On February 17th… The Birth of a Sherlockian Scholar

February 17, 1888: On this date, the Reverend Monsignor Ronald A Knox, one of the most eminent original Sherlockian scholars, was born. Although he was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1912, he converted to Catholicism, becoming a Roman Catholic priest in 1918, later a Monsignor. He is best known for writing the paper Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes.

Cover of RONALD KNOX AND SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE ORIGIN OF SHERLOCKIAN STUDIES, edited by Michael J. Crowe

Available from Gasogene Books (Wessex Press)

If there is anything pleasant in life, it is doing what we aren’t meant to do. If there is anything pleasant in criticism, it is finding out what we aren’t meant to find out. It is the method by which we treat as significant what the author did not mean to be significant, by which we single out as essential what the author regarded as incidental. […] There is, however, a special fascination in applying this method to Sherlock Holmes, because it is, in a sense, Holmes’s own method. ‘It has long been an axiom of mine,’ he says, ‘that the little things are infinitely the most important.’ It might be the motto of his life’s work.

This paper has generated years of Sherlockian studies. It was presented to the Gryphon Club in 1911, published in The Blue Book Magazine in 1912, and republished a number of times, including in Knox’s Essays in Satire in 1928. [The link above will take you to a PDF file of the paper in Blackfriars v1 n3 (June 1920), hosted at the University of Minnesota. -Selena Buttons]

In a response to the paper, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote that “Holmes changed entirely as the stories went on” but that “Watson never for one instant as chorus and chronicler transcends his own limitations. Never once does a flash of wit or wisdom come from him. All is remorsely eliminated so that he may be Watson.” [A frankly absurd assertion! -Selena Buttons]

My source for the information on Knox’s birthdate comes from A Curious Collection of Dates by Leah Guinn (“Amber”) and Jaime N Mahoney (“Tressa”). [Additional information about the presentation and publication of “Studies of the Literature of Sherlock Holmes” and Dr Doyle’s response comes from The Ronald Knox Society of North America. -Selena Buttons]

(This post originally appeared on February 17, 2017.)

A Love Affair for Life

My favorite edition is and always will be the Doubleday one volume edition. This volume was the Shangri-La of my childhood. I started out reading an abridged version of the story “The Adventure of the Speckled Band”. The story was in a weekly messenger that my Catholic school received for the 7th and 8th grade. The purpose was to introduce more adult literature since we were becoming young adults. Instead it started a life time and devotion in one underweight, under-muscled, lonely, bespectacled boy.

I could not get enough of 221B and my two new devoted companions. We solved the mystery and brought Justice where we could. And best of all, they were there with only an opening of a book! I went through all the stories I could find in our small school library. I then harassed our local city public library for library loans. One of the Librarians mentioned in an off-handed tone that Rector’s Book Store downtown had a One Volume collection of all 60(!!!) stories of Holmes and Watson. I had to have that treasure!

So getting my Mom to call down to the store, I found out the horrible information the book was $10.00! The price seemed so unattainable. So as my Mom taught me, I dug into my piggy savings bank and found out I had a whole lot of chores for my neighbors, mowing of neighbors’ lawns with my father’s hand push mower in my future. Finally, those fund raising efforts and a very generous contribution from my Mom made the unobtainable mine.

Mom and I went down one Saturday morning by bus. I normally was in awe of the huge world of books in the store. Not today. Straight to the adult mystery’s section, grabbing the one volume treasure, and straight to the cashiers. When we got there, my Mom stayed in the background while I pulled out my fist of money and laid the desired treasure down in front of the clerk. The clerk looked at the rather large book, about 1300 pages, thumbed through it, saw who he guessed was my Mother in back of me. He spoke out to her: “Ma’am I do not think he would like this book. It is so large and has no pictures.”

My Mom in her coldest tone said, “He wants this book. He does not need pictures to read a book as you do.”

The clerk very quickly rang up the book, took my money from the counter, gave me change and walked with us and apologized all the way out of the store, holding the door open for us, and urged us to come again.

