Monday, July 9, 2018

From The Archives...

In the fall of 2005 I started a new feature in my home scion's newsletter. It was a column about my new-found love...chronology. I didn't know at the time where it would eventually take me, but I knew no one else was going to start one, so I wanted to add to the hobby in a way that wasn't going to happen otherwise. And, people needed to know the thoughts that were running around in my head. (Not that they asked.)
I contacted the (then) editor of the newsletter, Steve Doyle, and told him my thoughts. He gladly accepted the offer, and was probably relieved to have one less page to fill on his own. (The early days of the publication were often filled almost exclusively by him.) So, I set to work. Our calendar had the case of 'The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire' (SUSS) up next. It was as good a place as any to start, so I did the research, wrote the article, and started my new journey.
Here is the article in its entirety (with some light editing), including the lead that Steve put in to "warn" everyone of what they were about to read.

The Chronological Canon
by Vince Wright

We are pleased to offer a new regular column on the thorny subject of Canonical Chronology by Illustrious Client member Vince Wright. He leads off, appropriately, with "The Sussex Vampire."

Did 'The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire" take place in 1896/7 or 1901? This story requires looking outside the box in order to find an answer. We have the usual clues from Watson - train schedules, weather reports, the mail service, and his inability to properly read a calendar - but here we have something else. This case can probably be dated by investigating it etymologically and literally.
While most chronologists agree to the date of November 19, the year is always in question. Baring-Gould likes 1896, as do a few others, but yet others can do no better than placing it between then and 1902. The problem, however, is two-fold. First is the common usage of the term vampire/vampyre, and second is the appearance of the word "Yeggman."
Vampires were made world famous by the Irish novelist Bram Stoker. In May of 1897 he published a book about Count Dracula beased on the accounts written about a Vlad Tepes who ruled Walachia (now part of Romania) in the 15th century. Before this it's hard to find literature on vampires, as there are only three somewhat-well-known titles from the 1800's on the subject. If Dracula was released in 1897 it is hard to imagine that Holmes would already have it in his indexes as there would be little or no actual activity surrounding vampires before that. It seems more likely that a later date would be more accurate.
The other problem is the first appearance of the word yegg or yeggman. Specifically it refers to a burglar or safecracker and it is most likely a Gypsy word or name originally meaning 'bomber.' Noting that the word refers to a burglar who cracks safes sloppily, perhaps by using poorly made bombs, solves the bomber/burglar problem. The first recorded use of the word in print is attributed to The New York Evening Post in June 1903. It became part of the British vernacular in or about 1900 but was around in the mid-1890's in the United States as a slang term. In a series of speeches given and published from 1904 on by William Pinkerton, of the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency, the word is used heavily and in one case was what the entire speech was about. Holmes would have likely read these accounts but not in time to set the date in 1897. As "yegg" did exist in street lingo prior to these articles it is possible for him to have heard it, maybe from the Irregulars. Even so, he probably would not have yet had it listed in his files and certainly not in capitalized form.
Baring-Gould uses some logic when calculating post office schedules and effectively eliminates 1898 or 1899. Since I have already shown any year below that to be improbable we have to look at 1900 or later. 1903 seems likely but only on the basis of the newspaper piece in New York. This is the year our beloved detective retired and therefore can be counted out fairly safely. From 1896 to 1900 we have only a few tales recorded and even fewer published. In 1901 he got back into the swing of things and got back to detecting. In 1902 Watson moved to Queen Anne Street and was only around occasionally. Thus, we now have to draw the conclusion that the story happens from Wednesday, November 19 to Friday November 21, 1901.
Well, there you have it - my first step into the chronological quagmire. The writing, syntax, and punctuation is pretty bad, but I got better. (Haven't I?) I'm not even sure all of my facts were 100% correct, but when I re-examine this story sometime I'll double-check myself. Anyway, I thought you might enjoy seeing how all of this began, and how long I've been at it.
See you again soon.

1 comment:

  1. "Vampires were made world famous by the Irish novelist Bram Stoker. In May of 1897 he published a book about Count Dracula beased on the accounts written about a Vlad Tepes who ruled Walachia (now part of Romania) in the 15th century. Before this it's hard to find literature on vampires, as there are only three somewhat-well-known titles from the 1800's on the subject. If Dracula was released in 1897 it is hard to imagine that Holmes would already have it in his indexes as there would be little or no actual activity surrounding vampires before that. It seems more likely that a later date would be more accurate." But wouldn't the converse be true? After Stoker's book vampire would be a more common word the even Holmeswould know, so why then would he have to look it up? The paucity of references would point to a time before 1897. "But what do we know about vampires? Does it come within our purview either? Anything is better than stagnation, but really we seem to have been switched on to a Grimm's fairy tale." Grimm's fairy tale not "Stoker's penny-dreadful". "Vampirism in Hungary. And again, Vampires in Transylvania.' He turned over the pages with eagerness, but after a short intent perusal he threw down the great book with a snarl of disappointment.
    'Rubbish, Watson, rubbish! What have we to do with walking corpses who can only be held in their grave by stakes driven through their hearts? It's pure lunacy.'
    'But surely,' said I, 'the vampire was not necessarily a dead man? A living person might have the habit. I have read for example, of the old sucking the blood of the young in order to retain their youth.'
    'You are right, Watson. It mentions the legend in one of these references.' " To me that sounds like the information situation would be before Stoker put vampires on the map. By 1901, vampires would probably more well-know.

    From Wikipedia: "Dracula was not an immediate bestseller when it was first published, although reviewers were unstinting in their praise. The contemporary Daily Mail ranked Stoker's powers above those of Mary Shelley and Edgar Allan Poe, as well as Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights." And: "However, some Victorian fans were ahead of the time, describing it as "the sensation of the season" and "the most blood-curdling novel of the paralysed century".[37] Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote to Stoker in a letter, 'I write to tell you how very much I have enjoyed reading Dracula. I think it is the very best story of diablerie which I have read for many years.' The Daily Mail review of 1 June 1897 proclaimed it a classic of Gothic horror, 'In seeking a parallel to this weird, powerful, and horrorful story our mind reverts to such tales as The Mysteries of Udolpho, Frankenstein, The Fall of the House of Usher ... but Dracula is even more appalling in its gloomy fascination than any one of these.' " While not a best-seller, it would be known, at least to Watson, if not Holmes.

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