|Matt Laffey's 1895 sticker|
Most Sherlockians have an almost mystical attachment to the year 1895. This comes not so much from the Sherlock Holmes stories themselves – only a comparative few of which take place in 1895 – as from the great Vincent Starrett’s famous sonnetof that name. Many scion societies end their meetings with a ritual recitation of the poem.
Personally, I’ve always preferred Starrett’s prose formulation of the same sentiment, which appears at the end of the title essay in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes:
But there can be no grave for Sherlock Holmes or Doctor Watson . . . Shall they not always live in Baker Street? Are they not there this moment, as one writes? . . . Outside, the hansoms rattle through the rain and Moriarty plans his latest deviltry. Within, the sea coal flames upon the hearth and Holmes and Watson take their well-won ease. So they still live for all that love them well: in a romantic chamber of the heart, in a nostalgic country of the mind, where it is always 1895.
I used this quote at the beginning of my novel, The 1895 Murder. Arguing taste is futile, however, so I do not insist on my preference for this particular version of the assurance that “it is always 1895.”
Recently, though, I encountered another poem about 1895 that I thought worthy of bringing to your attention, with the permission of Steven Doyle, publisher of The Baker Street Journal. It appeared in the December 1976 issue of the BSJ. While not quite as evocative – or compact! – as the Starrett classic, and not as Holmes-centric, it nicely depicts the broader world outside of 221B Baker Street in that fabled year.
A London Reverie, 1895 by Edgar S. Rosenberger
The gas lamps throw a mellow light upon the pavement, and
The tide of mankind ebbs and flows in Fleet Street and the Strand.
The hansoms and four-wheelers and the buses all compete
To hasten their appointed rounds upon the busy street.
How comforting to contemplate those fascinating names:
Westminster and Belgravia, and Chelsea and St. James;
Bayswater and South Kensington, Whitechapel and Soho,
And Mayfair, Knightsbridge, Hammersmith, Limehouse and Pimlico.
Delightful to the ear are London’s streets and avenues:
Great Portland Street, High Holborn, Ludgate Hill, and Chilworth Mews;
Haymarket, Piccadilly, Birdcage Walk, and London Wall.
The ghosts and bygone centuries pervade and haunt them all.
The high-born and their ladies show themselves in Rotten Row.
It’s really quite the thing for recognition, dontcha know.
Attend the Royal Ascot, and you’re really on your way –
And if the Queen invites you to her party – well, I say!
In Stepney and in Bethnal Green, in Shoreditch and St. Giles,
The hovels of the London poor sprawl out for dreary miles.
The navvy and the hostler and roadmender never fail
To step into the corner pub and down a pint of ale.
The nannies and their charges seek the balmy springtime air,
In Regent’s Park and Hampstead Heath, and even Berkeley Square.
The organ grinder’s monkey gathers pennies where he can,
And meets stiff competition from the hokey-pokey man.
The never-ending trains chug in and out of Waterloo,
And Paddington, Victoria, King’s Cross and Euston, too.
Majestically and splendidly St. Paul’s Cathedral stands,
And overlooks an Empire and its distant, far-flung lands.
The years roll by, and few remain who knew the distant day.
Well loved and well remembered, it must sadly pass away.
The fog descends on Baker Street; then let us turn the page,
And learn again of Sherlock Holmes, the spirit of an age!
Amazingly, all issues of the BSJ from its inception in 1946 through 2011 are available on one DVD in PDF format.