Now as to why the Doubleday one volume is my favorite. You can do no better than the Preface “In Memoriam”. To quote: “The whole Sherlock Holmes saga is triumphant illustration of art’s supremacy over life.” I had my first glimpse of that now familiar sitting room. I learned the major and minor details of Holmesiana to be able spend endless hours of my life in blissful enjoyment discussing these with other dyed in the blood addicts.

I also was able to see my first picture of the flat at 221B Baker Street.

On January 24th… “Barcarolle”

‘I think I can promise you that you will feel even less humorous as the evening advances. Now, look here, Count Sylvius. I’m a busy man and I can’t waste time. I’m going into that bedroom. Pray make yourselves quite at home in my absence. You can explain to your friend how the matter lies without the restraint of my presence. I shall try over the Hoffmann Barcarolle upon my violin. In five minutes I shall return for your final answer. You quite grasp the alternative, do you not? Shall we take you, or shall we have the stone?’

Holmes withdrew, picking up his violin from the corner as he passed. A few moments later the long-drawn, wailing notes of that most haunting of tunes came faintly through the closed door of the bedroom.

Portrait of Hoffmann by an unidentified painter ca. 1800 (University of Adelaide), via Wikimedia Commons

Ernst Theodor Amadeus (E. T. A.) Hoffmann was born Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffmann on January 24th, 1776, in Königsberg, East Prussia (now Kaliningrad, Russia).

He was a painter, a composer, and a writer. Three of his stories – “Der Sandmann” (The Sandman), Rath Krespel (Councillor Krespel; published in English translation as The Cremona Violin), and Die Geschichte vom verlorenen Spiegelbilde (The Story of the Lost Reflection) – formed the basis of Offenbach’s final opera, “The Tales of Hoffmann”. The soprano/mezzo-soprano duet, “Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amour”, is considered the most famous barcarolle ever written and often referred to as simply “The Barcarolle”.

[Hat-tip to Leah Guinn and Jaime N Mahoney and their fantastic A Curious Collection of Dates: Through the Year with Sherlock Holmes”]

On January 23rd…

January 23, 1891: Holmes “incommoded” Moriarty. [FINA]

Illustration by Sidney Paget for The Strand Magazine (December, 1893)

“You evidently don’t know me,” said he.

“On the contrary,” I answered, “I think it is fairly evident that I do. Pray take a chair. I can spare you five minutes if you have anything to say.”

“All that I have to say has already crossed your mind,” said he.

“Then possibly my answer has crossed yours,” I replied.

“You stand fast?”

“Absolutely.”

He clapped his hand into his pocket, and I raised the pistol from the table. But he merely drew out a memorandum-book in which he had scribbled some dates.

“You crossed my path on the 4th of January,” said he. “On the 23rd you incommoded me; by the middle of February I was seriously inconvenienced by you; at the end of March I was absolutely hampered in my plans; and now, at the close of April, I find myself placed in such a position through your continual persecution that I am in positive danger of losing my liberty. The situation is becoming an impossible one.”

“Have you any suggestion to make?” I asked.

“You must drop it, Mr Holmes,” said he, swaying his face about. “You really must, you know.”

On January 12th…

January 12 (or thereabouts), 1903: Sir James Saunders diagnosed Godfrey Emsworth’s disease as pseudo-leprosy. [BLAN]

Illustration by Howard K. Elcock for The Strand Magazine (November, 1926)

I was finishing this little analysis of the case when the door was opened and the austere figure of the great dermatologist was ushered in. But for once his sphinx-like features had relaxed and there was a warm humanity in his eyes. He strode up to Colonel Emsworth and shook him by the hand.

‘It is often my lot to bring ill-tidings, and seldom good,’ said he. ‘This occasion is the more welcome. It is not leprosy.’

‘What?’

‘A well-marked case of pseudo-leprosy or ichthyosis, a scale-like affection of the skin, unsightly, obstinate, but possibly curable, and certainly non-infective. Yes, Mr Holmes, the coincidence is a remarkable one. But is it coincidence? Are there not subtle forces at work of which we know little? Are we assured that the apprehension, from which this young man has no doubt suffered terribly since his exposure to its contagion, may not produce a physical effect which simulates that which it fears? At any rate, I pledge my professional reputation – But the lady has fainted! I think that Mr Kent had better be with her until she recovers from this joyous shock.’

