Friday, March 6, 2015

Did I Find Two “Lost” Sherlock Holmes Poems?

“The Recrudescence of Sherlock Holmes” by a pretentious 17-year-old named Ian Schoenherr

Did I just find two “lost” Sherlock Holmes poems? I don't know. Maybe...

I should say that I’m going through yet another Sherlockian phase right now, so while painting the illustrations for Maile Meloy’s next novel (out this fall!), I listen to audiobooks of the Canon, and in between brush strokes I browse books and blogs about Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle.

Yesterday, I finally looked up one of the earliest - if not the earliest - parodies of the great detective, “My Evening with Sherlock Holmes”, which was published anonymously in The Speaker for November 28, 1891. Its author turned out to be Conan Doyle’s soon-to-be friend, J. M. Barrie, who later created Peter Pan (another early obsession of mine).

Inspired by this - and also by the recent ruckus over “The Book o’ the Brig” - I started poking around for other early, possibly “lost” Sherlock Holmes parodies or pastiches. Soon, I found this poem:

And then I found another:

These two poems appeared in an obscure little book called Volume of Various Verse by Charles Joseph Colton (1868-1916), published in New Orleans by the Press of Searcy & Pfaff in 1899. Evidently, this may not have been their first time in print; as Henry Rightor states in the book’s introduction:
The name of Charles J. Colton, subscribed to verses in various newspapers of this country, notably in the New Orleans Times-Democrat of Mr. Page M. Baker, has, for a number of years, attracted the widest attention and furnished to a great body of readers the most genuine enjoyment. That these verses have struck the popular chord is attested by the extent to which they have been reproduced. Bridget, bringing in the early breakfast, has been equally careful to bring in the morning paper, and, like as not, the first thing turned to was the head of the “All Sorts” column wherein most of the shorter verses have appeared, and where the searcher might be sure to find some whimsical fancy dancing to the lilting measure our poet knows so well.
But I’ll leave it to someone else to track down which particular issues of the New Orleans Times-Democrat (or some other newspaper) may or may not have featured these works.

Google as I might, I haven’t been able to find any mention of Colton’s contributions to the subgenre of Sherlockian-parodies-in-verse. Maybe I haven’t looked hard enough or in the right places, so I hope someone will let me know if they’ve seen these before.

Now, here are transcriptions for your convenience:

by Charles Joseph Colton

The famous vidocq, Sherlock Homes, and I, stood at the bar;
I complimented him upon his great success thus far,
Whereat the sleuth assured me, though in accents of some pride,
That ’twas simply observation and deduction, well applied.
“For instance,” he went on, “this crowd coming in the door
Are a lot of gentlemen whom I have never seen before;
Yet I’ll merely note the drinks they take, and to me will stand confessed
Their respective walks and callings.” I watched eagerly the test.

“Beer,” said the first man - whispered Holmes: “An undertaker, sure.”
The second asked for “port” - said S.: “A sailor, simple, pure.”
“Punch,” called the third - said Sherlock: "He a pugilist must be.”
“Gin,” cried the next - and Holmes declared: “A cotton planter he.”
“And he” the sleuth went on, about the last one of the group.
“Must be a daily paper scribe” - the youth had called: “A scoop.”
And when I made the inquiry, to Sherlock’s great delight,
I found that he in every single instance had been right.

by Charles Joseph Colton

An unknown had suicided: to find what he’d been
In life, the noted Sherlock Holmes, of course, had been called in;
The great detective searched the clothes upon the defunct man,
And in a confident tone his conclusions thus began:

“That this man lived in Providence is patent to my eye;
Men keep mementoes of their homes, and here’s a flask of R.I.
And late in Philadelphia he sojourned; that’s a fact
That’s patent; in his pocket is a last year’s almanac.

“Deceased was a book agent; note his canvas shoes;
A hunter, too; his pantaloons of duck doth that disclose;
And fisherman; his underwear of net proves that to me - ”
And all around were thunderstruck at such sagacity.