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.

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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.

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The Rooms at 221b Baker Street, London

The London address 221b Baker Street, as with so many other locations named in the stories, did not exist in Conan Doyle’s day.  The numbers on Baker Street up until about 1921 only went as high as 85.  The offices of Abbey National Building Society encompassed the famous 221 for many years, and they have been known to answer correspondence addressed to the famous detective.  The Sherlock Holmes Museum is presently occupying the famous Baker Street address, and it is dedicated to preserving the appearance and ambience of the flat shared by Holmes and Watson.

It is curious that Watson is silent on two of the other famous fixtures in the neighbourhood.  The original Madame Tussaud’s wax museum was just a few steps from the famous, would-be address of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson at 221b Baker Street.  The Baker Street railway station would have been one of the closest regardless of exactly where 221b may have been.  Intriguingly, neither is remarked upon in the stories.

In the stories themselves we are given several clues about the apartment and how the rooms are arranged.  In “A Study in Scarlet,” Watson describes the flat in this manner, “a couple of comfortable bedrooms and a single large airy sitting-room, cheerfully furnished, and illuminated by two broad windows.”  In the famous dialogue between Holmes and Watson in ‘The Musgrave Ritual,’ about the difference between seeing and observing we learn that there are seventeen steps from the ground floor to the first floor (second floor in America) sitting-room.  It would seem likely that Holmes’ bedroom adjoins the sitting-room for in ‘A Scandal in Bohemia,’ “he vanished into the bedroom, whence he emerged in five minutes tweed-suited and respectable, as of old.”  Watson came “down to breakfast” in ‘The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet,’ ‘The Adventure of the Copper Beeches,’ and ‘The Adventure of the Norwood Builder,’ so Watson’s bedroom is apparently on the floor above the sitting-room.  In ‘The Naval Treaty,’ Holmes says, “Mr. Phelps can have the spare bedroom to-night,” so he must be referring to his own bedroom, which will be temporarily empty for the night.  In ‘The Adventure of the Six Napoleons,’ Holmes tells Inspector Lestrade “you are welcome to the sofa” as both Watson and Holmes remain at home that night.  In ‘The Adventure of the Six Napoleons,’ we learn that one of multiple lumber-rooms is packed with old daily papers, and it is a safe bet that the other lumber-rooms are filled with other odds and ends like all the newspaper clippings Holmes was fond of collecting.  The manager of the flat, Mrs. Hudson, kept it as neat as may be expected with two such irregular bachelors as lodgers.

NEXT WEEK: Translating the non-English quotations

The Renown of the Baskervilles

At the time of Sir Charles Baskerville’s death which occurred in June of the year of the Sherlock Holmes story ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles,’ it was presumed that Sir Henry Baskerville from Canada was the sole heir to the Baskerville estate. That assumption was an incorrect one, but that is for another time. The Baskerville ancestry was a rich one especially if the glimpses we are given are just a sample.

Thanks to the gallery with all its portraits of former Baskervilles, and Holmes’ knowledge of art and Sir Henry Baskerville’s knowledge of his family, we have many insights into the ancestry of the Baskervilles. Early in the chapter Watson writes in chapter six “A dim line of ancestors, in every variety of dress, from the Elizabethan (Queen Elizabeth I, 7 September 1533 – 24 March 1603) knight to the buck of the Regency (early 1800’s), stared down upon us and daunted us by their silent company.” Later, in chapter thirteen, when Holmes arrives on the scene, he says of one portrait, “That’s a Kneller” [Sir Godfrey Kneller, 1st Baronet (August 8, 1646 – October 19, 1723)], then “I’ll swear, that lady in the blue silk over yonder, and the stout gentleman with the wig ought to be a Reynolds” [Sir Joshua Reynolds RA FRS FRSA (16 July 1723 – 23 February 1792)]. Sir Henry then says about one portrait, “That is Rear-Admiral Baskerville, who served under Rodney in the West Indies” [1778-1783, during the American Revolutionary War] then he says, “The man with the blue coat and the roll of paper is Sir William Baskerville, who was Chairman of Committees of the House of Commons under Pitt.” It is unclear to me to which Pitt Sir Henry refers, either William Pitt the Younger (28 May 1759 – 23 January 1806) or William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham PC (‘the elder’) (15 November 1708 – 11 May 1778).