On January 10th… The Metropolitan Railway

By Unknown (illegible) (The Illustrated London News, Issue 1181, page 692) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“The trains which traverse the lines of rail beside which the body was found are those which run from west to east, some being purely Metropolitan, and some from Willesden and outlying junctions. It can be stated for certain that this young man, when he met his death, was travelling in this direction at some late hour of the night, but at what point he entered the train it is impossible to state.”

“His ticket, of course, would show that.”

“There was no ticket in his pockets.”

“No ticket! Dear me, Watson, this is really very singular. According to my experience it is not possible to reach the platform of a Metropolitan train without exhibiting one’s ticket. Presumably, then, the young man had one. Was it taken from him in order to conceal the station from which he came? It is possible. Or did he drop it in the carriage? That is also possible. But the point is of curious interest. I understand that there was no sign of robbery?” [BRUC]

The Metropolitan Railway opened its first line to the public on January 10, 1863 (just after Holmes’s own 9th birthday, per Baring-Gould). Of course, by the time we join Holmes and Watson in London, the Underground is already well-established.

My friend rose lazily from his armchair and stood with his hands in the pockets of his dressing-gown, looking over my shoulder. It was a bright, crisp February morning, and the snow of the day before still lay deep upon the ground, shimmering brightly in the wintry sun. Down the centre of Baker Street it had been ploughed into a brown crumbly band by the traffic, but at either side and on the heaped-up edges of the foot-paths it still lay as white as when it fell. The grey pavement had been cleaned and scraped, but was still dangerously slippery, so that there were fewer passengers than usual. Indeed, from the direction of the Metropolitan Station no one was coming save the single gentleman whose eccentric conduct had drawn my attention. [BERY]

[Hat-tip to Leah Guinn and Jaime N Mahoney and their fantastic book, A Curious Collection of Dates: Through the Year with Sherlock Holmes.]

On January 8th…

Chalk pit off Silkstead Lane near Silkstead Manor Farm. Photo by Pierre Terre [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

January 8, 1885: Joseph Openshaw was killed by a fall into a chalk pit. [FIVE]

On the third day after the coming of the letter my father went from home to visit an old friend of his, Major Freebody, who is in command of one of the forts upon Portsdown Hill. I was glad that he should go, for it seemed to me that he was further from danger when he was away from home. In that, however, I was in error. Upon the second day of his absence I received a telegram from the Major, imploring me to come at once. My father had fallen over one of the deep chalk-pits which abound in the neighbourhood, and was lying senseless, with a shattered skull. I hurried to him, but he passed away without having ever recovered his consciousness. He had, as it appears, been returning from Fareham in the twilight, and as the country was unknown to him, and the chalk-pit unfenced, the jury had no hesitation in bringing in a verdict of “Death from accidental causes”. Carefully as I examined every fact connected with his death, I was unable to find anything which could suggest the idea of murder. There were no signs of violence, no footmarks, no robbery, no record of strangers having been seen upon the roads. And yet I need not tell you that my mind was far from at ease, and that I was well-nigh certain that some foul plot had been woven round him.

January 8, 1888 (or maybe 1889): Jack Douglas confessed to killing Ted Baldwin. [VALL]

I was on my guard all that next day and never went out into the park. It’s as well, or he’d have had the drop on me with that buck-shot gun of his before ever I could draw on him. After the bridge was up – my mind was always more restful when that bridge was up in the evenings – I put the thing clear out of my head. I never figured on his getting into the house and waiting for me. But when I made my round in my dressing-gown, as my habit was, I had no sooner entered the study than I scented danger. I guess when a man has had dangers in his life – and I’ve had more than most in my time – there is a kind of sixth sense that waves the red flag. I saw the signal clear enough, and yet I couldn’t tell you why. Next instant I spotted a boot under the window curtain, and then I saw why plain enough.

