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.

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When was Sherlock Holmes in Active Practice?

THE EARLY YEARS
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 GREAT HIATUS
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.’

RETIREMENT
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.

CONCLUSION
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!

Sherlock Holmes’ Drug Use

The Sherlock Holmes stories are replete with references to drug use by the famous literary detective.  An important fact to note is that cocaine, morphine, and opium were legal in Victorian England, and it is possible Conan Doyle was using the character of Sherlock Holmes to protest against the use of these drugs.

Near the beginning of ‘A Study in Scarlet’ (circa 1881) before Watson and Holmes really knew each other Watson writes the following:

___“Nothing could exceed his energy when the working fit was upon him; but now and again a reaction would seize him, and for days on end he would lie upon the sofa in the sitting-room, hardly uttering a word or moving a muscle from morning to night.  On these occasions I have noticed such a dreamy, vacant expression in his eyes, that I might have suspected him of being addicted to the use of some narcotic, had not the temperance and cleanliness of his whole life forbidden such a notion.”

‘The Sign of Four’ begins this way:

___Sherlock Holmes took his bottle from the corner of the mantelpiece, and his hypodermic syringe from its neat morocco case.  With his long, white, nervous fingers he adjusted the delicate needle, and rolled back his left shirt-cuff.  For some little time his eyes rested thoughtfully upon the sinewy forearm and wrist, all dotted and scarred with innumerable puncture-marks.  Finally, he thrust the sharp point home, pressed down the tiny piston, and sank back into the velvet-lined arm-chair with a long sigh of satisfaction.

___Three times a day for many months I had witnessed this performance, but custom had not reconciled my mind to it.  On the contrary, from day to day I had become more irritable at the sight, and my conscience swelled nightly within me at the thought that I had lacked the courage to protest.  Again and again I had registered a vow that I should deliver my soul upon the subject; but there was that in the cool, nonchalant air of my companion which made him the last man with whom one would care to take anything approaching to a liberty.  His great powers, his masterly manner, and the experience which I had had of his many extraordinary qualities, all made me diffident and backward in crossing him.

___Yet upon that afternoon, whether it was the Beaune which I had taken with my lunch, or the additional exasperation produced by the extreme deliberation of his manner, I suddenly felt that I could hold out no longer.

___‘Which is it today,’ I asked, ‘morphine or cocaine?’

___He raised his eyes languidly from the old black-letter volume which he had opened.

___‘It is cocaine,’ he said, ‘a seven-per-cent. solution.  Would you care to try it?’

___‘No, indeed,’ I answered, brusquely.  ‘My constitution has not got over the Afghan campaign yet.  I cannot afford to throw any extra strain upon it.’

___He smiled at my vehemence.  ‘Perhaps you are right, Watson,’ he said.  ‘I suppose that its influence is physically a bad one.  I find it, however, so transcendently stimulating and clarifying to the mind that its secondary action is a matter of small moment.’

___‘But consider!’ I said, earnestly.  ‘Count the cost!  Your brain may, as you say, be roused and excited, but it is a pathological and morbid process, which involves increased tissue-change, and may at last leave a permanent weakness.  You know, too, what a black reaction comes upon you.  Surely the game is hardly worth the candle.  Why should you, for a mere passing pleasure, risk the loss of those great powers with which you have been endowed?  Remember that I speak not only as one comrade to another, but as a medical man to one for whose constitution he is to some extent answerable.’

___He did not seem offended.  On the contrary, he put his finger-tips together, and leaned his elbows on the arms of his chair, like one who has a relish for conversation.

___‘My mind,’ he said, ‘rebels at stagnation.  Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram, or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere.  I can dispense then with artificial stimulants.  But I abhor the dull routine of existence.  I crave for mental exaltation.  That is why I have chosen my own particular profession, or rather created it, for I am the only one in the world.’

Towards the end of Chapter 1, we find this passage:

___‘In this case it certainly is so,’ I replied, after a little thought.  ‘The thing, however, is, as you say, of the simplest.  Would you think me impertinent if I were to put your theories to a more severe test?’

___‘On the contrary,’ he answered; ‘it would prevent me from taking a second dose of cocaine.  I should be delighted to look into any problem which you might submit to me.’

___‘It is as clear as daylight,’ I answered.  ‘I regret the injustice which I did you.  I should have had more faith in your marvellous faculty.  May I ask whether you have any professional inquiry on foot at present?’

___‘None.  Hence the cocaine.  I cannot live without brain-work.  What else is there to live for?’

The last paragraph of the story is: “ ‘For me,’ said Sherlock Holmes, ‘there still remains the cocaine-bottle.’  And he stretched his long, white hand up for it.”

In ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’ we find: “. . . alternating from week to week between cocaine and ambition, the drowsiness of the drug, and the fierce energy of his own keen nature.” and “He had risen out of his drug-created dreams, and was hot upon the scent of some new problem.”

