The Quest For Macy

Se habla deGeorge Macy devotees

Únase a LibraryThing para publicar.

The Quest For Macy

Editado: Ene 3, 11:09pm

Fellow members may not know that I am more than a "Chinese sage". I am a Sherlock Holmes enthusiast, one of countless worldwide who organize into groups, meet from time to time, write articles and even have national and international conferences. This summer I gave a talk via Zoom to the Seattle WA group known as The Sound of the Baskervilles (the SOBs) on George Macy. I was asked to put it into written form for their publication. With Robert's encouragement, I am posting it here. I found that many facts of Macy's life are not widely known and some of what i wrote may be new to you. On the other hand, much of what I write for the paper's audience about the LEC is known to you.
One other bit of introduction: The Baker Street irregulars (BSI) is the oldest Holmesian group, founded in 1934 by Christopher Morley. You can readily find information on them on the web.
Assuming it fits, the next panel will contain my paper, "The Quest for Macy".

Ene 3, 11:08pm

The Quest for Macy
Daniel M. Polvere, BSI

The title of my article was influenced by a remarkable book which has nothing to do with the Canon that I recently read: The Quest for Corvo, subtitled An Experiment in Biography by A.J.A. Symons, written in the 1930s. The experiment was the author’s describing how he initially became aware of the subject and then, as in a detective story, the further steps of discovery and what he learned.
I thought this approach would be useful in this presentation. The difference is that I, as a book collector, already knew who Macy was but not much about him nor especially about this particular aspect of his story. I certainly was aware that The Limited Editions Club, which he founded and ran, had done, among its over six hundred titles, a Sherlock Holmes set. But, so what? They had done Homer, Aristotle, Plutarch, Henry James, Anatole France, etc., etc. What could have been so special about their edition?
Not long ago I received an envelope in the mail. It was addressed to me but, on opening it, I saw that it was for the Baker Street Irregulars Trust. I am the person closest to the Canadian border and those who don’t want to send things to the archivist in Vancouver, send them to me. The enclosure was simply the minutes of the 1951 Dinner of the Baker Street Irregulars, held, as usual, in early January.
The minutes were interesting in a variety of respects. They mentioned the upcoming Festival of Britain, a colossal national effort to rise from the effects of the Second World War and the post-war austerity. This celebration featured a Sherlock Holmes exhibition, in which was included a re-creation of the famous sitting room at 221B Baker Street. Those of you who may have visited the Sherlock Holmes Pub in London have seen that very room which is still there. The minutes also mentioned a plan to create a plaque to be placed in The Criterion Bar where Watson met “young Stamford”, his former dresser at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital. I only saw that plaque a few years ago.
I also saw that my own Scion Society, The Speckled Band of Boston, was represented at the dinner by 2 leading members.
The minutes then listed eighteen persons who received the Irregular Shilling, the investiture into membership of the Baker Street Irregulars. Among them, as “The Bruce-Partington Plans” was… George Macy. This was a revelation to me. Why, I asked myself, was he “investitured”, as they call it? Hence began my quest.

