Thursday, December 29, 2016

Christ on Silver Blaze

C7771. -- A2714. Christ, Jay Finley. "Silver Blaze: An Identification (as of 1893 A.D.)," BSJ [OS], 4, No. 1 (January 1949), 12-15. "It is upon the horse Common that our nomination falls for prototype of Silver Blaze."

Perhaps Jay Finley Christ is better known for his four letter system of identifying each story in the Canon of Sherlock Holmes—the original 60 narratives of Dr. Watson—than as a top notch scholar in his own right. The “Christ Codes” for “A Scandal in Bohemia” become SCAN; The Hound of the Baskervilles becomes HOUN, and so on through the Canon. One should note that this article was published in 1949, and was most likely typed on a typewriter. For our younger readers, one might refer to a typewriter as a cast iron keyboard without correct type. Thus, it required one to roll the paper upward, and then physically erase a typo, or misspelled word, etc., with a rubber eraser with a stiff bristled bush attached to whisk away the residue before it dropped into the keys. Then one had to roll the typing paper down until, if one was lucky, it matched the keys on the typewriter. The typewriters of the time usually had one font, courier. In short, having to retype the entire title of any of the 60 stories repeatedly sans errors was very difficult.
    Professor Christ was in fact a professor of law at the University of Chicago and a Sherlockian scholar of the first order. In 1949, he was inducted into the Baker Street Irregulars as “The Final Problem.” However, today, we are going to look at his reflections on “Silver Blaze,” The article consisted of three pages in The Baker Street Journal, but it illustrates why Christ is held in such high esteem as a Sherlockian scholar. His purpose was to find if there was a real horse, a real race, and whether said horse was from Isonomy—as Holmes states in Watson’s narrative.
    His research began with data from the story—the name of a horse. He discovered that for “his own part, Isonomy himself was brilliant enough, famous enough, and, indeed, real enough, to satisfy the story and the student.”(BSJ, p12).  With this fact established, his next step was to find a progeny of Isonomy that would fit the bill of Silver Blaze. If such a horse existed, he was well on the way to proving the horse was real, the race was real, thus Sherlock Holmes is real.
    However, the year is 1948. His search could not begin on the internet. The internet had not been invented. Today, all one must do is Google Isonomy and the answer is at your fingertips. He had to ferret out each fact at the library. He perused several Whitaker’s Almanacs. “In those pages, the first appearance of Common is in the volume for 1892, the very year of Watson’s writing of Silver Blaze.” This discovery seems commonplace to the modern researcher, but the discovery of the horse was just the tip of the iceberg. Other sources had to be examined in order to establish that this was “Silver Blaze.” This would mean those particular volumes were a part of a series of hard copy Almanac’s the author gleaned until he found “Common.”
    He also turned to other sources to discover more about this horse born in 1888. This would mean Common was four year old in 1892. He found much information in the “the Illustrated London News for 1891. There, on page 480, he might have found a reproduction of a drawing of Common, together with a picture of the man who had just bought him: one John Blundell Maple, M.P. for Camberwell”[BSJ p. 14]. Everything was falling into place. However, again it must be noted that this research was done in a library. Notes were hand inscribed, not copied and pasted to a page in a computer. One could not enter the subject and find a list of articles in a neat little list on the internet. One needed to search a hard copy guide known as a periodical index.
    The Illustrated London News also yielded the final piece of the puzzle. It listed so many facts about the horse. Each win, with complete details. On page 479, he discovered the final detail—“there is a column-long account of the horse. the man, and the latter’s stables. With all this information, one might have asked: were the Mapleton stables (the refuge of Silver Blaze) in reality the Falmouth House Stables of Mr. Maple; and was the horse bought and retired so young to cover up the scandal?” The excitement grew as each fact fell into place. Was it mere coincidence that since Mr. Maple was the owner of Common that Watson might have assumed his stables were named “Mapleton?” Most probable.
    However, the punctilious Professor was not finished. As a law professor he needed to confirm these facts. Everything appeared to indicate this was the horse, but appearances will not hold up in a court of law. There were variances between Watson’s account and those in the Illustrated London News. “There are some discrepancies between the two records, to be sure; but even in 1892—we could have charged them to Dr. Watson’s already established carelessness in such matters. Common was ‘not in his fifth year, but in his fourth, as a three-year-old in ‘91; but he was in his fifth as Watson wrote in ‘92. The odds at Doncaster were 5 to 4, as Watson said, but the odds were ON Common—not against him.” The juxtaposition of the dates was important to continuity as even the most recent devotion to the Canon would recognize that in May1891, Holmes was presumed dead, The fact that Holmes was dead appeared in “The Final Problem.” Perhaps that is why in 1949, Jay F. Christ became "The Final Problem," BSI.

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