Illustration by Frank Wiles for The Strand Magazine, (January, 1915)

I’d just the one candle that was in my hand, but there was a good light from the hall lamp through the open door. I put down the candle and jumped for a hammer that I’d left on the mantel. At the same moment he sprang at me. I saw the glint of a knife and I lashed at him with the hammer. I got him somewhere, for the knife tinkled down on the floor. He dodged round the table as quick as an eel, and a moment later he’d got his gun from under his coat. I heard him cock it, but I had got hold of it before he could fire. I had it by the barrel, and we wrestled for it all ends up for a minute or more. It was death to the man that lost his grip. He never lost his grip, but he got it butt downwards for a moment too long. Maybe it was I that pulled the trigger. Maybe we just jolted it off between us. Anyhow, he got both barrels in the face, and there I was, staring down at all that was left of Ted Baldwin.

A Mystery Tid Bit Answer

Robert Perret (JHWS “Sampson”) writes in response to our Mystery Tid Bit Post:

I can only find the USH citation online, and a brief wiki mention of Calabash. It appears to be neither the first nor the last Sherlockian writing from Asimov and I don’t have anything else to go on, so submitted as is for partial credit, I guess?​

C13593. Asimov, Isaac. “Those Endearing Old Charms,” Calabash, No. 1 (March 1982), 13.
“Let me tell you of all those endearing old charms / That we’ve loved and enjoyed so for years, / Will stay constant despite Moriarty’s alarms / For while Holmes is alive we’ve no fears…”

Chips answers: Asimov’s song is based on “Believe Me, if All Those Endearing Young Charms“, a popular song written in 1808 by Irish poet Thomas Moore using a traditional Irish air.

In the comments to that post, Roger Johnson (JHWS “Count”) correctly identified the piece, writing:

Asimov, a very accomplished versifier, here writes a variant on Thomas Moore’s 1808 poem:

I.
BELIEVE me, if all those endearing young charms,
Which I gaze on so fondly to-day,
Were to change by to-morrow, and fleet in my arms,
Like fairy-gifts, fading away!
Thou wouldst still be ador’d as this moment thou art,
Let thy loveliness fade as it will;
And, around the dear ruin, each wish of my heart
Would entwine itself verdantly still!

II.
It is not while beauty and youth are thine own,
And thy cheeks unprofan’d by a tear,
That the fervour and faith of a soul can be known,
To which time will but make thee more dear!
Oh! the heart, that has truly lov’d, never forgets,
But as truly loves on to the close;
As the sun-flower turns on her god, when he sets,
The same look which she turn’d when he rose!

Asimov followed the example of 1946 James Montgomery’s “Irregular Song”, written in the mid-1940s:

I
Believe me, if all those endearing old yarns
Which we cherish so fondly today
Were to vanish ‘neath Boscombe’s or Hurlstone’s dark tarns,
Like fairy gifts fading away,
There would still be those papers well guarded by Cox,
Watson-data as yet unrevealed,
And the records contained in that battered old box
New Conanical treasure would yield.

II
Oh dear Sherlock, to share thy adventures we long,
As you crush London’s crime under heel,
And we sing in thy praise an Irregular Song,
Though it ne’er can express all we feel.
Let grim warfare and pestilence rage as they can,
You will still give long hours of joy
To the boy who, adoring, is now half a man –
Or the man who is yet half a boy.

Moore’s poem became famous when set to a traditional Irish tune, and Montgomery applied his fine tenor voice to singing his own words to that same tune. I’m not aware that Isaac Asimov regaled the BSI with a musical rendition of “Those Endearing Old Charms” – but I wouldn’t put it past him.

Richard Olken (JHWS “Palmer”) added:

The tune is also that of Harvard’s anthem, Fair Harvard

I
Fair Harvard! we join in thy Jubilee throng,
And with blessings surrender thee o’er
By these Festival-rites, from the Age that is past,
To the Age that is waiting before.
O Relic and Type of our ancestors’ worth,
That hast long kept their memory warm,
First flow’r of their wilderness! Star of their night!
Calm rising thro’ change and thro’ storm.

