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?

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?

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!

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.

Time Benders: The Man with the Twisted Lip

Most anyone who has spent some time in the study of the Sherlock Holmes stories knows of at least some of the problems associated with trying to put the cases in chronological order or even pinpoint the date of a single case. One such notable dilemma of the latter kind occurs in ‘The Man with the Twisted Lip.’

Early in the story Watson writes the following: “One night – it was in June, ’89.”

It appears to me that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had already heard some of the criticism of his accuracy as to certain trifling details in the stories, such as dates, for he seems to be tweaking his audience with this exchange in the opium den between Watson and his friend Isa Whitney:

___”My God! It’s Watson,” said he. He was in a pitiable state of reaction, with every nerve in a twitter. “I say, Watson, what o’clock is it?”

___”Nearly eleven.”

___”Of what day?”

___”Of Friday, June 19.”

___”Good heavens! I thought it was Wednesday. It is Wednesday. What d’you want to frighten a chap for?” He sank his face on to his arms, and began to sob in a high treble key.

___”I tell you that it is Friday, man. Your wife has been waiting this two days for you. You should be ashamed of yourself!”

___”So I am. But you’ve got mixed, Watson, for I have only been here a few hours, three pipes, four pipes – I forget how many. . . .”

As it turns out, 19 June 1889 actually is a Wednesday! Later, when Watson meets Holmes in that same opium den, Holmes presumes that Watson must think Holmes has been smoking opium, but, perhaps, it is Watson who has been much affected by the den’s atmosphere on this night!

Translations of the Non-English Quotations

From time to time in the Sherlock Holmes stories foreign phrases dot the page, and you may find yourself wondering what those phrases mean.  Well you do not have to wonder any longer because this post will set your mind at ease.

Near the beginning of chapter 6, part 1, of ‘A Study in Scarlet’ Holmes quotes Nicolas Boileau when describing the lot of the police detectives: “Un sot trouve toujours un plus sot qui l’admire,” which translates from French into: “A fool always finds a greater fool to admire him.” At the end of that story, Watson quotes this Latin phrase from Horace: “Populus me sibilat, at mihi plaudo; Ipse domi simul ac nummos contemplar in arca” (Book 1, Satire 1).  It means, “The public hisses at me, but I applaud myself in my own house, and simultaneously contemplate the money in my chest.”  Also, in ‘A Study in Scarlet’ the French word “adieu” means “good-bye” or, literally, “until God.”

‘The Sign of Four’ has several foreign phrases and words.  Thaddeus Sholto quotes the French phrase of Stendhal in chapter 4: “Le mauvais gout mene au crime.” Which means, “Bad taste leads to crime.”  In chapter 6, Holmes slightly misquotes a French saying of Francois de la Rochefoucauld.  In commenting upon Inspector Athelney Jones’ noticing the trap-door in the roof, Holmes says, “He can find something, he has occasional glimmerings of reason.  Il n’y a pas des sots si incommodes que ceux qui ont de l’esprit!” (the original starts “Il n’y a point de . . .”) and it means: “There are no fools so troublesome as those that have some wit.”  In chapter 6, Holmes quotes Johann Wolfgang von Goethe on the first of two occasions; this time referring to the methods of Inspector Athelney Jones: “Wir sind gewohnt dass die Menschen verhohnen was sie nicht verstehen.”  The translation from German goes: “We are used to seeing that Man despises what he never comprehends.”  In chapter 10, Watson writes that Athelney Jones “faced his dinner with the air of a bon vivant.”  The translation of ‘bon vivant’ from French is someone who knows how to enjoy life.  Near the end of the story in chapter 12, Holmes says: “Yes, there are in me the makings of a very fine loafer, and also of a pretty spry sort of a fellow.  I often think of those lines of old Goethe:  Schade dass die Natur nur einen Mensch aus Dir schuf, / Denn zum wuerdigen Mann war und zum Schlemen der Stoff.”  The translation from German goes: “Nature, alas, made only one being out of you although there was material for a good man and a rogue.”

In the short story ‘The Red-Headed League,’ Holmes laments explaining his reasoning by stating in Latin, “Omne ignotum pro magnifico,” or “Everything unknown seems magnificent.”  At the end of the story Holmes says, “‘L’homme c’est rien–l’oeuvre c’est tout,’ as Gustave Flaubert wrote to George Sand.”  The translation from French is: “The man is nothing–the work is everything.”

In ‘A Case of Identity’ the French phrase “affaire du coeur” translates as “an affair of the heart” or “love affair.” Also, at the end of the story Holmes finishes by saying “Voilà tout!” in French, which simply means “That is all!”

Sherlock Holmes says, “Nous verrons, you work your own method, and I shall work mine.  I shall be busy this afternoon, and shall probably return to London by the evening train,” in ‘The Boscombe Valley Mystery.  The translation of the French is: “We shall see.”

In ‘The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor’ the French phrase “fait accompli” translates as “fact realised or accomplished,” and it might be better understood with the modern idiom a done deal.

We find three French phrases or words in ‘The Valley of Fear,’ the first “genius loci” means roughly the mental impression left by a location.  Second, Watson writes that no “peine forte et dure” would ever force Cecil James Barker to plead against his will.  The translation of the French means: “Strong and hard punishment” or “torture.”  Third, John McMurdo calls Ettie Shafter “acushla” several times which means “darling” in Irish.

Holmes calls Isadora Klein the “the ‘belle dame sans merci’ of fiction.” In ‘The Adventure of the Three Gables.  The French translation is ‘The beautiful woman without mercy,’ and he is presumably referring to the 1424 poem of Alain Chartier or the 1819 English poem of John Keats both using the French title.

Several stories use the French phrase “au revoir” which literally means “to the next time we see one another.”

If anyone wants to add or correct anything, please make a comment out of it for the benefit of other readers.

NEXT WEEK: Woolly Wordings 6