that had been passed to Voss went into storage. Prominent among these documents was an exhaustive record of the doings of the society that had been brought together by Mendicant Raymond Donovan, who had joined in 1948. Fate dictated that the file should eventually end up in the hands of Music, who joined the group in 2001. Music soon realized the importance of what had come into his possession. He then acquired, from Susan Rice BSI, the papers of founding member Robert Harris. and thus a new impetus was given to the task of preserving the group’s archives.

Inspired by the work of Jon Lellenberg (the BSI’s Thucydides), Music has just brought forth his From the Lower Vault, which draws upon the Donovan file and Harris’s papers and reminiscences to give us a sense of how a Sherlockian society comes into being, and displays the sparkling wit of Russ McLauchlin and Bob Harris in its pages, where all of McLauchlin’s high-spirited periodic dispatches to the membership (his Encyclical Letters) are reproduced. Also prominently displayed are the inimitable contributions of the comic genius of the late Bill Rabe BSI, whose gift for offbeat humor was unmatched. I, for one, convey to Music my profound thanks for his masterful job of editing, a product of his dedication to the cause that motivates us all — keeping ever green the memory of Sherlock Holmes and Baker Street.

Donald A. Yates (“The Greek Interpreter,” BSI) is retired chairman of the Romance Languages Department at Michigan State University, and today presides over The Napa Valley Napoleons of St. Helena, Calif., where he puts what he learned from Russell McLauchlin and Robert G. Harris into practice.

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Sources and Methods: A companion volume

to the novel Baker Street Irregular

by Jon Lellenberg

Hazelbaker & Lellenberg, Inc., 2015, 154 pp.

$20.00 postpaid in the United States,

by PayPal to

or by check or money order to

P.O. Box 32181, Santa Fe NM 87594

Five or six decades ago American readers could not get enough of a series of novels (eleven in fact) about a youngish man (late 30s) who always seemed to be at the center of world events. The young hero was named Lanny Budd, and the author was Upton Sinclair. The books are now out of fashion, but the genre is not, and numerous authors (e.g., Ken Follett, Winston Groom) have continued it with great success.

   A recent incarnation is Baker Street Irregular by Jon Lellenberg in which a leading Sherlockian scholar and retired senior Pentagon staff officer takes his young New York lawyer, Woody Hazelbaker, through the major events in American history from the early 1930s to 1947, focusing on the beginnings and course of World War II, with an emphasis on the ever-increasing efforts at espionage and counter-espionage and the personalities involved.

Now Lellenberg, having written an entertaining spy novel about the Baker Street Irregulars, takes a new approach (at least for this reader) by producing a “companion volume” to Baker Street Irregular, addressing the background of the events and personalities in the original story with commentary and notes, both personal and objective. He does this in an orderly and well-organized but highly personal way; for each chapter he begins with a synopsis, then “Sources and Methods” (a phrase fraught with meaning, or meanings, from his Pentagon days), followed by People and finally Places and Things. Each and every one of these subsets is a source of data covering many, many subject areas, and the whole creates a rich canvas for readers.

One topic given special attention, for example, is the long-lasting  effort on the part of many to enlist the aid of the United States for Great Britain at war with Hitler prior to Pearl Harbor. This is shown through Woody’s eyes in New York and Washington in 1940 and ’41, and his close encounters not only with prominent history-book Americans like Dean Acheson and Wild Bill Donovan, and British agents in the States at the time, but with Baker Street Irregulars as well like Elmer Davis, Rex Stout, and Fletcher Pratt, who did play such clandestine roles before America itself entered the war at the end of 1941. The tense and uncertain atmosphere of those days comes across with clarity, and is a good example of Lellenberg’s sense of atmosphere in evoking BSI history unknown to today's Irregulars.

One thing becomes very clear as one reads Sources and Methods — the author had a wonderful time writing this book. The reader should (and will) enjoy it just as much.

Ambassador Ralph Earle II is “Joyce Cumings,” BSI, a veteran himself of the Defense and State Departments and of the diplomatic life, and a Washington D.C. clubman including the Half-Pay Club meeting monthly at the Army & Navy Club on Farragut Square.

Return to the Welcome page.

By yours truly:

New York, City of Cities, by Hulbert Footner (1879-1944)

Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1937.

