My Favorite Sherlockians - A Dialogue with Dan Andriacco
Friend and Sherlockian colleague Dan Andriacco (author of Baker Street Beat, There’s No Police Like Holmes and it’s soon-to-be-released sequel Holmes Sweet Holmes) and I were recently discussing our favorite (deceased) Sherlockians: those authors, personalities, scholars, and/or legends who have had the greatest personal inspiration/influence/impact on each of us. So as not to accidentally influence each other’s picks, we decided to each draw-up a list of our five (personal) favorite Sherlockians, keep the contents a secret from each other and then simultaneously post said list with a brief explanation for each choice (plus a few honorable mentions) on our respective blogs.
I look forward to viewing Mr Andriacco’s ‘Favorite Sherlockians’ list (cf. end of this post for link) to see where we agree/disagree as well as using our little joint blog venture to instigate an ongoing dialogue about various important Sherlockians of decades past, who may be (for the moment at least) unknown to new and burgeoning Sherlock Holmes fans. Depending on the response to our collaborative effort we will be posting follow-up remarks and cross-commentary. Anyway, here’s what you’ve all been waiting for: Always1895’s top 5 Sherlockians!! (As one would expect, in no particular order…)
The author of one of my favorite ‘later’ Holmesian books (In the Footsteps of Sherlock Holmes, 1972) as well as a handful of equally fascinating tomes delving into various aspects of Sherlock Holmes’ life and the times in which he lived (Cynological Mr Holmes, The World of Sherlock Holmes, The London of Sherlock Holmes, etc.), Harrison was a consummate ‘old-school’ Sherlockian (or Holmesian since he was English) who truly yearned for the magical days of the late 19th century. For a superb taste of Mr Harrison’s erudition, sense of humor, general approach to all matters Sherlockian and accent, I highly recommend listening to the audio talks hosted at the University of Minnesota’s Sherlock Holmes Collection (UMedia Archive): “Holmes Then” (1984), “The London of Sherlock Holmes” (1984) and “The Gaslight Era“ (1984).
For regular readers of Always1895, the inclusion of the venerable Mr Vincent Starrett - author of the groundbreaking and game changing Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1933) and author of 221B - should come as no surprise. Eclipsing even the great Christopher Morley (Morley may have started the BSI, but Starrett started what started the BSI), Starrett seems to have (almost) single handedly kickstarted what we think of today as ‘modern’ Sherlockian studies. OK, if you haven’t read VS’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, hit your internal Internet/Life pause button and either pick up the Otto Penzler SH Library Edition (222 pp., some illustrations, paperback) of the relatively inexpensive paperback reissue or pamper yourself and grab the very useful Wessex Press 75th Anniversary Edition (259 pp., illustrated, case-bound with DJ, $29.95). While (re)reading it, remind yourself VS wrote it in 1933. Next pick up a random Baker Street Journal from any decade and note how Starrett’s deceptively ‘simple’ little book spawned the intellectual industry that we know and love today.
I really didn’t mean to sound dismissive regarding Morley’s founding of the Baker Street Irregulars - as an idea whose time (c. 1934) had come and whose lasting legacy continues to not only be felt but also to influence new generations as well as grow and change with said generations, the BSI is genius. Born our of what Morley and cronies called the ‘Three Hours for Lunch Club’, the nascent BSI was just another one of Morley’s famed ‘clubs’ (a clubable man if there ever was one!) and might have sunk into the mysts of time if not for the Sherlockian next on my list (cf. below). In my opinion, Christopher Morley’s most important contribution to Sherlockian culture - along with the BSI, his numerous Sherlock-soaked articles for the Saturday Review of Literature, collected in Steve Rothman’s brilliantly edited The Standard Doyle Company, the classic Intro to the Doubleday standard omnibus edition of The Complete Sherlock Holmes, et al., - was acting for a time as the intellectual/inspirational ‘center’ (symbolically viewed as the Gasogene & Tantalus). Perusing through Lellenberg’s multi-volume history of the BSI** , one is convinced that the (east coast/midwest American) Sherlockian world for a time revolved around and hence was sustained and warmed by Christopher Morley.
If Morley was the Sol (to speak) of the Sherlockians, Edgar W. Smith was the elemental force that bound the system together. Prolific beyond belief in both the Sherlockian and business (a high-ranking General Motors company man) worlds, Smith is probably my personal favorite Sherlockian of all time (except those occasional times when I am completely broke and find myself identifying with Vincent Starrett or Frederic Dorr Steele - Lellenberg says of them in BSI History something to the effect that they often seemed to be competing in the ‘Most Destitute’ category) for a variety of reasons beginning with Smith’s first insightful yet genuinely humble letters to Starrett (lavishly praising Private Life) and Morley (cf. Lellenberg’s Irregular Memories of the ‘Thirties, Chapter 14 ‘Enter Edgar W. Smith’), continuing on through his massively inspired but impressively underfunded Pamphlet House to the eventual revival and organization of the BSI tactfully maintained (via his ‘Buttons’ persona) under the watchful eye of Morley. Whether Smith was pleading with a broke Starrett to come to the next BSI dinner or writing reverently to FDR essentially asking the war-weary president to come hang at same, Smith’s letters reveal the unique personage he must have been.
Though not nearly as famous or even recognized as original Sherlock Holmes illustrator Sydney Paget, FDS - as revealed in his letters with Starrett, Morley and Smith - was a Sherlockian whose lifetime love affair with The Master is perhaps best ‘illustrated’ via his life long dream to illustrate the entire Canon; a dream almost made a reality thanks to the help of Edgar Smith if not for FDS’s terribly untimely death. For it denied his friends of his company and the world of his work: imagine if the Limited Edition Club (and Heritage Press) Complete Sherlock Holmes set were lavishly illustrated with only FDS illustrations? One of my favorite examples of FDS’s work is hanging in The Player’s in NYC: William Gillette as Sherlock Holmes (NORW) in the Grill Room.
Honorable mentions (in no particular order) go to: Lord Donegall, Michael Hardwick, Dr Julian Wolff, Jay Finley Christ, William S. Baring-Gould, Richard Lancelyn Green (sadly deceased before his time) and D. Martin Dakin. I’m sure I’ve forgotten plenty of my favorites, many of whom I’ll introduce or rediscover in later posts. Now let’s go check out what Dan Andriacco’s ‘Favorite Sherlockians’ are up to…..
** An absolutely essential guide to the history of Sherlock Holmes culture in the United States (seen primarily through the lens of the Baker Street Irregulars) and the individuals who inspired/fostered said culture is Jon Lellenberg’s The BSI History Series. There are five main volumes and a few supplementary publications which chart the birth and ‘formative years’ of the BSI (i.e. starting with Vincent Starrett’s letters in the 1930s, through Chris Morley’s three hours for lunch club and ending with an established BSI -spawning a myriad of satellite scion societies) with Edgar Smith at the helm. Unfortunately, many of the volumes are out of print, but you can still pick up copies on Abe Books (21 items currently available) or at speciality shops like Mysterious Books.
[If you don’t own any of the essential Jon Lellenberg (BSI, “Rodger Prescott of evil memory”) BSI History series books, be on the lookout for these red covers - you’ll thank me later!]
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