Weekly Forum: November 4, 2014

In NORW Dr Watson writes in the beginning of the story, ” . . . and I at his request sold my practice and returned to share the old quarters in Baker Street.”

Note, that Dr Watson uses the word “request.”  He might have said, invited, asked, suggested, intimated, or any other such word.  But, he wrote “request.”

Why would Holmes “request” Watson to return, and why would Holmes arrange to have Watson’s practice purchased and provide the money for the purchase himself?

What is going on here that we have not seen all these years?   This is very fertile ground for ploughing.

26 Replies to “Weekly Forum: November 4, 2014”

  1. While I’m not found of assumptions based on speculation, but the possibilities are endless here and too tempting to resist.

    It could be that Watson’s war wounds are taking a toll on his ability to meet the physical demands of his practice and therefore it is failing. Holmes’ arrangements provides Watson with a graceful way for him to retire.

    1. That’s an interesting idea. Though I think it may be more mental than physical demands.

      If the good Doctor wanted to bow out of his practice due to physical strain, he made a poor choice by returning to 221B: traveling to the far reaches of the city, often staying up until late to wait for criminals to act and putting oneself in danger of getting shot… it seems that detective work would put an even greater strain on his constitution than treating coughs and back pain.

      However, I could see how Dr. Watson would wish for a graceful way to retire so that he could set aside the daily humdrum of maintaining a medical practice in favor of spending his days with his friend, his evenings on adventures, and his nights writing accounts of their thrilling cases.

      Although Holmes did not let him publish his stories for quite a long time, Dr. Watson seemed to operate under the assumption that Holmes would allow him to publish them one day – otherwise, I do not think he would have kept such detailed notes, nor been able to publish so many cases after his friend’s retirement, unless he had completed the writing for many of them and held them safely throughout the 1890s. Not only did Dr. Watson have a talent for writing, it seemed to be his calling.

      Also… honestly, who wouldn’t take up the opportunity to quit their job to work with the world’s greatest detective?

      So I can understand Watson’s reasoning… it’s Holmes’ reasoning I don’t completely understand. If Watson knew that the one purchasing his practice was a relative of Holmes – that would make sense: Holmes simply recommended someone and they agreed to see about releasing Watson from his medical practice.

      However, Watson didn’t know. It wasn’t a simple recommendation between two interested parties. In fact, Holmes kept that connection a secret along with the fact that he provided money for that transaction.

      Why such secretive actions, Holmes? I wonder how Watson reacted when he found out.

      1. Carla – couldn’t agree with you more re: who wouldn’t take up the opportunity to quit their job to work with the world’s greatest detective?

    2. Thank you “Cocoa” for a clear, evidence-based supposition. I would offer that it is a logical conclusion; however, the word “requested” still is an oddity. Requested serves more for Holmes reasons than for Watson’s. “Offered” would be more likely if Watson was in need.

      Perhaps “The Firm” was experiencing what any other business might experience: the clients needed a welcoming, warm, kind and human associate who was able to interpret their needs. Holmes–The Mental Machine–would not be my idea of a first-rate “front-of-the-house” manager who was able to make clients comfortable. But Watson was. Perhaps Holmes realized that running a business needed a Watsonesque personality in order to communicate and satisfy the clients. Motto of the firm: We can but try. Holmes tried and found he needed Watson; therefore, a “request” to come back where he was needed, knew the business, and was effective as a partner. After all, it appears that there was enough money to keep a partnership, certainly more than Watson might have made alone as a general practice doctor in London with an over-supply of physicians.

      1. It may also be good to keep in mind Holmes’ mindset at that time: he had just returned from a long hiatus – far from London, far from friends and family…

        How lonely did Holmes feel after so many years of travel? How much did he want Watson to return to Baker Street simply because he enjoyed living with his dear friend?

        And to mirror my earlier question: “Also… honestly, who wouldn’t take up the opportunity to move in with the world’s most reliable and steadfast companion?”

      2. Not sure that there’s all that much difference between ask and request. Additionally I believe the nature of their friendship was such that Holmes didn’t have stand on ceremony with Watson.

  2. Excellent points “Carla.” Of course, one can read your last sentence two ways: “. . .who wouldn’t take up the opportunity to move in with the world’s most reliable and steadfast companion?” That could easily be Holmes or Watson. So much depends upon the most reliable and steadfast companion.

