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]

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]

Further Notes on Lupin and (S)holmes

Chips writes: We have no Canonical events of note in our calendar for this date. So, a couple of notes about Arsene Lupin, discussed in yesterday’s post. There is a story floating around about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Lupin the the Gentleman Thief. I have heard different versions of the story; maybe one of our audience can supply more information about the true facts.

The story is this: Sir Arthur was supposed to be a devoted billiards player. While playing at one parlor he was given a piece of chalk that was used to chalk up the tip of the billiard cue to allow the tip to hit the ball and not slide off it. The fellow that gave Sir Arthur the chalk said to keep it as a prize. Sir Arthur did and used it for some time. Then, one day, the chalk broke open, and inside the pieces was a note with the message “for SH from AL”. Any comments from our readers?

[Note from Selena: Doyle himself related this tale in Memories and Adventures:

Mr. Sherlock Holmes has always been a fair mark for practical jokers, and I have had numerous bogus cases of various degrees of ingenuity, marked cards, mysterious warnings, cypher messages, and other curious communications. It is astonishing the amount of trouble which some people will take with no object save a mystification. Upon one occasion, as I was entering the hall to take part in an amateur billiard competition, I was handed by the attendant a small packet which had been left for me. Upon opening it I found a piece of ordinary green chalk such as is used in billiards. I was amused by the incident, and I put the chalk into my waistcoat pocket and used it during the game. Afterward, I continued to use it until one day, some months later, as I rubbed the tip of my cue the face of the chalk crumbled in, and I found it was hollow. From the recess thus exposed I drew out a small slip of paper with the words “From Arsene Lupin to Sherlock Holmes.”

Imagine the state of mind of the joker who took such trouble to accomplish such a result.

And now back to Chips!]

I received this volume from a fellow collector. He had decided he needed more shelf space, and so he gave it to me. It has two collections of stories inside the cover and shows quite a bit of wear. However, it is quite a nice volume with the feel of velvet on the front and back cover. The two volumes inside are Arsene Lupin— Gentleman Burglar, which ends with a story entitled “Sherlock Holmes arrives too late”, and The Extraordinary adventures of Arsene Lupin versus Herlock Sholmes. My collection seems to be two separate books that were taken apart and bound together inside one board cover. I assume that partly because of the separate spellings of the Holmes and Sholmes, the name change which occurred after the legal objections of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, as mentioned yesterday.


Arsene Lupin Contre Herlock Sholmes

Cover of 1963 edition of Arsene Lupin contre Herlock Sholmes

French author Maurice-Marie-Émile Leblanc was born on December 11, 1864, in Rouen, France. A novelist and journalist, he is best known today as the creator of Arsène Lupin, the gentleman thief featured in more than sixty stories.

Lupin’s first appearance – “L’Arrestation d’Arsène Lupin” – was published in Je Sais Tout on July 15, 1905, and the character quickly gained a following. The following year, Je Sais Tout published the story “Sherlock Holmès Arrive Trop Tard” (“Sherlock Holmes Arrives Too Late”). That story came to the attention of Arthur Conan Doyle, who objected to the violation of his copyright. When the collected Lupin stories were published in book form in 1910, it was under the title Arsène Lupin Versus Herlock Sholmes. For the UK edition, the name was Arsène Lupin versus Holmlock Shears.

A century later (give or take a few years), Lupin and the now-public-domain Holmes met in digital format in the computer game Sherlock Holmes versus Arsène Lupin (Frogwares, 2007 (original) and 2010 (remastered)). In the game, Lupin tries to steal five valuable items in order to humiliate Britain, and it is up to Holmes (and some other characters) to stop him.

Sources: A Curious Collection of Dates: Through the Year with Sherlock Holmes, by Leah Guinn and Jaime N Mahoney; Encyclopædia Britannica

Corrections to the Watsonian

Greetings, all! I come with editor hat in hand: I must to admit to two eratta that need to be applied to the fall Watsonian.

  • Page 44, in Brad Keefauver’s Of All Ghosts: “Your patience [has] been most useful.”
  • Page 81, in Ruth Borgar’s The War Service of Dr John H. Watson: paragraph 3 should indicate that Watson was born around 1852, rather than 1862.

Any other corrections noticed by eagle-eyed readers can be directed to Thank you!

On December 10th…

We continue with the dating of the events of MISS in December (rather than February – as explained in a previous entry) and take today’s event from A Day by Day Chronology of Mr. Sherlock Holmes according to Zeisler and Christ, compiled by William S Dorn, BSI, DWNP.

