Saturday 21 February 2015

Read that Lost Sherlock Holmes Story, And Why It's Not Really Sherlock Holmes At All...

What a treat to wake up to the news that a previously lost, and indeed unrecorded Sherlock Holmes story has been rediscovered. Yesterday The Scotsman had the news, which has since gone worldwide, but I've yet to see much discussion of its actual content.

Whether or not it's actually written by Conan Doyle himself (and there's no way we're ever going to know definitively, but the evidence would suggest it probably is from his hand), what is clear is that this new 'Sherlock Holmes story' isn't really a story... and it doesn't feature Sherlock Holmes.

Well, not the 'real' Sherlock Holmes, anyway. The 'author' of the piece – an unnamed journalist on a deadline, not John Watson – freely admits that his 'interview' with Sherlock Holmes comes via 'The Faculty of Imagination'. Even without this admission, the fact that this Holmes is an imposter is abundantly clear from the several errors the careless 'author' makes.

It would need a finer Holmesian than I to identify them all, but for starters:

This Holmes, apparently, lives in Sloan Street. He owns a complete set of Macaulay's works, quotes The Lays of Ancient Rome, and often discusses politics and 'the fiscal question' with Watson.

This is surely not the inhabitant of 221B Baker Street described by his faithful Boswell as having:
Knowledge of Literature: Nil
Knowledge of Politics: Feeble

I think these fun 'easter eggs' for the keen Holmes fan to spot adds to the evidence that Doyle himself was indeed the author. There's actually lots of references, both Holmesian and political, for Doyle biographers to get their collective teeth into here. The game is afoot...

It's a fun piece in its own right though, so here it is in its entirety:

'Sherlock Holmes: Discovering the Border Burghs and, by deduction, the Brig Bazaar'

'We've had enough of old romancists and the men of travel, said the Editor, as he blue-pencilled his copy, and made arrangements for the great Saturday edition of the Bazaar Book. 'We want something up-to-date. Why not have a word from "Sherlock Holmes"?'

Editors have only to speak and it is done, at least, they think so. 'Sherlock Holmes!' As well talk of interviewing the Man in the Moon. But it does not do to tell Editors all that you think. I had no objections whatever, I assured the Editor, to buttonhole 'Sherlock Holmes,' but to do so I should have to go to London.

'London!' scornfully sniffed the Great Man. 'And you profess to be a journalist? Have you never heard of the telegraph, the telephone, or the phonograph? Go to London! And are you not aware that all journalists are supposed to be qualified members of the Institute of Fiction, and to be qualified to make use of the Faculty of Imagination? By the use of the latter men have been interviewed, who were hundreds of miles away; some have been "interviewed" without either knowledge or consent. See that you have a topical article ready for the press for Saturday. Good day'.'

I was dismissed and had to find copy by hook or by crook. Well, the Faculty of Imagination might be worth a trial.

The familiar house in Sloan Street met my bewildered gaze. The door was shut, the blinds drawn. I entered; doors are no barrier to one who uses the Faculty of Imagination. The soft light from an electric bulb flooded the room. 'Sherlock Holmes' sits by the side of the table; Dr Watson is on his feet about to leave for the night. Sherlock Holmes, as has lately been shown by a prominent journal, is a pronounced Free Trader. Dr Watson is a mild Protectionist, who would take his gruelling behind a Martello tower, as Lord Goschen wittily put it, but not 'lying down!' The twain had just finished a stiff argument on Fiscal policy. Holmes loq,-

'And when shall I see you again, Watson? The inquiry into the "Mysteries of the Secret Cabinet" will be continued in Edinburgh on Saturday. Do you mind a run down to Scotland? You would get some capital data which you might turn to good account later.'

'I am very sorry,' replied Dr Watson, 'I should have liked to have gone with you, but a prior engagement prevents me. I will, however, have the pleasure of being in kindly Scottish company that day. I, also, am going to Scotland.'

'Ah! Then you are going to the Border country at that time?'

'How do you know that?'

'My dear Watson, it's all a matter of deduction.'

'Will you explain?'

'Well, when a man becomes absorbed in a certain theme, the murder will out some day. In many discussions you and I have on the fiscal question from time to time I have not failed to notice that you have taken up an attitude antagonistic to a certain school of thought, and on several occasions you have commented on the passing of "so-called" reforms, as you describe them, which you say were not the result of a spontaneous movement from or by the people, but solely due to the pressure of the Manchester School of politicians appealing to the mob. One of these allusions you made a peculiar reference to "Huz an' Mainchester" who had "turned the world upside down." The word "Huz" stuck to me, but after consulting many authors without learning anything as to the source of the word, I one day in reading a provincial paper noticed the same expression, which the writer said was descriptive of the way Hawick people looked at the progress of Reform. "Huz an' Mainchester' led the way. So, thought I, Watson has a knowledge of Hawick. I was still further confirmed in this idea by hearing you in several absent moments crooning a weird song of the Norwegian God Thor. Again I made enquires, and writing to a friend in the South country I procured a copy of "Teribus." So, I reasoned, so - there's something in the air! What attraction has Hawick for Watson?'

'Wonderful,' Watson said, 'and -- '

'Yes, and when you characterised the action of the German Government in seeking to hamper Canadian trade by raising her tariff wall against her, as a case of "Sour Plums," and again in a drawing room asked a mutual lady friend to sing you that fine old song, "Braw, braw lads," I was curious enough to look up the old ballad, and finding it had reference to a small town near to Hawick, I began to see a ray of daylight. Hawick had a place in your mind; likewise so had Galashiels - so much was apparent. The question to be decided was why?'

