Why was this at an early meeting of the Chicago Hounds?
It was on a wet, cold day in October in the year 2018 when a large, insulated envelope arrived at our home. Inside the carefully wrapped package was my most recent purchase: a large colorful illustration. The page is on the thinnest paper I’ve handled and is tearing at the folds.
Intended to be opened into one page of two related images, the page is cleanly cut on the right side, but ragged on the left. It made me wonder if the image had come out of a publication of some sort.
I know nothing of where, or when or why the image was produced. If any of you know more, please, let me know at StudiesinStarrett@comcast.net. Many thanks.
What I do know is that it traces itself back to Jan. 7, 1944 and one of the first meetings of the group that was to become The Hounds of the Baskerville (sic), the mother of all Chicago Sherlockian societies.
The People of the Drama
A little background. The Hounds was founded by four of Chicago’s leading lights: Starrett, Charles Collins, Horace Bridges and Stanley Pargellis.
Starrett you know.
Collins, a close friend of Starrett, has popped up at various times in these pages, largely through his work in a Chicago Tribune, column, “A Line O’Type or Two.”
Horace Bridges was a locally famous leader of the Chicago Ethical Society, which provided a non-religiously based home for teaching ethical behavior.
And Stanley Pargellis was head librarian at Chicago’s famous Newberry library, and the man who would eventually provide the group with its name. (When the group met in January 1944, its name was still a work in progress.)
These four, plus a handful of others, gathered on that wintry Chicago night in 1944. Collins published some enigmatic minutes in the Tribune on January 13 of that year, under the title: “Jottings found on a napkin in the oldest cafe in Chicago, Jan. 7, 1944.” The entry can be found in Sherlock in the Trib, which was collected by Hounds historian John Nieminski, with commentary by the late Ely Liebow.
In Collins’ account, toasts were drunk, the Buy-Laws of the Baker Street Irregulars were adopted, and a telegram was sent to the BSI announcing its existence. (The BSI was having its own dinner in New York that same night.)
But nowhere in those notes was a mention made of a image like the one shown here, the “Souvenir de Sherlock”
The Statement of the Case
First, we need to try to establish if this item was indeed at that dinner. And while we can’t take a look at the videotape, we can carefully review the information we have at hand.
Starrett has written the name “Schlogl’s” at the top of the page. Schlogl’s often advertised itself as the oldest cafe/restuarant in Chicago. So when Collins says his “Jottings found on a napkin in, the oldest cafe in Chicago,” he was referring to Schlogl’s, which was a favorite for newspapers reporters, poets and writers in the city.
The date at the top of the illustration is clearly the same as the date in Collins’ published “jottings.”
So we have location and date.
Finally, there is Starrett’s signature in his distinctive hand.
So it looks like this illustration was present at that dinner of the proto-Hounds.
Clearly we need more data, since we can’t make bricks without straw. The rest of the story must come from the illustration itself and what it tells us. And for that information, I asked for help from the Studies in Starrett Facebook group, and got back some intriguing information.
Your editor discourses
First, I want to send my thanks to Yuichi Hirayma, Elaine Yao, Gayle Puhl, Peggy Purdue, Steve Rothman and Susumu Kobayashi, who each offered information and signposts that were immensely helpful. (If you gave assistance and I did not name you, let me know.) I am always stunned at the generosity of the Sherlockian world, whose members give their time and knowledge to help us wander down the right paths.
While they each were invaluable in their assistance, this conjecture on how the image came to be at the Schlogl’s dinner is my own and worth what you paid for it.. If it’s in error, the error is mine.
Now, consider this:
Vincent Starrett and Ray Latimer vacationed in Peking in 1936 and part of 1937. While there, Starrett did research on a type of Chinese detective story. To quote Starrett from his essay, “Some Chinese Detective Stories”: “There you may meet old Pao Kung (pronounced Bow-Goong), the Sherlock Holmes of China, who flourished in the ninth century; Di Jen-djeh (pronounced Dee-Ren-Jee), the mighty minister of state in the reign of Empress Wu T’se T’ien, and other famous justice-doers of old China.”
Starrett’s interest in old Chinese detective stories was known among his friends. I believe one of them acquired the illustration and saved it to bring to Starrett at the Jan. 7, 1944 meeting at Schlogl’s.
Who gave this to Starrett? My money is on Stanley Pargellis. He traveled around the world buying books for the Newberry, and would have been the one most likely to see this and know it’s meaning.
If I’ve sorted things out properly, what I think we have here is an illustration from an opera showing an 18th century Chinese official who acted much like Sherlock Holmes. The pictures are from a traditional opera that features an official from the Qing dynasty, Shi Julin, sometimes spelled Shi Shilun, also known as Shi Gong who was born in 1659 and died on July 3, 1722.
The Wikipedia entry for Shi Shilun explains that “In the 19th century, fictionalized crime fiction stories featuring him as a central character.” For example, he appeared in the novel The Cases of Lord Shi (施公案). “Subsequently, many operas also featured him as a central character.” Other online sites note that Shi was known as an honest public official, impartial in his decisions and unafraid of calling out the powerful men who were breaking the law.
(Modern television and film adaptations, filmed after 1944, treat him very much as a master detective, although he sometimes gets help from otherworldly spirits. A Chinese TV series, “Chinese Sherlock Shi”, was produced in 2013.)
In the illustration from Jan. 7, the man with the long black beard is supposed to be Shi Shilun.
So there you have it. This illustration comes down to us from 1944, certainly, but also from another time and place far from 20th century Chicago.
There might be another explanation for all this. And we have not yet figured out where and when this illustration was printed. But we have made good progress, I think, and deserve to take a celebratory drink to the chair by the fire, while we dream of days gone by.