For the student of BSI history, the personnel of Christopher Morley’s Three Hours for Lunch Club tend to divide into three categories: ones who went on to significant roles in the Baker Street Irregulars, such as Elmer Davis, W. S. Hall, and Robert K. Leavitt; ones every literate person should recognize, who (even if attending a BSI dinner once) left no mark on the BSI, such as Buckminster Fuller, Don Marquis, and Stephen Vincent Benét; and ones you’d have to look up to know about at all, such as David Bone, Franklin Abbott, and Hulbert Footner. Bone was a mariner with an interest in Joseph Conrad shared by Morley; Abbott was an architect and artist whose drawings illustrated some of Morley’s “Bowling Green” columns in the Saturday Review of Literature; and (William) Hulbert Footner was a mystery writer whose novels are unread and forgotten today.

Yet Bill Footner deserves more attention than I, and I daresay you, have given him previously. Born in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1879, he came to New York at the age of nineteen to be an actor; got occasional parts in legitimate theater, and occasional vaudeville turns as well, and achieved a certain sort of immortality by doubling as Alf Bassick and Sir Edward Leighton in a road company of William Gillette’s Sherlock Holmes. And like many would-be actors who come to New York, he did a lot of other things as well to make ends meet, including turning to writing. Some travel-adventure books about Canada did not make a noticeable mark, so he turned to mysteries next, more successfully this time. Of some three dozen mystery novels, his final one, Orchids to Murder, was published by Harper & Brothers in 1945, following Footner’s death from a heart attack the previous November 25th.

For this book, Christopher Morley penned a five plus page tribute to Footner, dated December 19th, 1944. “I think Bill was pleased by the many times I told him,” said Morley, “that no living writer had given me such a total of innocent opiate and refuge. One reason why his detective tales have always been for me the perfect laxative is that I usually read them when I should be doing something else.” Morley had read them all, from Footner’s first one published in 1918. But Morley had read it even earlier, he bragged: “I read it in MS, way back about 1916, when I was contact man for Bill at his publishers. He was the first author professionally assigned to me when I started work at Doubleday’s, in 1913. We hadn’t been doing too well with his early novels of the Canadian Northwest, and Bill wanted to develop a new vein. He wrote The Fugitive Sleuth (first a serial in one of the soft-paper magazines) as an experiment.”

By 1921, when the Three Hours for Lunch Club was being convened, Morley included Footner in this magic circle. Footner had published at least two more mysteries by then (Thieves’ Wit and The Owl Taxi), and would write many more. “I used to embarrass him by pointing out unconscious mannerisms that he repeated from time to time,” said Morley, “or certain stock characters who took part, e.g. the stout man walking up Fifth Avenue with a slapping archfallen behavior of the feet, making more movement than progress. This, I sometimes had a horrid suspicion, was me. I reproached him, he denied it, but retaliated by actually putting me and other friends (by name and in person) in a crime story laid in Hoboken, The Mystery of the Folded Paper, 1930.”

Its protagonist is a member of The Three Hours for Lunch Club, at the time it had taken Hoboken’s Old Rialto and Lyric Theatre to stage period melodrama like After Dark and The Black Crook, relying on Hoboken’s reputation as a free-range speakeasy zone to help attract Manhattan audiences over, with fair success for a year or two. (Morley’s Seacoast of Bohemia, 1929, covers this episode of life.) As part of the spree, they also took an old foundry for offices and clubhouse, and ch. 8 of Footner’s Mystery of the Folded Paper is a three-hour lunch at the Foundry:

The Foundry is an old brick building of a pleasing quaintness of design, faintly German in flavor. It stands on River Street, facing the Hoboken steamship piers and the broad stream beyond. At this time it had not been altered from its original state beyond what could be accomplished by sweeping and scrubbing. No mere scrubbing could really clean up a place in which the grime of decades of iron-founding was ingrained. As fast as one layer of dirt was removed, another slowly exuded. Walls and rafters were covered by innumerable coats of whitewash which flaked down like snow; and the windows bore a sulphurous patina that had so far refused to yield to soapsuds. Nevertheless, the members of the Three-Hours-for-Lunch Club loved their unconventional clubhouse. It was in keeping with the spirit of the organization.

Inside, the building spread out in a most unexpected and inveigling fashion. A great central hall with a gallery all around, and the mighty traveling crane still hanging overhead; and room after room of different sizes and shapes, and all on different levels. The members never tired of conducting visitors through the endless, empty rooms, running up and down the odd steps, and climbing the casual ladders while they pointed out the future library, billiard-room, the private dining-room, etc., etc. There was a purer pleasure in planning these improvements than in possessing them.

