Archive for November, 2010

One of the ponderous commonplace books in which he placed his cuttings [ENGR]

I mentioned in many of the stories the commonplace books in which Holmes docketed items of information for later use.

In The Veiled Lodger, he “threw himself with fierce energy upon the pile of commonplace books in the corner. For a few minutes there was a constant swish of the leaves, and then with a grunt of satisfaction he came upon what he sought. So excited was he that he did not rise, but sat upon the floor like some strange Buddha, with crossed legs, the huge books all round him, and one open upon his knees.”

Commonplace books are scrapbooks filled with all manner of odds and ends of information, used as an aid for remembering useful facts, and are unique to the individual that compiles them.

Anyone looking at any one of Holmes commonplace books would see what his particular tastes and interests were. He compiled each one neatly from rough notes and cuttings, recompiling them occasionally, and preserving them with care and devotion.

In the modern world, blogs might be seen as the equivalent of the commonplace book, but they are more akin to journals or diaries as the entries are in date order rather than being random notes and jottings.

Douglas Johnston on the D*I*Y Planner website (and also I may note, a Sherlockian as evidenced by his excellent A Study in Sherlock – sadly, no longer maintained), has produced a two-part article on the commonplace book.

Part I deals with their origins and uses and Part II suggests ways of setting up a modern equivalent using paper (the Moleskine range is my favourite) or in digital format. The D*I*Y Planner website is an excellent place to read about notebooks, pens, etc.

Close to Holmes

This is Alistair Duncan’s second Sherlockian (or Holmesian if you prefer) book and it is my favourite so far of all the books Alistair has written (mainly because I am, by nature, more interested in Holmes than I am in Conan Doyle).

Close to Holmes, as Roger Johnson of  The Sherlock Holmes Society of London says in the foreword, is one of the three books on Holmes’ London that he would recommend. The other two  being Hot on the Scent (which is now difficult to find) and Finding Sherlock’s London (a new edition of which was published last year).

Throughout the book, Alistair’s research has thrown up some interesting and intriguing facts. To whet your appetite here are a few puzzles for you to solve as you read the book.

  1. Which of Professor Moriarty’s businesses was put out of action by London Transport?
  2. In which street, connecting Harley Street with Wimpole Street,  did I once have my medical practices?
  3. The Sherlock Holmes Memorabilia Company occupied which canonical premises across from 221B?
  4. Why is the picture of Holmes and I following Stapleton’s cab down Regent Street in The Hound of the Baskervilles usually shown the wrong way round?
  5. When I bumped into Stamford in the Criterion Bar in 1881, which famous London landmark nearby had not yet been erected?
  6. Where could you find a meal named after one of Holmes’ adventures?
  7. Which of my favourite restaurants in still in business on The Strand?
  8. Which theatre was burnt down twice, was where William Gillette played Holmes for the first time in London,and was where Holmes and I accompanied my future wife on our way to meet Thaddeus Sholto?
  9. How is the word “bedlam” historically related to Liverpool Street Station?
  10. The first recorded performance of a Punch and Judy Show in England occurred where?
  11. William Wallace (Braveheart) was executed near the site of which hospital?
  12. Which musical legends lived (at different times) in the same street as The Resident Patient?

I hope you will get from this set of questions an idea, literally, of how much ground this book covers and the amount of detail.

Even if you were not interested in Holmes or Conan Doyle (I believe that such people exist) then this is an amazing guide to London and some of the changes that have occured over the last hundred and thirty years. For me this is summed up in the three pictures of Euston Station, two before what Alistair describes as “an act of historical and architectural vandalism” reduced it to what we see in the third picture, complete with sculptures that look like something out of one of my friend, HG Wells’ novels.  Fortunately, some have now come to their senses and restored St Pancras Station to more or less its former glory (despite having no documented Holmesian connection).

As usual, Alistair Duncan has been careful and painstaking in his research and his photographs of the old and the new will help you explore London and recognise the Sherlockian and Doylean landmarks.

I found myself picking up my maps of London and the surrounding districts as I was reading this book. I suspect that someone who does not know London as well as I do would struggle to understand where are the places mentioned are in relation to each other.  A good A-Z of London or possibly access to Google Maps would help you find your way around.

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