Saturday, January 30, 2021

The Buy-laws thing

 Ever since the virtual dinner of the Baker Street Irregulars this year, I've given an occasional thought to the "Constitution" and "Buy-laws" for that club, originally printed in The Saturday Review of Literature in 1934, since I had to sit through an out-loud reading of that apparently holy text, grown a bit worn with time.

The $35 registration fee for this year's BSI zoom said it included a printed copy of the program and a souvenir, said souvenir turning out to be a four-page newspaper called OUR CONSTITUTION & BUY LAWS, which focussed on said Constitution and Buy-Laws of the Baker Street Irregulars, the one official document of the Baker Street Irregulars. Lincoln's Gettysburg address, it is not.

But let's walk through it, for those of you who have the pleasure of not having had it read to you or sent to you as a souvenir this year.

Article 1: The group studies the "Sacred Writings." The sixty stories. The Canon. Cool.

Article 2: You can be eligible to be a member if you pass a test on those stories decided by the club officers and they think you're okay.

Article 3: The officers are a Gasogene (president), a Tantalus (secretary), and a Commissionaire (who runs hospitality services for the members).

After that come the "Buy-laws," which is basically a drinking game after four toasts to the Woman, Mrs. Hudson, Mycroft, and Watson's second wife, all held at the annual January 6th meeting. The game goes like this: Somebody quotes the Canon, you say what story and context the quote came from or else you buy a round of drinks. Special meetings are allowed for if two of any three members call for a meeting, and a concern is expressed for if the members are of opposite sexes so no one thinks they are fooling around, with a special clause for clients of The Saturday Review of Literature who are apparently allowed to look like they're fooling around, no problem.

The last part I shall quote directly: "All other business shall be left for the monthly meeting. There shall be no monthly meeting."

Nothing in there about paying $35 for a Zoom seminar, so, plainly, things have evolved. And yet that "Constitution" remains unchanged. And much retold.

Does anyone play the drinking game any more? Is there a Gasogene or Tantalus? We know the Commissionaire survives to organize banquets, because those exist. But beyond that?

Well, we know there is business now, as the flyer for BSI books that was inserted in the program this year, as well as all the mentions at the dinner, so there might also be monthly meetings we don't know about. Members are decided by who the officers think is okay, but no test is involved. And that drinking game would definitely be impossible with between one and two hundred people. I'm no BSI historian, but I'm pretty sure the document was never really used as a governing document for the club.

So what really is the BSI Constitution and Buy-laws at this point? Magic words that raise the ghost of Christopher Morley? A church ritual that must be performed with the last line spoken en masse by the congregation? A tradition that's a tradition because it's always been a tradition?

 Unlike Vincent Starrett's revered poem, "221B," there is nothing of Sherlock Holmes in it, so it can be a bit of a puzzle.

Someone out there can write a glorious paean to it that explains what I'm missing, and The Baker Street Journal will surely publish it. You might have to attend the BSI dinner faithfully ever year to do so, and even then, work yourself up a little bit to get to the place of writing such a song of praise, and I've only made it to about the four-timers club when it comes to that attendance. But it would be a good thing, because as the decades pass, new Sherlockians are probably going to more and more find themselves going, "Huh?"

Yeah, I probably shouldn't be such the iconoclast about a document that holds no sexism, racism, or other bad stuff of the past beyond binary gender implications. But, honestly? I was just hoping for a little better souvenir.

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