Sunday, May 17, 2020

May Meeting: The Empty House

This month found us meeting via Zoom once again, and this time we were joined by friends from out of town!  California, Michigan, and Texas were represented along with our usual Missouri and Illinois participants.  With 23 people in attendance, there was plenty of discussion!

Rob started off by noting that "The Adventure of the Empty House" was published in 1903, presumably in conjunction with Holmes's retirement.

Ronald Adair has been murdered after a big winning with Colonel Moran at his club, playing against Godfrey Milner and Lord Balmoral (who is also mentioned in NOBL and SILV).  Adair had been shot in the head, but he was locked in his second-story room and the door was locked.  Stacey and Randy gave us a good historical context for the card scandal that was cited in this story.

There was a good deal of debate about Adair's name between Randy, Tom, Joe, and Bill because it went back and forth between "Ronald" and "Robert" in the manuscript.

Watson was puzzling over the case and goes to look around outside Adair's house with lots of other gawkers.  A man with colored glasses is sharing his thoughts on the case.  Some commentators thought it was Holmes's rival, Barker from RETI.  Others have posited that it was Moran returning to the scene of the crime.

Watson bumps into an old man and knocks books out of his hands.  Randy talked about these books, saying that no such book is called The Origin of Tree Worship.  The bibliophile follows Watson to his office under the guise of apologizing and offering to sell books to Watson to fill the gap on his shelf.  After Watson turns to look at the shelf, the bookseller turns out to Sherlock Holmes.


Stacey found this whole scene hard to believe, thinking both Holmes and Watson acted oddly.  Beth said that even if Watson had been furious, he wouldn't publish it in The Strand.  Tom figured that there was some strong language used, but Watson wouldn't write that up.  Brad pointed out that so many people point to the BBC Sherlock reaction, but that Watson still had his wife in that show and in the Canon, one of the two most important people in the world was still alive.  Chris argued that her initial reaction would be joy and the annoyance would come in later.  Kristen pointed out that Holmes purposely tricked Watson and thinks Watson punching Holmes was the correct response.

Watson quickly came to and asked "How did you come out of the chasm?" to which Holmes responded, "I never was in it."  Moriarty allowed Holmes to write the note, they walked to the cliff, Moriarty rushed him, and using Baritsu (or Bartitsu), Holmes threw him down the falls, making Moriarty "the first Reichenbach cliff diver" as noted by Bill.

Rob wondered why Watson was able to observe Holmes and Moriarty's footprints, but not the outline that must have been left by Holmes's body as he laid and looked over the cliff.

Holmes decides to fake his death because three other men want him dead.  He climbed the rock wall to hide and watched Watson's "sympathetic and inefficient" search of the scene.  After Watson left, someone started hurling boulders at him.  Rob shared a theory that Moran used his one shot to kill Moriarty, making him the head of the organization, and was left to use boulders to kill Holmes.

Randy asked why didn't he use the rifle to kill Holmes, and Srini, Toby, and Michael all noted that they were single shot rifles.  Toby said she had seen a can rifle like Moran's at an antique shop before, but couldn't justify paying such a high price.  Elaine also said that Moran wouldn't have had a good angle to fire from on top of the cliff.  Andy said it was just because bullets cost money but rocks were free.

Holmes escapes and "did ten miles over the mountains in the darkness" and was in Florence a week later.  He spends two years in Tibet, visited Lhassa, spending some days with the head Lama, passed through Persia, looked in at Mecca, and paid a short but interesting visit to Khalifa at Kharoum.  Ed had a great paper on Holmes's visit to Khalifa that was posted on our blog.

Srini kicked off a discussion about the possibility of Holmes visiting Mecca.  Mecca was closed to outsiders at this time.  Elaine said it was because he was in disguise.  Randy joked that he could've used Basil Rathbone's disguise from The Spider Woman.  Ed said that the disguise would have had to have been unbelievably good to pass as a Muslim.  Toby cited a precedent that Sir Richard Burton made it in to Mecca around this time.

Brad pointed out that Holmes's old college friend was living in India and could have influenced Holmes's original set of travels before Mycroft got involved.  Randy cited a paper written by Gordon Speck where it was theorized that Holmes's travels had been planned out months in advance.  Olivia wondered if Holmes was actually in London the whole time and the stories of Holmes's travels were just stories.

Holmes moved on to France, researching coal tar derivatives, came back to London, threw Mrs. Hudson into violent hysterics, and found that Mycroft has preserved his rooms and papers.  Adam wondered why Mrs. Hudson was complicit in keeping those rooms untouched for so long.  Olivia said that money can quiet a lot of questions.  Stacey talked about the mourning process of Victorian times.  Rob cited a paper that Joe had written on Mycroft's role in keeping the rooms and Holmes sneaking back into London to see Watson, but Joe admitted that the paper was so long ago that he didn't remember it!

We spent some time talking about Holmes's sad bereavement.  Rob thought that Holmes's comment about work being the best antidote to sorrow was callous.  Beth wondered if Holmes had read William Blake's comments on sorrow.  And what exactly was the bereavement?  Did Mary die?  Did she have a mental breakdown?  Was it the death of a family member?  Randy argued for Mary's death because there was no more mention about her after that.  Bill suggested that Mary had died in child birth.