The affairs of the Three-Hours-for-Lunch Club and the Hoboken Theatrical Company were inextricably commingled, and the two organizations shared the Foundry between them. . . . Somebody had presented the Foundry with a set of elaborately carved and lacquered Chinese Chippendale for the dining-room. This was arranged at the rear of the wide gallery upstairs, partly enclosed by handsome screens that matched the furniture; and in the little room thus formed a small company was gathered for the usual midday rites. They were drinking cocktails while they waited for a guest. A cold collation had been sent in from the Continental [Hotel] around the corner.

The contrast of the elegant furniture with its rude surroundings tickled the fancy of the members. They rejoiced in such humorous incongruities, and the Foundry was full of them. . . . Among those present, the principal figure was naturally that of Mr. Christopher Morley, who modestly describes himself as steward in perpetuum to the Three Hours for Lunch Club, but is really the whole works. It is impossible to imagine a meeting without Chris. He is the mercury that causes many disparate elements to fuse. With his opulence of physique and temperament he seems to belong to a younger age than ours. His heartiness, his nimble play with words, his penchant for the theater, all stamp him as a belated Elizabethan.

(from Morley’s “Bowling Green” column in the July 20, 1929, Saturday Review of Literature.)

Morley, however much he enjoyed Bill Footner’s mystery novels, had a realistic view of their limited place in the genre. “It was a market increasingly overcrowded,” his tribute in Orchids to Murder admitted: “his own vein, which underplayed rather than overpushed his effects, could not possibly become fashionable, and his own sly deliberately casual social comments were often lost on the Whodunit trade.” But mysteries were not all Footner wrote. “In midstream of this hard work he wrote a couple of novels of entirely different mood; I still think if they had been issued over a pseudonym they might have had more attentive reception. They are sombre, sardonic, blunt with knowledge of human trouble. I mean Antennae, 1926, and More Than Bread, 1938. They were of great importance to their author, for they gave him a chance to express certain stoic observations on the human comedy he had watched unflinchingly.” After Footner resettled in Maryland’s Eastern Shore countryside, he wrote nonfiction books about it as well. And in 1937, the same year that four of his mystery novels came out, he published another quite different book entirely: “a testament of his love of New York City,” Morley called it — New York, City of Cities.

Some critics forebear to review books by friends of theirs. Morley gave New York, City of Cities nearly a page and a half in the December 11, 1937, Saturday Review of Literature. Footner “brings to the mystery of New York City the same even shrewdness,” Morley insisted, “the same flair for character and motive that he has always shown in his best detective stories.”

Mr. Footner is wise enough to know that no book can cover the whole of his gigantic subject. He limits himself for the most part to Manhattan Island, and goes about in his sleuthy fashion, inconspicuously conning and eavesdropping. He is in a sense a stool pigeon between the mystery (New York itself) and the inquisitive reader. . . . Adam-and-Eves­dropping is his specialty. Some of the most disturbing and tantalizing things in his testament are unfinished scraps of overheard conversation. It could only have been written by a man who smokes a pipe. He puts New York in his pipe and smokes it.

Without trying to put it so picturesquely — who can compete with Christopher Morley in such a vein? — I had similar thoughts after recently discovering this book of Hulbert Footner’s, and then the story behind him. I’m currently preparing my long-overdue “sources and methods” companion volume to my novel Baker Street Irregular, and felt forced to go back to an early section identifying and discussing the books about New York per se which informed my novel — three about the city itself (all but one published in the 1930s), and seven more about life there in the 1930s and ’40s. Now that draft section of my novel’s companion volume goes on to confess:

I now wish I’d also had, and recommend to anyone thinking of writing a similar book, the W.P.A. New York City Guide (1939), 680 indexed pages packed with an amazing amount of information about New York in these decades. With that, and New York, City of Cities (1937) by Hulbert Footner, a detective-story writer friend of Christopher Morley’s and a fellow member of the Three Hours for Lunch Club, the prospective Irregular novelist may be able to do without the eleven books above.

