The Ecphorizer

Notes of a Magaziner XIV
Paul W. Healy

Issue #28 (December 1983)



Last spring quite a few magazines and newspapers took note of the fact that a new suspect had surfaced in the Piltdown hoax - an intended joke which turned into a scientific embarrassment when the discoverer of the doctored ape skull took it for the genuine remains of a primitive human being. This new candidate for a rather dubious honor was none other than Arthur Conan [quoteright'/>Doyle, the author of the exploits of that great detective, Sherlock Holmes. He surely had the knowledge and facilities to modify the skull, and was often in the vicinity of the Piltdown gravel pit where it was found.

These notices reminded me that it had been several years since I had any contact with The Scowrers and Molly Maguires of San Francisco, one of the scion societies of the Baker Street Irregulars, headquartered in New York City. The name of the local society, as all who are even slightly familiar with the Canon will recognize, comes from the name given to certain members of the Vermissa Valley Lodge, in The Valley of Fear. So I thought I would share with you some selections from the first two volumes of The Baker Street Journal (An Irregular Quarterly of Sherlockiana), published by Ben Abramson, edited by Edgar W. Smith.

In the first issue Edgar Smith outlines the purpose of the Journal:  

"The Journal is dedicated to the proposition that there is still infinitely much to be said about the scene in Baker Street, and that it is of the first importance to safeguard the meritorious offerings laid upon our common shrine from that swift oblivion to which, by a heedless and unheeding world, they might otherwise be condemned. In that purpose and intent, which honors by its very terms the name and fame of Sherlock Holmes, the Journal's course of destiny will run."

The first issue (January 1946) sets the pattern that was followed in subsequent numbers. For example, there are two articles based on a passing remark of Watson's in "The Five Orange Pips": "...the singular adventures of the Grice Patersons in the island of Uffa." In the first article, "In Uffish Thought," Rolfe Boswell finds great significance in the fact that the word "island" is not capitalized, and goes on to connect this "island" with "Uffa, King of the East Angles, circa 580, who was the traditional builder of the great mound on which Norwich Castle stands." After all, the secondary definition of the word "island" in the Universal Dictionary of the English Language is: "anything resembling an island; a detached or isolated mound." He then goes on to speculate that quite probably Lewis Carroll was referring to this location in "Jabberwocky" ("...in uffish thought..."). The second article, "James Boswell and the Island of Uffa," by Jay Finley Christ, suggests that Watson was writing hurriedly, and the place he referred to was really the Island of Ulva, near the Island of Staffa (famous today mainly for issuing gold postage stamps), both of which Boswell visited.

Christopher Morely has a section in each issue, titled "Clinical Notes by a Resident Patient." Two of his briefer items are these:

"I've always wondered about the deal-topped table in the room in Baker Street; surely the worst possible surface for chemical experiments. Deal, if I understand English usage, is not a kind of wood but any soft wood, such as pine or fir, sawn into broad planks. Extremely flammable, I should think, and erodable by acids.

"I noticed in a footnote to Swift's Jnl to Stella that "scowrer" was a familiar 18th Century term for a night-rover (one who scowered the streets, viz. ran about), meaning a Mohock, a gangster, a ruffian generally - vide Letter #43 in Swift's Jnl."

The second issue of The Baker Street Journal contains a translation of one of the Master's cases into French: "Un Scandale en Bohême," which the editor notes is "from a feuilleton in the archives of the Scandalous Bohemians of Akron, Ohio, and is reproduced with the permission of their Gasogene, Mr. C. R. Andrew." This number also contains various other articles dealing with such matters as the opinions of Mrs. Hudson and details of the construction of the aluminium crutch.

Finally, in a letter to the Baker Street Irregulars dated 5 August 1942, Franklin Delano Roosevelt wrote: "Now that I belong to the BSI, I cannot restrain the impulse to tell you that...I sometimes go off the record on Sundays to an undisclosed retreat. In that spot the group of little cabins which shelter the Secret Service men is known as Baker Street." Appended is a map showing a row of cottages, labeled 221b Baker Street, inhabited by "Baker Street Urchins." 

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Paul Healy




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