Three hours later, Holmes and Watson are in a Hansom cab.  The get out at Cavendish Square and make sure not to be followed.  They eventually arrive at a deserted building.  Bill told everyone about Gray Chandler Briggs's work in locating 221B Baker Street based off his finding the empty house.  It was told in the great book, Dear Starrett, Dear Briggs, which Randy showed off to everyone.  Michael said that Briggs once told Conan Doyle about this, and Doyle claimed to have never been to Baker Street.

Holmes has Watson peek out of the window across to their rooms.  Watson sees an outline of Holmes in the window, a wax bust he had made.

Soon, Moran sneaks into the house while Holmes and Watson wait in the dark.  Rob cited the great prose here.  Such great description of their wait, Moran's look, and his settling in for his shot all in the same paragraph! 

Bill cited an article by Tom Stix saying that Moran was not very bright.  He walked right into an unlocked trap.  He said that maybe the "a" in his last name should have been an "o" instead.  Chris found it hard to believe that such an experienced hunter would be deceived by the outline in the window.  Elaine argued that Watson was fooled by the dummy, so it must not have been that bad.  Srini pointed out that Moran would not have had much time.  He came in, set up, and took the shot.  If the blame should fall on anyone, it should have been his lookout.  Beth cited plenty of times that Holmes would sit immobile. 

Rich said he always worried about Mrs. Hudson's safety when she was moving the wax bust.  Ed and Tom acknowledged that many points in the Canon can be implausible, but they take the assumption that everything in the stories are true and as Sherlockians, they see it as their roles to make those facts fit.  Randy said that he enjoyed looking at different annotated versions of the Canon to see what holes they poke in the stories.

Moran's walking stick is his air gun, he fires and Holmes leaps!  Moran seizes Holmes by the throat and Watson buffaloes him with his pistol.  Lestrade and company are soon there.  Stacey pointed out that in FINA, Holmes was in a game theory match with Moriarty, but she didn't see him follow that train of thought in this adventure.

Holmes introduces "Colonel Sebastian Moran, once of Her Majesty's Indian Army, and the best heavy game shot that our Eastern empire has ever produced."

Moran is arrested for the attempted murder of Sherlock Holmes, but S. Tupper Bigelow pointed out years ago that an attempted murder charge would not hold, as Moran had fired at an inanimate object. 

And anyway, Holmes says that Moran should be arrested for the murder of Ronald Adair and that he should not be mentioned in the case.  Why the hesitancy?  Surely there would be legal complications if Holmes did not appear.  Toby and Kristen thought that it was because Holmes enjoyed the chase, but not all of the red tape associated with the legal process.

Back in Baker Street, Watson admires the wax dummy.  Ed wondered why Holmes didn't have the waxen image made from Madame Tussaud.  Rob pointed out that in Doyle's play The Mazarin Stone, the villain was Colonel Moran and he was fooled by a wax dummy in that story as well. 

Holmes and Watson settle into their old chairs, Holmes in his mouse dressing gown.  This led to a discussion of how to pronounce mouse (like the rodent) and what color it is (grayish-brown).

Watson says he has never heard of Colonel Moran in EMPT, but he was told about him in VALL, just like the confusion around whether or not Watson knew about Moriarty.

Holmes gives Moran's biography to Watson, and Rob wondered if Moriarty met Moran through being his Army coach.  Bill said hat FINA and EMPT are two parts of the same story and he felt that they should be read together as a novella.

Holmes conjectures that Moran killed Adair because he discovered the cheating and was going to call him out.  Holmes also predicts that Moran will hang for murder, but he is still alive when Holmes mentions him again in ILLU.  Adam pointed out that the crime is more of an afterthought because this story is how Sherlock Holmes comes back to London, and not how he is solving this crime, his explanation of the crime is loosely structured.

We finally wrapped up our meeting, and announced that our next one will be for "The Norwood Builder."  Hopefully this one can be in person!

Thursday, May 7, 2020

A Short but Interesting Visit by Ed Moorman

As we ramp up to this weekend's meeting on "The Adventure of the Empty House," Ed Moorman thought his article on the region of Holmes's travels would be interesting.  It was originally published in The Baker Street Journal in March of 1993, but is just as timely today.

[BSJ. March 1993, V43:1, pp16-18. W.R. Cochran, ed.]

After two years in Tibet, Sherlock Holmes “passed through” Persia, looked in at Mecca, so he reports, and then “paid a short visit to the Khalifa at Khartoum.” It was the results of this “short visit” that Holmes communicated to the Foreign Office.  Persia and Mecca may have been mere way stations on his journey, but there can be no question that Holmes’s “short visit” to the Khalifa was a mission, a specific government mission that eventually figured greatly in the involvement of England in African affairs and, ultimately, world affairs.

England had occupied Egypt since 1882, at the request of the Egyptian government. This occupation helped shore up the ruling faction, and, not so incidentally, discouraged the involvement of other European powers in Egyptian affairs. This occupation kept important trade routes open.

