This year is the bicentennial of Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” The story first appeared in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, which was published in serial between 1819 and 1820.
To mark the occasion, I attended a dramatic reading of the story at The Old Dutch Church in Sleepy Hollow, New York. The church itself features prominently in the story. It was an old feature on the landscape when Irving lived nearby in Tarrytown. Built in 1685 by Frederick Philipse, the Lord of Philipse Manor, whose vast patroonship extended south all the way to Spuyten Duyvil in the Bronx, the building is still owned by the Dutch Reformed parish in Tarrytown.
The artist Sime is best remembered for his fifteen-year collaboration with the fantasy and weird-fiction writer Lord Dunsany. Sime illustrated many of Dunsany’s books beginning with The Gods of Pegāna in 1905. He also contributed frontispieces to volumes by Arthur Machen.
Sime lived in Worplesdon in later years and his wife established the little gallery there with a bequest in the 1950s. It houses a collection of 88 hung works and hundreds of catalogued items, including letters, notebooks and memorabilia. The grant is intended to support the gallery “through the creation of a sustainability plan including options appraisal, business planning, audience development and financial planning.”
The suitably eerie photograph of Sime at the top of the post was taken by E.O. Hoppé for The Sketch magazine in 1910. It was recently brought to light by Douglas A. Anderson at A Shiver in the Archives.
In 1987, The Prince of Wales famously excoriated the shortsighted city planners and developers who rebuilt London after the Second World War. “You have to give this much to the Luftwaffe” he said. “When it knocked down our buildings, it didn’t replace them with anything more offensive than rubble. We did that.”
Decades earlier the weird-fiction writer and sometime Londoner Arthur Machen expressed similar sentiments. In the Spring 2019 issue of Faunus, R.B. Russell quotes a letter by Machen to Montgomery Evans around the end of the War. Machen writes:
And that brings me to the confession that I don’t curse the Germans very fiercely for their London destruction so far as the new buildings are concerned. It is we who destroyed London & wrecked the Strand, pulled down the Adelphi, abolished Clifford’s Inn (pre-Great Fire), built flats where Clements Inn once stood with green lawns. You can remember the old Café Royal: it wasn’t Germans who ruined it. And as for the Wren churches in the City: it was with great difficulty that the Bishop of London was restrained from pulling many of them down & selling the sites 20 years ago.
Frances Wilson writes in Guilty Thing that Thomas De Quincey “was the only Romantic to have had his photograph taken.” The daguerreotype was done by James Howie in Edinburgh in 1850. De Quincey was around sixty-five years old at the time. An engraving was subsequently made from it by Frank Croll.
In a letter to the Editor of The Instructor dated September 21, 1850, De Quincey gives his amusing opinion on the likeness:
My Dear Sir,—I am much obliged to you for communicating to us (that is, to my daughters and myself) the engraved portrait, enlarged from the daguerreotype original. The engraver, at least, seems to have done his part ably. As to one of the earlier artists concerned, viz. the sun of July, I suppose it is not allowable to complain of him, else my daughters are inclined to upbraid him with having made the mouth too long.
Douglas A. Anderson quotes an anecdote about Robert Louis Stevenson at A Shiver in the Archive:
Robert Louis Stevenson told a Washington correspondent that his story of “Dr. Jekyl[l] and Mr. Hyde” had for its foundation an incident related to him by a London doctor who made diseases of the brain a specialty. None of his work was absolute fiction, and most of it had a basis in actual experience. “I do not believe,” he said, “That any man ever evolved a really good story from his inner consciousness, unaided by some personal experience or incident of life.”
This passage was published in The Logansport Daily Reporter in January of 1895, about a month after Stevenson’s death. Anderson cites it as the earliest appearance of the quote. Who was the “London doctor” and what precisely was the incident that inspired the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde?
Penzler has been collecting first edition detective fiction for more than fifty years. In the early days, he says, “It was easy to find a half dozen first editions in collectable condition within my five-dollar-a-week budget. My primary drive was buying a book in the mystery world that I could afford. It was the pure joy of collecting.” In 1979 he opened The Mysterious Bookshop.
