Five Things You May Not Know About the Sherlock Holmes Stories

5. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s first choice for the name of his famous detective was Sheridan Hope, but that name was later transmogrified to Jefferson Hope for another character in ‘A Study in Scarlet.’  The ‘Hope’ was the name of the ship Conan Doyle sailed on for his Arctic journey as ship’s surgeon.  Conan Doyle considered the name Sherringford, then Sherrinford, for his now-famous detective for awhile until his wife talked him out of it. By the way, the original title of the first Sherlock Holmes novelette was ‘A Tangled Skein.’

4. Conan Doyle’s original manuscript of ‘A Study in Scarlet’ was rejected by 3 publications before he reluctantly accepted an offer of £25 for the exclusive rights to the story from Beeton’s Christmas Annual. According to Conan Doyle, he never received another pence for the story.

3. Watson wrote in ‘The Red-Headed League’ the following passage: ‘Three gilt balls and a brown board with “JABEZ WILSON” in white letters, upon a corner house, announced the place where our red-headed client carried on his business. Sherlock Holmes stopped in front of it with his head on one side and looked it all over, with his eyes shining brightly between puckered lids.’ Not a very compelling passage for most modern readers.

Page 2 . . .

The coat-of-arms of the house of the Medici family of Lombardy had three gilt (gold) balls, and they were the first money lenders in London during the middle ages. Since that time, three gilt balls had come to be the universal symbol for a pawn-broker’s shop. Holmes probably had an epiphany when he realised there is another institution famous for money-lending, which helped lead to the eventual solution of the case. And now, you know the rest of the story, with apologies to Paul Harvey.

2. The two stories ‘The Cardboard Box’ and ‘The Resident Patient,’ in most American versions, now begin with essentially the same episode in which Watson falls into a brown study that Holmes eventually recreates. The reason for this dilemma stems from Conan Doyle’s second thoughts about publishing a story involving adultery after it appeared in the Strand and Harper’s Magazines for January 1893 and, for a short time, in an American collection of ‘The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.’ Conan Doyle put a personal ban on ‘The Cardboard Box,’ so the ‘Brown Study’ episode was transferred to ‘The Resident Patient’ in most American versions of the story. Almost twenty-five years later, he relented and had ‘The Cardboard Box’ (with the brown study episode) included in the short story collection titled ‘His Last Bow,’ thus creating the duplication.

1. Conan Doyle dedicated ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ to a friend of his named Bertram Fletcher Robinson who gave Conan Doyle several details for the story including local Dartmoor legends of a vicious hound. Conan Doyle also had Robinson’s coachman to thank. Robinson gave a copy of the novel to his coachman, and he finished his personal inscription in the book “with apologies for using the name.” The name of Robinson’s coachman? Harry M. Baskerville.

I hope you enjoyed this post. Please come again.

Time Benders 2: The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge

Here is yet another glaring example of Watson’s carelessness with the calendar. I suppose Watson can be forgiven for his neglect because accuracy of details was not his main purpose in these tales, but it sure would be nice if he gave it a little effort now and again.

Watson begins ‘The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge,’ published in August of 1908, with this sentence: “I find it recorded in my notebook that it was a bleak and windy day towards the end of March in the year 1892.” A fine beginning, unless you are Dr. John Watson. If you remember, Watson thought Holmes was buried in Reichenbach Falls from May 4, 1891 until soon after March 30, 1894 per ‘The Final Problem’ and ‘The Adventure of the Empty House,’ respectively. Perhaps the simple explanation is the correct one. Perhaps Watson meant to write ‘towards the end of March in the year 1891 or 1895.’ When was the simple explication good enough to describe Watson’s writing? Perhaps Watson had something else recorded in his notebook on that date. The only event of note, other than his writing, that we know about in Watson’s life during that nearly three year hiatus is the death of Mary Morstan Watson. Could it be that Watson had been reminiscing a bit too much when he was writing this story?

Mystery Phrases in Common Parlance

In this post, I would like to take a look at two phrases that have become common parlance, and how they relate to the Sherlock Holmes tales.  Be forewarned that it contains SPOILERS!


The Inauspicious Sentence

“Then we rushed on into the captain’s cabin, but as we pushed open the door there was an explosion from within, and there he lay with his head on the chart of the Atlantic, which was pinned upon the table, while the chaplain stood, with a smoking pistol in his hand, at his elbow.”

And this somewhat inauspicious sentence transcribed by Watson as told to Sherlock Holmes by James Armitage from ‘The “Gloria Scott” ‘ is the supposed origin of the term “smoking gun.” The Sidney Paget illustration for this scene does indeed show a wisp of smoke emanating from the pistol.  In fact, if there ever appears to be a ‘smoking gun’ almost anywhere else in a Sherlock Holmes case, it will certainly be taken up by the police and reasoned away by Holmes.