Morley is quite right about Footner’s “Adam-and-Eves-dropping” in City of Cities, noting several instances of it in his SRL review that stood out for me too: providing what Footner calls “the human side” of New York City in the 1930s, including at police headquarters, at night court, in hospitals including Bellevue’s psychiatric ward, in high society and (to quote Lucius Beebe, as Footner does on café society) in the unfashionable faubourgs like the Bowery and Hell’s Kitchen. Footner is interested in the feminine side too, Hattie Carnegie and Elsa Maxwell, and the anonymous corps of stenographers, shopgirls and waitresses without whom the city would grind to a halt faster than you could say Fiorello La Guardia, as well the haute monde. (Morley thinks his pal “grins a little” about “the administration of debutancy,” a big deal there at the time.) Footner is often not P.C. by today’s fearful standards, but never ill-willed. On racial issues, he is enlightened for his era, respectful of New York’s black community, and fascinated by Harlem and its society. He points out the positive effects of Robert Moses’ redesign of the city’s layout, but also shows his readers the lasting negative effects of Prohibition and Depression. “A Guidebook with the Stuff of Life in It” declared the New York Times’ review on December 26, 1937.

And Footner’s entire book, it seems to me, is uncluttered by cliché. He can and does wax poetic at points, for example his description of night falling and the city’s lights coming on at twilight as seen from the Rainbow Grill, sixty-five floors atop Rockefeller Center, still new at the time. Morley thinks so too, in his SRL review: “Mr. Footner, like every other whose heart is capable of stir, does not see only our great lady’s moods of cockeyed comedy and exhibitionism. In the poet’s truest vein is his description of the lights at dusk seen from the RCA building. Few of us will ever find the words required when we feel the town’s rending and bewitching beauty.”

If I have a fault to find with the book, it’s that Footner falls short on hotels. The Waldorf-Astoria gets two pages, but many New York hotels, and their bars and restaurants which were vital to the city’s life, get unaccountably short shrift. The Algonquin, despite manifold literary and theatrical associations, gets not a single word. Then too, while Morley is mentioned by name in the book, it’s only so Footner can disagree with him about something: “Christopher Morley says that the subway is a grand place to observe the human scene but I cannot find it so.” (Neither could I, after listening to Footner’s reasons and comparing them to my own experience.) It would have been nice too if Footner had taken us to Christ Cella’s on East 45th Street for a Three Hours for Lunch Club session, but he doesn’t. (Probably, like Morley, he didn’t want rubberneckers coming round.) But New York, City of Cities nonetheless reads as if he’s showing the Three Hours for Lunch Club the town, from one tip of Manhattan to the other, day-time and night-time, hectic weekdays and slower-paced weekends, and always the human side of life, what interested Morley and his kinsprits most. The effect was akin to my first visit to New York at age eight with my parents, and the overpowering Circle Line boat trip we took around the island: I still have the guidebook from it. (Footner talks about New York’s boats, too, and the men who ran them.)

For those interested in the BSI’s history, there are no surprise answers in New York, City of Cities, but it offers greater understanding of the setting in which the BSI was born. It may even help explain why, in the year of its publication, there had been no BSI annual dinner, and wouldn’t be one a month later in January ’38, either — not until 1940, after Edgar W. Smith had arrived to take over the labors of dinner-arranging, notice-mailing, and negotiations with waiters that Morley eschewed. Morley may have been too darned busy enjoying New York instead; and tracking down the answers to the “little examination paper on Mr. Footner’s book” he thought should be set:

Why is East 61, anomalously, an Eastbound Street? Where is Marie Curie Avenue? What great hospital center has a swastika design on its central chimney? What restaurant has fatter patrons than any other? Where is the extra show-window that rises from the pavement at night to fill the front doorway of the store? Where is the oldest drugstore, unchanged since 1805? Where are the Jewish Alps? What Negro poet has a fine block of apartments named for him? Who has the most alluring show windows on Fifth Avenue?

And so on, if Morley had cared to set readers an examination: the possibilities in the City of Cities were endless.

As for Footner himself, his unexpected death was a heavy blow to Morley. “The day I heard of his death,” he said to conclude his tribute in Footner’s final novel, “I had just brought back, from a cabin on Long Island Sound which Footner himself had often visited, a large weathered Christmas Log I intended to burn for festival. I heard that Bill had gone (suddenly, without long misery, as he would most have wished) and I carried onto the hearth the great oak stump I had chosen. All day and night it glowed, clear and steady and kind, like his own seasoned affection. I kept thinking of it as his memorial.” So is New York, City of Cities.