At the time, Khartoum was the capital city of the Sudan and was located just south of Egypt. The city of Khartoum, located on the upper Nile, had been an important export center for slaves. The Sudan was in turmoil, due mainly to a rebel force led by a Muslim mystic known as Ahmad al-Mahdi. Mahdi was, in effect, the Ayatollah Khomeini of his day. He was a fundamentalist Muslim who wanted to conquer the Sudan and reform the Muslim faith. He claimed to be a direct descendant of
the Prophet Mohammed.

By 1884, Mahdi had amassed a large army of fanatical followers. These included the holy men, or fakis, who wanted as did Mahdi to reform Islam, but also included former slave merchants who hoped to reinstitute the slave trade. The fiercest fighters among the followers of Mahdi were so-called Baqqarat Arabs, cattle nomads who merely wanted to depose the Sudanese government. The leader of this fierce group of Baqqarat Arabs was the man called the Khalifa, or “deputy.” The Khalifa was the rebels’ military leader. If Mahdi was an Ayatollah, the Khalifa was a Saddam Hussein.

In 1884, the Mahdiists in large numbers were on the outskirts of Khartoum. To evacuate the Egyptian forces at Khartoum, the Egyptians called on the man who knew the Sudan better than any other Englishman, but who at the same time was the most hated by Mahdi and the Khalifa and their supporters. That man was General Charles George Gordon.

General Gordon eventually became one of England’s greatest heroes because of what was to happen at Khartoum. After Khartoum, all of England admired Gordon. Dr. Watson himself tells us in The Cardboard Box that he had a newly framed portrait of Gordon hanging on the wall at Baker Street.

Who was Gordon? Born in 1833, Gordon became known for “reckless” bravery at Sebastopol in the Crimean War (1853-56). He participated in the occupation of Peking in the “Arrow” war of 1860 and
in the rebellion in Shanghai in 1862. Back in England in 1865, and now known as “Chinese” Gordon, he developed what has been called an unorthodox, mystical brand of Christianity and generated something of a cult following.

In 1873, Gordon was appointed, or actually was hired by the reigning Sudanese government, to be governor of the province of Equatoria. He mapped the entire upper Nile and set up a line of stations.

One of Gordon’s accomplishments as governor from 1873 to 1876 was his crushing of the slave trade. He suppressed a number of rebellions as well. Back in England in the late 1870’s, Gordon had one last campaign ahead of him, and it came at Khartoum in 1884. Gordon got the job of going into Khartoum and rescuing the Egyptian forces threatened by Mahdi and his rebels. Gordon arrived in Khartoum in February 1884. One month later, in March, Mahdi and the Khalifa mounted a siege, and Gordon could not get out of Khartoum.

The English government dragged its feet and sent no reinforcements. Huge protests broke out in London as people demanded action. Finally, months later, a force headed by General Wolseley set sail for Africa. In January of 1885, with the siege already nine months old, Lord Beresford headed an expedition up the Nile to help out. But the waters of the Nile subsided, and the rebel forces led by the Khalifa stormed the city of Khartoum. On 26 January 1885, they massacred General Gordon and all of his forces. Lord Beresford arrived two days late, heard gunfire, and retreated.

The English people reacted with shock and outrage. General Gordon was no longer “Chinese” Gordon. He was “Gordon of Khartoum,” a martyr. And Gordon became Dr. Watson’s greatest hero.

Having taken over the city of Khartoum, Mahdi lived only five more months, died, and the Khalifa ruled the Sudan. This was in 1885. In an account reprinted in The Annotated Sherlock Holmes, Edgar Smith claims that the Khalifa “held forth embattled until 1888.” That is not true. In fact, the Khalifa lasted far longer. He moved the capital from Khartoum to its twin sister, Omdurman, just across the Nile. From Omdurman he set out, literally, to conquer the world.

Like Saddam Hussein, the Khalifa was fanatically religious, lusted after power, and was totally ignorant of the world outside of his own country. He amassed his forces and marched them off in four different directions: eastward, where they conquered the Ethiopians; westward, where they occupied the desert; southward, where they were driven back by a Belgian force from the Congo; and northward, where they were soundly defeated by an Anglo-Egyptian force under General Grenfell.

The Khalifa abandoned his dreams of world conquest.

From 1889 to 1892, the Khalifa, beaten in war and beset by famine, epidemic, and death, tried to hold on. The crops improved, however, after 1892, and by the time Holmes came for his “short visit” in 1893, things were improving in the Sudan. Edgar Smith claims that the Khalifa was not in Khartoum in 1893, but if he was not, he was a few paces across the bridge in Omdurman. If Holmes says it was Khartoum, it probably was Khartoum.

But why would Holmes, or any Englishman, bother to pay a short visit to the Khalifa? This was definitely not the occasion for a friendly chat. General Gordon was Watson’s hero and had been not merely defeated but actually murdered, massacred by the Khalifa. It has been said that England does not have permanent friends or permanent enemies, only permanent interests. Still in all, one does not idly sip tea with butchers. One is certain that Holmes told Watson a lot more about this visit than a line which reads almost like “And by the way, Watson, I stopped and had a nice little visit with the chap who murdered your hero, General Gordon.”