Fine Books magazine visited Penzler’s home library last year. Nicholas A. Basbanes writes:
One of the very first things bibliophile-for-all-seasons Otto Penzler wants you to know about the 58,000 books he keeps in a Tudor-style chateau in the Connecticut countryside is that it was not something put together willy-nilly by someone with a fortune to throw around on first editions.
“I am not a rich guy,” he insisted, even though the trappings of this graceful manor eighty miles north of Manhattan in bucolic Litchfield County—especially the triple-level library that at times suggests the soaring interior of a ducal chapel—would suggest otherwise. “This took an entire railroad car of mahogany wood to make,” he said of the exquisite shelves, fittings, and hand-hewn storage areas he was about to show me, all built to his design and specifications over a two-and-a-half-year period more than a decade ago.
I am sorry to see a collection like this broken up, but many collectors will undoubtedly walk away happy.
The sale is being conducted by Heritage Galleries. Part One will be held at their Rare Books Auction on March 6 in New York. This lot emphasizes American authors and hardboiled literature. Online bidding has already begun. Part Two will be held on September 5 in New York, with an emphasis on British authors.
Last year I wrote a long post about the influence of Thomas De Quincey on the mystery genre, broadly, and Sherlock Holmes, specifically. Thus I was pleased to catch a reference to De Quincey in the 1945 film The House of Fear starring Basil Rathbone. This was the tenth film in the long-running series with Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Holmes and Watson.
The screenplay is an original story very loosely based on Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Five Orange Pips.” In the film, Holmes and Watson are summoned to a remote castle in Scotland where seven men live together under a strange agreement by which they benefit from each other’s life insurance policies. Someone is murdering them one by one.
While searching for clues Holmes inspects the volumes on a bookshelf, selecting one titled Murder As a Fine Art. This is obviously De Quincey’s 1827 classic, “On Murder Considered as one of the Fine Arts.”
I had the opportunity to write about two of my favorite literary subjects—Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Machen—for The Baker Street Journal. Founded in 1946 by Edgar W. Smith, the BSJ is the preeminent journal of Sherlockian scholarship.
My essay, “A Crime Scene in ‘The Resident Patient’ and The Three Imposters” looks at the influence of Conan Doyle on Machen. It appears in the Autumn 2018 issue on newsstands now.
The definitive exhibition on the Byron-Shelley circle was hosted by the New York Public Library in 2012. Shelley’s Ghost brought together materials from the Bodleian and the NYPL’s own Pforzheimer Collection, including the manuscript of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Byron’s love letters, a necklace made from Percy Shelley’s hair, the water-damaged copy of Sophocles’s Tragedies that had been on his person when he drowned, as well as fragments of his skull taken from the funeral pyre, among other artifacts.
A new exhibition at the Morgan Library celebrates the bicentennial of Frankenstein. It’s Alive! Frankenstein at 200 collects many of the same items as Shelley’s Ghost. It is a much bigger exhibition with a narrower scope, focusing on the inspiration, creation, and legacy of the classic novel, which was published in 1818. In it’s own way Frankenstein at 200 is the equal of Shelley’s Ghost.
Pages from the manuscript are on display, loaned by the Bodleian. The curators provide a cultural context with eighteenth century galvanic equipment and surgical tools, a number of important Gothic paintings, including Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare (1781) and Philip James de Loutherbourg’s Visitor to a Moonlit Churchyard (1790). The lives of the Shelleys are presented through letters and portraits, including the well-known Richard Rothwell painting of Mary, on loan from the National Portrait Gallery in London. The aforementioned fragments of Percy’s skull (calvariae disjecta?) are present, as is the manuscript of a love poem he was carrying when he drown, the ink washed to a blur. (I have written about the extraordinary circumstances surrounding Shelley’s death in an earlier post.)
All of these items are on display in a single gallery, which is worth the price of admission alone. A light but cheerful second gallery contains a collection of advertising posters from the various film adaptations of the novel, and modern illustrations, including those by Lynd Ward and Bernie Wrightson. The highlight of this gallery is an original six-sheet poster for the 1931 film starring Boris Karloff.
It’s Alive! Frankenstein at 200 runs through January 27, 2019 at the Morgan Library in New York.