(May 23, 2013)

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Sherlockian Heresies, by Léo Sauvage (1913-1988)

Ed. with Introduction and notes by Julia McKuras and Susan Vizoskie.

Indianapolis: Gasogene Books | Wessex Press, 2010.

xvi + 233 pp., illus., paper covers

$19.95    ISBN 978-0-938501-53-4

It is a distinct pleasure, particularly in these dumbed-down days, to encounter a solid work of old-fashioned, literate, witty disputation in the Canon; or rather, to honor Sauvage’s insistence, the Conan. Of course, there is no overlooking the fact that the author left this book unfinished at his death twenty-two years ago, so that, rather like the appearance of the Hound in its own day, it is of necessity a retrospective work rather than a harbinger of restored better times.

    Allow me a full-disclosure paragraph. The Sauvage I knew, from the final dinners at Cavanagh’s to the end of his life, was an older cosmopolitan New Yorker: a world-traveling journalist with a command of the most limpid, idiomatic prose in American English (and, I am confident, equally adept in at least two or three other languages), who spoke with a pronounced Maurice Chevalier–like French accent, something that was and is simply not noticeable in New York. His photos on pages 105 and 106 are how I recall him. Although I ended up working on some of his Baker Street Journal contributions, first in the years I helped Julian Wolff at Julian’s dining-room table and later as the Journal’s publisher, I really knew Léo through Julian. They were clearly kinsprits. Léo derived the title of this book from one of Julian’s editorial observations, “Long live heresy!” He captures Julian in a nutshell: “The surgical precision of Wolff’s repartees has rarely been topped, even by Isaac Asimov’s flying saucers” (p. 231). As I have written elsewhere, Julian was the master of the one-liner, and the consummate detector of humbug and pretense.

    The manuscript of Sherlockian Heresies survived for many years as part of the paternal archive saved by the three Sauvage children, and a happy accident brought them into contact with the editors. Mesdames McKuras and Vizoskie are to be congratulated heartedly for their excellent work of investigation, reconstruction, editing, and annotating. Their Introduction is first-rate, and the endnotes to each chapter extremely thorough. They have brought this book close to the form its author would have achieved had he been vouchsafed the time to do so.  Moreover, working with the Sauvage family and an acknowledged battery of human and archival resources, they have brought Léo Sauvage back from obscurity, and revealed who he really was. It’s a long story, so suffice it to say that the Franco-American journalist known to Sherlockians began life as a Jewish German. He grew up in France, married a Jewish Pole, and both of them eventually made themselves over into the French New Yorkers we knew. Not religiously observant (not, of course, that that would have saved them), they survived the Holocaust thanks to the heroic and righteous Huguenots of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon. Before that, as refugees in Marseille, they had not made it to the front of the line of those saved by the redoubtable Varian Fry before Fry was deported, about which more later.

    Léo Sauvage’s shepherd into the Irregulars was no one less than Edgar W. Smith. Given an assignment some six decades ago on postwar American exports to Europe, Sauvage interviewed a certain gracious senior official of overseas operations for General Motors at his office on Broadway at 57th Street. The niceties of selling vehicles in Europe took ten minutes; the next two hours were devoted to Sherlock Holmes. Léo became a regular Irregular, as he calls himself (“Victor Savage,” 1960), at the annual dinners for nearly forty years and as a contributor to the Journal.

    He began to read the stories as the age of eleven (ca. 1924), and thus was one of that vanished breed able to read certain of the adventures as they were published. He rightly describes the formidable Jacques Barzun, his fellow Frenchman, as “One of the intellectually most impressive Sherlockians I have met.” He repeats approvingly Professor Barzun’s round condemnation of “those intolerable middle sections which potbelly” Sign, Study, and Valley, saying further that “The astute reader reads them once, at the age of twelve, and skips them forever after.” Sauvage observes that, “Astute or not, that’s what I did from the age of eleven” (pp. 53–54).

    Sauvage’s critical strictures in Sherlockian Heresies are not nitpickings; this is not a chapter of faults, so to speak. The only area approaching this minor art form is his distaste for those aspects of American punctuation that put terminal punctuation inside closing quotation marks; then again, the editors did not permit this to survive their work, so the minor issue is moot in this publication. No, he saves his heavy guns for substantive issues, and recurs to numbers of them throughout the chapters:

• Personally a secularist, he is particularly adamant that there is nothing sacred about the writings: there can thus be no Sacred Writings and thereby no Canon. What he consistently demands is that it be the Conan, and he writes often and strongly of Conanicity and the like.