So why make the visit? Well, we learn that the French in 1893 came up with an ingenious plan. The French were never much in favor of anything England did, and England’s partnership with Egypt was
particularly troublesome to the French. In 1893, the French started a project under which they would march across Africa to the city of Fashoda, 400 miles south of Khartoum on the Nile. There they would build a dam and obstruct the Nile. England vitally needed a detailed investigation of this matter. It would have been absolutely necessary that someone visit Khartoum to determine whether the Khalifa was willing or able to defend the Nile from this French threat, or whether England and
Egypt would have to provide all of the defense.

When Holmes returned to London in 1894, no one in England outside of the government could have known how important an investigation of the Khalifa in 1893 would have been. But by the time The Adventure of the Empty House was published, in 1903, all of England knew what eventually had happened in the Sudan during the 1890’s.

General Kitchener, later Lord Kitchener, had become commander of the Egyptian forces in 1892. In 1893, he needed intelligence information about the Khalifa which could be provided only by a brave
and perceptive Englishman, totally reliable, an experienced investigator, and a master of disguise. There would have been only one choice.

Kitchener’s request for investigation assistance would have gone to the Foreign Office and from there been relayed by Mycroft to Holmes in Tibet. That is why Persia was only a “pass-through” and Mecca only a “look-in” for Holmes as he proceeded to Khartoum. The British had to find out as soon as possible what lay in store if the French went ahead with their plan to dam the Nile at Fashoda. One pictures Holmes perhaps disguised as an Arab merchant, looking over Khartoum, sipping tea with the Khalifa. This was Holmes single-handedly putting the “Impossible Mission” force to shame.

It would have become apparent to Holmes that the Anglo-Egyptian force would have to stop the French themselves. The Khalifa was too obtuse to realize that his own interests were at stake. One suspects that he may have even been bribed by the French to provide Sudanese labor for the project. Before Kitchener could face down the French, he would have to defeat the Khalifa. This must have been the message Holmes communicated to the Foreign Office.

The French force did not leave for Africa until 1896, under Captain Jean-Baptiste Marchand. Two years later, after landing on the West coast of Africa and crossing the continent, they were at Fashoda, ready to build the dam.

But Kitchener, thanks to the intelligence provided by Holmes’s visit with the Khalifa, had known for years what would be necessary, and he could not have been better warned and better prepared. On 2
September 1898, Kitchener and his force of 25,000 men met and soundly defeated the Khalifa and his 60,000 men outside of Omdurman.

Gordon was avenged. Watson must have cheered. The Khalifa fled and was killed a year later.

Kitchener then moved on south, up the Nile, and confronted the French at Fashoda. Both sides prepared for war. If you do not recall ever having read about the heroic battle of Fashoda, it is because the battle never happened. Facing the well-prepared forces of Kitchener, France backed down. The dam project was abandoned. Th French left the Sudan.

Kitchener became a hero, later leading forces in the Boer War in South Africa. By the time of World War I, Kitchener was able to mobilize all of the British forces With his leadership, his ability, and his
face on a million posters proclaiming, “Your Country Needs You.”

So what Holmes called a “short but interesting visit to the Khalifa” helped shape English history well into the twentieth century. If the term “hiatus” implies mere absence, idleness, or inactivity, we must find a better word.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Holmes, Heroic, Hiatus: A Man to Match the Swiss Mountains by Gordon R. Speck

The following is an article written by Gordon Speck for the Camden House Journal in 1985, but it still rings true today.  For anyone who knew Gordon, you'll know what a great Sherlockian scholar he was.  And if you weren't lucky enough to ever read one of Gordon's writings, you are in for a real treat!

Holmes, Heroic, Hiatus: 
A Man to Match the Swiss Mountains 
by Gordon R. Speck

Holmes visits places during the Great Hiatus that read like the itinerary of the travels of Marco Polo, and the reader tends to concentrate on the where of it at the expense of the why and the how. Most of the why and the how is a matter of unverifiable conjecture, but the facts of that earliest and most difficult phase lie incontrovertibly before us. The reason and method of Holmes's madness in doing "ten miles across the mountains in the dark"--his statement to Watson in "The Adventure of the Empty House"--are found in "The Final Problem."

Holmes and Watson, supposedly fleeing the wrath of Moriarty and the remnants of his gang as Scotland Yard draws together its wide-cast net, journey toward Meiringen in the heart of Switzerland, a deliberately chosen destination. Note the pace of their flight: two days in Brussels; one day in Strasbourg, leaving for Geneva the same day they arrived. The "flight" could hardly be called "headlong."

In Strasbourg Holmes receives a telegram from "the London police"--in reply to his query--informing him of Moriarty's escape. Holmes urges Watson to return to London "[b]ecause you will find me a dangerous companion now." The inference is that Holmes did not consider himself in danger until that moment. The telegram, in fact, told Holmes that his preconceived, carefully thought out scheme was proceeding as planned.

Watson refuses to part from Holmes; the two of them leave Strasbourg, and

For a charming week we wandered up the valley of the Rhone, and then, branching off at Leuk, we made our way over the Gemmi Pass, still deep in snow, and so, by way of Interlaken, to Meiringen. It was a lovely trip . . .