  3. Cocoa wrote: “Not sure that there’s all that much difference between ask and request.”

    But there is a difference between *offer* and *request*. “Request” suggests a greater desire on the part of the person making the request than on the part of the person of whom the request is made. (That sounded dreadfully formal, didn’t it?)

    As an example, if Watson were to say, “I attended the concert with Holmes at his request”, it reads differently than if he said, “Holmes offered to take me to the concert with him.” The latter suggests “Holmes knew I wanted to attend the concert, and so asked me to accompany him.” The former suggests, “Holmes wanted my company at the concert, so he requested I accompany him.”

    Splitting hairs, perhaps, but isn’t that what we do?

  4. Excellent points all . . . but, after the specific word usage there remains the question: Why?

    1. If the question is “Why would Holmes request for Watson to return?”

      My best answer would be that from Holmes’ logical standpoint, he would likely consider it thus: Watson is essential to the Work. Watson seems happier solving crimes and writing about them than working at his practice. After losing his wife Mary, Watson was as alone as Holmes. Therefore, it is only logical that Watson sell his practice and move back to 221B Baker Street so that they may succeed at solving crimes.

      From an emotional standpoint (although he considers himself above such things), Holmes might feel it thus: I miss my dear friend and I want him to move back into Baker Street. If he has the option to sell his practice, he would certainly move back in and we can continue living as flatmates as we did years ago. That state of being made me happy then, so I am certain it would make me happy now. Therefore, I want Watson to return to 221B.

      However, if the question is “Why did Holmes arrange for Watson’s practice to be bought without telling his friend he was behind it all?” I’m rather stuck.

      Why not explain his logic or – in a more direct appeal to the doctor’s standpoint – his feelings in order to convince Watson to leave his practice? Why the subterfuge, Holmes?

      1. Two thoughts. Why the request – well it’s better than saying return if convenient, if inconvenient return all the same. Why the subterfuge – maybe Holmes made the arrangements he did so as not to embarrass Watson.

  5. My thoughts on Watson rejoining “The Firm”, have always been that Holmes wanted Watson back at his side. Watson, while recently widowed (as we commonly assume the “sad bereavement” statement to mean), would not have a wife to support, but he was a practicing doctor earning a steady income. Watson was prohibited by Holmes from publishing any more cases, so what was the inducement for giving up a well-paying profession to go back to his half-pay government stipend? That would be to be as a paid partner in the Sherlock Holmes Detective Agency. We have no indication that Watson received any remuneration during his pre-marriage years (although that could have been left out of the record), Watson could have been asked by Holmes to be official record keeper (“When I look at the three massive manuscript volumes which contain our work for the year 1894…” [GOLD; note also “our work”.]) and assistant. Watson writes in NORW “Our months of partnership had not been so uneventful as he had stated…” and in CHAS Holmes states “Dr. Watson is my friend and partner.” CHAS first appeared in “His Last Bow” and is probably a post-Hiatus case. He only uses the term partner or partnership in those later published adventures. Watson is also actively engaged in legwork in SOLI, LADY and RETI (personally, I believe that HOUN is also a post-hiatus case). These circumstances would lead to a “request” rather than “invited, asked, suggested, intimated, or any other such word”. A financial inducement such as the high price paid for his practice could be seen nowadays as a “signing bonus” for leaving his old job and joining a new one.

    1. “Pippin” . . . Excellent analysis. If we look at all the great partnerships in the detective genre, we generally find a combination of social and non-social partners (Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolff, etc.). To me, the nearly anti-social Holmes, sitting alone with his violin, waiting for someone to knock is a non-functional scenario. But, with Watson present to stimulate, act as amanuensis, provide common-sense and assistance, and the other positive elements of a partner, makes Holmes a high-function but “in the world” personality. Simply put: Holmes became increasingly introspective and needed a partner for the public, and that was the only person who he got along with: Watson.

  6. I wonder if Holmes found, when he returned from the great hiatus, that Mrs. Hudson was considering selling 221. This would be a major event for Holmes, requiring a move after many years and Mycroft’s support of 221B during Holmes’ absence.the It appears that Mrs. H. did not know that Holmes was still alive, much less coming back. Therefore, Watson’s return to 221b gave reasons for Mrs. Hudson to keep the establishment such as her attachment to Dr. Watson and his steady and comforting presence at 221. She would then have her two “boys” back together, back for further adventures in which she could participate (see The Dying Detective and The Empty House) and back, perhaps, for more money due to the Good Doctor’s benign and stabilizing presence for Holmes and for clients. As much as Holmes liked adventures and danger, he may well have wished to keep his domestic arrangements unchanged. Thus a request and the purchase of Watson’s practice.