Illustration by Sidney Paget for The Strand Magazine (August, 1904)

December 10, 1896: Godfrey Stanton’s wife died. [MISS]

A woman, young and beautiful, was lying dead upon the bed. Her calm, pale face, with dim, wide-opened blue eyes, looked upwards from amid a great tangle of golden hair. At the foot of the bed, half sitting, half kneeling, his face buried in the clothes, was a young man, whose frame was racked by his sobs. So absorbed was he by his bitter grief that he never looked up until Holmes’s hand was on his shoulder.

‘Are you Mr. Godfrey Staunton?’

‘Yes, yes; I am – but you are too late. She is dead.’

Chips writes: This story always struck me as so sad. The passion for position and appearance should lead to conviction and punishment for murder, but the Golden Rule of how we should live our lives is so agreed to on a Sunday but ignored in behavior in the rest of life.

On December 9th…

We continue with the dating of the events of MISS in December (rather than February – as explained in a previous entry) and take today’s event from A Day by Day Chronology of Mr. Sherlock Holmes according to Zeisler and Christ, compiled by William S Dorn, BSI, DWNP.

December 9, 1896: Oxford defeated Cambridge by a goal and two tries. [MISS]

‘Yes, the local evening paper has an excellent account in its last edition. Oxford won by a goal and two tries. The last sentences of the description say: “The defeat of the Light Blues may be entirely attributed to the unfortunate absence of the crack International, Godfrey Staunton, whose want was felt at every instant of the game. The lack of combination in the three-quarter line and their weakness both in attack and defence more than neutralized the efforts of a heavy and hard-working pack.”‘

[MISS – Sherlock Holmes: The Ultimate Collection. Maplewood Books, Kindle Edition]

On December 8…

As mentioned yesterday, a number of chronologists place MISS in December of 1896 or 1897, despite Watson’s own statement that it took place in February.

Based on that, we take this from A Day by Day Chronology of Mr. Sherlock Holmes according to Zeisler and Christ, compiled by William S Dorn, BSI, DWNP:

December 8, 1896: Holmes visited Dr. Leslie Armstrong [MISS]

Illustration by Sidney Paget for The Strand Magazine (August, 1904)

It argues the degree in which I had lost touch with my profession that the name of Leslie Armstrong was unknown to me. Now I am aware that he is not only one of the heads of the medical school of the University, but a thinker of European reputation in more than one branch of science. Yet even without knowing his brilliant record one could not fail to be impressed by a mere glance at the man – the square, massive face, the brooding eyes under the thatched brows, and the granite moulding of the inflexible jaw. A man of deep character, a man with an alert mind, grim, ascetic, self-contained, formidable – so I read Dr. Leslie Armstrong. He held my friend’s card in his hand, and he looked up with no very pleased expression upon his dour features.

‘I have heard your name, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, and I am aware of your profession, one of which I by no means approve.’

‘In that, doctor, you will find yourself in agreement with every criminal in the country,’ said my friend quietly.
[MISS – Sherlock Holmes: The Ultimate Collection. Maplewood Books, Kindle Edition]

Which Month Was It?

Illustration by Frederic Dorr Steele for Collier’s (26 November 1904)

We were fairly accustomed to receive weird telegrams at Baker Street, but I have a particular recollection of one which reached us on a gloomy February morning, some seven or eight years ago, and gave Mr. Sherlock Holmes a puzzled quarter of an hour. It was addressed to him, and ran thus: Please await me. Terrible misfortune. Right wing three-quarter missing, indispensable to-morrow. OVERTON.

[MISS – Sherlock Holmes: The Ultimate Collection. Maplewood Books, Kindle Edition]

Despite Watson’s claim that the “Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter” took place in February of an unnamed year, Christ, Brend, Baring-Gould (1962), Zeisler, Folsom, Dakin, Butters, Bradley & Sarjeant, Hall, and Thomson all date the case to December of either 1896 or 1897. (Hat-tip to Peck & Klinger, whose “The Date Being–?” is a treasure.) And so today we find this in A Day by Day Chronology of Mr. Sherlock Holmes according to Zeisler and Christ, compiled by William S Dorn, BSI, DWNP:

December 7, 1896: Godfrey Staunton disappeared. [MISS]

