The Holidays do take their toll on participation in the Weekly Forum and the Weekly Quiz; however, we will “Keep Calm and Carry On.”
Anyone care to expand the “back story” on: Henry Baker; the British Museum; Mr Windigate, the landlord of the Alpha Inn; and Mr Breckinridge of Covent Garden Market?
6 Replies to “Weekly Forum: December 16, 2014”
Hi Buttons: Yes, holidays have everybody scrambling. Sadly, those of us home with the flu are temporarily removed from the bustle. As far as BLUE goes, one of my major interests with this story is the use of the newspapers as an immediate loss and found–difficult for me to fathom that that could be possible. However to address your question, I’ve always wished we knew more about Mr. Henry Baker and what exactly he did before his down slide, and what, exactly, he was doing in the library each day now. How did he make money being in the library helping people? Was he an assistant librarian–an actual employee of the library? Did he work for tips? Ah this story! So perfectly written but so short!
I’ve always thought of Henry Baker as some from of former scholar, particularly from his use of the Latin “disjecta membra” in reference to Holmes offer for the crop and gizzard. Perhaps he was a freelance researcher who was engaged to prepare bespoke information for itinerant clients. There may have been a number of these former academics/scholars who had come down in the world and who used the great British Museum library as their base for this type of self-employment. This would have taken a few hours each day, perhaps, and would have allowed for the shared pint or three among the colleagues at the Alpha Inn. There, they may have had occassion to meet Mr Breckinridge when he called upon the landlord for their various poultry sales schemes during the year.
I believe that Buttons is correct. As magnificent as the Bodleian and the Cambridge University Library are, the BM and other London libraries have holdings that are not available to scholars outside of that great metropolis, and in the days before photocopying and interlibrary loan there was a small army of free-lance scholars who would conduct research on behalf of those who could not get to London often or for long periods. Margie mentions Wallis Budge (thanks for the memory: I studied Middle Egyptian for a year in college, nearly as long ago as the Middle Kingdom…), and we can imagine the value of a free-lance researcher who had the skill to prepare an accurate copy of a hieroglyphic text on an object in the BM, or of a cuneiform tablet, for use by a scholar of ancient history at the University of Edinburgh.
Perhaps he was helping E.A. Wallis Budge in the Egyptian Antiquities. I like the thought of him there.
Now, if we accept the free-lance-scholar-for-hire theory for Mr Henry Baker, we are left with deducing from the evidence what his specialty may have been. Was he a scholar of Literature, or History, or the Classics, or Philosophy? The evidence suggests an affinity with Latin and that would, of course, include the Classics, Literature, Theology, or History and, perhaps, even Medicine. His title “Mr” does little to help assign his level of education. Watson’s words, ” . . . a man of learning and letters . . .” amplify the “intelligent face” and Holmes’ “a man with so large a brain must have something in it.” And from Baker himself comes ” . . .a Scotch bonnet is fitted neither to my years nor my gravity.” And that is the last we see of this intriguing man who formally bows out with a ” . . . pomposity of manner.” Mr Henry Baker has all of the earmarks of a former professor or academic, especially from the structure and elegance of his language and phrasing.
Having spent years in the area of the British Museum and the entire Bloomsbury part of London, I am familiar with most of the pubs in the immediate area. None of them are in what would be considered dangerous or seedy streets; in fact, Bloomsbury then and today would have to be considered quite “upmarket” as the British say. And so, if Mr Henry Baker was wending his way home, he would have lived in not too shabby quarters; therefore, it is conceivable that he was once a scholar at the University of London, nearby, one of the other London universities, or one of the excellent public schools (private) in the immediate area. I believe the evidence points to Literary, History, or even Archaeology as being his expertise as the term disjecta membra, also written disiecta membra, is Latin for “scattered fragments” and is used in reference to surviving fragments of ancient poetry, manuscripts and other literary or cultural objects, including even fragments of ancient pottery. It is derived from disiecti membra poetae, a phrase used by Horace, a Roman poet. Mr Baker’s use of the term to indicate the dissected crop and gizzard of the goose is truly a subtle bit of wit and indicative of a well-trained mind.
Speaking of a well-trained mind! Buttons you never cease to amaze me with the depth of your knowledge. From your deductions, I would cast a vote for Classical Literature. [Perhaps he spent some time reading Huxtable’s Sidelights on Horace?]
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