  7. Excellent points, “Daisy” . . . All contribute to a “needful” Holmes of Watson’s assistance. This is also in keeping with “Pippin’s” thoughts, as well. But again, Why? What was Holmes “requirement” of Watson?

    Here is an idea that should create a shock wave or two:

    I believe Holmes was a Methodological Solipsist, perhaps an Epistemological Solipsist, or even the most advanced degree, a Metaphysical Solipsist. He believed the external world only existed as an extension of his own mind (Brain in a Vat) and that all reality began and ended with his conceptions. If so, solipsists are usually unable to function in society and require others to interpret their day-to-day reality in functional ways. In order to pursue his chosen interests within his philosophical containment, he needed Watson, Mrs Hudson, brother Mycroft and a few others to provide a “real” world for him to exist in while he exalted in the Solipsistic world of his own extraordinary mind.

    1. That’s an interesting idea!

      My only question to this is: why did he not explain this particular view to Watson? Why did he go behind-the-scenes, in a sense, to arrange for Watson to move back to 221B and not admit to that until some time later?

      Was it out of avoiding any embarrassment for Watson’s sake, as Cocoa proposed? Was this Holmes’ way of avoiding the embarrassment of admitting to any sense of loneliness he might have felt? Or did his Solipsistic mind prevent him from considering the idea of first consulting Watson before arranging the funds to buy off his friend’s practice?

  8. While I don’t know anything about Solipsism, I do know the Victorians were not touchy-feely. I”m reminded of Christopher Morley’s “In Memoriam Sherlock Holmes” and this quote from Doyle:

    There is an anecdote in his Memories and Adventures that reveals very clearly the fine instinct of delicacy in his massive personality. He was visiting George Meredith in the latter’s old age, and they were walking up a steep path to the little summer-house Meredith used for writing. In Doyle’s own words:

    “The nervous complaint from which he suffered caused him to fall down occasionally. As we walked up the narrow path I heard The nervous complaint from which he suffered caused him to fall down occasionally. As we walked up the narrow path I heard him fall behind me, but judged from the sound that it was a mere slither and could not have hurt him. Therefore I walked on as if I had heard nothing. He was a fiercely proud old man, and my instincts told me that his humiliation in being helped up would be far greater than any relief I could give him.”

    I can think of no truer revelation of a gentleman than that.

    Those Victorians left so many things unspoken.

    1. It was always “Holmes” and “Watson”, never “Sherlock” and “John”. Holmes writes in BLAN “Speaking of my old friend and biographer, I would take this opportunity to remark that if I burden myself with a companion in my various little enquiries it s not done out of sentiment or caprice, but it is that Watson has some remarkable characteristics of his own, to which in his modesty he has given small attention amid his exaggerated estimates of my own performances. A confederate who foresees your conclusions and course of action is always dangerous, but one to whom each development comes as a perpetual surprise, and to whom the future is always a closed book, is, indeed, an ideal helpmate.” There’s not a dry eye in the house after that outpouring of sentimental mush.

  9. (Hello!) For less discussed aspects I’ll throw in the suggestion that Holmes did not necessarily ask Watson to give up practice altogether. That may have been the outcome (perhaps even a desired or anticipated outcome) but it’s equally possible that Holmes asked Watson to sell his Kensington practice and set up shop closer to Baker Street.

    What do we know about Watson’s situation before the sale of the practice? In EMPT, Watson is living in Kensington on the other side of Hyde park – further from Baker Street than he ever lived when Holmes was “alive”. He is bereaved, but if the “sad bereavement” refers to Mary Morstan’s death it is distant enough that Watson is no longer in overt mourning (why else speak of Holmes needing to have “learned” of his bereavement.) His medical round lasts him “all day” and require a drive, suggesting that as in CROO he is “busy enough to justify the hansom.” After his round, he strolls a fair distance to view the crime scene, then returns to his study (not, as in the Granada adaption, to his consulting room.) All of these paint a picture of a man with a balanced routine and a regular income, whatever he may have suffered emotionally or financially during the hiatus.