     Why such a leisurely "flight"? Several reasons come to mind. First, Holmes must allow Moriarty time to discover his general location and direction of travel so that all three would arrive in the Meiringen area at approximately the same time. Second, he had to acclimate his muscles and lungs to Alpine conditions, partly to prepare for the fight with Moriarty and partly to accommodate his post-fight plan. Third, he needed to learn the tricks of travel in Swiss mountains and to question the natives about shortcuts and byways to various points throughout the country. Watson notes Holmes's special alertness "by his quick glancing eyes and his sharp scrutiny of every face that passed us," and the faithful doctor believes "that he [Holmes] was well convinced . . . . of the danger which was dogging our footsteps." Under the circumstances, Holmes had only to exaggerate his mannerisms and wait for Watson to draw the wrong conclusions, an essential part of his plan.

Not only must Watson convince himself that danger threatens Holmes and that Holmes dies in the Reichenbach cauldron, but he must also convince other people who know both him and Holmes.

Actually Holmes observes the traveling Swiss in minute detail in order to learn ways of getting around in the mountains. In this way Holmes masters the Swiss mountains. For example, a commonplace rock slide occurs as Holmes, Watson, and guide walk along the edge of a lake, but Holmes "raced up on to the ridge, and, standing upon a lofty pinnacle, craned his neck in every direction." Watson assumes that Holmes seeks the dislodger of the rock; Holmes, however, is merely testing his new-found skills and scouting the area.

Watson tells us that Holmes "was never depressed," that he could "never recollect having seen him in such exuberant spirits." Why should he not be? Holmes knows that he is about to rid the world of Moriarty and to take a long, well-deserved holiday. He does not, of course, know that Moran will escape, but his precautions and preparations for the unexpected event--always wise when dealing with Moriarty--serve him well. Although Moran knows that Holmes is not dead, the rest of world does not, and Holmes is free to pursue the secret missions entrusted to him by the Queen (as I have discussed elsewhere).

Despite Holmes's reputation, many have questioned his ability to survive a ten-mile trek through the Swiss mountains in the dark. Once again Watson, although he does not realize it, provides explicit details, allowing us to conclude how and why Holmes managed it--if only we observe those details. Beginning in "The Final Problem" and continuing until his return in "The Adventure of the Empty House," Holmes takes the road "less traveled by, / And that has made all difference."

Saturday, April 11, 2020

March/April Meeting: The Hound of the Baskervilles

After the original date of March's meeting was cancelled due to the Covid-19 outbreak, we ventured to try our first digital meeting via Zoom.  And it went pretty well!  It allowed a few folks who normally don't travel to St. Louis to join us and we had a solid meeting overall.

Because we wanted to stay focused on the discussion of HOUN while on Zoom, we didn't have any news, announcements, or giveaways.  But Bill and Tom did have some great papers they wanted to share with everyone and you can read them on our blog:  (Bill's paper)  (Tom's paper)

Our story starts with a client leaving his walking stick behind and Watson attempting to model Holmes's methods and deduce information about the client.  He's somewhat successful but not totally, warranting one of the greatest back-handed compliments of the Canon: "It may be that you are not yourself luminous, but you are a conductor of light.  Some people without possessing genius have a remarkable power of stimulating it."

Dr. Mortimer soon arrives at 221B and announces to Holmes that he covets his skull for phrenology.

Rob cited Brad Keefauver's theory about Mortimer bringing his dog to London but not his wife.  Elaine guessed that it was because she was too busy.  Bill pointed out that Holmes could not have seen the dog on the street as he claimed.

We then went into the history of the curse of the Baskervilles and we discussed Heather's theory that Baskerville Hall was tied to the cult of Gozer from Ghostbusters.  Stacey taught us about the Dartmoor legends related to the area and the mist surrounding it.  Tom and Stacey have both been to Dartmoor and talked about how beautiful it seemed on sunny days, but terrifying when the fog rolled in.

Hugo's friends chase after Sir Hugo, who is being chased by a great hound.  His captor had died of fright, just like many people in the Canon do.  The dog "turned its blazing eyes and dripping jaws upon them."

Bill said that time with Sir Hugo was like a bad Victorian Spring Break experience.

Randy cited the flashback scene in the Rathbone Hound movie as his favorite version of this part of the story.  Cathy asked what everyone's favorite filmed version of HOUN was.  Kevin cited Jeremy Brett.

Randy and Joe chose Rathbone.

And Elaine said she liked the Hammer version.

Stacey, Christopher, Tom, and Joe talked about Sir Richard Cavell being the basis for Sir Hugo Baskerville.

Christopher talked about the history of the dog used in the Hammer version and how they tried to make a friendly dog look like a terrifying beast.

Dr. Mortimer tells Holmes about Charles Baskerville's death three years ago and the chapter ends with the famous line, "Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!"  Rob wondered how the original Strand readers dealt with having to wait a whole month for the next chapter after that cliffhanger.

Henry Baskerville arrives and has a few boots missing here and there.  Baskerville and Dr. Mortimer are followed by a man claiming to be Sherlock Holmes, which Elaine found to be a nice touch.  Kevin pointed out that Holmes laughed at this and Randy thought that Holmes was impressed with his adversary.  Rob pointed out that if Holmes had caught the cab in chapter 4, the story would have ended right there!

