Chapter 6: ‘Mr. Starrett’s sonnet’
If in the waning days of 1942 you had received a holiday card from Vincent Starrett with a sonnet in it, would you have recognized it as a masterpiece?
After all, Starrett had been sending out these leaflets for years, sometimes with his work in them, sometimes with the work of others. With the holiday hustle, it would have been easy to set this aside.
But there was one man who publicly announced his affection for “221B” shortly after he got his copy in the mail.
Meet Charles Collins.
He was a mainstay of Chicago's newspaper world from the 1920s to the early 60s and a good friend of Vincent Starrett. He was also one of the four Founding Fathers of the Hounds of the Baskerville (sic). Like Starrett, Collins shifted from one Chicago newspaper to another, eventually ending up at the Chicago Tribune. In fact, it was Collins who helped Starrett get a job writing about books for the Tribune in the 1940s.
For nearly two decades, Collins oversaw the popular column "A Line O' Type or Two." Funny and folksy, the column was one of the most popular features of the newspaper before, during and after his tenure as editor.
While many of the briefs that made up the column were sent in by readers, it was Collins' sensibility that set the tone for the daily column and enshrined its role as a mainstay of the Chicago newspaper world.
There were frequent references to Sherlock Holmes, Vincent Starrett and the Chicago group of Holmes fans who later named themselves the Hounds of the Baskerville (sic).
Less well known was a second column he edited, "Bookman's Holiday." It was in this column that the most beloved poem in the Sherlockian world had its public premiere.
While researching the history of the Hounds of the Baskerville (sic) for their 75th anniversary a few years back, I was surprised to see that Collins had talked about the poem twice in "Bookman's Holiday." On Christmas Eve, Collins thanked his contributors for their Christmas cards and then cites one in particular:
"Vincent Starrett's is unique in that it does not mention Christmas at all. It is a printed leaflet forming a first edition of two sonnets on Sherlock Holmes, by the sender and Christopher Morley. Starrett's verses close with this reference to Sherlock and Dr. Watson in their rooms at 221B Baker Street London:
’Here, though the world explode, these two survive,
And it is always eighteen ninety-five.’ "
This commentary by Collins has been previously documented and was reported by Hounds historian John Nieminski in his book, Sherlock in the Trib published in 2000 by Magico Magazine of New York.
(Anyone with an interest in the early years of Starrett's Irregular society in Chicago should get the book. Nieminski has culled great comments from Collins, showing that his Tribune column acted for the Hounds in the same way Morley's Bowling Green column in the Saturday Review of Literature did for the BSI. And there is a great pair of prefaces by the late Ely Liebow.)
But as careful as Nieminski was, he did overlook a significant item. What Nieminski missed was the sequel in Collins' column for January 3, 1943. Here it is:
“Mr. Starrett’s sonnet to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson deserves a wider circulation than that of a personal Christmas card. We are tempted to recite it:”
And as you can see, Collins does just that.
This was the first public printing of the poem, and the first time people outside the limited group of fortunate friends of Starrett got to see his ode to the eternal friendship of Holmes and Watson.
Whether he knew it or not, Collins started a tradition that Chicago’s Hounds have been keeping up ever since. Very often, Hounds have produced a beautiful version of Starrett's poem for the annual dinner. I don't know how long the tradition has being going on, but I can tell you that no other Sherlock Holmes group in the world has revered this poem so deeply and for so long, as the Hounds.
They are the true keepers of the "221B" flame.
And Charles Collins began it all.
In Chapter 7, “221B” goes to the masses in a book of Starrett’s poetry.
‘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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