    If the above picture is a little rosier than has sometimes been painted in stories about the return, it is not compatible with the sort of intimate working and living arrangement that eventually unfolds. Holmes evidently wants Watson in Baker Street – says in EMPT that he has imagined and wished him there in his old armchair – and returning to the past must have held some attractions for Watson too. Holmes’s comment that “work is the best antidote to sorrow” suggests that Watson’s current work is not the kind soothing to peace of mind, and no wonder if (as is often assumed) his patients had included his late wife. Holmes is not wholly selfish in wishing to see Watson involved in a different sort of work – a kind which does not easily accord with a busy daytime round on the far side of the Serpentine. More importantly, and despite everything Holmes’s secrecy has inflicted upon them, both men remain lonely for one another. The idea of proceeding with business as usual in different quarters of the city would seem needlessly stubborn. As to why Watson should be the one to uproot himself… a charitable interpretation would be that Kensington, like Baker Street before it, had acquired unpleasant associations of loss; less charitably, it’s undeniable that Watson was more used to bending to Holmes’s plans than the other way about.

    Perhaps Holmes would have liked to reset the clock to the comfortable era of the early 1880s, but if that could not be then certainly it would be desirable to have Watson close at hand. Did Holmes ask outright asked if Watson would throw in his (perhaps burdensome) medical practice for a while and help Holmes get back onto his feet in the detective business? To me this is likely only if Watson appeared genuinely weary of his work after the Return, but was constrained by a lack of funds or even debt. To Holmes it would have been an immense frustration to see Watson labouring elsewhere to pay off or acquire monies which he could supply himself … if only doing so did not seem too much like an obligation between them. Equal parts of sympathy and self-interest would see him do everything he could to expedite the business. His knowledge of Watson’s character, too, may have made him phrase the suggestion as a request or a personal favour, removing any uncomfortable aura of charity (though Watson’s willingness to acknowledge the deed in print suggests he did, in the end, view it as an act of kindness.) Watson’s actions in SIGN show us he is quite willing to deny himself ease or happiness to avoid an arrangement tainted by financial considerations.

    Assuming that Watson had no particular need for retirement or immediate funds, I find it entirely plausible that Holmes did not directly ask Watson to retire, but only if he would not move to a less demanding practice much closer to Baker Street, allowing him to assist Holmes with his cases (whether he regarded his own practice as more important is perhaps best not discussed.) Watson may have argued that a practice in or near the medical quarter was beyond his pocket, hence the need to contrive an eager Kensington buyer to ensure the funds were adequate to Watson’s needs. The selling price would not have been initially intended as a fund to live on, but the seed for a new business more compatible with his partnership with Holmes. If not already desirable for personal reasons (whether companionable, working, or romantic, depending on the reader), it would be entirely reasonable to invite Watson to live at Baker Street pending any professional move…and entirely unsurprising that Watson was then swept into his familiar role in the firm for the better part of a decade — perhaps the very thing b

  10. […continued from above]

    — perhaps the very thing both parties really desired in the first place.

    To summarise, it’s worth considering the possibility that Watson never intended (or was never requested) to simply sell the practice and live off the value, even if that is what he eventually did in practice. It’s plausible that he intended to use the sum in some specific way, either to quickly liquidate debts or to establish a new practice closer to 221B. That Holmes requested the move may have been out of respect for Watson’s independence, as well as a reflection of how strongly he wished to have Watson at his side, not carrying on his business alone on the other side of Hyde Park.

    1. Thank you so much for contributing your thoughts, Spacefall. That is an incredibly detailed assessment supported with strong evidence and it clarifies so much! That’s fantastic!

      I especially enjoyed reading your points about avoiding a sense of “obligation” and how “Watson’s actions in SIGN show us he is quite willing to deny himself ease or happiness to avoid an arrangement tainted by financial considerations.” SIGN shows so much about Watson’s personality, particularly his firm unwillingness to allow money to throw a shadow over his highly valued personal relationships.

      Brilliant work, Spacefall!

    2. Also, allow me to add that I hope we shall see you from time to time in future weekly discussions, Spacefall. If you have not been welcomed here yet, please allow me to extend a warm welcome. ^_^

      1. Thanks – just noticed the discussion on twitter, and thought I’d sneak in as the topic is an interesting one 🙂

  11. Excellent synthesis, Spacefall. Please consider joining us regularly; your contributions are most welcome. You may want to look at the benefits of the Society as a member. Our journal always hopes for contributors and your submissions would be welcome.

Comments are closed.