• He deplores the lack of security in the Holmes–Watson flat, and details many instances of life-threatening dangers and serious threats to confidentiality, solely the product of unlocked doors, unlimited access to total strangers, and failures to observe the simplest acts of watchfulness.

• He evaluates various attempts to identify the “best” and the “least” of the stories, sparing no one, taking issue even with such generally lauded works as “The Speckled Band.”

• He makes it abundantly clear that 221B is the address of a whole structure, and not some misguided interpretation of the B as designating the first- (American second-) floor quarters. For that matter, he is doubtful that the actual residence was even on Baker Street, let alone its putative location on that street, whether the bifurcated thoroughfare of the Victorian era or the long single stretch of the decades since.

• He finds the offered “facts” of “The Final Problem” and “The Empty House” completely risible.

There is much more to challenge the engaged reader’s beliefs and assumptions, and he takes serious issue with the findings of even the greatest among us in the past.

    Léo Sauvage would have expected his book to stir up comment; so, if I may, a few minor observations of my own. In my case, they have to do with editorial issues, except for the garish cover, which clashes with Léo’s manifest seriousness and stated tastes:

    Varian Fry was not just forthright and successful, he was such despite the direct opposition of the U.S. Department of State, which at the time was unofficially but uniformly anti-Semitic and officially supportive of the Vichy regime — indeed, one would be accurate in saying that State collaborated with Pétain and Vichy. It was not all just this way, to be sure. Individual Foreign Service officers assisted Fry at the risk of their careers, just as, at sea, the U.S. Navy actively cooperated with the Forces Françaises Navales Libres (Free French Naval Forces) before Pearl Harbor, in direct disobedience of official policy. Still, policy was policy. Fry, who ended his life uncelebrated, suffering from alcoholism and making a poor living teaching Greek and Latin to young boys at a New England prep school, had been more than heroic, rescuing upwards of 2,000 persons, until State had Vichy throw him out of France.

    That (O.S.) or [O.S.] attached to citations of the first thirteen issues of the Journal, from 1946 to 1949, stands for Original Series, not Old Series.

    The Baring-Gould “edition” of his Annotated Sherlock Holmes is an offset-printed paste-up of various London: John Murray publications, and the texts reflect British usage as a result of this. Of course, I agree with the editors that Sauvage primarily used the Doubleday edition, with its errors and Americanisms, occasionally turning to the Baring-Gould Annotated for commentary. (The Doubleday was pretty much the only thing most of us had during Sauvage’s lifetime.)

    But I need to be brief; and you also. Get Sherlockian Heresies. Read it. It will get your own dialectical juices flowing.

George Fletcher is “The Cardboard Box,” BSI, and claims to have retired as director of Special Collections at the New York Public Library. Previously Astor Curator of Printed Books and Bindings at the Pierpont Morgan Library, before that he was the director of Fordham University Press, where he published the Baker Street Journal for some happy years.

Posted October 4, 2010:


Pastiches, Parodies, Letters, Columns and Commentary from

America’s “Magazine of Literature and Life” ( 1895-1933)

Edited and Annotated by S. E. Dahlinger and Leslie S. Klinger

Indianapolis: Gasogene Books, 2010. 272 pp.

ISBN 978-0-938501-503     $29.95

In this, the first decade of the 21st century, anyone who can connect to the worldwide web can be deluged — and paralyzed — by a flood of virtual news, information, misinformation, blogs, opinions, images etc., on nearly any conceivable topic. A hundred years ago, a principal delivery system for those kinds of material was the monthly magazine. One such magazine, The Bookman, appeared with different content on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

    Both the Senior Editor, Harry Thurston Peck, and the Junior Editor, Arthur Bartlett Maurice, of the American Bookman were obsessed with the doings of Sherlock Holmes. In fact, Peck claimed to be “the only true Sherlockian”; whereas, the annotators of this collection allege (p. 85) that Maurice provided “the first use of the term ‘Sherlockian’ to mean a student of Sherlock Holmes.”

