Monday, 19 August 2019

Sherlock Holmes - His Limits

The list Watson compiled of Holmes's limits in A Study in Scarlet has come under a great deal of scrutiny over the years. Many of the points in the list can be debunked by comparison to later evidence in the Canon. A look at the list and some of the objections is presented here:

  1. Knowledge of Literature.—Nil.
In the same chapter he speaks about Poe's Dupin stories and Gaboriau's Lecoq stories.
  2. Philosophy.—Nil.
In The Sign of the Four he speaks about Richter and Carlyle.
  3. Astronomy.—Nil.
In The Greek Interpreter he discourses on the obliquity of the ecliptic.
  4. Politics.—Feeble.
We discover in The Greek Interpreter that Holmes's own brother is an important man in the government. It seems unlikely, then, that Sherlock would show no interest in politics.
  5. Botany.—Variable. Well up in belladonna, opium, and poisons generally. Knows nothing of practical gardening.
It is true that there are no great references to gardening in the Canon. However, he does show an interest in roses during The Naval Treaty.
  6. Geology.—Practical, but limited. Tells at a glance different soils from each other. After walks has shown me splashes upon his trousers, and told me by their colour and consistence in what part of London he had received them.
There are no significant objections to this point.
  7. Chemistry.—Profound.
There are no objections to this point. Indeed, we are, along with Watson, introduced to Holmes as he puts the finishing touches to a remarkable chemical accomplishment.
  8. Anatomy.—Accurate, but unsystematic.
There are no significant objections to this point.
  9. Sensational Literature.—Immense. He appears to know every detail of every horror perpetrated in the century.
There are no significant objections to this point.
  10. Plays the violin well.
There are no significant objections to this point.
  11. Is an expert singlestick player, boxer, and swordsman.
There are no objections to this point. Indeed, it is demonstrated a few times, for instance, in The Final Problem during his physical battles with some thugs and Moriarty.
  12. Has a good practical knowledge of British law.
There is certainly some room to doubt this. In the Reigate Squires, for example, Holmes appears to believe that the look of guilt upon the faces of the Cunninghams would be enough to convict them. Similarly, the evidence against Sebastian Moran for the murder of Ronald Adair in The Empty House is not entirely clear.

There are, then, two types of objection to items on the list; Watson claims Holmes knew more than he actually did or Watson claims Holmes knew less than he actually did. The explanation for these errors is the same in most cases: Watson and Holmes did not know each other well yet.
When he wrote the list, Watson and Holmes had known each other for a matter of weeks. Before their relationship flourished, Holmes was a friendless creature, used to keeping himself to himself. Holmes's uncommunicative nature is amply evidenced by the many years it took him to tell Watson he had a brother. We can well imagine Watson attempting to start a conversation about any of these subjects and receiving a taciturn response. While the reason may have been either Holmes's poor social skills or his preoccupation with a more interesting problem, the (incorrect) appearance to Watson would be the same: Holmes is ignorant of the subject.
In the case of British law, where he appears to rank Holmes's abilities too highly, it must be noted that Watson is no expert on the law himself. From his position as a lay person, occasional remarks about crimes and convictions may well have presented an inaccurate image.
While Watson is mistaken in his deductions, his list does not present us with lies exactly, it presents us with how Holmes appeared to Watson in those early days. Which is all that Watson ever attempted to convey to us. If we presume to use the list as anything more, the error is ours.

All of this also goes some way to answer the criticisms some have put forth that the Holmes of A Study in Scarlet seems rather two dimensional compared to the Holmes of The Adventures. There is evidence at the end of the story that Watson wrote up A Study in Scarlet not long after the events took place. Watson did not know Holmes well at this point. Nor did he expect to be writing up further stories. There was, then, neither material nor need to convey the fully realised Holmes of the later stories.

Before concluding, I'd like to pay particular attention to the point about astronomy in Watson's list. At the time he wrote it, it appears he was well within his rights to attribute Holmes with "nil" knowledge of the stars: he had just claimed to be ignorant of the Copernican theory of the solar system. But later he speaks of Mycoft leaving his "orbit", the dynamics of an asteroid and the obliquity of the ecliptic. This is a much more significant difference than with the other points on the list. It is not tremendously problematic, however. I can suggest two possible explanations:

  1. Holmes was being an arse. Rather than engage with his new roommate, he put him off by claiming to know nothing of the solar system, hoping to cut the conversation short.
  2. While loath to admit it, Holmes realised this gap in his knowledge may be a problem and later went off to educate himself to his usual high standard.

