Derry, Northern Ireland

Derry, Northern Ireland
A book I'm working on is set in this town.

Friday, December 14, 2012

History in your hands

Today I held a page of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's handwritten draft of "The Hound of the Baskervilles", with corrections done on it. All in a very neat, precise style. It looked a bit like this one, but it's a new leaf that's been discovered and the only photo is not accessible to me. There are very few of them, overall. Here's how Christie's put it -

The sad fate of Doyle’s original handwritten manuscript of The Hound of the Baskervilles is well known. As part of a 1902 promotional campaign in the United States, McClure, Philips & Co., Doyle’s American publisher, broke up and distributed leaves of the manuscript to booksellers for window
displays to boost sales. Only a small number survived this crass dismemberment. A recent online census by Randall Stock locates 35 extant leaves, most of them in permanent institutional collections. The complete manuscript, it has been conjectured, would have comprised 185-190 pages. For that reason, the discovery of the present previously unrecorded leaf takes on added significance. This text, from Chapter 12: Death on the Moor, is part of the turning point of the narrative. Holmes and Watson, intent on solving the hereditary curse of the Baskervilles, hear blood-curdling screams from the darkened moor and “a deep, muttered rumble, musical and yet menacing.” Holmes leaps into action: “Come, Watson, come!” but despairs: “He has beaten us, Watson. We are too late.” Holmes and Watson run over the moor, only to discover ... a mangled body they believe to be Sir Henry Baskerville. 

Many of the surviving leaves from The Hound of the Baskervilles make no mention of the erstwhile Doctor Watson; this leaf names him four times. Holmes himself does not figure in about two-thirds of the novel, but he is named four times here, making this leaf exceptional by any standards.

It's amazing how often people do the dumbest things to books. They'd buy copies of the Audubon books on Birds and Mammals and cut out the illustrations to sell as framed artwork. The same for any number of books from the 19th century that had illustrations in them.

Me, I actually stopped working to read this and touch it. It's worth more than $100K, it's so rare. After my mangled trip to the Holmes Museum, it was like a sign than everything's all right.

Something else made me feel good, today -- I went into a restaurant after work and there was a lean, tightly-muscled black cat in the back of it that called to me and came over to have her ears scratched. I did so for a good five minutes, she was so insistent, using her front paws to keep me in place, then she finally had enough and wandered off to see who else could be made use of.

I love cats, and having a black cat like you back is usually a sign of good luck. Not that I'm superstitious, or anything. But she was such a lovely, taut little thing, constantly purring and shifting around to keep my focus on her ears and head, I nearly sat on the floor to keep rubbing her.

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