As a youngster, at about the age of seven or eight, I was mesmerized by the Sherlock Holmes stories being read to me by my cousin Maryjane. I purchased The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, my first book, shortly thereafter. I satill have it — a 1920 A. L. Burt edition that is today quite fragile, as the cover is tattered and worn, hanging by threads to the yellowed pages. I have kept it all these years. Soon this copy will be 100 years old, but the shabby volume will remain on the shelf, because it was the first of my collection. My study of Sherlock Holmes remained, as did the book on the shelf, dormant for many years of school, and through College. Then I detected William S. Baring-Gould’s The Annotated Sherlock Holmes.
To be honest, to the seasoned Sherlockian, this tome added little to the literature of Sherlock Holmes. Many had written about these narratives; The Baker Street Irregulars, and their scions had been meeting for years; and Chronology has been a major area of study since the first adventure appeared in print. However, to the world outside this tight little circle, where the secrets were confined to meetings — often by invitation only — it was invaluable. The dream of finding like minded individuals to share my ideas with seemed remote so remote in 1972; but now years later, the scion that found its roots in Baring-Gould’s Annotated, has held over 38 years of monthly meetings. In short, he opened a world to people like myself that we doubted we could join. However. I am pleased to report, I was wrong.
Baring-Gould’s efforts were a revelation to the uninitiated devotes who, heretofore, had no outlet for their keen interest in the world’s first consulting detective. The unflattering criticisms of Baring-Gould’s efforts were varied. He suggests many facets of Holmes’s early life that are not reenforced by Dr. Watson’s narratives to the point that it is declared fictional. However, to active minds: the fact that Holmes may have personally known Jack the Ripper; or that Moriarty may have been his tutor; or he may have had an affair with Irene Adler, etc, were proportionate to references to works of other scholars. In short, he opened the floodgate to those who did not know of their very existence.
In an article entitled “A Singular Set of People,” Baring-Gould bears witness to the existence of The Baker Street Irregulars of New York. He individually lists the names of early scion societies, founded by members of the parent society. He discusses some of their activities. In short, to those in the remote, rural communities throughout the world, he gave encouragement that they did not stand alone. Such was the case of “The Occupants of the Empty House,” formally formed on 22nd January 1977. We had read the “Buy Laws” of the Baker Street Irregulars, and decided to hold our first meeting as per these sanctified scrolls. To our surprise, those 22 individuals who gathered that evening voted to meet once per month, contrary to the laws established by Elmer Davis. We formed our society without realizing the condition that many of these early scion societies were established by an existing member of the parent organization. In truth, we did not care.
The first time I read 221b by Vincent Starrett was from the pages of The Annotated. They are 14 verses of pure ecstacy. There has never been a more complete and definitive description of devotion to the 60 cases. One shudders to think that what may have been had my eyes never seen these immotal words about the “two men of note.” Thus, it was Baring-Gould who introduced me to Vincent Starrett. Notwithstanding, he also introduced me to Knox, Bell, Morley, and many others who have become life long friends.
Long live William S. Baring-Gould.
William R. Cochran