In either case, it is indicative of the beneficial effect Watson would come to have on Holmes. He brought Sherlock out of himself and enabled him to be a better person.

Saturday, 10 August 2019

Hatherley’s Thumb

In The Engineer’s Thumb Hatherley explains the circumstances of his digital depreciation to Watson as follows:

...rushing to the window, [Colonel Lysander Stark] cut at me with his heavy weapon [something “like a butcher's cleaver”]. I had let myself go, and was hanging by the hands to the sill, when his blow fell. I was conscious of a dull pain, my grip loosened, and I fell into the garden below… I glanced down at my hand, which was throbbing painfully, and then, for the first time, saw that my thumb had been cut off and that the blood was pouring from my wound.”

But Watson’s description of the wound seems to be contrary to this:

There were four protruding fingers and a horrid red, spongy surface where the thumb should have been. It had been hacked or torn right out from the roots.

I am not the first to notice the discrepancy between these accounts. The first suggests a clean cut severing the thumb in one go. The second suggests that several hacking blows would be necessary, or perhaps a wrenching of the thumb from the hand.

Fortunately, a middle ground can be found without recourse to accusing either Hatherley or Watson of lying. Hatherley tells us that he was hanging by his fingers and it was the blow from the cleaver which caused him to let go. Hatherley does not say his thumb has been neatly severed (although I confess his account gives that impression). In fact, it was cut half the way through. Hatherley letting loose his grip then put all his weight on a thumb half pinned to the window sill. This tore the remainder away and so he fell to the ground with a missing thumb which could be equally described as being cut or torn off, making both men correct in their summaries.

The other confusion that arises is how Stark managed to cut off just the thumb of a man dangling by his fingers from a window sill. When we try to imagine the scene it seems improbable. If Hatherley is dangling by the tips of his fingers on the outside of the window, Stark would need to lean fully out of the window and swipe towards the wall to catch a thumb. It would be a very awkward angle and it would be unlikely that Hatherley’s thumb would be caught against the wall to be cut off. (See Diagram 1).



But perhaps Hatherley actually had his hand across the top of the sill (see Diagram 2). In this case it would be a simple blow from Stark which would sever the thumb. It would make sense that Stark, aiming for the whole hand, could miss, catch just the thumb and pin it in place as described above.



The mystery of Hatherley’s thumb is thus dispelled. There is no mystery or deception. The writing simply inclined us towards an incorrect interpretation.

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Holmes Is Where the Laugh Is

In his “Sherlockian Studies”, Jay Finley Christ takes issue with Dr Watson’s suggestion in Mazarin Stone and The Hound of the Baskervilles that Holmes rarely laughed. The quotes in question are:

Holmes seldom laughed, but he got as near it as his old friend Watson could remember.” – MAZA
He [Holmes] burst into one of his rare fits of laughter as he turned away from the picture. I have not heard him laugh often, and it has always boded ill to somebody.” – HOUN

Christ then goes on to explain that in the sixty canonical stories there are 106 instances of mirth which may be described  as follows:

31 smiles
3 grins
52 laughs
20 chuckles

It would appear that Watson is mistaken in his assessment of Holmes rarely laughing.

As counter-argument I first reject the smiles and grins as being of any consequence. They have nothing to do with the frequency of Holmes’s laughter. We may concentrate upon the laughs and chuckles.
I must also take exception with Mr Christ’s count. In looking through the Canon I find a total of 63 laughs and 22 chuckles attributed to Holmes. (Two instances are described as both a laugh and a chuckle. I have only included these in the total of laughs.) A total of 85 instances of Holmes producing laughter.

In the quotes above Watson is clearly speaking about hearing Holmes laugh properly. He is not referencing Holmes’s laughter in that “noiseless fashion which was peculiar to him”(BLUE). Next, then, we may remove all the mentions of quiet or silent laughter. Removing all 15 mentions of soft, silent or stifled laughter and chuckles “to himself” takes the number of laughs down to 70.