Christopher thought that Watson's description of the Moor is one of the most evocative writing in the whole book and Rob said he has seen it said plenty of times that the moor is it's own character in the story.

Elaine really enjoyed the convict subplot that included lights on the moor, stolen clothing, and family secrets.

Randy and Tom talked about Dartmoor prison's relation to Baskerville Hall and it's future.

Bill found it interesting that Holmes told Watson that he couldn't investigate the walking stick, but he sent him out to help with Henry Baskerville's investigation.  Kevin countered that Watson was sent to report the facts, but not investigate.  Tom agreed that what Watson lacked in investigative skills he made up for in bravery.  Rob argued that the Watson from the Canon has never really been captured in a film or TV adaptation.

As Watson chronicles his time with Baskerville, Sir Henry is becoming more and more interested in his neighbor, Beryl Stapleton.  Bill wondered if anyone else found Beryl Stapleton to be the most interesting character in the entire story.

Rob asked if anyone else found it odd that Stapleton would ask Baskerville to wait three months before courting his sister.  Stacy and Kevin discussed all of the red flags that this request should have raised.

Watson has identified a man on the moor, and has tracked down Laura Lyons.  He is putting pieces together, just very, very slowly.  Stacey said that if Watson had been interested in Beryl Stapleton, he probably would have worked much quicker.  Tom said that Watson had a narrow focus because he knew Holmes was waiting on his reports.  Kevin wondered if this story fell during a time when Watson was married, but Randy and Michael checked Baring-Gould's chronology to say that this story took place in 1888, so he would not have been married.

While Baskerville is sneaking time with Beryl, Watson decides to hunt down the man on the tor, tracking him to a stone hut, leading to another great cliffhanger, ""It is a lovely evening, my dear Watson.  I really think that you will be more comfortable outside than in."

Of course, it's Holmes outside.  Rob found it interesting that Holmes said he wouldn't have been able to recognize Watson's footprint "amid all the footprints of the world" and had to use his cigar ash to identify that it was him.

Holmes gives Watson a ton of information saying that Stapleton is actually married to Beryl, he used to be a schoolmaster in Northern England, had a relationship with Laura Lyons but she does not know the truth about him, Stapleton was the man following Baskerville back in London, and that Beryl sent a warning to Baskerville telling him not to come to Dartmoor.

Bill and Joe debated which version was worse, the Peter Cook or Tom Baker version.  We all agreed that there couldn't be a winner, only losers in that conversation.

Back at Baskerville Hall, Holmes covers up part of Hugo Baskerville's portrait and Watson could quickly see the resemblance to Stapleton.  Rob wondered if Dr. Mortimer was so into atavism, why couldn't he see the resemblance?  Randy said he was only interested in skulls and nothing else.

Holmes and Watson pretend to leave for London and tell Baskerville to go to dinner with Stapleton.  This led to a discussion on whether Holmes was negligent in putting Baskerville at undue risk.  Stacey pointed out that they were all lucky that Stapleton didn't change his method and decide to poison Baskerville at dinner.

After dinner, Baskerville leaves to walk home for the climactic scene with the hound:

A hound it was, and enormous coal-black hound, but not such a hound as mortal eyes have ever seen.  Fire burst from its open mouth, its eyes glowed with a smoldering glare, its muzzle and hackles and dewlap were outlined in flickering flames.  Never in the delirious dream of a disordered brain could anything more savage, more appalling, more hellish be conceived than that dark form and savage face which broke upon us out of the wall of fog.

Tom pointed out that the hound couldn't have actually have had phosphorus on it because phosphorus burns at room temperature.  Michael offered that the hound was so angry because it was a hot dog.

After the Holmes kills the hound, Stapleton has escaped only to be swallowed up by the moor, and Beryl has been found tied up.

Cathy wondered who was with Baskerville when Holmes, Watson, and Lestrade tracked down Stapleton's hiding spot.

Rob questioned why Holmes would make Watson wait a month to hear him hear all of the final details.  Why didn't they talk about it on the train ride back to London?

Elaine quoted Doyle's description of Beryl's hot-blooded temperament, which led to a discussion of anyone with Spanish descent in these stories.

As we wrapped up, Randy quoted the last line from Rathbone's version: "Watson, the needle!"

Tom reinforced everyone's opinion that this story is very, very well written.  Normally, our group finds ourselves kicking around different theories to address plot holes in the short stories, but you can tell that Doyle spent way more than his typical one sitting for this tale.

Next month's meeting will be The Adventure of the Empty House via Zoom again.  RSVP at our Facebook event page or via email to get the link.  Come at once if convenient!

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Can we trust the Canon? by Tom Crammond

Recently, at a society meeting, there was a discussion about FINA. During the discussion it was purported by some that possibly some of the events did not happen as Watson stated them in FINA. From there the discourse turned to the idea that much of what Watson wrote in FINA was simply not true or that Watson had grossly exaggerated some of the details? Even more preposterous was the idea put forth that Holmes had invented Moriarty and that most of what Holmes had related to Watson was not true – Holmes fabricated the story or Holmes had not told Watson the real facts concerning Moriarty.

