THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, by Vincent Starrett Macmillan, New York, 1933. $2.00.
IT is in the nature of literate humanity to be sentimental about Sherlock Holmes, to desire a more intimate knowledge of the man than his cases vouchsafe, to ferret out his creator's inconsistencies only in order to dismis them airily, to raise the question of mortality merely as an excuse for a display of nostalgic faith. No individual can accompany Dr. Watson into No. 221-B Baker St. without feeling these things; yet, unfortunately for Mr. Starrett, an age which contemns lush sentimentality, compells the individual to avoid, as evidence of good taste, public confession of them. In writing this present biography, then, Mr. Starrett must have been in something of a quandary. If he failed to give his exclamation points free rein, devotees would find him privately insensate; if, on the contrary, he chose to bare his personal reactions, those same devotees would very likely pronounce him bathetic.
He selected the latter path, and that he has escaped criticism may be taken to justify a presumptuous confidence in his own sprightly style and interests. The present reviewer, however, is bound to admit a certain weariness when encountering such passages as this, "Oh ye of little faith! Surely he lived--our Sherlock--and breathed the fog and dust of Baker Street, even as now, one hopes, he breathes the purer air that blows across the Sussex Downs. And Watson too--has he not sold his latest practice, and gone to join his comrade? How often one likes to think that it is so!" And of similar extravaganza there is abundance. But happily, it is accompanied by faithful, intelligent, and occasionally inspired research. There are many satisfying stories: The name Sherlock, at the last moment, supported that of I. Sherrinford, Watson was originally Ormond Sacker,--and to prove it there is reprinted a cut of the first page of Doyle's manuscript. Doyle, himself, engaged in detective activities with gratifying success. Four publishers sniffed at the "Study in Scarlet" before Ward, Lock & Co. achieved immortality by purchasing the copyright for 25 pounds.
Let it be said, further, that one can find little fault with Mr. Starrett's mode of selection. As far as is possible within 200 pages, he has touched upon all the interesting aspects of the Holmes saga. Illustrators, parodists, actors, imitators,--all come under his facile pen. One must conclude that, if Mr. Starrett has been a little too willing to be naive, his naivete has at least the merit of being understood; and that for the rest, his biography is vivacious and readable.