There is one mention of a potential ("I may have a laugh at them if I have nothing else.") laugh in STUD which may also be discounted. Similarly there is a case of laughter being resisted in NORW (“It seemed to me that he was making desperate efforts to restrain a convulsive attack of laughter.”). There is also a fake laugh for the sake of Ruben Hayes (“Holmes laughed good-naturedly.”) in PRIO. In SPEC we see Holmes laughing once simply to annoy Roylott, not because he was actually amused. Removing these not-real laughs takes the total down to 66.

We must now consider the many times Holmes speaks with a laugh. For example: "“I do not wish to make a mystery,” said he, laughing." – SCAN. Such occasions are hardly worthy of being called a proper laugh. These are mere signs of mirth in the voice as Holmes delivers information which amuses him. Certainly they are not the sort of laugh Watson is suggesting are rare events. There are 26 such instances, which brings the total number real laughs down to 40.

Of this 40, 11 are described merely as chuckles. I feel happy discounting these. A hearty chuckle might count, but a normal chuckle is not the same thing as a laugh.

Our final count, then, is 29  laughs (including the 2 mentioned in the quotes we started with). Given that their career together spanned 30 years (if you knock of the Great Hiatus) the laugh rate can be calculated easily as 0.96 per annum. A rate of less than one laugh a year can quite acceptably be described as a rare occurrence.

One further point is worthy of consideration before we finish. By my chronology (shameless plug: Watson Does Not Lieavailable soon from Wildside Press) 16 laughs occurred in the 1880s, 11 in the 1890s and only two after the turn of the century. As time went on, Holmes laughed less frequently. Is it any wonder that by the time of his outburst during MAZA in 1903, Watson couldn’t remember the last time Holmes had laughed so much?

Saturday, 20 July 2019

Mrs Huds-gone

“When Mrs. Turner has brought in the tray I will make it clear to you. Now,” he said as he turned hungrily on the simple fare that our landlady had provided…

So goes the notorious passage in A Scandal in Bohemia. And we’ve all wondered why Mrs Hudson has been usurped by the mysterious Mrs. Turner. It’s a missus mystery. A Missustery.

It seems that, for this one story, the landlady of 221 Baker Street has had her name changed. In the previous story, The Sign of the Four, she is Mrs. Hudson. The next time she is mentioned by name, in The Blue Carbuncle, she is Mrs. Hudson. But in SCAN, she is Mrs. Turner and this has been used time and again against Watson. It is, say the ne’er-do-wells, clear evidence that Watson is a liar. Or worse, that these accounts are nothing more than fiction.

Poppycock.

Nowhere does it ever say that Mrs. Turner is the landlady. The landlady is credited with providing some food. Mrs. Turner is credited with bringing it in on a tray. To infer from this that Mrs Turner is the landlady is an astounding leap.

The confusion arises from the lack of information about who this Mrs. Turner is and why Mrs. Hudson sent her up with the tray. As ever, without clay we cannot make bricks, so there is no way to know for sure what went on in 221b on 21 March 1888 but here is one theory:

On the evening of 20 March 1888, Mrs. Hudson sees a giant of a man in a vizard mask, garish garb and speaking with a bizarre accent ascending the seventeen steps to 221b. It’s not a normal thing to see in her small terraced house and she becomes curious. Fortunately, if one stands on the stove in the kitchen with a glass pressed between one's ear and the ceiling, much of what is said upstairs in conveniently audible. This she does with suspicious speed and familiarity. Unfortunately, on this occasion she has a pot of mixed vegetables on the hob (in traditional British style it is being boiled free of flavour and texture for its consumption the following night, having already been on the boil for a fortnight). A splash from the simmering pot lands on her foot, causing her to recoil in shock. A slip, a flip and a crunch later she is lying on the floor with an ankle broken and a slight concussion.

Watson would have soon patched her up with five glasses of brandy, a bandage and a few more glasses of brandy. By the following morning she would have been quite capable of performing most of her duties, but those seventeen steps presented a problem for a hobbled Hudson. She’d need someone to fetch and carry until the brandy had completely healed her fracture. Fortunately her sister/friend/lover/former-member-of-the-same-criminal-gang, Mrs Turner, was living locally and was happy to help out for a few days. So it was that on 21 March, Mrs. Hudson provided a tray of fare which Mrs. Turner brought in to the lodgers.