Immediately in mind, I flashed back to the GREE. What always struck me as a central theme of the Canon was Holmes’s confidence in Watson and Watson’s loyalty to Holmes. In GREE, Watson is surprised to discover that Holmes has an older Brother Mycroft, who is also a gifted observer and logician. Watson even goes so far as to question Holmes when Holmes tells Watson that Mycroft has even better powers of observation than Holmes possesses! Of course, at the window of the Diogenes Club Watson sees the truth play out, and thanks to Watson’s narrative, we also see it play out. But Holmes’s retort to Watson about his brother’s powers has always been for me a central axiom of the Canon:

“My dear Watson,” said he, “I cannot agree with those who rank modesty among the virtues. To the logician all things should be seen exactly as they are, and to underestimate one’s self is as much a departure from truth as to exaggerate one’s own powers. When I say, therefore, that Mycroft has better powers of observation than I, you may take it that I am speaking the exact and literal truth.”

This assertion by Holmes tells us that everything that Watson records about their adventures in the Canon are fundamentally true! Further, that when Holmes speaks about a case or a criminal, he speaks the exact and literal truth! Of course, we know that a few times in the Canon, Holmes has strived to protect Watson; and in DYIN, for example, Holmes lies and deceives Watson in order to get Watson to aid him in apprehending Mr. Culverton Smith. But afterwards, Holmes confesses to Watson why he fooled Watson and details the exact and literal truth about the events in DYIN!
When FINA ends Watson is indeed, fooled and again misinformed, but in the opening of EMPT, Holmes relates the exact and literal truth to Watson and even apologizes to Watson for putting Watson through a terrible mental ordeal.

To be clear, there may be the occasion where Watson may have exaggerated some minor details or perhaps been a bit florid in his depiction of events, but essentially Watson is always telling what he literally saw happen! Further, most importantly, Watson is always being sure to accurately record and publish information which Holmes tells Watson about the case at hand or the info/details Holmes relates about events related to a particular case or previous cases.

One instance where I, myself, think Watson might have exaggerated takes place in CHAS. You recall after the shots rang out, Holmes and Watson are desperate to get away from Appledore Towers. Watson wrote the following about the incident:

“It was a six-foot wall which barred our path, but he sprang to the top and over. As I did the same I felt the hand of the man behind me grab at my ankle; but I kicked myself free and scrambled over a glass-strewn coping. I fell upon my face among some bushes; but Holmes had me on my feet in an instant, and together we dashed away across the huge expanse of Hampstead Heath. We had run two miles, I suppose, before Holmes at last halted and listened intently. All was absolute silence behind us. We had shaken off our pursuers and were safe.”

Watson may have indeed been exactly correct about this escape or may have been slightly been mistaken about the height of the wall – actually height is a detail one can only guess? Further, being a middle-aged physician in, perhaps, not the best of shape, they just might have not run two miles before they halted to listen. It may have only been one and half miles, but the exact distance in not a pivotal detail.

The importance of this example being Watson related the story in a manner which retells all the salient points and details. It is important to note that in this story Holmes relates to Watson the vile character of Milverton. And we know that what Holmes states is the exact and literal truth:

Do you feel a creeping, shrinking sensation, Watson, when you stand before the serpents in the Zoo and see the slithery, gliding, venomous creatures, with their deadly eyes and wicked, flattened faces? Well, that’s how Milverton impresses me. I’ve had to do with fifty murderers in my career, but the worst of them never gave me the repulsion which I have for this fellow. And yet I can’t get out of doing business with him—indeed, he is here at my invitation.”

Here we must accept what Holmes says about Milverton as the exact and literal truth? If we do not, and consider this an exception to the truth, then one would have to be suspect whenever Holmes relates the history of a criminal and/or a case. We must remember what Holmes said To Count Sylvius in MAZA:

"It is a small point, Count Sylvius, but perhaps you would kindly give me my prefix when you address me. You can understand that, with my routine of work, I should find myself on familiar terms with half the rogues' gallery, and you will agree that exceptions are invidious."

Invidious, indeed, and we simply can not let the entire Canon become suspect because we are appalled or puzzled by FINA. There is much to speculate about in Watson’s narrative concerning The Final Problem. However, we simply can not go down a wrong road about the authenticity of the Canon, just because we find some of the events in FINA to be bizarre. Remember what Holmes told Watson at the beginning of IDEN:

My dear fellow,” said Sherlock Holmes as we sat on either side of the fire in his lodgings at Baker Street, “life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent.”

Well, there we have it! Once again, Holmes has given us the explanation for our puzzlement. In fact, he gave us this sage advice when we first delved into The Canon. It would be most excellent if we would all heed his counsel!

Sunday, April 5, 2020

The Adventure of the Baffled Critic by William R. Cochran

Editor's Note: Bill Cochran has been writing about Sherlock Holmes for decades.  The following essay is one that he wrote back in 1979, but has never been published until now.

