Sunday, February 28, 2016

Where it is Always 1895 - the Story of a Boy and his Sherlock Holmes Story.

In the summer of 1895, newspapers in St Louis, Missouri, and Canton, Ohio, published a story written for his school magazine by a pupil in Concord, Massachusetts. Variant prefatory notes combine sufficiently to identify the school, the author and his family. While the above illustration accompanies both, their titles differ: “A Trip to Hades” and “Up To Date Detective” may be editorial choices.

The story was first published in “The Minute Man”, the school magazine of Concord Home School. Its author was James Richardson, Jr., son of James Richardson of Cabanne Place. James is described as a promising pupil and his story a clever take-off or burlesque on Conan Doyle. Of interest, certainly, as a very early instance of Sherlockian fan fiction (on either side of the Atlantic), this adventure of Padlock Homes and Dr. Hotson in Hades provides a revealing, window into the reading habits and juvenile imagination of its author.

Moreover, from the scant facts available, I have been able to flesh out something of the history of Concord Home School and, most significantly, link young James with one of the giants of 20th Century American literature.

This post therefore offers:

  1. A transcription of the story for ease of reading along with links to the newspapers.
  2. A commentary on the pastiche.
  3. A history of Concord Home School.
  4. A family history of James Richardson Jr
The Story.

Please click on this link for the transcription [opens as pdf]: The Story .


James was 16 at the time of writing (see family history) and I think this shows both in the story's weaknesses and strengths. Lightly (if at all) edited for publication, it feels, as it stands, a third too long and would benefit from the excision of passages of pedestrian narrative commonly found in juvenile story-telling. Were I his teacher, I'd have recommended James enrich with descriptive detail and additional dramatic action. It is the product of an undisciplined imagination so carried away the author doesn't quite know what he intends to create. It's less a conscious burlesque than a spontaneous melange of youthful literary pleasures.

This very lack of focus opens a fascinating window on the reading of an American boy in 1895. Holmes, of course, is understandably at the imaginative forefront. To fill the void (hiatus) after the detective's demise, American newspapers serialised "A Study in Scarlet" and "The Sign of Four". Of greater relevance here, Conan Doyle's early work "The Mystery of Cloomber" was made available in a cheap edition to sate public thirst for more Doyle and hyped as "the new novel from Dr. Doyle". 

My blog on "The Empty House" [see Cree] locates the source of the abyss image in that early novel's "Hole of Cree" and I detect its influence on James who may also have read a contemporary article noting precisely this prototypical aspect [see May 1895 ].

Equally, Jules Verne figures strongly in the steampunk imagination at work here. All his relevant major works were printed in English and immensely popular well before 1895. To Verne and Doyle James adds a native American spin when he engineers that the climactic discovery of Hotson's story take place by the crater on Mount Shasta. California's volcano is shrouded in supernatural legend.
Mount Shasta from Castle Lake by Thomas Hill (circa 1888)
The process of Americanisation clearly delights young James. Taunton, Mass., and not Taunton, Devon, hosts the murderer, James Blake - himself endowed with a name identical with a national landmark but 20 miles from Concord. Boston's oldest 17th century house was built by James Blake, an immigrant from England's West Country. It is one of only two surviving homes in Massachusetts in the West-of-England style.
Intriguingly, the building was moving to Richardson Park as James Richardson wrote his story. The makeover is completed by a natural transformation of London's Baker St. into a New York Faker. 

It's New York, December 3, 1997. Hotson and the author bestride the future as well as the past. As did a certain H G Wells in "The Time Machine", a work eight years in the making. Whether James had read some or all of the story by 1895 is not known but possible. [see Time Machine for a detailed chronology of publication]. He could certainly have read "The Chronic Argonauts" (1888) A teenager's lack of artistic control over his time slip is, I think, masked by a leaping imagination that relishes the surreal. It's there in Homes, Hotson and (shades of Restoration drama) "Mrs Slimdiet". Perhaps the devil's "hash" is a schoolboy side-swipe at the Concord School dinner lady, but is aptly absurd.

Finally, James Richardson Jr. is bang up to date with two allusions. Hotson discovers an embarrassed Homes playing "And Her Golden Hair Was Hanging Down Her Back" on his violin. Frank Tousey's music hall song was published in 1894 and here is the version James would know: Tousey .
Listen to Dale Evans singing it Here .

Young James has a taste for the risque. Cue Trilby O'Ferrell.  

Virginia Harned as Trilby, Boston 1895
In the year 1895 America was in the grip of a "Trilby" craze. Published serially in "Harper's Monthly" in 1894, George du Maurier's novel sold 200,000 copies in America alone when available in book form in 1895. London would lap up Beerbohm Tree's stage version; America had its own. With Wilton Lackaye as Svengali and Boston's own 27 year old Virginia Harned as O'Ferrell, Mr. Palmer's Company staged "Trilby" at the Garden Theatre, New York in April, having premiered at Boston Museum on March 4th. 