Friday, 5 July 2019

Reichenbach Foes

In EMPT, Holmes recounts how he survived his cliff top battle with Moriarty:

We tottered together upon the brink of the fall. I have some knowledge, however, of baritsu, or the Japanese system of wrestling, which has more than once been very useful to me. I slipped through his grip, and he with a horrible scream kicked madly for a few seconds and clawed the air with both his hands. But for all his efforts he could not get his balance, and over he went.

It is commonly supposed that this “baritsu” is actually supposed to be “bartitsu”, the form of self defense based on Japanese martial arts which was created by Edward William Barton-Wright.
This poses two problems. First, the unaccountable spelling mistake. Second, the fight atop the Reichenbach Falls took place in May 1891. Barton-Wright did not begin to write about and teach bartitsu until 1898.

The only workable solution is that Holmes got to hear about bartitsu before everyone else.

Barton-Wright had a lifelong interest in the arts of self-defense. Bartitsu was developed during his time in Japan from 1895 to 1898, but that does not preclude his having already done some preliminary work on the system. Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that he had studied various fighting systems during his travels as a young man.
Barton-Wright did not spend much of the 1880s in Britain. He was educated in Europe and subsequent engineering work took him to various locations around the world. Nevertheless, he was a contemporary of Holmes with an interest Holmes wanted to learn more about. I propose that they did meet and/or correspond and that Edward William Barton-Wright taught Holmes some principles of self-defense long before he studied Jujitsu properly in Japan.

And this theory would explain away two other difficulties; at the time he taught Holmes, Barton-Wright had not settled on the ultimate name for his system. Hence the close-but-not-quite-right name of “baritsu”.
The fully developed system of bartitsu employed a lot of staff techniques in which the practitioner would use his walking stick or umbrella as a defensive weapon. Atop the Reichenbach Falls, when preparing to fight Moriarty, Holmes left his Alpine-stock leaning against a rock where Watson later found it. Why would a bartitsu fighter abandon such a useful weapon? Obviously, Barton-Wright did not develop this part of his fighting style until he visited Japan. This is why the stick was no use to Holmes.

Not only do we find that Watson Does Not Lie, but it seems Holmes was telling the truth here too.

Sunday, 30 June 2019

The Man with the Watch is…?

In the Sign of the Four (set in 1887 or 1888 depending on your preferred chronology), Watson tests Holmes’s abilities by having him analyse a watch which has recently come into his possession. Among his deductions, Holmes’s correctly identifies that the watch was last the property of Watson’s older brother and that the brother has only recently died.
Compare this with the statement near the beginning of A Study In Scarlet (set in 1881). On arriving back in England Watson declares “I had neither kith nor kin in England, and was therefore as free as air”.
Some have suggested this indicates a lie from Watson. If he had no kith nor kin in 1881, how could a brother have recently died in 1888? But this is a misreading of what he actually said. In 1881 he had no kith nor kin in England. His brother must have been living elsewhere.

Dorothy L. Sayers has already put forth a convincing argument that Watson had some Scottish ancestry (see Unpopular Opinions by Dorothy L Sayers for more). Perhaps his elder brother was north of the border in 1881. I’m not entirely happy with this explanation though. While it technically fills the criteria to make sense of Watson’s statements, it does not meet the spirit of them. His claim to have no kith and kin in the country is used to explain his lack of ties. Frankly, a brother in Scotland when one is in England is no insurmountable distance away.

I am drawn to a passage later in SIGN. The Sholto brothers had dug holes all over the grounds of Pondicherry Lodge in search of the Agra treasure. Remarking on the mess, Watson says “It looks as though all the moles in England had been let loose in it. I have seen something of the sort on the side of a hill near Ballarat, where the prospectors had been at work.
Ballarat  is a city in Victoria, Australia which experienced a gold rush in the 1850s. When did our Anglo-Celtic Doctor see it, then? He was doing a medical degree at London University up until 1878. From there we can trace his adventures through India to Afghanistan and then back to London. There is no point in his adult life for him to have experienced the Antipodes.

While not conclusive, the facts we have are, at least, suggestive. It seems that as a child, Watson was taken to Australia for some time. Likely his father was drawn by the gold rush in Ballarat (but I do not insist upon it). For whatever reason, when Watson returned to England, his elder brother did not. My idea is that his parents failed at prospecting and decided to return home. Watson’s brother was, by this time, eighteen or so and was not so easily dissuaded. He remained in Australia chancing his luck, failing and eventually succumbing to drink in the 1880s.
His parents having died while he was in study or conflict, when Watson returned to the British Isles, there was no family to greet him. All that remained was a brother on the other side of the world who he heard little from.
Watson did not lie to us about his family. He may not have been very open about his complicated relationship with his brother. But given how painful it must have been for him, we cannot judge him too harshly.