It is actually difficult to find much information on Macy. Wikipedia has articles on many pop one-hit wonders which are more extensive than his. With the help of Carol Porter Grossman’s History of the Limited Editions Club and a couple of other sources, I’ve put together the following. George Macy was born in 1900 in New York City, the youngest of five brothers. He went to DeWitt Clinton High School, then an all boys school in lower Manhattan, well known for its many illustrious alumni. He worked on the school newspaper among many activities, was president of the school Honor Society and was the 1917 class valedictorian. This he achieved despite the fact that at age 15 he suffered a burst appendix and peritonitis before the era of penicillin. His surgeon wrote up the case as the first documented survival. But he suffered from poor health for the rest of his life.
He won a four-year scholarship to Columbia and attended the School of Journalism. He again worked on school newspapers and became editor of the Spectator. After graduation, he worked for the national headquarters of his fraternity while pursuing a couple of publishing ventures and gaining experience in that field. After many months of planning, he was able to propose what became his lifelong activity. In March,1929, (age 29) he was able to persuade a number of Wall Street financiers and brokers to provide $40,000. capital for his project: The Limited Editions Club (LEC). This was to be a subscription service for 1500 members with books issued monthly, each book specially designed, most with distinctive illustrations, on fine paper, produced to the highest quality, beautifully bound, signed by the artist or designer, and preceded by a Monthly Letter describing the book and facts about its making. (These letters have become collectibles on their own). Many of these volumes are considered among the highest quality books of the century.
The first book, Gulliver’s Travels, came out in October, the week the stock market crashed. The Great Depression certainly challenged the Club’s existence but the monthly publications came out faithfully, adhering to the promised standards. The Depression also gave him the opportunities to get the work of artists and illustrators like Picasso and Matisse. (No, I don’t own the LEC Lysistrata or Joyce’s Ulysses which they respectively illustrated and signed).
In 1935, he set up the Heritage Press which produced a number of original titles although most were less deluxe but high-quality reprints of LEC books. In 1937 he created the Heritage Club which offered a subscription program without a limitation on number of members. This was an inspired idea as it put the operation on a sound financial footing. It was through the Heritage Club that I became aware of the LEC. Many of the books of both clubs were designed, illustrated and printed in Europe and elsewhere abroad. In 1936, Macy took over management of the legendary Nonesuch Press of Britain, which was facing bankruptcy, requiring many transatlantic trips over the years, but he returned it to Sir Francis Meynell after the war. (Meynell did the keynote speech at Columbia at the dedication of the George Macy Collection there after his death.)
The War brought its own issues. Projects with foreign participants became impossible. Rationing and shortages of materials and people being diverted to the war effort hampered operations. These factors plus Macy’s worsening health (now kidney stones) even led to no LEC books being published for a year after the war. Fortunately, Heritage titles sold well.
After the war, Macy’s efforts began to be recognized with exhibitions in Paris and London, he being the first living publisher so honored. He was made a chevalier in the Legion of Honor and in 1953 won the AIGA medal in the US, its highest honor. He died of kidney cancer in 1956. An anonymous quote in the New York Time’s obit called Macy “the world’s leading impresario of the fine book”.
His widow Helen and later son Jonathan ran the Club through 1970. Then it passed into other hands and continued with varying fortunes throughout the 80s and in somewhat different form through the rest of the century.
It is hard to say when Macy might have first thought of an LEC Holmes or when persons in the BSI might have sought an authoritative edition. Most people know that in 1930, the year of Conan Doyle’s death, Doubleday issued the one volume Complete Sherlock Holmes with Christopher Morley’s immortal introduction, In Memoriam S.H. But in 1943 Louis Untermeyer, poet and anthologist who had done a number of introductions for LEC books, sent Macy a memo about the lack of a “definitive edition” in the U.S. Over time many errors and discrepancies had crept into the stories. Vincent Starrett was working for Macy on introductions for Poe’s Tales and Dickens’ Edwin Drood . He could be asked to edit and write an introduction. Further, Frederic Dorr Steele, who had done the famous Collier’s magazine illustrations starting with the Return stories, was still alive. W.A. Dwiggins, one of the greatest American book designers who had done some LEC books, volunteered to design the set. The editing and correcting of texts would actually be done by Edgar W. Smith, General Motors executive and the “Buttons” (or Secretary) of the BSI. So, all this was set to go in 1943 and Macy announced the upcoming publication in the Club’s prospectus that year “to rank with the Club’s Plutarch, Shakespeare” etc. As we’ll see, this didn’t quite work out but as Ms Grossman put it, “this situation was not going to prevent the man who pried his illustrations out of Picasso’s studio” from succeeding.
The first obstacle was that Steele died in 1944, having produced only 40 drawings. However, Smith had already come to the conclusion that a really authoritative publication should have illustrations by Sidney Paget and others. Then the question came up of copyright approvals. First, contact was made with Harper’s and Doubleday who had American rights, the latter for the complete set only. But they were not the real obstacle and source of trouble to come. As it happened, this project got caught up in a titanic imbroglio.