Strand Magazine illustration of a smoking gun with thanks to the Sherlock Holmes Encyclopedia

House Servants in the Sherlock Holmes Tales

The staunch, tried, and true British house-servant is seldom doubted in the Sherlock Holmes stories.  In almost every case the house servants are dismissed in one sentence as suspects.  There are, however, a few ‘exceptions.’ 

In ‘The Sign of Four’ the Indian servant Lal Rao (who is not British) communicates with John Small from inside the Bartholomew Sholto residence with bad intent.

There are several cases in ‘The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.  Of course, the infamous Vincent Spaulding (aka John Clay), is the half-wage assistant in ‘The Red-Headed League’ though he works at the business, not in the house.  The Indian lascar who protects the title character in ‘The Man With the Twisted Lip’ is, again, not a house servant.  In ‘The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet,’ Lucy Parr, the second waiting-maid, is suspected, and she is even shown to have nefarious night-time business by Alice Holder, the daughter of Holmes’ client, but it is Alice who is the real problem.  In ‘The Adventure of the Copper Beeches,’ Holmes does not trust the servants at the Copper Beeches enough to involve them.  In fact, he has Miss Violet Hunter lock Mrs. Toller in the cellar, but they show themselves to be harmless enough.

From ‘The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes we find three cases.  In ‘Silver Blaze,’ Holmes demonstrates that John Straker, the trainer, is less than trustworthy, but he lives outside the home.  In ‘The Musgrave Ritual’ it is Brunton, the butler, who is the centre of the controversy though his primary indiscretion is not confiding in his master, and it is he, in fact, who becomes the victim of another house servant due to his own relationship quandary.  In ‘The Resident Patient,’ the newly-hired page is the one who is paid to let the real villains into the house; however, a trial did not find the page guilty of any crime. 

In ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ novel, the butler, John Barrymore, is supremely suspected by Watson though Holmes is much less inclined to believe the servant’s guilt, and Barrymore proves to be innocent of the more serious crime at least.  If Selden, the Notting Hill murderer (and Mrs. Barrymore’s brother), had lived, he and his wife could have been tried as accessories to a fugitive, convicted murderer — a very serious crime indeed.

In ‘The Adventure of the Priory School’ from ‘The Return of Sherlock Holmes,’ the ‘servant’ who is the illegitimate son of the duke though he is apparently not tried in a court. 

In ‘The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge’ from ‘His Last Bow,’ the household of Aloysius Garcia has mischievous intent, and their whole purpose in involving Mr. John Scott Eccles in their business is because of his trustworthiness as an honourable British citizen, but Eccles is not a servant while the actual servants were not British.

And finally, in ‘The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes we find some possibly disreputable servants.  In ‘The Problem of Thor Bridge,’ Grace Dunbar, the British governess, who, at the commencement of the story, is already imprisoned yet her guilt is contrived, and she is cleared of the charges.  In ‘The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire,’ the maid Dolores (who is not British) is caught with a ‘smoking gun’ of sorts, but the actual truth shows her to be more than loyal.  Then we come to ‘The Adventure of the Three Gables,’ which includes as a character the British housemaid, Susan (Mrs. Barney Stockdale).  Now Susan turns out to be a spy for Isadora Klein, so, in this case, the British house-servant — who is really a career criminal — turns out to be bad.

After all that, the British house-servants in Sherlock Holmes’ cases seem to invalidate the phrase “the butler did it.”

Sherlock Holmes and Tobacco, Or Sherlock Holmes’ Drug Use, Part 2

Much has been shown and written in the last hundred years and more to cloud the facts about what the stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tell of Sherlock Holmes, and one of the most miscarried topics is that of his various uses of tobacco and most particularly his pipe(s). The Sherlock Holmes of the stories had a pipe-rack to hold all his pipes in ‘A Case of Identity’ and ‘The Adventure of the Empty House’ while in ‘The Adventure of the Dying Detective’ he had a litter of pipes on the mantelpiece. In ‘The Red-Headed League’, ‘A Case of Identity’, ‘The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle’, ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’, not by name though most likely ‘The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist,’ ‘The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton’, ‘The Valley of Fear,’ and ‘The Adventure of the Creeping Man’ Holmes smoked an old, unsavoury, and oily black clay pipe, which was “to him as a counsellor” and “companion of his deepest meditations.” In ‘The Adventure of the Copper Beeches’ it was a “long cherrywood pipe which was wont to replace his clay when he was in a disputatious rather than a meditative mood.” In ‘The Sign of Four’, ‘The Man with the Twisted Lip,’ and ‘The Adventure of the Priory School’ Holmes smoked an amber-stemmed, briar-root pipe. The curve-stemmed pipe made famous by William Gillette (on stage) and Frederic Dorr Steele (in Collier’s Magazine) among others known as the Calabash or Meerschaum pipe is never mentioned in the stories nor is it drawn by Sidney Paget or any other in the Strand Magazine.