Saturday, 22 June 2019

The Snake That Never Was

I thought of the whistle. Of course he must recall the snake before the morning light revealed it to the victim. He had trained it, probably by the use of the milk which we saw, to return to him when summoned. He would put it through this ventilator at the hour that he thought best, with the certainty that it would crawl down the rope and land on the bed.
The Speckled Band is a problematic story for those of us who believe Watson. You see, the swamp adder which terrorised the Stoner sisters was decidedly unsnakelike. Practically all the attributes given to this adder defy all that is known about snakes. Snakes are reptiles and so they have no natural inclination to drink mammalian milk which makes Roylott’s system of blowing a whistle to get it to return for milk something of a fallacy. Even if that did make sense, snakes are deaf, so it wouldn’t react to the whistle anyway. Moreover, snakes do not climb ropes. The ruse with the bell pull over the bed would fail as a means of entry and exit for an adder.
 I once wrote a limerick expressing these concerns:

I'm the snake that cannot exist
For there're things which Sherlock Holmes missed;
Us snakes don't drink milk
Or climb ropes made of silk
And we're deaf so the whistle's amiss.

(Admittedly, the story doesn’t say that the rope is silk, but “rope made of non-specified materials” didn’t rhyme or fit)

So Watson has fibbed to us. There never was such an animal. Certainly no search I have conducted has ever revealed one known as a “swamp adder” which comes from India. There is one from Africa though.
But let us re-examine these points and see if they is any chance of redeeming Watson’s reputation. In July 2018 a video called “Yellow Snake Climbs up Rope – 997505” (https://youtu.be/qdC7nzGTnNM) was posted on YouTube which quickly spread through the Holmesian community. It shows a snake doing exactly what we have all been told is impossible; climbing a rope. And if one snake can do it, why can’t others. On this point, we may absolve Watson.
A quick internet search on snakes drinking milk will reveal that there is a common myth about snakes drink straight from cow udders. But as the Museums Victoria website explains; “reptiles can’t digest dairy products and even if they could, it’s unlikely cows would stand idly by whilst being milked. If dehydrated enough, snakes will drink milk, but if thirsty enough they will drink just about anything.”
However, we are assuming, as Watson did, that Holmes was right when he identified the contents of the dish in Roylott’s room. It could just as easily have been some enticing paste made of some fatty white substance. What looked like milk to non-herpetologists might have been something altogether more unpleasant. If this is the case, Watson did not lie to us, he simply passed on someone else’s mistake in his accurate report of events.
This just leaves the whistle; which a deaf snake could not hear. But snakes are not deaf. This is another myth. Or rather an over-simplification. Snakes don’t have ears like us but they do have something similar inside their heads which are stimulated by vibrations picked up the through the jaw bone as it touches the floor. Essentially, snakes “hear” through the floor and can also detect some low frequency sounds.
Snakes wouldn’t react to an airborne whistle. But no one in SPEC ever said they did. What we do get is reports from the Stoner sisters that they “heard a low, clear whistle”. Could this not be a side effect of whatever Roylott used to signal the adder? Perhaps some apparatus to send a low pitched signal through the floorboards. In fact, a long pipe that emits a low, clear whistle blown while it was touching those floorboards might serve just this purpose. Watson emerges truthful again.
The only remaining issue is the identification of the snake as an Indian swamp adder. But again, Watson never makes such a claim. He merely reports Holmes’s misidentification: “It is a swamp adder… the deadliest snake in India.” Maybe he meant the African swamp adder but was momentarily confused by Roylott’s Indian past. It’s possible; the markings of the African swamp adder are speckled and the venom, while not “deadliest” on any list, is enough to kill someone, especially someone with a weakened constitution.
Once again, we see that, after all, Watson Does Not Lie. In fact, in his accurate reporting of the events of SPEC, he is so truthful he exposes some of Holmes’s mistakes.

