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Wednesday, March 11, 2020

A Great Book about a Great Bookman

The Last Bookman, a well-known biographical tribute to Vincent Starrett edited by Peter Ruber, contains at the end a bibliographical checklist by Esther Longfellow. And the final item on that checklist is this:

THE LAST BOOKMAN, by Peter Ruber (Biography). New York: The Candlelight Press, 1968. Folio. First edition limited to 2500 copies. You have a copy in your hands.

I had a copy in my hands when I read that because I bought the book during Baker Street Irregulars Weekend in New York this past January. When I saw it at a bookstore on Friday of that week for $25, I thought that price was a steal. But when I saw it the dealer room on Saturday for $10 – how could I resist?

Starrett is best known to most of us as the author of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes and the unforgettable sonnet “221B.” This handsome volume, printed on beautiful paper, makes it clear that he was much more – journalist, adventurer, mystery writer, collector, and above all a lover of books. More than half of the volume is an anecdotal biography by Ruber. Part II contains tributes from friends, written during Starrett’s lifetime. (He died in 1974.)

Chicago legends Ben Hecht and Carl Sandburg salute Starrett as an old friend. August Derleth credits him for helping to re-animate Solar Pons. And one of my favorite lines in the book comes from Christopher Morley, writing in 1948: “Vincent, like all of us inlandish or outlandish soliloquists, has written some occasional tripe; but never without knowing it.”

I’ve mentioned before the BSI Trust as a great source of Sherlockian books at often-incredible prices. Denny Dobry gamely carts dozens and dozens of tomes to conferences all over. And on May 17, he will be selling thousands of them at a book fare and open house at his home and famous 221 recreation in Reading, PA. He advises: 
These books have been donated to support the Baker Street Irregulars Historical Archives.  The selection includes many editions of the Canon, rare Sherlockian Scholarship titles, hundreds of pastiches and parodies, a variety of non-Sherlockian Doyle works, titles from other mystery writers (Sayers, Christie, Queen, Starrett, etc.), an extensive Christopher Morley and P. G. Wodehouse selection, and crime and British reference works.  In addition, many items such as statues, glassware, mugs, games, jigsaw puzzles and posters will also be available.  This sale likely provides the widest selection of Sherlockian items available anywhere.”
 When: 11 a.m. – 4 p.m., May 17, 20205003 Stony Run DriveReading PA 
Need to know more? Write to Denny at dendobry@ptd.net.

Vincent Starrett, who surely will be at the book fare in spirit, gets the last word about himself in this blog post. In a letter to Morley, quoted in Part III, he wrote:

“With this century more than half gone, I find myself increasingly happy to belong by birth and temperament to the last one.”


  1. That statement by Starrett you closed with reminds me of the Ray Davies Kinks song, 'Twentieth Century Man': "You keep all your smart modern writers, give me William Shakespeare. You keep all your smart modern painters, I'll take Rembrandt, Titian and Gainsborough" And closes with: "I'm a 20th century man and I don't want to be here..."

  2. The Kinks and Sherlock Holmes,these are a few of my favorite things! "We are the Sherlock Holmes English-speaking Vernacular.
    God save Fu Manchu, Moriarty and Dracula!"