II
Farewell! be thy destinies onward and bright!
To thy children the lesson still give,
With freedom to think, and with patience to bear,
And for Right ever bravely to live.
Let not moss-covered Error moor thee at its side,
As the world on Truth’s current glides by,
Be the herald of Light, and the bearer of Love,
Till the stock of the Puritans die.
Samuel Gilman, Class of 1811

Asimov did sing to the tune of O Danny Boy, as noted in the March, 1984 issue of the Baker Street Journal (Vol 34, #1, Page 7)

O, SHERLOCK HOLMES
by Isaac Asimov
(Sung to the tune of “Danny Boy)

O, Sherlock Holmes, the Baker Street Irregulars
Are gathered here to honour you today,
For in their hearts, you glitter like a thousand stars
And like the stars, you’ll never pass away.
This year that’s new, must tick away its months and die,
For Father Time moves on remorselessly,
But even he can’t tarnish, as he passes by,
O, Sherlock Holmes, O, Holmes, your immortality.

O, Sherlock Holmes, the world is filled with evil still
And Moriarty rages everywhere.
The terror waits to strike and by the billions kill.
The mushroom cloud is more than we can bear.
But still there’s hope in what you’ve come to symbolise,
In that great principle you’ve made us see.
We may yet live if only we can improvise,
O, Sherlock Holmes, O, Holmes, your rationality.

On January 2nd…

January 2, 1881: Watson moved into 221B Baker Street. [STUD]

We met next day as he had arranged, and inspected the rooms at No. 221B, Baker Street, of which he had spoken at our meeting. They consisted of a couple of comfortable bedrooms and a single large airy sitting-room, cheerfully furnished, and illuminated by two broad windows. So desirable in every way were the apartments, and so moderate did the terms seem when divided between us, that the bargain was concluded upon the spot, and we at once entered into possession. That very evening I moved my things round from the hotel, and on the following morning Sherlock Holmes followed me with several boxes and portmanteaus.

On January 1st… The Beginning

On January 1, 1881, Dr John H Watson, recently returned to London and living in “a private hotel in the Strand,” realized he had been “spending such money as [he] had, considerably more freely than [he] ought.” He decided “to leave the hotel, and to take up [his] quarters in some less pretentious and less expensive domicile.”

At the Criterion Bar, he was surprised by an old acquaintance, young Stamford, who just happened to know of another young man in search of someone with whom to share the expense of living in London. And so off to Barts they went….

Illustration by George Hutchinson (1891)

There was only one student in the room, who was bending over a distant table absorbed in his work. At the sound of our steps he glanced round and sprang to his feet with a cry of pleasure. ‘I’ve found it! I’ve found it,’ he shouted to my companion, running towards us with a test-tube in his hand. ‘I have found a re-agent which is precipitated by haemoglobin, and by nothing else.’ Had he discovered a gold mine, greater delight could not have shone upon his features.

‘Dr Watson, Mr Sherlock Holmes,’ said Stamford, introducing us.

‘How are you?’ he said cordially, gripping my hand with a strength for which I should hardly have given him credit. ‘You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.’

A very happy new year, dear Watsonians!

A Portrait of Basil

Sometimes, being on the Internet leads to the odd serendipitous occurrence. Chips came across this beautiful sketch of Basil of Baker Street, but we had no way of identifying the artist. [And I tried every search I could think of! -Selena Buttons] Then, the very same sketch appeared on our Twitter timeline, posted by BakerStreetCrow (JHWS “Corvus”), with a link to the artist’s Tumblr post! And so we are happy to share this lovely art and to be able to attribute it to K.M. Hardy (scarvenartist)! (We’d also love to see a Dawson to accompany this Basil, because we love David Q Dawson.)

Basil of Baker Street, as drawn by K.M. Hardy (scarvenartist)

A Christmas Wish for Our Group

Chips writes: Selena and all my JHWS friends, please accept this as my Christmas wishes for all of you to have a blessed and holy Holiday season. I will be off line for a while and hopefully will be back with you again. All my Thanks for your friendships and my best wishes for you and yours.

[My best wishes to you, Chips, and to you, dear readers. –Selena Buttons]

Tid Bit from a Special Story

This excerpt and picture appeared in the Norwegian Explorers group on Facebook recently. [Reposted from I Hear of Sherlock, so hat-tip to Burt & Scott! -Selena]

Chips writes: These are the word pictures that I fell totally and completely into the world of 1895 and all that followed after.
-Ron, aka the Game is and will forever be Afoot until I cross the Terrace.