Friday, 7 June 2019

A Load of Old Crop

An often raised doubt about the veracity of Watson’s accounts involves the gemstone in The Blue Carbuncle which we are told was hidden in the crop of a Christmas goose. Sadly, unlike most other birds, geese do not have crops. In the past, Holmesians have attempted to prove otherwise by dissecting geese and it is true that they have found vestigial remnants of a crop on occasion.  However, they would not serve to hide a large gemstone, so some other solution must be found.
In examining the text, we find that the information regarding the gem being hidden in the crop comes from two sources:


  1. James Ryder describes how he hid the gem: “I thrust the stone down its throat as far as my finger could reach. The bird gave a gulp, and I felt the stone pass along its gullet and down into its crop.”
  2. Peterson, the commissionaire, describes how his wife found the gem: “See what my wife found in its crop!” He held out his hand and displayed upon the center of the palm a brilliantly scintillating blue stone…”


How is it that both men are wrong? Let us examine them in turn.

James Ryder is a hotel attendant. He is no farmer, vet or butcher. It is quite possible that his knowledge of goose anatomy was sparse. As he forced the stone along the goose’s gullet, he may well have expected the next stop to be the crop. But he was mistaken. The gem was sent on a very different journey.

Similarly, Peterson had no great knowledge of the inner workings of his dinner. Nor did he see the discovery with his own eyes. It was his beloved who found it.  As a decent Victorian lady, when his wife found a gem stone up the arse of the bird, she could not relate this information to her husband. Instead, she gentrified the discovery, relocating it to a different part of the fowl. Peterson had no reason to doubt her and passed this information on to Holmes and Watson.

Of course, our heroes did not question this either. Why should they be any more knowledgeable on the digestive tracts of animals than Peterson and Ryder? It is thus that an inconsequential misunderstanding was allowed to be taken as fact in the reporting of this case.
Watson did not lie when he reported the facts of the case. Indeed, he reported all the conversations accurately, as always. He simply never questioned the unimportant truth of which end of the goose produced the gem.

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Author: Conan Doyle?

Who wrote the Sherlock Holmes canon? The stories tell us that most were written by Watson, a couple by Holmes himself and there are two written in the mysterious third person (which I believe were written by Watson too (Shameless Plug: see my book; Watson Does Not Lie soon to be published by Wildside Press)).
When we look at the first story (A Study In Scarlet), we can see Watson wrote them because part one is subtitled “Being a reprint from the reminiscences of John H. Watson, M.D., late of the Army Medical Department.”
But look at the cover and we find the work attributed to a different author; Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle. Does this mean Watson lied to us about having written the accounts? Of course not. But the explanation is still rather tricky to fathom.
Many agree that Arthur Conan Doyle was a real author citing his works of historical fiction as evidence. He had been, we are told, a doctor in Southsea at the time when Watson passed through on his return from Afghanistan. It is feasible that they struck up an acquaintance, found they had an amount in common and kept in touch. And when Watson turned his hand to literature too, what could be more natural than seeking out advice from his old author friend.
The explanation based on this, is that Conan Doyle acted as a literary agent for Watson. Watson sent his manuscripts to Doyle who edited them and got them published. Probably for a cut of the profits.
While this explanation is sufficient to absolve Watson of charges of falsehood, I am not satisfied. On the front of my books there is no reference made to anyone being a literary agent. In each case The Sacred Writings are presented as being “by Arthur Conan Doyle”. I find it hard to imagine Watson  allowing credit for his own work to go to someone else in return for a bit of marketing and editing.
Like the 221 address, I think this is another example of Holmes’s injunctions.
Many of the accounts we are given of the adventures involve Holmes and/or Watson involved in illegal activity. For example, we see them house breaking in CHAS, letting off a murderer in ABBE and absolving a thief in BLUE. Now, Watson Does Not Lie: we know that he would not be willing to rewrite what happened on their adventures. So they needed a way to be able to tell the true stories without getting into trouble.
It would be advantageous for the duo to be able to claim that the stories presented were, at least partially, fictitious. Holmes’s Machiavellian plan was to insist Watson have the stories published under a pseudonym so that they would be able to conceal the fact that they were accurate accounts when necessary. To this end they invented the character of Arthur Conan Doyle and could pin the “fictions” on him when required.
Many will insist that we know too much about Doyle for him to not exist, but I would cite what we know as proof that he never existed. The myriad achievements of this man are just too much! I have discussed this before in a BSJ article (The Conan Doyle Lie, Baker Street Journal, Vol 68, No 2) so I will not discuss the matter in too much depth, but take a look at the accomplishments of Doyle listed here and ask yourself if this really sounds like a believable human being:
1. His education is reported as taking place variously as in Lancashire, Austria or Edinburgh.
2. His employment is given as either an ophthalmologist, politician, general practitioner, Arctic whaler or architect.
3. He once pulled himself out of freezing water on a dead seal.
4. He is supposed to have been goalkeeper for what would become Portsmouth Football Club, but his name does not appear in their records.
5. He is supposed to have played cricket with A A Milne, J M Barrie and W G Grace.
6. He was a feminist who supported divorce reform while simultaneously being an anti-feminist opposing extending the franchise to women.
7. He tried to enlist for the Boer War and World War One but also supported a pacifist movement.
8. He passed his spare time as a Freemason, a paranormal investigator and a real life detective.
9. At different times he is reported as a British knight, an Italian knight and an Ottoman knight.
10. He came up with the idea of skiing in Switzerland.
11. He came up with the idea of having life jackets on naval ships.
12. He studied medicine and science but also believed in fairies.
13. Among his buddies were people as diverse as Winston Churchill, Bram Stoker, Houdini and H G Wells.
14. Although Houdini was also his nemesis.
And I could go on with many more improbabilities about this so-called real man. Once again, I feel Watson only ever told us the truth. His stories are correctly presented as being written by himself. The lies about Doyle on the covers came from Holmes not the good doctor. Watson Does Not Lie.

