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

Woolly Wordings 5

Some of the more famous mistakes relating to names have already merited mention on this blog.  Such as Watson’s wife calling him James or the multiple brothers named James Moriarty, but a few other lesser-known instances come to mind from the stories.  Also revealed earlier on this blog site is the fact that while the British and American editions of the stories were published at approximately the same time, the text was not always identical.

The Honourable Ronald Adair was a well-known name after his untimely death round the time of Holmes’ return to London as recounted by Watson in “The Adventure of the Empty House.”  There appears to be some confusion among the editors in the third paragraph of the story as to the intention of Conan Doyle.  ‘The Strand Magazine’ begins that paragraph with “The Honourable Robert Adair was the second son of the Earl of Maynooth, at that time Governor of one of the Australian colonies.  Adair’s mother had returned from Australia to undergo an operation for cataract, and she, her son Ronald, and her daughter Hilda were living together at 427 Park Lane.”  The Honourable Robert Adair is apparently the father of the Honourable Ronald Adair making the Earl of Maynooth the father of Robert Adair.  The editors of the American Collier’s magazine used Ronald instead of Robert for that instance even though it alters the meaning by letting the unnamed Earl of Maynooth become the father of Ronald and leaving Robert out altogether.

Some other examples in the stories with name variations include the following.  In chapter 10 of ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles,’ the editors of “The Strand Magazine” corrupted the name of the busybody Frankland by referring to “Franklin’s skull.”  In chapter 11 of ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles,’ the American edition of the book contains the paragraph “Mrs. Lyon flushed with anger again.” even though every other instance is Lyons.  The editors of “The Strand Magazine” appear to have forgotten in ‘The Adventure of the Six Napoleons’ that Dr. Barnicot was a doctor for they have Lestrade refer to him as Mr. Barnicot. 

NEXT WEEK: The rooms at 221b Baker Street, London

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

Woolly Wordings 4

In ‘A Scandal inBohemia,’ Watson writes of Sherlock Holmes: “His manner was not effusive.  It seldom was; but he was glad, I think, to see me.  With hardly a word spoken, but with a kindly eye, he waved me to an arm-chair, threw across his case of cigars, and indicated a spirit case and a gasogene in the corner.”  Then again, in ‘The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone,’ Holmes says, “The gasogene and cigars are in the old place.”  In ‘The Adventure of Black Peter,’ Peter Carey had a tantalus in his cabin.  You might ask: What are the gasogene, spirit case, and tantalus mentioned in the Sherlock Holmes stories?

In Victorian England, there were no carbonated beverages sold in stores.  A container for sustaining carbonation was not a commonality at the time if it even existed at all.  The gasogene (sometime referred to as a seltzogene) was a, usually glass, container designed to hold the carbonated liquid created by adding sodium bicarbonate (aka baking soda) and tartaric acid to the fluid inside.  The spirit case is simply a cabinet to store liquor while a tantalus is nothing more than a locked spirit case.

NEXT WEEK: The philosophy and practicality of deduction and induction.

The Housekeeper

In the Sherlock Holmes stories, one character remains in the background throughout, the long-suffering Mrs. Hudson.  She is fond of Holmes, and it was she who called Watson in to heal Holmes in ‘The Dying Detective.’

In ‘A Scandal in Bohemia,’ Sherlock Holmes states, “When Mrs. Turner has brought in the tray I will make it clear to you.”  In every other story the housekeeper, when named, is Mrs. Hudson.  This is, no doubt, an error on the part of Watson.  Or is it?

In ‘The Boscombe Valley Mystery,’ we find John Turner who is a widower and the father Alice Turner.  Holmes appears to go far to protect the older Turner.  Could there be a connection between the Turners?

In ‘His Last Bow,’ Holmes and Watson have a trusted ally as the housekeeper for Von Bork named Martha.  Could this be the same Mrs. Hudson from so many of the earlier stories?  I am only throwing out ideas, so you can draw your own conclusions.

NEXT WEEK: Woolly Wordings 4

Woolly Wordings 3

Many of you may not know that there are two versions of the Sherlock Holmes stories.  The manuscripts were usually handwritten by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s secretary of forty years, Major Alfred Wood, or by others including the author himself.  After the publishing of the first two novels, most of the remaining manuscripts were edited and published in either a British or American magazine.  Then the document travelled to the other country, where it was edited again and placed in a magazine there.  On occasion this led to some interesting textual departures.

One such instance involved the short story ‘Silver Blaze,’ Sherlock Holmes begins his narrative to Watson with the following sentence from the Strand Magazine: “Silver Blaze,” said he, “is from the Isonomy stock, and holds as brilliant a record as his famous ancestor.”  Isonomy was a very real and famous horse at the time in Britain, but the American editors, failing to understand the connection, used the name Somomy.

In the short story ‘The Naval Treaty.’  As Sherlock Holmes is recounting his scuffle with Joseph Harrison in the Strand Magazine, he says, “He flew at me with his knife, I had to grass him twice, and got a cut over the knuckles, before I had the upper hand of him.”  Unfortunately, the American editors of Harper’s Magazine misunderstood the term “grass,” which simply means to put on the ground, and they changed the word to the rather awkward “grasp.”

NEXT: The housekeeper

The Un-ambitious Older Brother and other Relations

The reader is given few glimpses of Mycroft Holmes in his younger brother’s stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  In ‘The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter’ Sherlock says Mycroft “has an extraordinary faculty for figures, and audits the books in some of the Government departments,” but by the time of ‘The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans’ Sherlock trusts Watson enough to state “occasionally he is the British Government.”  It was Mycroft who drove Watson’s cab in ‘The Final Problem.’  Mycroft was the only person whom Sherlock voluntarily told that he was alive during his three year absence, so the trust must have been great between the siblings.

Mycroft Holmes remains an enigma though some inferences may be drawn from the sparse data we are given.  The word croft can be generally defined as a small area, and Mycroft certainly stayed “in his own circle.”  Mycroft was co-founder of the Diogenes club that is named after perhaps the best known cynic Greek philosopher, Diogenes of Sinope, which may provide some insight into the character of the man.

Other evidence that Sherlock Holmes has family comes from the fact that Vernet the French artist was the brother of his grandmother.  In ‘The Adventure of the Norwood Builder,’ Watson tells us that someone named Verner (perhaps a corruption of Vernet) had purchased his medical practice allowing him to return to live at 221B Baker Street.  Watson later learned that it was Holmes who had supplied the purchase price to his distant relative.  This wee keek into the lineage of Sherlock Holmes has been added to by many others, but these are the basic facts according to Conan Doyle.

NEXT WEEK: Woolly Wordings 3

The Text over the Fire

In his explanation at the end of ‘The Crooked Man,’ Henry Wood asserted the following:

“. . . at the sight of me he looked as I have never seen a man look before, and over he went with his head on the fender.  But he was dead before he fell.  I read death on his face as plain as I can read that text over the fire.  The bare sight of me was like a bullet through his guilty heart.”

I could not help but be reminded of the passage in the biblical book of Daniel in chapter five from which the phrase “The hand writing on the wall” is derived.  What do you suppose was written on Henry Wood’s wall?

NEXT WEEK: The unambitious older brother.