“It was a September evening, and not yet seven o’clock, but the day had been a dreary one, and a dense drizzly fog lay low upon the great city. Mud colored clouds drooped sadly over the muddy streets. Down the Strand the lamps were but misty splotches of diffused light which threw a feeble circular glimmer upon the slimy pavement. The yellow glare from the shop-windows streamed out into the steamy, vaporous air, and threw a murky, shifting radiance across the crowded thoroughfare. There was, to my mind, something eerie and ghost-like in the endless procession of faces which flitted across these narrow bars of light,—sad faces and glad, haggard and merry. Like all human kind, they flitted from the gloom into the light, and so back into the gloom once more. I am not subject to impressions, but the dull, heavy evening, with the strange business upon which we were engaged, combined to make me nervous and depressed.” —The Sign of Four

William Gillette and the Art of Sherlock Holmes

This ad was shared in the Facebook group The ART of Sherlock Holmes recently:

The quote in the middle of the ad from Booth Tarkington makes me hunger for more than just only 9 minutes of William Gillette’s voice speaking lines from his play “Sherlock Holmes.” The recording was made when Mr Gillette was 82 years old, and he passed on the next year.The voice when spliced with some of the scenes from the 1916 silent film are awesome to hear and behold.

I have never posted my 5 top actors who played Sherlock Holmes. Here is the passage on why William Gillette is number 3 on my list:

3. William Gillette. I have only seen him in the recently discovered print of his classic 1916 Sherlock Holmes silent film. I have only heard him speak his role in the 9 minutes of the recording that survived and is floating around the internet. The sound recording I heard makes me desperately wish I could have heard more. It was revealed that William Gillette was 82 at the time he made the recording. His voice was so fine and modulated that he mirrored the emotions I imagined each of his actions called for. Had I heard the whole play I am almost convinced that he would be number one. I love the line that William Gillette does not look like Sherlock Holmes but that Sherlock Holmes looks exactly like William Gillette.

Take Good Care of yourselves during this hectic Holiday Season. -Chips

In Defense of John H Watson, MD

This is Chips speaking, and I am sure that Selena is speaking 100 percent beside me when we post this defense of our beloved Dr Watson. As we know, Holmes could not have existed so successfully without Watson and his invaluable aid, love, and devotion through their  years of companionship.

Robert Perrett (JHWS “Sampson”) calls our attention to an article in the Baker Street Journal (v45n4, December 1995) confirming what we have always believed. We’ll post just a sample here, but if you get the chance to read the whole thing, do!

[The article appears on p. 221, which I find delightful. I’ve taken the liberty of cleaning up some errors that appear in the PDF copy in the eBSJ. —Selena Buttons]

IN DEFENSE OF JOHN H. WATSON M.D.
By Harlan Umansky

While Sherlock Holmes is lauded, idolized even venerated by his colleagues, Dr. Watson,has become a stereotype for all that is bumbling, non-comprehending, mindlessly courageous, physically powerfully built, mentally dull. Edmund Pearson has characterized him as Boobus Brittanicus. In a filmed interview Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who should have known better, spoke of “the stupid Watson.”

This derogatory view of Watson probably began with Msgr. Ronald Knox in his famous decalogue for writers of mysteries. Rule 9 declares, “The stupid friend of the detective, the Watsons must not conceal any thoughts which pass through his mind; his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly below that of the average reader.”

Something of this denigrating delineation of Watson may be due to his unalloyed integrity, for he never hesitates to show himself at a disadvantage if doing so makes our view of Holmes all the more impressive.

[…]However, the most potent reason for the widespread stereotype of Watson is very likely the manner in which the doctor was portrayed by Nigel Bruce in the 13 motion pictures featuring Basil Rathbone as Sherlock. Here indeed was the incarnation of Col. Blimp. In this portrayal we are confronted with a somewhat corpulent medical man whose talent for bumbling is equalled, if not exceeded, only by his inability to perceive the obvious. Could so intellectually inept a bungler have acquired a medical degree, become the lifelong friend and associate of a genius like Sherlock Holmes, and penned the marvelous adventures that have become an international treasure for over a hundred years? The answer cannot be other than a resounding no!

