Monday, August 9, 2010

Allen the author

These series of posts relate to one of our current Sherlock Holmes exhibits, "Through The Eyes of an Enthusiast -- The Allen Mackler Collection," on display through August 29 in the T. R. Anderson Gallery in Wilson Library at the University of Minnesota. The text comes from the accompanying exhibit booklet.


Allen continued writing and reviewing. Baker Street Miscellanea seemed a favorite venue for his pen. In 1986 he appraised Robert Goldsborough’s Murder in E Minor and John Lescroart’s Son of Holmes. “In the case of the two volumes under discussion, we can almost say, as Sherlock Holmes did to Watson about the nature of his violin-playing, ‘Oh, that’s all right,’ replete with an equally merry laugh.” A year later Allen reported on the fourth Quinquennial Sherlock Holmes Alimentary Festival at the Culinary Institute of America (“the true CIA”) in “A Study in Sumptuousness.” “Holmes once said of Watson that the latter never recognized his merits as housekeeper. Be that as it may, the merits of all responsible for making this weekend what it was were well applauded.” This was followed by a brief report of quotations by the actor Jeremy Brett under the title “Is Jeremy Brett’s Interpretation of Sherlock Holmes Changing?” and a review, in 1990, of The Standard Doyle Company: Christopher Morley on Sherlock Holmes, edited by Steven Rothman. “Morley wrote about Holmes in so many different ways and contexts that even Sherlockians well up on their ‘kinspritship’ (or maybe it should be kinsprits well up on their writings about the Writings) will find many things new to them, or at any rate refreshing.” A year later Allen was back at the CIA and offered “A Reichenbach Repast.”
Over the course of the years during which I have been privileged to attend the irregular celebrations given in honor of Mr. Sherlock Holmes at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, it has been a source of never ending wonder as to how each succeeding event can possibly be better than that which came before. But, happily, such is the case; and no exception to the rule can be invoked in regard to the most recent in the ongoing series, held on May 4 of this year.
Allen was present on the pages of the Baker Street Journal as well. Perhaps the most interesting (and humorous) experience, reported by his co-investigator Sheldon Wesson, involved an event from “The Adventure of the Red Circle.”
The very crux of The Adventure of the Red Circle — the signaling by means of a candle waved across a window — has been subjected to the most rigorous scientific scrutiny. The results of that exercise, by Allen Mackler, scientist, and Sheldon Wesson, laboratory assistant, are described below. The starting point was the lengthy marginal note in Baring-Gould’s Annotated Sherlock Holmes. S. F. Blake is quoted therein as reporting that the full message — ATTENTA ATTENTA ATTENTA PERICOLO PERI — would require 477 waves of the candle across the window and would take about 4 3/4 minutes to deliver.

Those figures have proved to be incorrect. The message requires 384 passes, not 477. We surmise that Mr. Blake may have counted two PERICOLOs, thus accounting for the difference of 93 counts, whereas the Canon describes only one. We determined, too, that sufficient pauses must be allowed between letters and words to promote comprehension: three “beats” between letters, six between words.

The Mackler — Wesson experiments (replicated in part at a meeting of the Red Circle of Washington, D.C.) showed the effects of three different speeds upon the intelligibility of the message….
Based on their close reading of the Canon, the authors concluded: “Factoring in all of these conditions yields a total elapsed time of 7 minutes and 14 seconds — which we now adopt as ‘official.’ We forebear from comment on the questions of language variations raised in Baring-Gould: i.e., the language employed in the signals, Italian, English, or Italian in the English alphabet. This consideration could affect our total elapsed time by at most a few seconds.”

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