    The result of the mania shared by Peck and Maurice was a devotion to tracking and commenting upon various strands of Sherlockiana, Doyleana, and numerous other detective appearances coeval to their publication. In fact, they published works by writers such as S. S. Van Dine, Carolyn Wells, Robert Barr, Valentine Williams, Vincent Starrett, etc. Not that I would not love to leisurely flip through all of the four decades of The Bookman, but the essence of this volume is that Dahlinger and Klinger have already extracted the full contributions, and reorganized them chronologically and by genre (Chronicle and Comment, Letters to the Editor, Articles, Pastiches and Parodies, and Reviews), giving a contemporary flow to each section.

    This is an excellent route to appreciating the growth and development of Sherlockian appreciation essentially from the beginning. It also places Doyle in the context of his contemporaries like R.L.S., J. M. Barrie, Jack London, Harding Davis, Anna Katherine Green, as well as his predecessors in Poe, Gaboriau, and Vidocq. A lot of this material is familiar to in-depth students of the subject, but it is a quick, rewarding refresher course in the subject matter, with learned annotations, but with occasional nuggets that pop to the surface. For example, the effort to solve HOUN based upon only the first two or three installments: e.g., a human/animal hybrid. (Note: these ingenious solutions were later read by Conan Doyle, “who intimated that they were worthy of Lestrade or Gregson.”) Another nugget of literary gossip is that Ian McLaren is the nom de plume of Rev. John Watson: a nugget attributed to the professional Scotsman Robertson Nicoll who asked "Did ye ken that Thackeray was a verra immorral mon?”

    Why, the “Editorial Adventure Story” by Trumbull White, in which he narrates his long quest to acquire a yet-to-be written manuscript co-authored by Conan Doyle and E. W. Hornung, is almost worth the $29.95 purchase price itself. Hornung, of course, was Doyle's brother-in-law, and that ms. would have described the definitive encounter of Holmes and Raffles. The nugget within the nugget is that Doyle refused to be engaged upon the project despite an essentially guaranteed advance payment of half a million dollars!

(Herewith a personal digression. In an article on “The Art of Parody” (pp. 25-26), one of the editors opines that:

Bret Harte’s first volume of Condensed Novels was entirely admirable, not quite so much may be said for the second. Some of the old dash and fire is missing. Yet, on the whole, most of the parodies are excellent. As poor as any is “The Stolen Cigar Case,” in which Sherlock Holmes as Hemlock Jones deduces a condition of affairs which puts an end to his long association with Watson. But Sherlock Holmes has never been successfully parodied.

As an antiquarian bookseller, I cannot but be painfully reminded of an incident nearly forty years ago. For a period, Mr. Bret Harte represented the United States in the role of Consul to a couple of European cities. Then he settled permanently in London. One night, after a night of partying, Harte returned home to discover that he had lost his cigarette case. The next day he wrote to his host to request its return. About 1972, my mentor, Mr. Van Allen Bradley (author of Gold in Your Attic), offered to sell me that original autograph letter. Sadly I could not afford the approximately $150 he asked for it, and it went to someone else. At that time I knew of Harte as a California friend of Mark Twain. If I had only known that that incident may have provoked Harte’s Sherlockian parody, I certainly would have found a way to acquire that epistle.)

    Meanwhile, other not-to-be-missed nuggets in this compilation include a very late (1927) article by Conan Doyle which relates to his interest in Spiritualism. (Did you know he opened a Spiritualism Bookshop near the British Museum?) Called “The Alleged Posthumous Writings of Known Authors,” it in part attempts to resolve The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which remained unfinished at Dickens' death.

    Last, but certainly not least, this reprints various contributions by Vincent Starrett in advance of his immediate classic The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. They demonstrate the state of mind of a youngish Starrett trying to work from his reporter’s notebooks, showing his growth toward writing his biography. However, at p. 179, Starrett relates an anecdote at the Cliff Dwellers’ Club in Chicago which involved Arnold Bennett and Karl Edwin Harriman. I would swear that elsewhere (in Born in a Bookshop?) the same anecdote is told involving Opie Read and Vincent Starrett. (Note: in more than 35 years of selling rare books in Chicago, I have never seen any which support either version of this anecdote.) Also, there are some fresh twists on the use of a Ouija board in the press room of the Chicago Daily News.

    I enjoyed this book. I recommend it. The annotations prevent a lot of Googling. That which is old is new again in this new presentation. Steve Doyle and his Gasogene Press colleagues are to be applauded for producing this project.