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Where, Oh Where, Can 221 Be?

It pains me to admit that there are at least two points in The Canon which must be false. There is the issue of claims that Arthur Conan Doyle was the author instead of Watson and the issue of the address 221b Baker Street. Both issues have similar explanations, but here I wish to deal with the location of 221b.
The address 221 Baker Street must be a lie. In 1881, when Holmes and Watson took lodging together, Baker Street was considerably shorter and ended at number 85. The road has expanded twice since then; in 1921 York Place became an extension of Baker Street and in 1930 Upper Baker Street became a part of Baker Street taking the road all the way up to 247.
The issue of the real location of their home has been settled to my satisfaction in 1932 when Dr Gray Chandler Briggs followed the directions given in The Empty House to find Camden House. From there he identified 111 Baker Street as the actual home of Watson and Holmes. Of course, in 1881 the address would have been completely different, being in either York Place or Upper Baker Street.
Regardless of the real address, it is certain 221 is a lie. But how can this be, given that Watson Does Not Lie?
My feeling is that this was an intervention by Holmes. We know that Holmes placed conditions on Watson’s writing from other examples. His silence for many years after FINA is explained in EMPT as follows:
“Let me say to that public which has shown some interest in those glimpses which I have occasionally given them of the thoughts and actions of a very remarkable man that they are not to blame me if I have not shared my knowledge with them, for I should have considered it my first duty to have done so had I not been barred by a positive prohibition from his own lips, which was only withdrawn upon the third of last month.”
In SECO and ILLU we see Watson having to gain permission from Holmes to be allowed to tell the stories. And in stories such as CHAS Watson admits that he has to alter some details in order to be allowed to tell the tale safely.
I suspect the lie of 221b is just such an injunction from Holmes. Aware of the difficulties notoriety might bring, he insisted that Watson not use their real address. Thus were they saved from the attentions of crackpots, tourists and fanatics. It should be noted that the fact that Briggs was so easily able to trace the real home of The Great Detective offers support to my premise that Watson was not a natural liar. This was not a falsehood he spread willingly or well, because it is so uncharacteristic of him.
Ordinarily when he lies to us, Watson has the decency to tell us that he is going to do so. For example, see the beginning of CHAS when he actually seeks forgiveness for his deception: “The reader will excuse me if I conceal the date or any other fact by which he might trace the actual occurrence.” Why does he not do the same for his address? I believe we have covered this already, there was no 221 Baker Street. Anyone who took the time to look it up would know this. Watson didn’t need to tell the public it was a falsehood, because anyone that it might matter to would discover this for themselves.
I am satisfied that Watson’s integrity does not suffer for this lie, after all, it is Holmes’s, not his own.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Jack and Sherlock

Given that they were both active in 1888, those who doubt the existence of Holmes have often asked why he was not involved in solving the Jack the Ripper killings.
“Jack the Ripper” is the name the contemporary press used for the killer who murdered at least five women in the autumn of 1888 and continued killing up until 1891. No one was ever convicted and the mystery of his identity has led to some notoriety for Jack. Even at the time, the savagery of the attacks caused uproar and drew a good deal of criticism for the police force who seemed powerless against the serial killer.
This poses an obvious question: if Holmes was acting as a consulting detective for Scotland Yard at the time, why was he not brought in upon this case? That he was not consulted on such an important case is presented as evidence that Holmes was a fictional character. This is incorrect, as I shall demonstrate.

