Sunday, August 16, 2020

The strange bond between collectors and scholars

 On the latest episode of I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere, the head of the Baker Street Irregulars was talking about the BSI publishing business. Publishing is the biggest public-facing side of the group, all in all, and one big facet of BSI publishing these days is the ongoing attempt to publish reproductions of all available Doyle manuscripts. The discussion brought up the Irregulars role as a "literary society" and how the publishing of the manuscript reproductions was of great use to the study of the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Can't argue with that, right?

But as someone who owns several of those volumes, as well as some Doyle manuscript reproductions done before the BSI took up the task, I was a little bit suspect of a completely scholarly motivation for reproducing the original manuscripts of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Having been around Sherlockians for forty years, and being an avid one myself, I know that certain other factors drive us with far more energy than pure altruistic scholarship.

Like collecting. There's a certain Pokemon "got to catch 'em all" aspect of the BSI Manuscript series that can't be denied. Once you start down that path, the lure of completing the set will always be there, even if you aren't really interested in what words Doyle crossed out and replaced in a given story. Or how the handwriting is different in some places than others. Just having a full set on the shelf drives one's obsessive/compulsive traits at some point.

But if you think about it, that's always been the case with collectors, who often don't care what something actually says as much as the fact they own it and can claim to have read it. Am I being hard on collectors here? Maybe, but they serve a very important purpose, however pure or impure we personally view their motives. They are the archivists, the ones whose personal mission it is to gather and preserve all of the data around Sherlock Holmes, even if they are so busy collecting they don't have time to fully explore what they have. That remains for others to do, especially if said collection goes somewhere like the fabulous libraries of Minnesota or Toronto.

John Bennett Shaw gained a reputation for being the greatest collector of his age, the great Sherlockian evangelist of his age as well, but not the greatest scholar, which was fine. He aided and abetted the scholars, like Ron DeWaal and his cataloging efforts, by just having that collection. There's a symbiosis between collectors and scholars that benefits both parties.

Not saying that collectors can't be scholars, or that scholars don't become collectors, or that we don't have other motives for owning a Doyle manuscript reproduction. There is a totemic quality to holding a copy of Conan Doyle's original creative act, putting the words to paper to conjure the genie, that makes those works magical in a way that even just owning one, especially for a favorite story, gives you the feeling of a bond that transcends time. There's a wizarding quality to the Sherlockian hobby that we don't consider nearly often enough as we toss Sherlock's magic around, and certain items become imbued with power beyond the mere paper and ink that built them.

It's the magic, I think, that really gave us collectors and scholars to begin with, as well as the writers, the artists, the performers, and all who roam the paths radiating from that central point of 221B Baker Street. All intertwined, all a part of that grand composite effect we call "Sherlockiana."

One has to wonder if Sherlock Holmes, were he alive and in his Sussex cottage right now, might be studying that great hive of a hobby that he inspired and trying to segregate a Sherlockian queen, however that metaphor plays out. Because it is one hell of a hive.

1 comment:

  1. A great article. I can certainly relate to. I am certainly an obsessive/compulsive "got to catch 'em all" type. Good message in the post.