And again: “To me, who knew his every mood and habit, his attitude and manner told their own story.  He was at work again.  He had risen out of his drug-created dreams, and was hot upon the scent of some new problem.”

In ‘The Five Orange Pips’ Watson, erroneously, states he had included cocaine use in his written analysis of Holmes in ‘A Study in Scarlet.’

In ‘The Man with the Twisted Lip’ Holmes says: “I suppose, Watson,” said he, “that you imagine that I have added opium-smoking to cocaine injections and all the other little weaknesses on which you have favoured me with your medical views.”  It is fairly clear that Holmes is not using any stimulant at this time; however, his language indicates his use continued.

In ‘The Yellow Face’ Watson writes: “Save for the occasional use of cocaine he had no vices, and he only turned to the drug as a protest against the monotony of existence when cases were scanty and the papers uninteresting.”

By the time of ‘The Missing Three-Quarter’, which most scholars agree took place in 1897, Watson writes the following: “Things had indeed been very slow with us, and I had learned to dread such periods of inaction, for I knew by experience that my companion’s brain was so abnormally active that it was dangerous to leave it without material upon which to work.  For years I had gradually weaned him from that drug mania which had threatened once to check his remarkable career.  Now I knew that under ordinary conditions he no longer craved for this artificial stimulus; but I was well aware that the fiend was not dead, but sleeping; and I have known that the sleep was a light one and the waking near when in periods of idleness I have seen the drawn look upon Holmes’ ascetic face, and the brooding of his deep-set and inscrutable eyes.  Therefore I blessed this Mr. Overton, whoever he might be, since he had come with his enigmatic message to break that dangerous calm which brought more peril to my friend than all the storms of his tempestuous life.”

A telling of the drug use of Sherlock Holmes would not be complete without reference to an incident in ‘The Adventure of the Illustrious Client.’  Sir Leslie Oakshott, the famous surgeon, told Watson “Morphine has been injected [into Holmes] and quiet is essential, but an interview of a few minutes would not be absolutely forbidden.”  This was after Holmes was injured while fighting.

The reader is left to conclude from all of this that addiction was a very real possibility though, again, cocaine, morphine, and opium were legal drugs at that time.

NEXT WEEK: The text over the fire.

Can Sherlock Holmes Read Minds?

Right now, you may be thinking of the episode at the beginning of ‘The Cardboard Box’ (and duplicated in the American versions of ‘The Resident Patient’) where Holmes deduces Watson’s thoughts from the latter’s brown study. Please forgive the pun but I have a case in mind rather than a box. In ‘A Case of Identity’ the greatest mystery comes not from the plot, but how does Holmes know the day of the wedding? Does it strike you as odd that Sherlock Holmes is the first to mention that the wedding is set for Friday? The only prior clue as to the day of the week lies in the fact that a letter was returned on the day of the wedding, so Sunday could be ruled out. Here is the relevant part of the passage from the story:

“Well, and what happened when Mr. Windibank, your stepfather, returned to France?”

“Mr. Hosmer Angel came to the house again, and proposed that we should marry before father came back. He was in dreadful earnest, and made me swear, with my hands on the Testament, that whatever happened I would always be true to him. Mother said he was quite right to make me swear, and that it was a sign of his passion. Mother was all in his favour from the first, and was even fonder of him than I was. Then, when they talked of marrying within the week, I began to ask about father; but they both said never to mind about father, but just to tell him afterwards, and mother said she would make it all right with him. I didn’t quite like that, Mr. Holmes. It seemed funny that I should ask his leave, as he was only a few years older than me; but I didn’t want to do anything on the sly, so I wrote to father at Bordeaux, where the Company has its French offices, but the letter came back to me on the very morning of the wedding.”

“It missed him then?”

“Yes, sir, for he had started to England just before it arrived.”

“Ha! that was unfortunate. Your wedding was arranged, then, for the Friday. Was it to be in church?”

“Yes, sir, but very quietly. It was to be at St. Saviour’s, near King’s Cross, and we were to have breakfast afterwards at the St. Pancras Hotel. Hosmer came for us in a hansom, but as there were two of us, he put us both into it, and stepped himself into a four-wheeler which happened to be the only other cab in the street. We got to the church first, and when the four-wheeler drove up we waited for him to step out, but he never did, and when the cabman got down from the box and looked, there was no one there! The cabman said he could not imagine what had become of him, for he had seen him get in with his own eyes. That was last Friday, Mr. Holmes, and I have never seen or heard anything since then to throw any light upon what became of him.”

“It seems to me that you have been very shamefully treated,” said Holmes.

Perhaps Watson was right when he said to Holmes in ‘A Scandal in Bohemia,’ “You would certainly have been burned had you lived a few centuries ago.” What do you make of it?

NEXT WEEK: The Napoleon of crime.