'So far so good. And -- '

'Later still the plot deepened. Why, when I was retailing to you the steps that led up to the arrest of the Norwood builder by the impression of his thumb, I found a very great surprise that you were not listening at all to my reasoning, but were lilting a very sweet - a very sweet tune, Watson - "The Flowers of the Forest;" then I in turn consulted an authority on the subject, and found that that lovely if tragic song had a special reference to Selkirk. And you remember, Watson, how very enthusiastic you grew all of a sudden on the subject of Common-Ridings, and how much you studied the history of James IV., with special reference to Flodden Field. All these things speak, Watson, to the orderly brain of a thinker. Hawick, Galashiels, and Selkirk. What did the combination mean? I felt I must solve the problem, Watson; so that night when you left me, after we had discussed the "Tragedy of a Divided House," I ordered in a ton of tobacco, wrapped my cloak about me, and spent the night in thought. When you came round in the morning the problem was solved. I could not on the accumulative evidence but come to the conclusion that you contemplated another Parliamentary contest. Watson, you have the Border Burghs in your eye!'

'In my heart, Holmes,' said Watson.

'And where do you travel to on Saturday, Watson?'

'I am going to Selkirk; I have an engagement there to open a Bazaar.'

'Is it in aide of a Bridge, Watson?'

'Yes,' replied Watson in surprise; 'but how do you know? I have never mentioned the matter to you.'

'By word, no; but by your action you have revealed the bent of your mind.'


'Let me explain. A week ago you came round to my rooms and asked for a look at "Macaulay's Lays of Ancient Rome." (You know I admire Macaulay's works, and have a full set.) That volume, after a casual look at, you took with you. When you returned it a day or two later I noticed it was marked with a slip of paper at the "Lay of Horatius," and I detected a faint pencil mark on the slip noting that the closing stanza was very appropriate. As you know, Watson, the lay is all descriptive of the keeping of a bridge. Let me remind you how nicely you would perorate -

When the goodman mends his armour

And trims his helmet's plume,

When the goodwife's shuttle merrily

Goes flashing through the loom,

With weeping and with laughter.

Still the story told -

How well Horatius kept the bridge,

In the brave days of old.

Could I, being mortal, help thinking you were bent on some such exploit yourself?'

'Very true!'

'Well, goodbye, Watson; shall be glad of your company after Saturday. Remember Horatius' words when you go to Border Burghs :- "How can man die better than facing fearful odds." But there, these words are only illustrations. Safe journey, and success to the Brig!'


Sunday 15 February 2015

Things That Fall Out Of Books: Where, When and Who Is This?

With a nod to the excellent blogger and bookseller Callum James (from whom I've shamelessly nicked the idea), here a Thing That Fell Out Of A Book; an immaculately preserved full leather copy of the Everyman edition of Melville's Typee, to be precise.

It's a street scene photo, which was evidently originally printed as one half of a postcard, but presumably for a 'private' customer, rather than a postcard on general sale.

From the clothes, my not particularly educated guess is 1920s or 30s rather than 40s, but exactly when, or indeed who or where – I've no idea. The book comes from a local house, but the street certainly doesn't look like anywhere in Penrith to me. I thought it might be somewhere in Europe (that street looks rather wide and leafy, boulevard-style), but then I had a look at that 'B' on the shopfront: from the font I'm pretty certain that's a Boots the chemist... but which branch? 

And why is she carrying what looks like an overcoat when she's already wearing one? Anyone got any more ideas?

Sunday 8 February 2015

Canine Couture, or, Dogs In Dresses

Leafing through a bound copy of Pearson's Magazine from July to December 1898, I came across this, which I thought definitely deserved to be on the internet:

The text is almost as funny as the pictures: the correspondent, one Robert H. Sherard, becomes more and more incredulous as it goes on. His interviewee is Monsieur Vivier, proprietor of the Galerie D'Orleans, "successor to the Monsieur Ledouble, who was the founder of this curious industry" a full 20 years before.


"We dress dogs [says Monsieur Vivier] for every function of social life. There is, for instance, the visiting costume, which this year has largely been made in box cloth, with leather trimmings, and the dog's initials, name, or coat of arms in gold lettering in one of the corners. A little bunch of artificial flowers, by preference cat's eyes or forget-me-nots, is placed behind the Medicis collar. Then there is the 'at home' suiting, made for the most part of silk, warmly lined; the yachting costume, which is made chiefly in blue serge; and the travelling costume, which is made of Scotch tartan, fitted with two little pockets, one for the dog's handkerchief and the other for his railway ticket."

"The dog's handkerchief, I cried, "and what is that for?"

"What is a handkerchief for?" answered Monsieur Vivier in some surprise. "To wipe his eyes with, if not to wipe his nose. All our coats are fitted with little pockets for handkerchiefs, and no fashionable dog ever goes out without a handkerchief in his pocket. It is a very good line in the outfitting trade. The handkerchiefs are often very luxurious articles, made of fine cambric trimmed with lace and worked in silk with the dog's name or crest. Most dogs take three or four dozen handkerchiefs at a time."


Well, that told Mr Sherard. Fancy doubting the need for a dog's handkerchief.

Sunday 1 February 2015

Star Wars in Hungary (Slight Return)

Last week's post on the unofficial Hungarian Han Solo novels proved quite popular, so here's an encore: these images have been seen around the net for a while, but they're brilliant, and deserve any excuse to share.

Like their equally hatstand Polish counterparts, the Hungarian posters for the original Star Wars trilogy are dementedly wonderful.

They were painted by Tibor Helenyi, another artist who wouldn't have got on well with the Lucasfilm approvals process ("Well, I just thought I'd redesign Darth Vader, and add some aliens of my own... is that a problem?").

He died last year, and there's a short bio of him here. His other movie posters were fantastic too...