A stroll along the shelves
To conclude the Honce/Starrett trilogy, let’s wander through the shelves and pull out some relevant items.
One Who Fought Poe
We will start with one of the most difficult to find booklets of Starrett's early years: One Who Knew Poe, published in 1927. The booklet was published by John S. Mayfield (remember those initials!) and reprints an article from the October 1927 issue of The Bookman and recounts a war of words between Edgar Allan Poe and John Hill Hewitt, a balladeer, poet, and renowned hothead. The two men competed for prizes in a literary contest sponsored by Hewitt's paper. Poe won first prize, Hewitt won second. The bad blood bubbled over and the two tossed insults as others looked on and enjoyed the fight.
This copy is unique. It is the one that Charles Honce once owned. You can see the inscription which Starrett did for him on the FEP:
"To Charles Honce - /because I want him to have it/Vincent Starrett/ (I have seen hardware cata-/logues that were handsomer/than this thing.)”
But here's the mystery. Why is there a second inscription to Honce? And who is JSM of Texas? Is it possible that JSM is, in fact, the very John S. Mayfield who had the booklet printed in the first place? JSM clearly bristled at Starrett’s negative comment about the quality of the booklet.
Oh this is embarrassing.
Nonetheless, here’s the second inscription:
"C.H.: I too want you/to have this - but I/cannot say that I'm/acquainted with the/format of hardware/catalogues—!/Best Wishes,/JSM./ of Texas/ Dec/1948."
There is a deeper story here, but all the cast has faded from the stage. We may never know the full story, but it is fun to speculate, isn’t it?
Alice’s Christmas Adventure
Moving on, we have another rarity: The Escape of Alice: A Christmas Fantasy, Cedar Rapids, Iowa: The Torch Press, 1919.
Once again, it’s a booklet with an inscription from Starrett to Honce:
“To Charles Honce:/This strange ghost out of/my sentimental youth—/I wish it were better/worth his while—/Vincent Starrett/Chicago: 19 January, 1941”
The fantasy relates what happens when Alice (of Wonderland fame) sneaks out of her book one evening and ventures into the world on Christmas Eve.
Starrett tried his hand at emulating Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s imagination, if not his style. For those seeking an escape on Christmas Eve, it is well worth your while.
In the photos that accompany this block, I’ve included the page from Honce’s bibliography to firmly establish provenance.
Sliding down the shelf, we pull off another bibliography. This little volume is devoted to that jolly wordsmith, Ambrose Bierce and was published in 1929 by the Centaur Book Shop in Philadelphia.
Starrett’s miss-adventures with Bierce have been discussed previously. If you have a few moments, I suggest clicking on that link and enjoying samples from the Old Boy’s sardonic view of the world.
This copy of Starrett’s bibliography is inscribed from Starrett to Honce thus:
“To Charles Honce—/Another Biercian/with high regard/Vincent Starrett”
According to Honce, this is one of the 300 regular copies published by Centaur. There were also 45 large paper copies printed, and those are extremely hard to locate. They’re also quite pricey, since Bierce collectors want them as well.
Oh well. One can dream.
And In Conclusion
This concludes the third part of the Honce/Starrett story. I am astonished to find I have more at hand, but fear I have already worn out my welcome on the topic. (When I mentioned to Mrs. B that I was having a devil of a time keeping these pieces concise and on deadline, she flatly noted: “You write too much.” Guilty as charged.)
So let me end here with the opening and closing quotes from from a June 10, 1944, Associated Press story by Honce that compares and contrasts the two leading lights of the early Sherlock Holmes movement in the United States. Honce was there and saw it all and recorded much of it for our enjoyment. I am grateful he did so.
Background note: Back in the day, a newspaper or wire service reporter gave each story a brief name or “slug line.” Honce slugged this one “The Baker Street Twins.”
Here’s how he starts:
“Christopher Morley has a new book out; so has Vincent Starrett.
There’s nothing very startling in that fact; they are always getting out new books.
The incredible thing is that the event brings the grand total of Starrett’s numbers to exactly 150, with the Morley figure probably around 250.”
And here’s how he ends:
“A friend describes Morley as ‘a large, loose-jointed, florid man, expansive, friendly and mellow.’ He wears a beard and he will not autograph books.
Starrett has a shock of hair which has ‘turned white with an air; his complexion is pallid and smooth; his features are Stracheyian and bookish,’ and according to Burton Rascoe, he is the ‘most distinguished looking writer in America.’
He doesn’t wear a beard and he will autograph a book at the drop of a hat.”
That’s about right.
Until next time.