Before I enter into my main argument, there is a related issue we must discuss. Some people may claim that there is an account of Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper. Perhaps they will cite A Study in Terror by Ellery Queen. Or Dust and Shadow by Lyndsay Faye. Or The Last Sherlock Holmes Story by Michael Dibden. Or The Whitechapel Horrors by Edward B Hanna. Or any of the many other books, films or computer games which feature the master detective and the master butcher. While many of these are excellent (my favourites are Dust and Shadow by Lyndsay Faye and The Last Sherlock Holmes Story by Michael Dibden – do read them) they are not real accounts. They are the ramblings of well-meaning fanatics who cannot separate fact from fiction. There is no published factual account of Sherlock Holmes investigating the killings.

But this does not mean Holmes did not investigate. We know from THOR all about the dispatch box filled with notes of cases Watson never published. We know from SOLI that “there were hundreds of private cases, some of them of the most intricate and extraordinary character, in which he played a prominent part.” Hundreds of private cases, and yet we only get to hear about sixty. But that is not surprising; in NAVA Holmes tells Inspector Forbes “out of my last fifty-three cases my name has only appeared in four, and the police have had all the credit in forty-nine.
In the case of the Whitechapel killings, it is more than reasonable to suspect that Holmes was consulted by Scotland Yard, as usual, and his name was kept out of it, as usual.

But, it will be argued, if The Great Detective was involved in the investigation, how can it have gone unsolved? Holmes was too great to have failed to catch Jack the Ripper. Of course, it should be remembered that Holmes was fallible. “I made a blunder, my dear Watson—which is, I am afraid, a more common occurrence than any one would think who only knew me through your memoirs.” he says in SILV. It is quite possible that Holmes investigated and failed. That said, I don’t believe the Whitechapel killings did beat Holmes.
Note that the killings abruptly stopped in 1891. I think this is because Holmes stopped Jack. But not necessarily by orthodox methods. We have seen in CHAS, for example, that in the right circumstances Holmes has no problem with a criminal being murdered. If Holmes and the police knew who had committed the crimes but were unable to prove it, he would have no problem in finding a creative solution to stop Jack the Ripper.

Any number of events may have taken place. Jack may have been some lonely tramp whom Holmes murdered and no one missed. Jack may have been a group of noblemen conspiring for their own ends whom Holmes threatened to expose. Jack may have been a city gent whom Holmes drove to suicide over some unrelated financial misdemeanour.

For what it is worth, my own theory is this: Holmes proved to the satisfaction of the police that Aaron Kosminski was Jack the Ripper. It is a matter of fact that they had warrants ready for his arrest. Ask at Scotland Yard’s Crime Museum today, and you will be shown convincing evidence that Aaron Kosminski was undoubtedly Jack the Ripper. In 2014 DNA evidence strongly corroborated this. It is debatable whether the final murder – Frances Coles – was a Ripper killing. If we agree to discount Coles, the committal of Aaron Kosminski to an insane asylum on 4 February 1891 ties in very neatly with the end of Jack’s activities.
But back then, they lacked the required data to convict Kosminski.

Having identified Kosminski as Jack, Holmes brought this to the attention of the Yard. While they were all convinced, they all knew that no conviction would stick to Kosminski. So, a plot against him was created instead. Probably through the use of some psychosis inducing alkaloid, Kosminski was demonstrated to be insane and locked away keeping society safe from his unusual hobby. We can be sure that Holmes was behind the ingenious plot. We can guess that he was probably behind the alkaloid too. No one else would be capable of creating such a plan and not getting caught.

Indeed, the fact that the killings stopped and that the public never found out why can be taken as confirmation of Holmes’s involvement. And therefore, as confirmation of Holmes’s existence.