‘It’s this way, Mr. Holmes. As I have said, I am the skipper of the Rugger team of Cambridge ‘Varsity, and Godfrey Staunton is my best man. To-morrow we play Oxford. Yesterday we all came up and we settled at Bentley’s private hotel. At ten o’clock I went round and saw that all the fellows had gone to roost, for I believe in strict training and plenty of sleep to keep a team fit. I had a word or two with Godfrey before he turned in. He seemed to me to be pale and bothered. I asked him what was the matter. He said he was all right – just a touch of headache. I bade him good night and left him. Half an hour later the porter tells me that a rough-looking man with a beard called with a note for Godfrey. He had not gone to bed, and the note was taken to his room. Godfrey read it and fell back in a chair as if he had been pole-axed. The porter was so scared that he was going to fetch me, but Godfrey stopped him, had a drink of water, and pulled himself together. Then he went downstairs, said a few words to the man who was waiting in the hall, and the two of them went off together. The last that the porter saw of them, they were almost running down the street in the direction of the Strand. This morning Godfrey’s room was empty, his bed had never been slept in, and his things were all just as I had seen them the night before. He had gone off at a moment’s notice with this stranger, and no word has come from him since. I don’t believe he will ever come back He was a sportsman, was Godfrey, down to his marrow, and he wouldn’t have stopped his training and let in his skipper if it were not for some cause that was too strong for him. No; I feel as if he were gone for good and we should never see him again.’

Is Sherlockian Scholarship Scholarly?

Photo from Holmes Museum by Alberto Ghione [CC BY-SA 2.0 (]

Sherlockian scholarship has a long and fascinating history, going back more than a century now. From Msgr Knox’s “Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes” to our own Watsonian, students of the Canon have analyzed Dr Watson’s chronicles from nearly every conceivable angle.

But is Sherlockian scholarship… well, scholarly? Robert Perret (JHWS “Sampson”) is currently researching this very question, and you can help! This short survey aims to gather information on the current state of Sherlockian scholarship. As with any survey, more participants make for better data. Responses are anonymous; the aggregate data is intended for use in a paper for a Sherlockian journal.

Take the survey: Is Sherlockian Scholarship Scholarly?

On December 6th…

Dr E W Pritchard and Family. Carte-de-visite from the Howarth-Loomes collection at National Museums Scotland.

Dr Edward William Pritchard was born in Southsea on December 6, 1825. He trained as a physician’s apprentice and served as a ship’s surgeon before eventually settling in Glasgow in 1860. His medical career, however, was of less interest to Holmes than was the murder case which made the papers in 1865.

“Holmes,” I cried, “I seem to see dimly what you are hinting at. We are only just in time to prevent some subtle and horrible crime.”

“Subtle enough and horrible enough. When a doctor does go wrong he is the first of criminals. He has nerve and he has knowledge. Palmer and Pritchard were among the heads of their profession. This man strikes even deeper, but I think, Watson, that we shall be able to strike deeper still. But we shall have horrors enough before the night is over; for goodness’ sake let us have a quiet pipe and turn our minds for a few hours to something more cheerful.” (SPEC – Sherlock Holmes: The Ultimate Collection. Maplewood Books, Kindle Edition)

Chips writes: I had often wondered about this doctor when reading of that case but had not taken time to look him and his criminal activity, which included the murders of both his wife and his mother-in-law. I suggest that anyone interested in the life of this notorious murderer look into the fabulous volume that Selena and I have been using as our secondary source for this column: A Curious Collection of Dates: Through the Year with Sherlock Holmes, by Leah Guinn and Jaime N Mahoney. Their write-up includes the most fascinating details.

On December 4th…

Langham Hotel (Illustrated London News. July 8, 1865)

Langham Hotel (2009)

December 4, 1878: Mary Morstan visited the Langham Hotel. [SIGN] (A Day by Day Chronology of Mr. Sherlock Holmes according to Zeisler and Christ, compiled by William S Dorn, BSI, DWNP)

“On reaching London I drove to the Langham, and was informed that Captain Morstan was staying there, but that he had gone out the night before and had not yet returned. I waited all day without news of him. That night, on the advice of the manager of the hotel, I communicated with the police, and next morning we advertised in all the papers. Our inquiries led to no result; and from that day to this no word has ever been heard of my Father.” (Sherlock Holmes: The Ultimate Collection. Maplewood Books, Kindle Edition.)


As noted yesterday, Dorn places NOBL in December of 1888 (most chronologists place it in October of 1888), so he also gives today’s date for the following events:

Francis Hay Moulton moved to 226 Gordon Square.