The source of the problem was the Conan Doyle Estate. There were four surviving children but the relevant ones were the two sons of Doyle’s second marriage, Denis and Adrian, who managed the Estate.
Russell Miller, a biographer of ACD, called them “feckless playboys who rarely worked and shamelessly used the estate to finance their extravagant lifestyles.”
On the other hand, biographer Andrew Lycett refers to them as “spendthrift playboys” who “used the estate as a milch-cow “and added that “neither did anything useful in his life”. Their occupations were listed as travelers, motor car racers and big game hunters. Denis spent most of the war years in the US, safely away from the action.
The brothers were especially antagonistic toward the BSI due to the latter’s conceit of treating ACD as the “literary agent”. Denis had attended the 1940 BSI dinner and asked Edgar Smith why among the toasts his father was not mentioned. When Smith explained, he shook his head in disapproval (see the ACD Encyclopedia).
The brothers were concerned with maximizing revenue to support their lifestyles and, they claimed, protecting their father’s reputation. In March 1944 there occurred the Trilogy Dinner book launch in New York. The three books were Profile by Gaslight, a anthology of scholarly writings, edited by Edgar Smith.
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson: a Textbook of Friendship by Christopher Morley, the first effort at annotating a number of stories.
And The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes, edited by Ellery Queen, a collection of pastiches and parodies of Holmes.
The estate wasn’t keen on any of the books but really exploded at “this contemptible literary effort” as Adrian called The Misadventures years later in a letter to SC Roberts in which he said the Estate commenced a lawsuit against author and publisher and the book was withdrawn from publication and damages were paid. (Ellery Queen’s biographer says that what actually happened was that Frederic Dannay (half of Ellery Queen) had unintentionally infringed copyright in an earlier work which gave Adrian the leverage to demand the book be withdrawn.) This classic work has never been reprinted.
In 1946 the Baker Street Journal started publishing. Adrian objected fiercely and demanded its cessation. As leverage he refused to allow Viking to use copyrighted stories in a proposed series to be edited by Smith (which never appeared).
This antipathy toward the BSI and its scions was partially responsible for what happened in these years.
Resuming the description of events, Macy attended the 1945 BSI Dinner but had to leave early. The Minutes reported that The LEC publication “is awaiting only a final blessing from the Other Side (in the non-Doyleian sense of the term) before being given to an eager, if restricted, world” (that is, the limited membership of the LEC).
However, in April 1945 Kenneth McCormick, Doubleday’s editor in chief, wrote Smith that that he had received a memo from Adrian that they wished no further editions of any of Sir Arthur’s books pending further instructions.
Denis and Adrian had been complaining about reduced royalties during wartime, the former from his suite at New York’s Plaza Hotel. This was due to general shortages and prioritizing lower-priced armed forces editions. The brothers then forbade cheap editions as belittling the worth of their father’s work.
In early 1946 Doubleday was notified that its license to publish the Casebook was terminated followed by a notice that this included its appearance in the Complete volume.
Doubleday had estimated sales of 100,000 copies once manufacturing could return to pre-war levels. McCormick referred to the heirs as “cutting off their nose to spite their face” Not only would publishing less than the complete book be a marketing problem but it would have to be reset in print due to running heads on the pages. They had to cancel an immediate press run they had arranged for 25000 copies.
. Negotiations with “those dreadful boys” as Christopher Morley called them continued. The Estate wanted much more money via higher royalties plus promises to print other works. One possible factor in their stopping production was the discovery of a supposedly “lost” Sherlock Holmes story entitled “The Man Who Was Wanted”. It was published with their approval in Cosmopolitan in August 1948. There is dispute as to whether the Estate wanted to pass it off as genuine and include it in a new “Complete Works” but there was a lot of obfuscation about it until the true author came forward and was able to prove he wrote it as a pastiche.
In 1946 the Sherlock Holmes films had ended and the radio series would lose its stars in 1947 and 48. The end of these stimuli to read the stories would surely have an effect. By 1949 the Complete SH had been unavailable for purchase for three years. By the end of the year the brothers finally agreed to resume publication.
During this period George Macy was having no better luck with the Estate. In 1945 Macy was informed about the “freeze”. Then later that year Macy was advised by Watt in London that he should contact the estate’s American attorneys, which he did, even meeting with a member of the firm. Then he was notified the Estate had changed attorneys. So he applied to the new firm and no reply of any kind was received for two years.
But under American copyright law, as it then existed, with 56 years maximum protection, the early stories through “The Final Problem’ would be out of copyright by 1949. So Macy commenced work on production of The Adventures in three volumes. As the Monthly letter said, “we would show these volumes to Conan Doyle’s sons” in a “handsome edition” and then to advance once more an offer of payment (about five thousand dollars…)” for permission to proceed on “all the stories”. This first set came out in June 1950.
While we don’t have the details, permission was eventually granted and the remaining volumes would be published in June and July 1952. But meanwhile, reactions among the BSI members were ecstatic about what had been done. As Smith wrote to Christopher Morley in August of 1950, “We must invite George Macy to the BSI dinner and confer the Irregular Shilling for this masterful job he’s done to the honor and glory of Sherlock Holmes.” Eventually the collection also appeared in three combination volumes by the Heritage Press but lacking several of the essays.
As Smith wrote in the Journal after Macy’s death in 1956, calling the set “one of the great introuvables unobtainables in the rare book field “, we “owe him our admiration and a debt we can never requite.”
So, you now know the story -and much more-behind this publication. There is an obscure but interesting postscript. When William Baring-Gould wrote to Adrian for permissions relative to his Annotated Sherlock Holmes in 1964, the response, while positive, said, “In your letter you do not mention the name of the publisher…I hope it is not the Heritage Press as we are about to sue these people.” I’m not aware of any such suit or even a reason for one but Adrian sure did hold his grudges.
I guess I should mention in closing that Denis died in 1955 (a year before Macy) at the age of 46. And Adrian passed in 1970 at 59. Neither left any offspring.
So, you now know the story -and much more- behind this magnificent publication and we have completed our Quest for Macy.
Copyright 2020 by Daniel M. Polvere