Because of the fame of the artists hired to depict several of the Baskerville clan through the centuries, it is clear the lineage of the Baskervilles is a dignified one despite the inclusion of the first Hugo, among others, and the family tree since the end of the story may once again be of an exalted calibre since Sir Henry seems a decent sort with first-rate prospects.

NEXT WEEK: Woolly Wordings 5

Codes and ciphers

Being the creator of the dancing men cipher, the topic of ciphers and codes in the stories is near and dear to my heart. Of the sixty stories in the Sherlock Holmes saga ‘The Musgrave Ritual,’ ‘The Adventure of the Dancing Men,’ ‘The Adventure of the Red Circle,’ and ‘The Valley of Fear’ all use codes or ciphers.

In ‘The Musgrave Ritual,’ we find a centuries-old riddle intended to confound the family, but the butler and Sherlock Holmes were able to solve the puzzle with some knowledge of history and trigonometry.

In ‘The Adventure of the Dancing Men,’ the cipher was intended to pass messages between members of a gang while keeping the general public unaware of their intent. The solution was a simple replacement cryptogram.

In ‘The Adventure of the Red Circle’ a simple code was used by Gennaro to signal the mysterious lodger of Bloomsbury. The code went in this way: one pass of the candle in the window stands for the letter ‘A,’ two passes of the candle stands for ‘B’ and so on. A problem arises when one considers that the messages were in Italian yet the alphabet could not have been. One may recall that the messages were the single words: ‘attenta’ and ‘pericolo,’ which mean ‘beware’ and ‘danger’ in English. If one considers that the Italian alphabet contains no J or K (nor W, X, or Y for that matter), the code must have been simplified by Watson to make the story flow smoothly; otherwise, Watson and Holmes could not count past nine. The latter option seems preposterous to me.

In ‘The Valley of Fear,’ the disguised member of the Moriarty gang who called himself Fred Porlock sent Holmes a cipher message perhaps to ease his own conscience, but he was unable to send the cipher because Moriarty knew his secret. The cipher, however, was explained by Holmes with the discovery of the unnamed book containing the code.

NEXT WEEK: The Renown of the Baskervilles

The philosophy and practicality of deduction and induction

Often Sherlock Holmes would say to Watson, “You know my methods. Apply them.” But what are Sherlock Holmes’ methods?

It is obvious from any casual reading of the stories that he was well read in a variety of topics despite what Watson may have said from time to time, and he used that knowledge to great advantage. He kept meticulous records and references in several forms. Watson mentions his index of biographies in ‘The Adventure of the Empty House,’ the book (later several volumes) in which he daily filed the agony columns (the modern reader might know them as personal classified advertisements) of the daily London newspapers, a set of American Encyclopedias in ‘The Adventure of the Five Orange Pips,’ the Continental Gazetteer in ‘A Scandal in Bohemia.’

In one memorable exposition from ‘A Study in Scarlet,’ he says the following regarding knowledge: “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilled workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”

Holmes’ philosophy came out in several instances. The most common axiom he used to explain his methods is: “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” It is used in five separate places: twice in ‘The Sign of Four,’ ‘The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet,’ ‘The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans,’ and ‘The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier.’ Another precept that Holmes employed often is this: “It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” Or the similar quote, “Data! data! data! I can’t make bricks without clay.” Often, when describing the facts of a case, he would mention one or more cases from his vast memory of crime that were similar to the current one. On one such occasion in ‘A Study in Scarlet,’ Holmes remarks, “There is nothing new under the sun. It has all been done before.”

His ultimate goal is to discover the proper starting point, to grasp the important facts, ignore the unimportant ones, and work out the most likely chain of events. This topic could become a textbook, but I could hardly expect to encompass it in this space. Until that epic tome is published, this brief glimpse into the mind of Sherlock Holmes will have to suffice.

NEXT WEEK: Codes and ciphers