Christopher Morley

It's hard to know where to start with this month's pipe personality because there is so much to cover. Christopher Morley would fit in perfectly with our club because he loves to smoke his pipe and he writes stories where his characters often smoke pipes (just like our own Ernie Whitenack does). But he was also a big fan of Sherlock Holmes; so big that he formed one of, if not thee most prestigious and exclusive Sherlock Holmes literary societies that still exist today with over 300 members worldwide. You may have heard of it, The Baker Street Irregulars.

Morley really should have been born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts but unfortunately that is not the case and so the home of the Christopher Morley pipe club is in Philadelphia, PA.

So where do we start? Why not start where we usually do, from the pages of Wikipedia....

Christopher Darlington Morley was born in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. His father, Frank Morley, was a mathematics professor at Haverford College; his mother, Lilian Janet Bird, was a violinist who provided Christopher with much of his later love for literature and poetry.

In 1900 the family moved to Baltimore, Maryland. In 1906 Christopher entered Haverford College, graduating in 1910 as valedictorian. He then went to New College, Oxford, for three years on a Rhodes scholarship, studying modern history.

In 1913 Morley completed his Oxford studies and moved to New York City, New York. On June 14, 1914, he married Helen Booth Fairchild, with whom he would have four children, including Louise Morley Cochrane. They first lived in Hempstead, and then in Queens Village. They then moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and in 1920 they made their final move, to a house they called "Green Escape" in Roslyn Estates, New York. They remained there for the rest of his life. In 1936 he built a cabin at the rear of the property (The Knothole), which he maintained as his writing study from then on.

The following excerpts are from bsitrust.org:

Christopher wanted to be a writer. In 1917, he wrote a delightful book about a traveling bookseller, Parnassus on Wheels, which turned out to be a bestseller. He wrote many more excellent and well received books. During the 1920s, Morley helped found the Saturday Review of Literature (SRL). He never lost his enjoyment of Sherlock Holmes. In 1926, he began to plant Sherlockian references in his column in the SRL. In 1930, Doubleday commissioned Morley to write the introduction to the first Complete Sherlock Holmes.

Morley also liked to share his meals with friends. To do so, he formed many "clubs" that met periodically for meals. One of his favorites was the "Three Hours for Lunch Club," which met at speakeasies in Manhattan starting around 1920. Out of that, in 1931, grew the Grillparzer Sittenpolizei Verein (Grillparzer Morals Police Association) or the Grillparzer Club, which Morley named after a random book he happened to buy. Attendees to the club would sign their names in the book and added comments. Club "members" (attendees who signed the book) included W. S. Hall, Rex Stout, Edward G. Robinson, Elmer Davis, A. A. Milne, Buckminster Fuller, Robert Montgomery, Nelson Doubleday, Ginger Rogers, Morley's brothers Frank and Felix, Don Marquis, Ogden Nash, H. G. Wells, A. S. W. Rosenbach, T. S. Eliot, Gene Tunney, Judith Anderson, and many more men and women. A number of its members shared Morley's interest in Sherlock Holmes, and, out of these, grew another club.

In 1933, the SRL published several articles on Sherlock Holmes, including Morley's assertion that Holmes's birthday was January 6 and reviews of some of the aforementioned books. Meanwhile the practice of asking challenging questions began to arise in Morley's clubs (with the loser having to buy a round of drinks). Some of these questions related to the Canon, and people started re-reading the stories a bit more closely.

In late 1933, Morley noticed that the SRL would be publishing an issue on January 6, 1934, his date for Sherlock Holmes's birthday. He called for a cocktail party at the Hotel Duane to celebrate the event. There were some birthday toasts at the party, and while Morley may have mentioned the Baker Street Irregulars, no one took any notice of it. However, three weeks later, Morley reported in the SRL:

"W. S. H. [i.e., Bill Hall], secretary of the Baker Street Irregulars, has allowed us to look over the minutes of the first meeting of the club. Among other business it appears that the matter of an official toast was discussed. It was agreed that the first health must always be drunk to "The Woman."

Thus, the BSI was born.