The fact is that the stereotype is totally false. Watson the comic foil, Watson the failed observer of the apparent, Watson the eternal bungler, Watson the prototype of Oliver Hardy, Watson the womanizer, Watson the incompetent physician, all these and more are elements of a myth so pervasive that it is almost impossible to eradicate from the mind of the public.
It is true that no one, including Watson, possessed Holmes’s breadth and depth of specialized knowledge, such as the history of crimes the varieties and locations of mud in the different sections of London, the diversified types of bicycle tires, and the multiple classes of perfumes. But that is more a tribute to Holmes’s professional qualifications than it is an indictment of Watson’s alleged mental retardation.

Like the rest of us mere mortals, Watson soon discovered that his friend’s mind functioned on a lofty level that he could never attain or fully comprehend but could only be in awe of. Despite this perhaps ego-shattering discovery, Watson faithfully assisted the great detective in many of his cases and penned a number of Sherlock’s adventures in which he (Watson) often played a less than distinguished role. However, Watson’s chronicles argue both a modesty and a rare ability at self-evaluation that are in themselves as admirable as they are unique.

[…]Watson was an Englishman whose unhesitating valor Holmes depended upon and often relied on. He was wounded at the Battle of Maiwand in the Second Afghan War, a bloody battle in which the British were outnumbered, outgunned, overwhelmed, and finally routed. Medical officers are usually in the rear, fairly safe from actual combat. Watson’s being wounded persuades me at least that he was by his own choice fairly dose to the fearful fighting, that he was tending to the wounded nearer to the front than he was required to be, and that he was in typical Watsonian fashion, less concerned with his own safety than with the welfare of others.

[…]But surely Watson’s greatest talent is that of panning in gripping narrative form the adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Rather than relating them in flat reportorial style or dry police procedural fashions he conceived and brilliantly carried out the idea of relating them in the form of novels and short stories. He may not have been the first to use the technique of the retrospective or the flashback, but he made use of that authorial device in exciting and ingenious fashion, as in, for example The Valley of Fear and A Study in Scarlet. So successful was Watson in casting the adventures and cases in his chosen narrative form that they are read and re-read today by millions the world over. Mycroft’s compliment, “I hear of Sherlock everywhere since you became his chronicler,” has been true ever since the first narrative appeared, Obviously the world would know very little, if anything about Sherlock Holmes were it not for the writings of Watson and his noteworthy literary skills, for the name of the great detective appears nowhere in the police records of the day nor in the news reports of the period. Indeed, were it not for Watson, there would be no such organizations as the Baker Street Irregulars or The Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes. Indeed, once again, were it not for Watson there would be no plaques around the world commemorating significant events in the career of the Master. In a very real sense, Watson is our progenitor and we are his offspring. […]

Of Watson we may well say in summary, as Holmes quotes Flaubert in quite another connection in A Case of Identity, “The man is nothing. The work is everything.”

Watson, of course, had his faults and failings. He also had his virtues and his talents. On balance he emerges not as a light-weight hanger-on, a mere go-fer, a mediocre follower, but rather as an invaluable ally, a worthy colleague, a peerless companion. The world in general and we Sherlockians in particular owe to John H. Watson, M.D., a monumental debt of gratitude that we can only acknowledge but can never replay.

The defense rests.

On December 15th…

The Sherlockian and Watsonian world received many gifts from a man born on this day in 1884. Already a Business Law Professor at the University of Chicago with several books and articles to his credit, he discovered the joy of playing The Game after reading Profile by Gaslight in 1944. He wrote a 16-page response to Anthony Boucher’s essay, “Was the Later Holmes an Imposter?”

He soon became acquainted with Vincent Starrett, who invited him to join the Hounds of the Baskerville (sic), which Starrett himself founded in 1943.

Among our Mystery Man’s Sherlockian publications were An Irregular Chronology of Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street (1947) and An Irregular Guide to Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street (1947, with supplements in 1947 and 1948).

