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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Dear Mr. Eliot, Dear Mr. Starrett

Even a non-collector like me is likely to return from Baker Street Weekend in New York with a few literary gems. And I did!

My most unusual acquisition, perhaps, was a 20-page pamphlet called “Conferment by Needle,” Number 69 in a limited edition run of 230 copies printed by Ronart Press Ltd., St. Louis, MO, in 1980. It contains an exchange of letters, just one each, between Vincent Starrett and T.S. Eliot. Michael Murphy wrote the introduction.

Starrett is best known, of course, as a great Sherlockian and Eliot as a great poet (my favorite of the 20th century). I’ve written about both many times on this blog, but not together.

On April 1, 1956, Easter Sunday, Starrett wrote to Eliot to ask him to accept honorary membership in the Hounds of the Baskerville (sic), a Chicago-based scion society of the Baker Street Irregulars. Starrett founded the Hounds in 1943 and gave himself the title of “Needle.”

Eliot wrote back on April 10, 1956: “I thank you for your letter of Easter Sunday, & beg to express my appreciation of the honour of being installed as an honorary Baskerville Hound. It is with great pleasure that I accept.” He then noted that he was already an honorary member of two other Holmes societies, “so I hope that amongst the various septs or divisions of the Baker Street Irregulars there is no regulation preventing pluralism.”

The poetry of T.S. Eliot is replete with Sherlockian influences, as I’ve noted before, but it’s a joy to hold in my hands the evidence that he was not only a Sherlockian (or perhaps Holmesian) but a member of the Sherlock Holmes community.   

One of my other weekend acquisitions was a copy of The Last Bookman, a handsome volume about Starrett edited by Peter Ruber. More about that in a future blog. Both the pamphlet and the book came from The BSI Trust, which has an enormous collection of Sherlockian tomes at great prices. To present your want list or see what’s available, email Denny Dobry at dendobry@ptd.net.

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