Peter Warnock as Francis Moulton in “The Eligible Bachelor” (Granada Television, 1993)

“It might have been difficult, but friend Lestrade held information in his hands the value of which he did not himself know. The initials were, of course, of the highest importance, but more valuable still was it to know that within a week he had settled his bill at one of the most select London hotels.” “How did you deduce the select?” “By the select prices. Eight shillings for a bed and eightpence for a glass of sherry pointed to one of the most expensive hotels. There are not many in London which charge at that rate. In the second one which I visited in Northumberland Avenue, I learned by an inspection of the book that Francis H. Moulton, an American gentleman, had left only the day before, and on looking over the entries against him, I came upon the very items which I had seen in the duplicate bill. His letters were to be forwarded to 226 Gordon Square; so thither I travelled, and being fortunate enough to find the loving couple at home, I ventured to give them some paternal advice and to point out to them that it would be better in every way that they should make their position a little clearer both to the general public and to Lord St. Simon in particular. (Sherlock Holmes: The Ultimate Collection. Maplewood Books, Kindle Edition)

Lord Robert St Simon married Hattie Doran.

Illustration by Sidney Paget for The Strand Magazine (April, 1892)

“Indeed! That is very interesting. And on the morning of the wedding?” “She was as bright as possible—at least until after the ceremony.” “And did you observe any change in her then?” “Well, to tell the truth, I saw then the first signs that I had ever seen that her temper was just a little sharp. The incident however, was too trivial to relate and can have no possible bearing upon the case.” “Pray let us have it, for all that.” “Oh, it is childish. She dropped her bouquet as we went towards the vestry. She was passing the front pew at the time, and it fell over into the pew. There was a moment’s delay, but the gentleman in the pew handed it up to her again, and it did not appear to be the worse for the fall. Yet when I spoke to her of the matter, she answered me abruptly; and in the carriage, on our way home, she seemed absurdly agitated over this trifling cause.” (Sherlock Holmes: The Ultimate Collection. Maplewood Books, Kindle Edition)

Hattie Doran disappeared.

Illustration by Sidney Paget for The Strand Magazine (April, 1892)

“Perhaps, Mrs. Moulton, you would like my friend and me to leave the room while you explain this matter?” “If I may give an opinion,” remarked the strange gentleman, “we’ve had just a little too much secrecy over this business already. For my part, I should like all Europe and America to hear the rights of it.” He was a small, wiry, sunburnt man, clean-shaven, with a sharp face and alert manner. “Then I’ll tell our story right away,” said the lady. (Sherlock Holmes: The Ultimate Collection. Maplewood Books, Kindle Edition)




On December 3rd…

December 3, 1878: Captain Arthur Morstan disappeared. [SIGN] (A Day by Day Chronology of Mr. Sherlock Holmes according to Zeisler and Christ, compiled by William S Dorn, BSI, DWNP)

Terence Skelton as Captain Morstan in “The Sign of Four” (Granada Television, 1987)

In the year 1878 my father, who was senior captain of his regiment, obtained twelve months’ leave and came home. He telegraphed to me from London that he had arrived all safe, and directed me to come down at once, giving the Langham Hotel as his address. His message, as I remember, was full of kindness and love. On reaching London I drove to the Langham, and was informed that Captain Morstan was staying there, but that he had gone out the night before and had not yet returned. I waited all day without news of him. That night, on the advice of the manager of the hotel, I communicated with the police, and next morning we advertised in all the papers. Our inquiries led to no result; and from that day to this no word has ever been heard of my unfortunate father. (Sherlock Holmes: The Ultimate Collection. Maplewood Books, Kindle Edition)

Illustration by Josef Friedrich (1906)

A Day by Day Chronology of Mr. Sherlock Holmes according to Zeisler and Christ, compiled by William S Dorn, also places Frances Hay Moulton’s arrival in London and the newspaper announcement that the St Simon wedding “would be an absolutely quiet one” [NOBL] on this day in 1888, but it is an outlier, as other chronologies are near unanimous in putting the case in October 1888.

“Anything else?” asked Holmes, yawning. “Oh, yes; plenty. Then there is another note in the Morning Post to say that the marriage would be an absolutely quiet one, that it would be at St. George’s, Hanover Square, that only half a dozen intimate friends would be invited, and that the party would return to the furnished house at Lancaster Gate” (Sherlock Holmes: The Ultimate Collection. Maplewood Books, Kindle Edition)


SS Abyssinia (1870)

“Frank had been a prisoner among the Apaches, had escaped, came on to ‘Frisco, found that I had given him up for dead and had gone to England, followed me there, and had come upon me at last on the very morning of my second wedding.” (Sherlock Holmes: The Ultimate Collection. Maplewood Books, Kindle Edition)

A Limerick for Mary (from Ron “Chips” Lies)

I am going to post a limerick here by the great Isaac Asimov. The limerick is about The Sign of Four, which I will be posting about in the next few days. That is not the total reason that I am posting.