Boston Museum Theatre 1872.
 James is careful to couch the topical allusion in a moral (if comical) context. Hotson, we are to believe, freed the mesmerised girl from her Svengali by removing the 'wheels' from her head. Perhaps James too is mesmerised, as most young men were by this bohemian beauty. I reckon he'd have jumped at a theatre trip down the road from school.

 Concord School.

Advert in The Nation, 1894.
It's a moot point whether Principal Garland would have arranged such a theatre visit. The reader may judge perhaps from the following links to further information about James Garland's private school which opened in 1890 and changed its name to Concord School in 1897.
1. Concord Directory and Guide: Directory .
2. Unitarian Year Book: Year Book 
3. Concord Library Holdings (inc some issues of "Minute Man" Library .
4. Surviving South Bridge Boathouse: Boathouse .
NB: Click Google Earth on this present day map to see the surviving boathouse and gain a sense of the (wooded) 75 acres of school estate: Estate .

Family History.

A private boarding school. $600 per annum - James has a wealthy father, back on Cabanne Place, St Louis, Missouri. Here he is, banker, James Clifford Richardson, son of James Richardson and so usually referred to as "Jr., like his own son, the schoolboy author:

Father of schoolboy James (1849-1903).

To read the links below is to encounter multiple tragedy and one of the great love stories of the 20th Century. Young James born in 1879 will disappear from history but we know he suffered the successive losses of father, sister and mother and lived to see his famous younger sister (age 3 in 1895) take the bohemian literary road of Trilby O'Ferrell to Paris as the first Mrs. Ernest Hemingway. And the rest is history and a moveable feast.
1. Family: Family .
2. Father's History: Father .
3. The Road to Suicide: Suicide .
4. Elizabeth Hadley Richardson Elizabeth .

James's Little Sister.


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Theodore Lorch as Sherlock Holmes ( on stage 1906 - 10 )

Theodore Lorch Salt Lake City 1907
The film actor,Theodore Lorch, has largely eclipsed the illustrious man of the stage he became in the first decade of the 20th Century. Versatile and prolific, his face is familiar from cowboy films; from his appearances with The Three Stooges; notably as Chingachgook ( in the 1920 silent “The Last of the Mohicans” ) and especially as a High Priest in “Flash Gordon”, 1936. Lorch was 40 by the time his film career took off after the war. He had made but one short before it, in 1908, called “Shamus O’Brien”.

This post records evidence from news archives of Lorch’s appearances in the role of Sherlock Holmes between 1906 and 1910. For those interested, notes and links expanding on his life and activities on the pre-war stage follow.

Read More (This link will open as pdf )

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

"In the Power of Sherlock Holmes" - A Distinctly Australian Cry.

Shire Hall, Mildura, Queensland, 1912
    In the Power/In the Grip/At the Mercy of Sherlock Holmes.

                          “A distinctly  Australian cry” [The Boscombe Valley Mystery]

By 1910, Sherlock Holmes was a familiar figure to theatregoers in Australia and New Zealand, most notably through the performances of Cuyler Hastings, in Gillette’s “Sherlock Holmes” and Charles Blake in  Max Goldberg’s “Bank of England”. It was therefore good business on the part of J C Williamson to secure (within a month of its first UK performance) Australian and New Zealand rights to perform Conan Doyle’s new play, “The Speckled Band”. The company’s 1911 production, starring William Desmond, having done well in Australia, embarked on a short New Zealand tour early in 1912, taking in only select venues as they were due back in Sydney by 24 February and Desmond was returning to America. [ see  NZ Tour ].

“In the Power of Sherlock Holmes” by the Australian author, Norman Campbell.  

Meanwhile, back in Victoria, Australia, a new four act play about Sherlock Holmes was staged by The Campbell Dramatic Company. “In the Power of Sherlock Holmes” premiered in the Shire Hall, Mildura on 2 February, 1912 with J L Lawrence as Holmes.

Read More (this link will open as pdf).

Friday, January 8, 2016

The Extraordinary Days of Ordinary Teachers.

"The Storm on the Sea of Galilee" Rembrandt 1633

In this time of great transformation certain quiet constants abide,That historic expressed will of a nation to provide by right a guaranteed period of general education for all generated, among myriad concomitants, a perpetual obligation to furnish all classrooms with the quiet constant that is here my theme: the ordinary teacher.
                           Read more (this link will open as pdf).

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Three Sherlockian Scrooges - in the Spirit of Christmas Present.

"It is just possible that I am saving a soul," {Sherlock Holmes, "The Blue Carbuncle".}

Today is Christmas Day. As usual, I'll re-read these classic Christmas tales by Dickens and Doyle and (for dessert) remind myself of the definitive Holmes and Scrooge I find in Jeremy Brett and Alastair Sim.

