|Sidney Paget's Sir Hugo Baskerville|
For me, being asked to offer a toast at a Sherlockian gathering is equal parts honor and pleasure. I had both last month when my friend Al Shaw, “Sir Hugo” of Hugo’s Companions in Chicago, asked me to propose one of the toasts at the group’s annual Birthday Dinner and Awards Celebration.
The Companions have odd notion that Sherlock Holmes was born in May. This year they celebrated on May 25. Having the choice of subject for my toast, I picked Sir Hugo Baskerville himself. A fine Sherlockian once asked, “Why would you ever want to toast a villain?” I say, “Because it’s fun!”
Here was my toast to the evil Sir Hugo:
Companions and Fellow Guests:
Every great novel demands a great villain, and The Hound of the Baskervilles has one. But it’s not the man responsible for the death of Sir Charles Baskerville and the persecution of his nephew, Sir Henry. That feckless butterfly collector inspires only our derision. No, the real villain of the story is the “most wild, profane, and godless man” who met his much-deserved fate at the time of the Great Rebellion.
Let us lift our glasses in dishonor of one –
Who himself drained many glasses during the long carouses that were his nightly custom;
Who surrounded himself with idle and wicked companions (a tradition maintained by our own Sir Hugo to this very day);
Who when in his cups uttered such terrible oaths which as might blast the man which said them;
Whose “certain wanton and cruel humor . . . made his name a byword throughout the West;”
Who, in the end, rendered his body and soul to the Powers of Evil;
And without whom there would be Baskerville curse, no Baskerville hound, and no adventure of The Hound of the Baskervilles.
To Sir Hugo Baskerville – may his eternally damned spirit stay right where it is!