Philip A. Schreffler’s Sherlock Holmes by Gas-Lamp

A difficulty for most Sherlockian scholars is getting their hands on much of the wealth of older material. One reprint anthology that aids in this a great deal is Philip A. Schreffler’s Sherlock Holmes by Gas-Lamp, which contains a variety of materials from the Baker Street Journal from its first forty years of publication. While this is only the lightest sampling, coming as it does from a publication that had been putting out hundreds of pages of scholarly work most years, this careful selection can illustrate the types of works that went into the Baker Street Journal over a fairly long period of time.

The introduction by Schaeffler starts, interestingly enough, with a note about the point at which many consider Sherlockian scholarship to have started, namely Edgar W. Smith’s Profiles by Gaslight, before delving into a short history of the Baker Street Journal. It’s a useful enough essay, and meticulous enough to footnote itself where the author needs help explaining his sources. However, this introduction fails to prepare the reader for, among other things, the fact that this collection is in anything but chronological order, with each chosen piece being from a different time. Years not being in order means that one article from the 1960s is as likely to be the last in the book as one of the middle ones, although the first piece is at least taken from the first issue in January of 1946, penned by editor Edgar W. Smith, whose importance Schreffler has already been kind enough to highlight. 

As a result of this scattershot organization, someone looking for an example of how the Baker Street Journal and its membership and their opinions evolved may find this volume somewhat lacking, particularly if they do not want to have to repeatedly cross-reference it and attempt to reorganize the material for precisely that use. Indeed, such a task would be headache-inducing in the extreme, and the reason for that added difficulty isn’t clear.

Still, the material contained within, includes everything from scholarly essays to poetry, from interviews to thinly veiled short stories, gives a good view of the kind of material that had been contained in the Baker Street Journal up until the publication of this comparatively slim volume.

Poul Anderson’s entry, “The Archetypical Holmes”, deals with the idea of Sherlock Holmes as a Jungian archetype and the fact that a number of characters before and since have featured a number of similar characteristics, although those afterwards shared the form and style of Sherlock Holmes much more exactly. A fascinating little piece that is memorable for, among other details, referencing Star Trek as a show that was still on the air, running new episodes at the time.

“June 1973 the Silver Blaze Comes of Age” is Thomas L Stick’s short history of the matter of horse racing in relation to Sherlock Holmes fandom and in particular those races run under the name of the horse reference to in the title of one of the many Sherlock Holmes mysteries. This one is detailed with three interesting illustrations, in the form of photographs of horses and people involved with races, although it is noticeably shorter than some of the other entries. Still, as a snapshot of the era, it proves interesting, down to the very end, which features a joke about “bowing to women’s lib” in relation to female horses winning one of the recent Silver Blaze races.

An interesting element included in this collection comes as a result of the somewhat scholarly nature of the collection itself. There are a number of sources cited towards the end of the book in the brief select bibliography, many of which are considered major works of Sherlock Holmes scholarship to this day. While this is a very small thing, it is still a very useful resource to those interested in the great detective. The best recommendation a reader could be given for using this work would be to read the occasional article for entertainment, and keep an eye out in it for material that might be useful or relate directly to something a researcher might be looking into.

Overall Sherlock Holmes by Gas-Lamp is a useful collection with some decided quirks. The easiest excuse not to have a copy of this in one’s scholarly collection of Sherlock Holmes materials would be if one managed to acquire a complete collection of the Baker Street Journal. For those without the space or money for such a procurement however, or merely those who wish for something a little more compact sampling the material involved, this is an excellent volume and a worthy addition to the Sherlockian collection. For those curious about the strange phenomena of Watsonian research, those wanting a look at one of the earliest fandoms, or those curious about works by otherwise well known authors working in a specific context.

(Fordham University Press, 1989)

About Warner Holme

Born in the mid-south and keeps getting dragged back there. Warner Holme is well studied in fantastical and mysterious fiction.