Ene 4, 12:03am

>2 laotzu225: Excellent detective work!

Editado: Ene 4, 12:47am

As long as I have been a Devotee of George Macy and his works, I was not aware of his relationship with the BSI nor this amazing imbroglio with Doyle's heirs. Thanks so much for sharing!

Incidentally, The Quest for Corvo is one of my favorite books, as is Rolfe's (Corvo's) Hadrian the VII.

Ene 4, 1:16am

The Oriental sage >1 laotzu225: included 3 pictures in the article he sent, which I think Devotees and Holmes fans would enjoy. One is the drawing of Macy by Norman Rockwell (who did the classic illustrations for the Heritage Press editions of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn), one is the cover design with Holmes portrait in high relief and the famous V(ictoria) R(egina) expertly picked out in bullet holes on Holmes' wallpaper, and one of the illustrations by Frederic Dorr Steele.

Ene 4, 10:37am

>4 Django6924: Robert, it is interesting what rabbit holes a little research can lead us down. I was so taken by reading Corvo that I wanted to find out about the author, A.J.A. Symons, who is something of a character in his own book. There is a biography about him written by his much younger (12 years) and more prolific and famous brother, Julian Symons.
"A.J." was born the same year as Macy and sadly died even much younger. He was a brilliant man who had great aspirations but enjoyed life too much. He co-founded with Andre Simon what is now known as the International Food and Wine Society (publisher of Food and Wine magazine) and organized the defunct First Editions Club (he for some years lived, as the Secretary of the Club, in their plush headquarters).
A brief bio of AJ can be found on the Society website.
(When the pandemic is over, I plan to apply for membership in the Vancouver branch of the IWFS!)

Ene 4, 1:34pm

Macy was Jewish, and he lived during the time of the Holocaust. I'm sure he had family that were murdered in Europe, I would love to know how Judaism played a role in his life and how he perceived the Holocaust and anti-Semitism? I have no idea if any such information is available, but I would still love to know.

Ene 4, 3:10pm

>7 astropi: This is an interesting question. I've never seen any indications of his religion or ethnic background in anything he wrote publicly or in any of the memorials or obituaries I've seen. I only recall a couple of books (e.g., The Living Talmud-which came out in 1960 but could have been planned by him; or The Book of Job, which of course has wider appeal) which might have been influenced by a Jewish background. On the other hand, there are many references to Christmas (and this could be explained by promotional concerns or on a secular view of the holiday) in his MLs and correspondence.
Since he was born in 1900 from American parents, it isn't clear that he had close family in Europe.
But he was a great man and the more we can find out about him, the better.

Ene 4, 3:30pm

>6 laotzu225: (When the pandemic is over, I plan to apply for membership in the Vancouver branch of the IWFS!)

Here! Here! I'm sure Macy would have been a member as well, judging from the menus of the meals served at the Limited Editions Club bashes at the Waldorf-Astoria.