Calabash pipe by Frotz at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
Sherlock Holmes with straight-stemmed pipe by Sidney Paget (1860-1908) (Strand Magazine) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Other forms of tobacco use are herein summarised. As it is told by Watson, Holmes rarely smoked cigars, but he was in the regular habit of offering them to others. On only three occasions (in ‘The Adventure of the Empty House,’ ‘The Adventure of the Gold Pince-Nez,’ and ‘The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans’) is it recorded that Holmes actually enjoyed a cigar, but we may presume that Holmes often joined in when he did offer cigars to others. Those times when cigars are smoked is generally during a relaxed conversation either in the course of or at the conclusion of an investigation. In nine stories, ‘A Scandal in Bohemia,’ ‘A Case of Identity,’ ‘The Final Problem,’ ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles,’ ‘The Adventure of the Empty House,’ ‘The Adventure of the Norwood Builder,’ ‘The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist,’ ‘The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez,’ and ‘The Adventure of the Dying Detective,’ usually in the middle of an investigation, the reader is told that Holmes smoked a cigarette. Several other occasions find Holmes smoking though the medium holding the tobacco is not described.

Of course, these various forms of tobacco must have been kept close at hand to be retrieved when needed. In ‘A Case of Identity’ Holmes offers Watson snuff from a fancy box given by the King of Bohemia though a pinch is never mentioned passing either of their lips. From ‘The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb,’ Holmes often smoked a “before-breakfast pipe, which was composed of all the plugs and dottles left from his smokes of the day before, all carefully dried and collected on the corner of the mantelpiece.” The mantelpiece was also where he kept his tobacco in the toe-end of a Persian slipper next the jack-knife transfixing his unanswered correspondence. His cigars were kept in the coal-scuttle, which is something like a pail typically for holding coal for a coal-fired stove. In ‘The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone’ these facts become a bit jumbled. For travelling purposes, Holmes carried a case of either cigars or cigarettes in ‘The Boscombe Valley Mystery,’ ‘Silver Blaze,’ ‘The Adventure of the Cardboard Box,’ ‘The Final Problem’ (though in ‘The Adventure of the Empty House’ he described it as a box), and ‘The Adventure of the Norwood Builder.’

Coal-scuttle by Pearson Scott Foresman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Some of the clues that helped Holmes involved tobacco. In ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles, Holmes deduced Watson had found his hiding place because he saw Watson’s Oxford Street brand of cigarette stub where he had thrown it outside before entering the hut. In ‘The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez,’ he found it necessary to use the cigarettes of his client because he was smoking ‘with extraordinary rapidity’ for reasons set forth in the plot. It is also important to keep in mind the filter placed in the mouth end of the cigarette in use today was not commonplace in those days, and in ‘The Red Circle’ Holmes deduces an important clue from the shortness of a cigarette butt. Holmes often finds clues from remnants left behind: the type of ash, whether the cigar end was cut or bitten off, and the sharpness of the knife used, whether or not a holder was employed. Lest we forget, in ‘The Sign of Four’ and again in ‘The Boscombe Valley Mystery,’ Holmes mentions that he penned a monograph titled “Upon the Distinction Between the Ashes of the Various Tobaccos.” In which he enumerates a hundred and forty forms of cigar, cigarette, and pipe tobacco, with coloured plates illustrating the difference in the ash.

These instances, when detailed, seem more often occurred than is depicted in today’s politically correct world. Many others, including Watson, enjoyed tobacco throughout the stories, but these are the bare essentials involving Sherlock Holmes.

When was Sherlock Holmes in Active Practice?

Watson writes in ‘The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger’ that “Mr. Sherlock Holmes was in active practice for twenty-three years, and that during seventeen of these I was allowed to co-operate with him and to keep notes of his doings.” Watson was wounded in the battle of Maiwand, which took place on 27 July 1880, and the first meeting of Holmes and Watson happened some months later near the beginning of 1881 leading most people to believe that Sherlock Holmes’ career began at this time yet they are neglecting to include the first two recorded chronological cases ‘The “Gloria Scott” ‘ and ‘The Musgrave Ritual’ among other unnamed early cases. At least some of these early cases must have occurred during Holmes’ active practice. ‘The “Gloria Scott”‘ took place during a long vacation presumably between the two years Holmes was at college. In ‘The Musgrave Ritual,’ Holmes says, “For four years I had seen nothing of [Reginal Musgrave], until one morning he walked into my room in Montague Street.” Since Reginald Musgrave was something of a classmate of Holmes at university, we may safely deduce that ‘The Musgrave Ritual’ takes place some five years after ‘The “Gloria Scott”.’