This limerick has been a love poem from myself to my wife, Mary. And I want to spread the word about just how fantastic a wife my Mary has been and how incredibly lucky I am to have her fall in love with me and stay with me through all the good and bad times for 45 years now and at least that many more.

The Sign of the Four

Muttered Sherlock” Never mind Cocaine’s pleasure,
Let us seek out the famed Agra Treasure.”
Answered Watson,”No pearls,
For Myself—only girls;
And its Mary who is made to my measure.”
-Isaac Asimov, BSI (and so much more)

[That is beautiful. I seem to have something in my eye… -Selena Buttons]

Chat on the Society Slack Channel

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On December 1st…

Publicity photo of Rex Stout (Publishers Weekly, October 29, 1973)

Rex Todhunter Stout was born in Noblesville, Indiana, on December 1, 1886, the sixth of nine children. He is best known for his stories featuring detective Nero Wolfe and “his man Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday…”, Archie Goodwin. Stout published 33 novels and 39 novellas about Nero Wolfe between 1934 and 1973.

Stout received his BSI investiture – “The Boscombe Valley Mystery” – in 1949. This was several years after his (in)famous presentation to the BSI in 1941: Watson Was A Woman. Not only was Watson a woman, he argued, but Watson was actually Irene Adler, and she and Holmes were married. He claimed to be “collecting material for a fuller treatment of the subject, a complete demonstration of the evidence and the inevitable conclusion. It will fill two volumes, the second of which will consist of certain speculations regarding various concrete results of that long-continued and–I fear, alas– none-too-happy union.” Strangely, this work has never been located. [I do not believe that the two volume study never really existed. -Chips]

Fletcher Pratt, Christopher Morley, and Rex Stout (Herbert Gehr, Life Magazine, May 1, 1944)

There is a story that this presentation got Wolfe promptly tossed out in the snow.

A relationship between Holmes and Adler was clearly too juicy an idea to ignore, though. In a 1956 Baker Street Journal article, “Some Notes Relating to a Preliminary Investigation into the Paternity of Nero Wolfe”, John Drury Clark argued that Nero Wolfe was the product of a liaison between Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler in Montenegro in 1892. This theory was adopted by William S Baring-Gould, among others, and there have been a number of essays on the topic of Nero Wolfe’s parentage.

Sources: A Curious Collection of Dates: Through the Year with Sherlock Holmes, by Leah Guinn (JHWS “Amber”) and Jaime N Mahoney (JHWS “Tressa”); The Wolfe Pack: The Official Nero Wolfe Society.

On November 30th…

November 30, 1895: Oberstein was captured in the smoking room of the Charing Cross Hotel. [BRUC]

Image extracted from “London (illustrated). A complete guide to the leading hotels, places of amusement … Also a directory … of first-class reliable houses in the various branches of trade” (1872)
Original held and digitised by the British Library.
This file is from the Mechanical Curator collection, a set of over 1 million images scanned from out-of-copyright books and released to Flickr Commons by the British Library
 View image on Flickr   View all images from book   View catalogue entry for book

Now the letter: “Dear Sir, – With regard to our transaction, you will no doubt have observed by now that one essential detail is missing. I have a tracing which will make it complete. This has involved me in extra trouble, however, and I must ask you for a further advance of five hundred pounds. I will not trust it to the post, nor will I take anything but gold or notes. I would come to you abroad, but it would excite remark if I left the country at present. Therefore I shall expect to meet you in the smoking-room of the Charing Cross Hotel at noon on Saturday. Remember that only English notes, or gold, will be taken.” That will do very well. I shall be very much surprised if it does not fetch our man.’
And it did! It is a matter of history – that secret history of a nation which is often so much more intimate and interesting than its public chronicles – that Oberstein, eager to complete the coup of his lifetime, came to the lure and was safely engulfed for fifteen years in a British prison. In his trunk were found the invaluable Bruce-Partington plans, which he had put up for auction in all the naval centres of Europe.

Source: A Day by Day Chronology of Mr. Sherlock Holmes according to Zeisler and Christ, compiled by William S Dorn, BSI, DWNP