Editado: Ene 4, 4:06pm

This was an interesting read. Thanks for the write up Lao Tzu. Incidentally, Adrian Conan Doyle has written (or co-written) some Sherlock Holmes stories. Would you care to comment on the literary quality of these stories? Also, are there any non-canonical Holmes stories or novels that you would care to recommend? The Giant Rat of Sumatra has always intrigued me, but when I came to know that multiple stories or novels have been written on or about it, I left reading them for later.

Ene 4, 5:02pm

>10 blue.eyes: If there were two of me and I read nothing else, I could not keep up with the pastiches, as they are called, as they flow in abundance. Nor am i particularly interested in another "discovery" from Watson's tin dispatch-box at Cox and Co., Bankers , the "source" for many of these stories.
The earliest, by August Derleth (when i moved to my current house our neighbor across the street had that last name and I found was a distant relative), which change the character's name to Solar Pons and moves him forward in time somewhat, are highly regarded as true in spirit to the Canon.
Nicholas Meyer's The Seven-Percent Solution (later a film) is definitely among the best.
Lyndsay Faye, BSI' s book Dust and Shadow, which takes on the inevitable confrontation between Holmes and the Ripper, while I don't think it could be confused with Doyle's style, is stellar.
An unheralded success, in my opinion, is Jamyang Norbu's The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes covering SH's "lost" years in India and Tibet.
Of course, most of the SH cases were short stories and the ultimate pastiche is probably Vincent Starrett's The Unique Hamlet, privately printed. Starrett was one of the GREAT Holmes scholars and author of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, a classic study (not a pastiche but worth reading). He also wrote "221B", a poem which is read at almost every gathering of Sherlockians. A copy of the original 'Hamlet' is hard to find but...thanks to the internet
Since I assume we are all bibliophiles here: If you can find Ellery Queen's Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes, a collection of parodies and pastiches from 1943, which was suppressed by the ACD Estate, it is a labor of love. (I was lucky that one of my daughters who earns a good living, gave it to me one birthday.)
The Exploits of S.H. , the collection by Adrian and John Dickson Carr (whose participation probably saved it), isn't bad but uneven. It isn't clear who wrote what and the extent of collaboration. But for a rainy Saturday, its ok.

Ene 4, 5:06pm

>7 astropi: There was discussion recently in a different thread regarding the omission of the Prioress' Tale from the '46 Canterbury Tales, possibly due to its anti-Semitic content - I don't know if it can be definitively linked to Macy's religion and/or the sentiment at the time but it's an interesting question to ponder.

Ene 4, 5:30pm

>11 laotzu225: Thank you.

Ene 4, 5:45pm
"George grew up in abject poverty, the child of Jewish refugees from eastern Europe in the late 19th century. He became a completely self-made man and, for the most part, eschewed his cultural background. Quick assimilation was the family goal."

That's all I know, but I find it hard to believe his Jewish background didn't influence him.

Ene 4, 8:05pm

>14 astropi:

There are comments in the Sandglass for A Sentimental Journey mourning the loss of France to the Nazis that indicates where his sympathies lie, and by the time word about the Holocaust reached the West, a statement in the Sandglass for The Aeneid pretty much indicates Macy's depth of feeling; after posing the hypothetical question, "what do you consider to be the greatest work of which the soul of man is capable?" he says if you asked John Doe, "it is possible that he would say the greatest work of which the soul of man is capable is the killing of Adolf Hitler with one blow of one's fist."

Ene 4, 11:10pm

>14 astropi: >15 Django6924: The link astropi found is very interesting. Was there any further communication with or from "granddaughter"?
This could have been a valuable resource for the group and beyond. A lot could have been learned.
What she said about Macy's family's and his own desire to assimilate reminds me of my father's (he was Italian but never tried to teach us the language).

Ene 4, 11:41pm

>16 laotzu225:

No, and I think she would have been an invaluable resource and was hoping she might fill in a few gaps in our knowledge of George and Helen Macy, but after a few posts she seems to have dropped from the group.

Ene 5, 2:46am

>15 Django6924: Thanks, if someone can post those it would be an interesting read. Again, I wish there was a lot more information. Even if Macy's family "assimilated" that still does not mean they didn't celebrate Jewish culture, heritage, holidays. I think it's more likely to mean he forego his European heritage which to a large extent was anti-Semitic long before the Nazis every came to power. So many questions...

Únase para publicar.