Someone in the U.K. must have been reading the Saturday Review of Literature. Morley received a letter stating that the English Sherlock Holmes Society was now formed, sends its greetings to the Baker Street Irregulars, and would hold its first dinner on June 7, 1934. Morley felt that the British had recognized the BSI's seniority, and he did not want to lose the "first formed" status. He was spurred to hold a BSI dinner before the London group met. Hence, he wrote a letter to all of the people who successfully (or almost successfully) completed the puzzle that the BSI would hold its first formal dinner on June 5th. He added a phrase that would haunt the BSI for nearly sixty years. "This first meeting will be stag."

The BSI held its "first annual" dinner on December 7, 1934. The attendees included Morley, W. S. Hall, William Gillette, Elmer Davis, Earle Walbridge, Frederick Dorr Steele, H. W. Bell, Vincent Starrett, Gene Tunney, and others, including Alexander Woollcott, who had been invited by Starrett and proceeded to alienate the others.

As Morley always considered the BSI to be an informal club that met at his whim, it did not meet again until January 6, 1936. In the meantime, Scion Societies of the BSI formed, such as the Speckled Band of Boston, the Six Napoleons of Baltimore, and others.

As Morley always considered the BSI to be an informal club that met at his whim, it did not meet again until January 6, 1936. In the meantime, Scion Societies of the BSI formed, such as the Speckled Band of Boston, the Six Napoleons of Baltimore, and others.

But the BSI, as a formal organization, seemed to be fading in Morley's interest. He would continue to have lunches with his close Irregular friends, but the BSI would not meet again until 1940. In 1938, Edgar W. Smith, a Vice President at General Motors, began writing to Morley and Starrett (befriending Starrett). Smith offered to take over many of the chores of planning the dinner from Morley, and Morley let him. From that time on, the BSI met every year thereafter.

Smith formalized the BSI. He did all the work, and the BSI escaped being Morley's whimsical plaything. Morley may have been the titular head, but Smith became the engine that drove it.

More on Morley:

Morley published more than 100 books, articles, and essays during his lifetime, including the poetry collections The Eighth Sin (1912) and The Old Mandarin: More Translations From the Chinese (1947), the essay collections Shandygaff (1918) and Pipefuls (1920), and the novels Parnassus on Wheels (1917), The Haunted Bookshop (1919), The Trojan Horse (1937), and the bestselling Kitty Foyle (1939), which was made into a film.

In 1951 Morley suffered a series of strokes, which greatly reduced his voluminous literary output. He died on 28 March 1957, and was buried in the Roslyn Cemetery in Nassau County, New York. After his death, two New York newspapers published his last message to his friends:

Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to continually be part of unanimity.

More on Christopher Morley:

Pipe and Tobacco Podcasts

Country Squire Radio
countrysquirelogoA weekly podcast about all things pipes and tobacco.  Beau and Jon David have a great chemistry and keep you entertained every week. Check their website for show times. They mix it up a lot YouTube  |  Website
(1:00 PM Eastern Time)

PipesMagazine Radio Show
PMag radio show logoA different interview every week with Brian Levine a well known member of the tobacco industry.  Sit back, relax with your pipe, and enjoy The Pipes Magazine Radio Show!       iTunes  |  Website
(Live Tuesday evenings 8 PM )

Pipe and Tamper Pipecast
PMag radio show logoA Podcast for the Tobacco Pipe Enthusiast. Interviews with pipe carvers and industry influencers. Quick tobacco reviews and segments on pipes and tobaccos. New episodes are available on the 1st and 15th of every month.     iTunes  |  Website

Sherlock Holmes Podcasts

I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere (IHOSE)
IHOSElogoA delightful way to spend an evening with Holmes as your affable co hosts Scott Monty and Burt Wolder share their unique perspectives and sense of humor. Find out more than you ever thought possible about the greatest pipe smoker that never lived.

Shows come out twice a month. iTunes  |  Website

Sherlock Holmes: Trifles
Trifles Cover smFrom the producers of the I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere podcast, Trifles is a 15-minute, weekly audio program where Scott & Burt discuss something related to the Canon.
Have you ever stopped to wonder about why Dr. Watson was called James by his wife? Or of Sherlock Holmes's dining habits? Or what happened when he let a criminal escape? Answers to these questions and more await in Trifles, a weekly podcast about details in the Sherlock Holmes stories. iTunes  |  Website

Pipe & Tobacco Episodes:    Episode 71 | Episode 83

Trifles artwork created by Tom Richmond


Keeping the smoking lamp lit since 1989