It was the latter volume that introduced his most enduring and outstanding gift, one that almost every Sherlockian writing on the Canon uses nearly every day around the world. We use it whenever we post quotes or events from the Canon. It is an obvious convenience to use this rather than spelling out “The Hound of the Baskervilles” every time we refer to that book. It is, of course, Jay Finley Christ’s system of abbreviations of all 60 Canonical tales:


ABBE         The Abbey Grange
BERY         The Beryl Coronet
BLAC         Black Peter
BLAN         The Blanched Soldier
BLUE         The Blue Carbuncle
BOSC         The Boscombe Valley Mystery
BRUC         The Bruce-Partington Plans
CARD         The Cardboard Box
CHAS         Charles Augustus Milverton
COPP         The Copper Beeches
CREE         The Creeping Man
CROO         The Crooked Man
DANC         The Dancing Men
DEVI         The Devil’s Foot
DYIN         The Dying Detective
EMPT         The Empty House
ENGR         The Engineer’s Thumb
FINA         The Final Problem
FIVE         The Five Orange Pips
GLOR         The “Gloria Scott”
GOLD         The Golden Pince-Nez
GREE         The Greek Interpreter
HOUN         The Hound of the Baskervilles
IDEN         A Case of Identity
ILLU         The Illustrious Client
LADY         The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax
LAST         His Last Bow
LION         The Lion’s Mane
MAZA         The Mazarin Stone
MISS         The Missing Three-Quarter
MUSG         The Musgrave Ritual
NAVA         The Naval Treaty
NOBL         The Noble Bachelor
NORW         The Norwood Builder
PRIO         The Priory School
REDC         The Red Circle
REDH         The Red-Headed League
REIG         The Reigate Squires
RESI         The Resident Patient
RETI         The Retired Colourman
SCAN         A Scandal in Bohemia
SECO         The Second Stain
SHOS         Shoscombe Old Place
SIGN         The Sign of the Four
SILV         Silver Blaze
SIXN         The Six Napoleons
SOLI         The Solitary Cyclist
SPEC         The Speckled Band
STOC         The Stockbroker’s Clerk
STUD         A Study in Scarlet
SUSS         The Sussex Vampire
THOR         The Problem of Thor Bridge
3GAB         The Three Gables
3GAR         The Three Garridebs
3STU         The Three Students
TWIS         The Man with the Twisted Lip
VALL         The Valley of Fear
VEIL         The Veiled Lodger
WIST         Wisteria Lodge
YELL         The Yellow Face

Our thanks to A Curious Collection of Dates: Through the Year with Sherlock Holmes, by Leah Guinn (JHWS “Amber”) and Jaime N Mahoney (JHWS “Tressa”) for including Professor Christ’s birthday (and the note that his surname rhymes with “list”) among many other fascinating tid bits!

A Puzzling Quiz

A quiz from “Chips”, inspired by this picture:

The picture above is a small segment of a jigsaw puzzle. What is the name of the puzzle, and where could one find it?

In the picture, there are 4 items. A rather well-known Canonical quote involves some of the items pictured above.

What is the quote, who says it to whom, and in which case?

And why are there four when there are not that many mentioned in the quotation in question?

Please feel free to respond or not. But those who choose not to respond may be dogged for the rest of their lives by the Hound of the Baskervilles.

…Is that a dog I see over your shoulder?

 

On December 13th… The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes


“The Final Problem” appeared in the December 1893 issue of The Strand. It was also the last story in the collection The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, published on December 13, 1893, by George Newnes of London.

Readers did not take Holmes’s demise very well. A Curious Collection of Dates: Through the Year with Sherlock Holmes, by Leah Guinn and Jaime N Mahoney, quotes this passage from the Manchester Courier and General Lancashire Advertiser (December 30, 1893):

If […] Dr. Conan Doyle has some new vein [of gold] to work, well and good. We question if he can improve on Sherlock Holmes. But if not, he must resuscitate his hero, for we simply do not know what the reading public will do without him.

[A Curious Collection of Dates is a really remarkable book and a great read. –Chips]