Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Watson Does Not Lie - An Introduction

We know that there are many points in the Sherlock Holmes Canon which raise questions. For most Holmesians, answering these questions is the fun part of their hobby. Too often, though, they are explained away by claims that Watson is lying to us, either intentionally or through a lack of meticulousness.

At best Watsonian inaccuracy is explained by the nonsense that he misread his own writing. We know he took copious notes of his doings with Holmes and we know he did this so he could write them up later. As he was not a blithering idiot, he would make notes he knew he could read later. Indeed, he proudly makes a point about his fastidious note keeping when he tells us the story of his time at Baskerville Hall; “I will follow the course of events by transcribing my own letters to Mr. Sherlock Holmes which lie before me on the table. One page is missing, but otherwise they are exactly as written and show my feelings and suspicions of the moment more accurately than my memory, clear as it is upon these tragic events, can possibly do.” We can dismiss the notion of inadequate notes easily enough.

To my mind, the idea of a lying Watson is even worse. It is clearly stated in The Canon that Watson can’t lie. Time and again Holmes points out what a poor liar Watson is. Frequently, when Holmes needs to lie to a client, he lies to Watson as well, because he knows Watson will be unable to keep up the pretence. We see it in The Retired Colourman when Josiah Amberley is lured away to an Essex village, when Holmes sets himself up secretly on the moor in The Hound of the Baskervilles and in The Dying Detective when it is imperative that Culverton Smith believes Holmes is dying. To be sure, can there be any greater example of this than Holmes allowing Watson to believe that he had died at the Reichenbach Falls? Holmes is not entirely heartless and confesses that he wanted to tell Watson the truth but knew that would jeopardise the secret. Because Watson can’t lie.

On those occasions when Watson has to be dishonest in The Canon, he tells us he is going to do so. In Charles Augustus Milverton, for example, Watson begins “…with due suppression the story may be told in such fashion as to injure no one… The reader will excuse me if I conceal the date or any other fact by which he might trace the actual occurrence.” The same happens in The Three Students; Watson tells us he is going to hide the location of the story.

No, Watson does not lie. As a member of The John H Watson Society and a Holmesian, I refuse to accept such claims. It is contrary to his nature. Those things he tells us happened in his adventures with Sherlock Holmes must have happened. For if we are prepared to accept that Watson may have fabricated parts of The Canon, we might just as well believe it is all fiction. Clearly, a preposterous notion. If Watson’s reports cause us problems the solutions must be found elsewhere. That is the goal of this blog.

Watson Does Not Lie - An Introduction

We know that there are many points in the Sherlock Holmes Canon which raise questions. For most Holmesians, answering these questions is th...