The often named Great Hiatus has been documented in detail in ‘The Final Problem’ and ‘The Adventure of the Empty House’ from Monday, 4 May 1891 until sometime soon after 30 April 1894, which makes three years where Watson and Holmes were separated though I do not believe we can say that Holmes was in ‘active practice.’

In ‘The Adventure of the Second Stain,’ Watson writes the following, “So long as he was in actual professional practice the records of his successes were of some practical value to him; but since he has definitely retired from London and betaken himself to study and bee-farming on the Sussex Downs.” Then in ‘The Adventure of the Creeping Man,’ we find this fact: “Now we have at last obtained permission to ventilate the facts which formed one of the very last cases handled by Holmes before his retirement from practice.” The common consensus is that ‘The Adventure of the Creeping Man’ took place in September 1903, and ‘The Adventure of the Second Stain’ was first published in December 1904; therefore, it is safe to presume that Holmes’ retirement took place sometime between these two events. ‘The Adventure of the Empty House’ was first published in October 1903, and I would like to think that Holmes was already retired by this time for, with the exception of the first two novels, Watson appears to be in the habit of publishing stories only when Holmes is not in active practice.

The length of time between May 1894 and September-October 1903 is approximately nine and one half years. This leaves thirteen and one half years from late 1877 until 4 May 1891 to complete the 23 years of Holmes’ active practice. The real question remains: Exactly when are the six years that Watson was NOT “allowed to co-operate with” Holmes and “keep notes of his doings”?

Which Men Might have Beaten Sherlock Holmes Early in his Career?

I figured it was about time I posted another article here.  First, to celebrate the first year of the blog, and, second, to honour Sherlock Holmes’ 159th birthday.

In the short story, ‘The Five Orange Pips,’ Holmes indicates, “I have been beaten four times – three times by men and once by a woman,” but we are only explicitly told the identity of the woman, Irene Adler.  Who might the three men be?  Several hints to the possible identity of one of these are given in ‘The Red-Headed League.’

In referring to this person, Holmes discloses, “He is, in my judgment, the fourth smartest man in London, and for daring I am not sure that he has not a claim to be third.  I have known something of him before.”  Later in the story Holmes says, “I’ve had one or two little turns also with [him], and I agree with you that he is at the head of his profession.”  Next, Holmes remarked that he had an ingenious mind.  Also, he declared that this person was “one of the coolest and most daring criminals in London.”  Based upon these statements, this mystery man may have been one of the group of three alluded to earlier in this post.  I refer, of course, to Mr. John Clay aka Vincent Spaulding, Jabez Wilson’s able assistant at his pawnbroker shop.

Any guesses on the other two anyone?  Keep in mind these cases must have taken place before ‘The Five Orange Pips’ unless Watson once again fell into the old habit of telling his stories wrong end foremost.

Thank you all for reading this.  Happy birthday, Sherlock Holmes!

The Adventure of Watson’s Wound

One might be inclined to speculate on the curious incident of Watson’s wound because it certainly did more than nothing! In the second paragraph of the very first story Watson writes the following: “I was removed from my brigade and attached to the Berkshires, with whom I served at the fatal battle of Maiwand. There I was struck on the shoulder by a Jezail bullet, which shattered the bone and grazed the subclavian artery.” Sherlock Holmes, when explaining his reasons for knowing that Watson had been in Afghanistan, says, in part, the following: “His left arm has been injured. He holds it in a stiff and unnatural manner.” It is indeed curious that, towards the end of the story, Watson is able to carry a dog up the stairs with his arm is such a state.

By the time of the next story, ‘The Sign of Four,’ the wound has migrated for Watson writes: “I . . . sat nursing my wounded leg. I had had a Jezail bullet through it some time before, and, though it did not prevent me from walking, it ached wearily at every change of the weather.” By the time of ‘The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor,’ the wound has become positively lost for Watson writes: “I had remained indoors all day, for the weather had taken a sudden turn to rain, with high autumnal winds, and the jezail bullet which I had brought back in one of my limbs as a relic of my Afghan campaign, throbbed with dull persistency.” Once more, in ‘The Cardboard Box’ Holmes says to Watson, “Your hand stole towards your old wound . . . .” The wound next disappears completely for it is never mentioned again in any of the stories.

Although Watson is wounded a second time in ‘The Adventure of the Three Garridebs,’ and the wound appears to be in the thigh — definitely.