This annual pleasure reminded me that several actors made their mark in both fictional worlds. There are likely more than the three ghosts I conjure here (please add others in a comment) but I limit this seasonal post to a trio you can view on Youtube.

Basil Rathbone as Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol", 1958.
In 1954, Basil Rathbone played Jacob Marley's Ghost to Fredric March's Scrooge. This TV production may be viewed here:

Four years later, he essayed the main role, thus becoming the only actor I know who has played Watson, Holmes, Marley and Scrooge. His 1958 performance may be seen here:

 20 Christmases earlier, in 1938, Reginald Owen stepped in for an injured Lionel Barrymore to play Scrooge in MGM's "A Christmas Carol". Owen, of course, had previously played Dr. Watson in the 1932 Clive Brook "Sherlock Holmes" and Holmes himself in 1933's "A Study in Scarlet".

Reginald Owen as Scrooge in 1938.

Here's Lionel Barrymore generously introducing Owen's performance in the film's official trailer:

Perhaps the most significant figure in this little history is Sir Seymour Hicks.

Sir Seymour Hicks as Scrooge in 1935.

 In 1893, aged 22, Hicks made history as the world's first embodiment of Dr. Watson (see my previous post Enter Sherlock Holmes ). At 30, in 1901, he premiered on stage in the Dickens role, eventually playing it thousands of times. Here's a clip from his first (silent) film in the role:

The second (sound) film of 1935 is much more interesting, not least because, though he's forty years older, it preserves the voice of the world's first Watson. You can watch the film here:

"And so, as Tiny Tim said, 'A Merry Christmas to us all; God bless us, every one!" 

© Ray Wilcockson (2015) All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

10 pm. 25 November 1893 - Enter: Sherlock Holmes.

122 years ago to the hour of this post, Charles Brookfield walked onto the stage of London's Royal Court Theatre and into history as the first actor to play Sherlock Holmes. He was 36 and is pictured above (bearded) with the world's first Doctor Watson, 22 year old Seymour Hicks, in "The Sketch" which interviewed the pair in their dressing room on December 20.

At 10 "Under the Clock" (an extravaganza in one act).

Having recently acquired a programme dated that first night and original page of the interview, it seemed fitting to share these rarely seen items on this anniversary. I have also appended a few notes and links for further reading.

Still the same Royal Court today.

The Programme.
It consists of one thin sheet folded once to make four pages each 10" x 7 1/2".

Here is a close-up of "Under the Clock" cast list:
The Supporting Cast.
Lottie Venne, who played Hannah, a maid of all work, is the best known and well documented on the net. Her ability to deliver the most outrageous lines while remaining a picture of innocence was ideal for the occasion.

Robert Nainby (1869-1948) was an Irish comedian and actor who later made a career in films.
William Wyes was similarly a comic actor - here shown playing a farmer in 1894.
I know nothing of the Foresters but Harry Paulo was a very famous clown who died aged 77 in 1925.
Miss Lyall and Maude Wilmot were young dancers.

Edward Jones.
Jones, who conducted the orchestra that night and composed the "Under the Clock" overture would, ironically, go on to write the music for "The Sign of the Cross" a very successful 4-act historical tragedy, written by and starring Wilson Barrett, whose "Hamlet" is burlesqued in "Under the Clock"
Youtube has one piece Jones wrote for Barrett that gives a taste of his work:

Links of Interest.
On the revue, its plot, writers, reception and modern reprint: Charles Press Bedside Book and Amnon Kabatchnik 
On contemporary reception: The Theatre 1894 (2 pages).
On the significance of this "extravaganza"to the history of revue: Moore's Thesis which I recommend. Moore explains the play's title derives from the Telegraph entertainment listings which were headed by a woodblock of that newspaper's famous clock.
Dismantling of old clock 1931 credit CORBIS Images
On Charles Brookfield, jealousy and Oscar Wilde: Sherlock the Bully (highly recommended!)
On Wilson Barrett's "Hamlet" (as modern Sherlockians have more than a passing interest in Shakespeare's play!) - excellent study: James Thomas on Hamlet 

Curtain Down on The Sketch Interview.
I have scanned the large original in two parts:

Charles Brookfield
The first Sherlock Holmes.

Seymour Hicks
The first Doctor Watson.

© Ray Wilcockson (2015) All Rights Reserved.

Monday, July 27, 2015

"The Tragedy" - a response in verse to Picasso's 1903 painting.

Unrelieving, infinite hues of blue suffuse,
Lap at despair,
Shudder through him,
Claim her,
Confounding their child.
All statued; paralysed:
Triptych of Tragedy.

Barely alive,
Lit by the world’s last candle,
Hunched and held
Bemused, they reel
In an intolerable spell:

While silent, whitened ripples ice and bleed.

[Ray Wilcockson, July 2015.]

© Ray Wilcockson (2015) All Rights Reserved.