Weekly Forum: 12 August 2014

The Income of the Firm

The Firm, with its headquarters at 221B Baker Street, was–in today’s terminology–a closely-held, limited liability corporation, or LLC; otherwise it would likely not have been called “The Firm” by Holmes.

What was the attitude toward income, profit and wealth-building (the primary, if not only, objectives of a corporation)? We perhaps think of Holmes as above such things, but in fact was he?  Do we find either direct comments or written, narrative by Doctor Watson regarding Holmes’ income motives? Does Holmes provide clues as to his opinions of money and wealth?

Then, contrast the income, profit and wealth-building attitudes of the other professional in the household: Doctor Watson. What evidence do we have that he either was concerned or not concerned with his practice’s income?  How do they reconcile their individual views about money and wealth? 

9 Replies to “Weekly Forum: 12 August 2014”

  1. In an attempt to kick off discussion . . . These two exchanges from PRIO always seemed to be telling, especially as Holmes is the one to name the price and, in truth, to obtain what seems to be an exceptional fee from a very wealthy peer of the realm:

    * * * * *

    My friend rubbed his thin hands together with an appearance of avidity which was a surprise to me, who knew his frugal tastes.

    “I fancy that I see your Grace’s chequebook upon the table,” said he. “I should be glad if you would make me out a cheque for six thousand pounds. It would be as well, perhaps, for you to cross it. The Capital and Counties Bank, Oxford Street branch, are my agents.”

    * * * *

    “These shoes,” it ran, “were dug up in the moat of Holdernesse Hall. They are for the use of horses; but they are shaped below with a cloven foot of iron, so as to throw pursuers off the track. They are supposed to have belonged to some of the marauding Barons of Holdernesse in the Middle Ages.”

    Holmes opened the case, and, moistening his finger, he passed it along the shoe. A thin film of recent mud was left upon his skin.

    “Thank you,” said he, as he replaced the glass. “It is the second most interesting object that I have seen in the North.”

    “And the first?”

    Holmes folded up his cheque, and placed it carefully in his notebook. “I am a poor man,” said he, as he patted it affectionately and thrust it into the depths of his inner pocket.

  2. I’ve always thought that remark of Holmes in PRIO was odd. Within three years Holmes was able to retire, buying his bee-farm on the South Downs. I don’t think that he was literally “a poor man”. In DYIN Watson remarks that over the years Holmes’ “payments were princely. I have no doubt that the house might have been purchased at the price which Holmes paid for his rooms during the years that I was with him.” From 1881, when Holmes needed the income of a roommate to share the Baker Street flat to 1891, his finances were such that “I could continue to live in the quiet fashion which is most congenial to me, and to concentrate my attention upon my chemical researches. But I could not rest, Watson, I could not sit quiet in my chair, if I thought that such a man as Professor Moriarty were walking the streets of London unchallenged.” This despite taking cases for little or no money because the problem interested him.

  3. Perhaps he meant he was a poor man when compared to the wealth of the Duke. People have fussed about Holmes taking that money. I’m glad he did! I think it reflected a “might-as-well” attitude when it came to these spoiled nobility that he had so little reason to respect, and it allowed him to continue his good work for those who could not afford to pay.

    1. I have always read “I am a poor man” as tongue-in-cheek, almost a sarcastic remark that reveals Holmes as one who delights in besting the aristocracy and, especially, the nobility and peers of the realm for whom, in other stories, he has scant regard.

      I shall have to get out the CDs and review how Jeremy Brett spoke this line. I seem to imagine the telling sarcasm dripping from his lines . . . . and Watson (Hardwicke) with a knowing half-smile in the background.

      1. Just as an aside to your comment: I’ve always thought the Granada adaptation of PRIO is one of the very, very few adaptations that actually top the original story. I found the ending to be much more…um…satisfying for lack of a better word.

  4. I have always been unsure at to how much money was actually paid. Did Holmes receive 6000 pounds, or was it really 12000 pounds? And did Watson also receive 6000 pounds? It’s always been confusing to me and I would very much like to hear how the members interpret the payment amounts.

  5. In the story, Holmes receives a check for 6000 pounds. The Duke offered a check for 12000 as a bribe:

    “I must put it plainly, Mr. Holmes. If only you two know of this incident, there is no reason why it should go any further. I think twelve thousand pounds is the sum that I owe you, is it not?”

    But Holmes smiled, and shook his head.

    “I fear, your Grace, that matters can hardly be arranged so easily. There is the death of this schoolmaster to be accounted for.”

    In the Granada version, I believe, Brett is given 12000 by a grateful Duke for a job well done, not a bribe.

  6. By the way, my views on Watson’s finances vis-à-vis the firm is this: from 1881 to 1891 there was no “firm”, just Holmes as the world’s only (or first) consulting detective, with Watson as helpmate—“This is my friend and colleague, Dr. Watson, who is occasionally good enough to help me in my cases.” [SCAN] Watson gets married circa 1889, restarts his civil practice to provide for his new family. Some during 1891-1894 Mary dies; Watson still continues his practice. Holmes returns in April 1894 and wants to resume the pre-Hiatus relationship with the good doctor:

    At the time of which I speak, Holmes had been back for some months, and I, at his request, had sold my practice and returned to share the old quarters in Baker Street. A young doctor, named Verner, had purchased my small Kensington practice, and given with astonishingly little demur the highest price that I ventured to ask – an incident which only explained itself some years later when I found that Verner was a distant relation of Holmes’s, and that it was my friend who had really found the money. [NORW]

    Now Watson had been earning a steady income. With Holmes’ return, Watson is prohibited from publishing any more of Holmes’ cases until the detective’s retirement (HOUN being the exception). With no practice and no publishing, Holmes cannot have believed that Watson would settle for his half-pay wound pension. I believe that Holmes’ inducement was to make Watson his partner in the firm–both “the firm” [CREE] and “this Agency” [SUSS] are post-Hiatus phrases–with regular pay, profit sharing and increased duties. I believe he became the official record-keeper for Holmes (“When I look at the three massive manuscript volumes which contain our work for the year 1894…” GOLD) and investigator. SOLI, LADY, RETI all take place after 1894, as in my opinion does HOUN. In those cases Watson acts as Holmes’ eyes and ears, getting high praise from Holmes in HOUN, but sometimes undeserved condemnation in the others.

    As for pre-Hiatus profit sharing, I don’t know if Holmes offered a share of any fees earned in those cases in which they worked together, or if offered Watson would have accepted. I can see the scene:

    Holmes: Your help in this Adler business was invaluable, Watson. A 1000 pounds should help you and Mrs. Watson along admirably.

    Watson: No, I really couldn’t, Holmes. It was your brilliance and that staged scene in St. John’s Wood that discovered the photo’s hiding place. I’m happy to have played a small part.

    1. Having reviewed the Jeremy Brett PRIO, I see now that he played the part with compassion. There was no sarcasm, only the comment upon looking at the check for twelve thousand pounds “This is a king’s ransom.” This, of course, seems to part significantly with the text and, as with all primary literary analyses, one must rely first upon the text. The conclusion is, therefore, unclear and subjective; however, Holmes was not “a poor man.”

      We should note that twelve thousand pounds then was, indeed, a king’s ransom. Holmes could have well retired on that type of fee and earned an adequate income for life from the interest. Mr Utechin, in his monograph, “Coin of the Canonical Realm, computes the twelve thousand pounds to be over 1.7 million pounds in today’s money, approximately 4.25 million dollars.

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