Thomas J. Joyce

Thomas J. Joyce (“The Yellow-backed Novel,” BSI) is a rare books dealer, and a long-time member of Chicago’s bibliophile society, The Caxton Club.

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Posted August 21, 2010:

Sherlock Alive: Sherlockian Excerpts from Vincent Starrett’s

“Books Alive” Column in The Chicago Tribune 1942 – 1967.

Compiled and Annotated by Karen Murdock, with an Introduction by Susan Rice.

Eugenia, ONT: The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2010.

503pp., illus., bibliography, index, paper covers.

$35.00           ISBN 978-1-55246-908-8

It is difficult to imagine the state of Sherlockian studies or the history of the Baker Street Irregulars without thinking of Vincent Starrett. Novelist, short story writer, poet, critic, columnist, bookman, he was the voice of literary Chicago in the middle of the twentieth century. He not only wrote one of the best biographies of Sherlock Holmes in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1933), but kept green the memory of the Master in his weekly “Books Alive” column for the Chicago Tribune. Not every column mentioned Sherlock Holmes, but just as King Charles’ head kept popping up in the manuscript Mr. Dick was writing in David Copperfield, the name of Sherlock Holmes would surface in Starrett’s columns without warning. Vincent Starrett saw the world from the point of view of Baker Street.

    This collection begins with his earliest columns in the Chicago Daily News and continues when it moved to the Chicago Tribune. The first is dated September 2, 1942, the last August 13, 1967. (His final “Books Alive” column was September 3, 1967, but did not deal with Sherlock Holmes.) Only those portions of the columns relating to Sherlock Holmes are reprinted, though occasionally an entire column will appear if the context demands it. Interestingly, the very first discusses the manuscript of “The Case of the Man Who Was Wanted,” suspected at that time to be an actual undiscovered Sherlock Holmes story written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The last column completely devoted to Sherlock Holmes is a review of Pierre Nordon’s Conan Doyle: A Biography.

    The book is necessarily episodic, but nevertheless it is possible to read it straight through with pleasure as well as by dipping into it at random. Starrett was a man of his times and commented in passing on his times and the people who moved in it. If they just happened to be Sherlockians, so much the better. Whenever a person or event might not be understood by today’s reader, editor Murdock has inserted a footnote of explanation. In addition, there is a lengthy section at the end of biographical sketches (“Personalia”) of Sherlockians and others whom Starrett mentions in his columns. (This reviewer happens to be one of them, by virtue of having written Starrett in 1960 when he was in Library School at the University of Minnesota.)

    But (as they say in infomercials) that’s not all! A dozen appendices record such topics as a Chicago Daily News article about the discovery of the real author of “The Case of the Man Who Was Wanted,” a list of pastiches involving Sherlock Homes and Gilbert & Sullivan, a list of Basil Rathbone’s movie roles before Sherlock Holmes, Ronald Knox’s “10 Commandments of the Detective Story,” an essay on Sherlock Holmes by Christopher Isherwood, and Jay Finlay Christ’s abbreviations for the stories. At the very end (before a most able index) there is a chronology of the Life and Times of Vincent Starrett, with dates and events in the world beyond Starrett as well as those in his own life. It begins almost a decade before Starrett’s birth with the birth of Carl Sandburg, another noted Chicago literary figure and friend of Starrett’s whose birthday is also that of Sherlock Holmes, January 6.

    This is a book for anyone who enjoys reading Vincent Starrett, but it may also serve as a resource to events in the Sherlockian world between 1942 and 1967. There is one column, for June 24, 1945, for which this reviewer wishes to have been told more by the editor. The column mentions a man named Talbot C. Hatch of Minneapolis, who supplied Starrett with some statistics regarding the detective story. Unfortunately, there is no footnote or entry under “Personalia” to explain just who Talbot C. Hatch was. He contributed quizzes to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in the 1940s and compiled an extensive bibliography of writers of detective fiction that exists in at least two typewritten copies. We have long wished to know more about the man.

    A book that allows us to read something new by the Dean of Sherlockians (as Starrett was often called) is worth a place on our shelves.

J. Randolph Cox, BSI

  1. J.Randolph Cox (“The Conk-Singleton Forgery Case,” BSI) is Prof. Emeritus (Library, St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minn.), and editor of Dime Novel Round-Up.

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