“Let us drink the quarrelling toast of the Lodge.” [VALL]
Lost in the mists of pre-history is the origin of salutations via drink. Imbibing from a communal vessel to honor or celebrate an event, occasion or deity to bind a group both figuratively through action and literally through a shared liquid seems to be a common, world-wide human ritual. In the 13th century B.C., Ulysses drank to the health of Achilles in The Iliad. The Romans were famous for their toasts and usually put in a piece of burnt bread into their wine to improve its taste. This custom became common in Europe.
According the website Today I Found Out:
According the website Today I Found Out:
The term “toast” itself originated in the 16th century. One of the first written accounts of it was in Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor when the character of Falstaff demands – “Go fetch me a quart of sack; put a toast in’t.” To translate, he’s asking for a great deal of wine with a piece of (literal) toast in it. …. This is thought to be due to the quality of wine in the past-- it was in many cases inferior to our modern vintages. Thus, placing a piece of toast within a jug was supposed to soak up some of the acidity and improve the flavour. This also had the side benefit of giving people something to do with a piece of stale bread, often spiced or with fruit embedded, that would improve the bread’s palatability. Up until very recently in history, wasting food just wasn’t something people tended to do, so finding ways to make stale bread taste good was fairly common- waste not, want not. (This was also more or less how French Toast got its start.)Over the coming centuries, the term “toasting”, in English, slowly transformed to incorporate traditional libations and the honouring of people. In the early days of this connection, the person being honoured often received the physical toast saturated with wine at the end.Toasting became so popular in the 17th and 18th centuries that Toastmasters came into being. Acting as a kind of party referee, they were there to ensure that the toasting didn’t become too excessive and that everyone got their fair share of toasting opportunities. This may sound silly, but it was a desperately needed role. If left to their own devices, guests would occasionally go on toasting every individual in the room. (This being a great excuse to drink excessive amounts of alcohol without seeming like a lush.)
The origins of the Sherlockian Toast is likewise lost in the mists of alcohol and tobacco in the gathering places of New York City and London in the 1930s. They have taken on many forms, from a simple “Cheers” or “L’chiam” to our favorite Baker Street denizens (and usually such toast are given within The Game) in poems, especially limericks, and song, as well as prose of various length to various characters (or occasionally objects), obscure or infamous, in the Canon.
On I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere Episode 99: Chris Redmond, BSI ("Billy") talks about his toast at the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes.
IHOSE: So what I wanted to mention that what stuck out to me in the book [A Quick Succession of Subjects] was when you were down here in New York for a BSI Weekend you actually attended the annual dinner of the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes which until that time had not admitted men to their proceedings and this was something of a first. I think you were brought by a date and you made a toast which was speech-like in length but it was very good. It was called “The Man Who Loved Women”. You remember that occasion?REDMOND: I do remember that. I came to New York for several of the January weekends in, I suppose, the early 1980s because of relationships and circumstances and the first time I came was the first time the Adventuresses invited men to attend their dinner, which was held on the same evening as the BSI dinner. There were no women Irregulars at that time so nobody had to make a choice. They invited me to come to that dinner. I was somehow able to get myself on the list of people making toasts and, having stood up to make a toast, took great advantage to being there and spoke for at least ten minutes about men and women in the Sherlockian world and about Dr Watson as the model of the man who loved women.IHOSE: Yes, indeed he was. To you remember the reception to your talk, to your toast?REDMOND: I don’t. I imagine it was mostly relief when I finished.
The lesson here for would-be toasters is, unless you’re a raconteur of the ability of Chris Redmond, don’t get too carried away in your speech.
The Origins of the Canonical (or Conanical) Toasts
Baker Street Irregular historian Jon Lellenberg, in answer to my inquiry as to whether there is any history available on the Canonical Toast replied, “It would be an entertaining subject, but no one's tackled it that I'm aware of -- maybe because most toasts are too transient and even ephemeral compared to dinner papers and the like.” During his talk on “A Photographic History of the BSI” at the Mind and Art of Sherlock Holmes Conference at the Chautauqua (NY) Institute on September 11, 2016 [see also Episode 104: Sherlockians at Chautauqua], Ben Vizoskie, BSI ("Alexander Hamilton Garrideb") amplified:
Toasts have been a part of the annual meeting [of the Baker Street Irregulars] from the beginning. No minutes survive from the first two annual dinners in 1934 and 1936, but the minutes of the third dinner in 1940 state simply “…the toasts were drunk: first to The Woman, then to Mrs. Hudson, then to Dr. Watson’s Second Wife.” The individuals the BSI have honored with toasts have varied over the years, but there have always been toasts.
Whether the contents of the toast were recorded was another matter. When I asked Ben later about it, he didn’t know. If they were, they are not readily available or searchable.
Ross Davies has sought to remedy that. He has a site called Sherlockian Toasts: Salutes to Sherlock Holmes, John Watson, Mrs. Hudson, and others of their ilk, and we asked him about it.
IHOSE: Why did you start the website?DAVIES: Because I discovered a need — mine! — for such a resource. A few months ago I was invited by Bob Katz, Headmastiff of The Sons of the Copper Beeches (an ancient and renowned scion in Philadelphia), to give my first Sherlockian toast. Bob assigned me the toast to Dr. J.H. Watson. I was nervous. I wanted to do a good job. I’d seen enough clever Sherlockian toasts (and heard about others) to feel some pressure to live up to a long and entertaining tradition. I started my preparations by looking online for examples and inspiration. Much to my surprise, I did not find much. All those thousands of Sherlockian toasts, all those hundreds of Sherlockian websites, and yet only a few toasts to be had online! I managed to come up with a few words on my own, and to recite them to The Sons in Philadelphia. I also resolved to make it easier for others who might find themselves in the same boat in the future. So, I set up the Sherlockian Toasts website. I hope it helps.IHOSE: What is your interest in Canonical toast?DAVIES: Once I started work on the website, I started thinking seriously about Sherlockian toasts in general, not just my panicky need to come up with something good to say about Dr. Watson. And that’s when I began thinking about the toasts as fragmentary oral records of Sherlockian culture. My hope now is that if we can accumulate enough toasts — old and new — we will build a new perspective on Sherlockian history. So, Sherlockians, please do send me your toasts: all of them!
Toasters may send in their toasts; they need not be current. Blow the dust of those yellowing index cards to the Canonical honoree given at that half-forgotten scion meeting and head over to the site. You will need the following information:
Name of the author
Subject of the toast
Audience (scion society or state dinner or other)
Date it was offered
Text of the toast (with annotations, and audio/video recordings, if you like)
Copyright notice (we assume the author holds it unless you say otherwise)
Note: By your submission you’re giving the website permission to publish it there and elsewhere (maybe in a “Sherlockian Toasts” pamphlet, for example). But of course it remains your toast, to do with as you see fit.
This little-explored area of Sherlockian society will have a bit light shed upon it in the upcoming Fall issue of The Watsonian. You will read just a sample of the many forms of salutation and gratitude that have been given to that body of work, the Canon, that we esteem so. Many scions today make an effort to collect their toasters' notes and archive them. Perhaps some of the atmosphere of sodality and fellowship are lost in the transition to print. Of course we can rectify that with a figurative (or literal) “kampai”, and a fond remembrance of a meeting gone by or anticipation of one to come.