“He has done many little things for me."

Chapter 5: Morley, Starrett and their sonnets brighten the holidays.

‘A Pleasant Leaflet’

For several years, Vincent Starrett had been publishing a series of four-page pamphlets through Edwin B. Hill. Working from the improbably named community of Ysleta, Texas, Hill gained a reputation in the early years of the last century as a careful and talented printer.

Hill owned a small hand press and did excellent work, the kind of work that a bookman like Starrett would have found both admirable and highly collectable.

In his Starrett bibliography, Charles Honce recorded Starrett’s thoughts about Hill:

“Hill is an enchantingly bookish fellow, broke like myself, who owns a small hand press in Ysleta, Texas. … Over the years he has done many little things for me, because he likes me and likes to print.

“He’s done a lot of other things too, of course, his bibliography would be a volume. But whenever I have had any trifle of my own, or some uncollected bit by one of the big shots, that seemed to suggest a pleasant leaflet, I’ve sent it to him.

”It’s been a very happy partnerships of a sort for years. All the printings are part of my perennial quest for ana. …"”

This section includes a 1934 leaflet printed by Hill for Starrett. Although titled “Sherlockiana,” the three poems have only glancing relationships with the Baker Street detective.

‘Here is a good one, I think.’

The genesis for the 1942 pamphlet owes a lot to Edgar W. Smith, who by this time was well ensconced as the Baker Street Irregulars’ chief cook and (Scotch) bottle washer.

Last time, we saw how Starrett had dedicated “221B” to Smith and sent him a copy. In addition to a copy of “221B,” Smith had a copy of Christopher Morley’s poem, “Sonnet on Baker Street.” Smith sent Morley’s verse to Starrett, who began to plan a little holiday piece like those that Edwin B. Hill had produced in the past.

Morley happily agreed to have his verse included in the leaflet. Although he claimed that his sonnet was written hastily and lacked polish, Morley's work makes a fine companion to “221B.”

Accompanying this section are images that, to my knowledge, have never been published before: they are the proofs that Hill and Starrett used before the final leaflet was printed.

The notes show Starrett not only sent Hill the copy to be printed, he also sent the paper for Hill to use. As the paper supplier, he could make notes like this on the cover page:

EBH — Here’s a good one, I think. Let’s not cut the pages short this time. Paper follows. Regards! V.S.”

A few other observations:

  • Note that Starrett added the date (March 11, 1942) in his hand. He had put March 1942 in brackets in the typescript, but this additional bit of detail gives us greater insight into when he wrote the verse.

  • The last two pages are the final proofs. Note that Starrett had originally hoped to have 100 copies of the leaflet printed, but cut the print run to 60 copies. Starrett’s note here is instructive: “Paper on way — could only get sixty sheets, so we’ll have to change p. 4 note as above.” I don’t know where his paper came from.

  • Not entirely sure what the rest of the note regarding Hafiz and (Richard) Le Galliene is about. Another day.

Now that you’ve seen the page proofs, here’s the final product:

‘Let Fact be Ashamed’

Let’s take a deeper look at the final leaflet.

Since Morley’s sonnet is not as well known, I’ll offer a transcription:

Morley’s sonnet appeared on the inside left page.


Quick, Watson, quick! (he says) the game’s afoot:
Perhaps it’s only Scandal in Bohemia,
Or maybe Speckled Band, or Devil’s Root,
Or famous sleuth who’s dying of Anaemia –
The Dancing Men, Chicago’s smartest crooks
Have given us the code: we’ll fool that party: –
These are not merely episodes in books,
But the Crusade of Holmes and Moriarty.

So bring the fiddle and the dressing gown,
And Mrs. Hudson, and brave Scotland Yard,
And Watson by the jezail bullet lamed –
We rattle in a hansom back to Town.
If this is fancy, history’s debarred:
If this is fiction, let fact be ashamed.

May 4, 1942

Here, from the extraordinary collection of Morley-ologist (a term I just made up) Steven Rothman, is the first and final draft of Morley’s “hastily written” sonnet. Like the proof pages of the booklet, this is the first time they’ve been offered to the public.

‘Here, Though the World Explode,’

The first time “221B” saw print was in this very limited edition published for the holidays.

The first time “221B” saw print was in this very limited edition published for the holidays.

You already know Starrett’s sonnet, so a transcription won’t be needed.

Comparing the two verses show differences in style as well as approach to the Holmes mythos.

Morley’s verse is a decidedly lighthearted romp through the Sherlockian canon, with playful use of various titles, and a boyish call to adventure.

Starrett’s is more somber in tone, with a gravitas born of current events that we’ve explored in earlier chapters.

Although written in isolation, there is also some similarity in that both show how Sherlock Holmes transcends the boundaries of fiction. Morley is overt in expressing this idea, in a Shakespearean style:

If this is fancy, history’s debarred:
If this is fiction, let fact be ashamed.

Starrett covers similar territory, but in his own manner:

Only those things the heart believes are true.

As we have seen, Smith preferred this thought above others in the sonnet.

Morley, however was one of the first who felt the “admirable nostalgic conclusion” was the best.

“And it is always 1895” had its first fan in Christopher Morley. He would not be the last.

The pamphlet was timed to be mailed out for the holiday season of 1942.

Returning to the little pamphlet itself: the limited edition of 60 made it an instantly desirable item. Starrett was prescient when he bragged to Morley that Hill's publication would be, "a leaflet destined for such a glorious future in the auction rooms."

Only a small number of Starrett’s friends received this leaflet for the holidays of 1942. Starrett’s sonnet was very soon recognized as a masterpiece by one Sherlockian, who could not help but sharing it with his readers. More in Chapter 6.

‘221B’ Chapter Index

Chapter 1:       Introduction and Prologue: ‘Where it is always 1895’
Chapter 2:       'So they still live for all that love them well'
Chapter 3:       ‘Some of the most dramatic months… of contemporary history’
Chapter 4:       ‘Here dwell together still’
Chapter 5:       ‘He has done many little things for me’
Chapter 6:       ‘A wider circulation’
Chapter 7:       ‘Part of a slim volume’
Chapter 8:       ‘This poem by my good friend’
Chapter 9:       ‘Something remains of London in 1895’
Chapter 10:     What is it we love about ‘221B’?
Chapter 11:     Afterthoughts and Acknowledgments

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