Since 1902 when Arthur Bartlett Maurice published his review of The Hound of the Baskervilles, the mystery of Bertram Fletcher Robinson's influence upon the novella has plagued Sherlockians.  All agree that Robinson is probably responsible for bringing the following Dartmoor legend to Doyle's attention in 1901:

Sir Richard Cabell viciously accused his wife of having an affair with a man of Buckfastleigh.

Lady Cabell denied this, but refusing to believe her, Cabell started thrashing her mercilessly.  Finally, though, Lady Cabell was able to break away from him; escaping their house, she began fleeing for her life across the bleak, surrounding moors that were swept by the wild, chill winds from the even bleaker regions of nearby Dartmoor.

Moments later, however, Cabell overtook her, and in a rage, murdered the woman with one of his hunting knives.

Then came the hound....the hound was Lady Cabell's own; a large, faithful dog that had leaped after Cabell when Cabell had gone chasing her across the moors.  Now, though, bounding up to Cabell as the treacherous man was killing his wife, the hound madly attacked Cabell, and after a fierce and violent struggle, the hound slaughtered Cabell.

In the struggle however, the hound itself was fatally wounded by Cabell's slashing knife, and the next day on the moor the people of the village found the animal laying dead right alongside the corpse of its slain mistress. [1]

The story would appeal to Doyle at this point in time as he had only three years earlier published a story of a gigantic hound.  In 1898, “The King of the Foxes” was published in Windsor Magazine.  John Dickson Carr noted this point in The Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  The story contains a description of: “a creature the size of a donkey....a huge grey head, with monstrous dripping fangs and tapering jaws, ...He...saw a pair of savage red eyes fixed upon him.” [2]  What Carr failed to mention was that the story concludes as Dr. Middleton explains that the “fox” was actually a Siberian wolf which had escaped from a travelling menagerie.  Dr. Middleton is a country practitioner and prototype of  Dr. Mortimer.  Dr. Mortimer's description of the curse of the Baskervilles causes Holmes and Watson to visit Dartmoor where they come face-to-face with: “a great, black beast, shaped like a hound, yet larger than any hound that ever mortal eye had rested it turned its blazing eyes and dripping jaws upon them...” [3] the reader experiences the same sensation as the protagonist in Doyle's “The King of the Foxes.”

When Doyle visited Dartmoor in April of 1901 he stayed at Rowe's Duchy Hotel in Princetown.  In a letter home he wrote: “Here I am in the highest town in England...(Fletcher) Robinson and I are exploring the moor over our Sherlock Holmes book. I think it will work out splendidly.” [4]  The inclusion of “our” in the letter would seem to indicate the novel is to be a collaboration as mentioned in the review.  Yet, there is only the brief prefatory remark mentioning Robinson's assistance.  Yet, this is not the only honor he received as Doyle has Dr. Mortimer relate the curse of the Baskervilles in much the same manner as did Robinson that April of 1901.

As Doyle and Robinson crossed the moor they were being driven by Harry Baskerville.  Doyle began to collect data for his new Sherlock Holmes adventure and:

Grimspound Bog, combined with Fox Tor Mire, became the Grimen Mire. 

Merrivale Hill became Meripit Hill. 

Dartmoor Prison became Princetown Convict Prison; by a freakish Doylean joke, the officious warden named Seldon became a prisoner of that name. 

And what about the source for Baskerville Hall, with its two towers and its sprawling sinister gloom?  The description of the towers precisely fits Conan Doyle's hated school, Stonyhurst, in Lancashire; the body of the hall is Brook Manor. [5]

The narrative of the story however, presents many more mysteries than those Holmes must deal with in the story.

In the opening chapter of the novella, we discover Watson and Holmes involved in a discussion concerning a walking stick a visitor has left behind.  Watson induces that its owner must be a country practitioner, and then proceeds to refer to the initials CCH as the “something hunt.”  Perhaps Watson was confused in the narrative and thinking of “The King of the Foxes” which features the Ascombe hunt and the country practitioner, Dr. Middleton.

The Hound of the Baskervilles is also one of the only Sherlock Holmes stories in which the detective is absent from the narrative for a predominate period.  He appears in the first three chapters in which he performs in a very un-Holmes-like manner.  In Chapter I, Holmes selects the wrong Dr. James Mortimer.  In Chapter II, Holmes engages Mortimer in the stichomithic exchange, and then hands the narrative over to Mortimer.  In Chapter III, Holmes blunders badly in an attempt to find the identity of the individual who is following Baskerville and Mortimer.  Holmes then enlists the aid of young Cartwright, not the Baker Street Irregulars, to check at every London Hotel for the mysterious stranger who told the cabbie his name was Sherlock Holmes.  It seems that the Irregulars could have been more expedient than the lone individual.  At this point Holmes leaves the narrative until Watson discovers him living in the primitive hut in Chapter XII.

The Hound of the Baskervilles is also the first tale in which the cocaine habit is not mentioned in the narrative.  The habit was not supposed to have disappeared until after Reichenbach, but The Hound of the Baskervilles  was the first story to be released to the public after the near-deadly encounter with the Napoleon of Crime.  It has been my contention for some time that the so called habit was a guise to trick Moriarty into one fatal mistake.  Since the professor no longer exists, the need to mention the habit has also disappeared.  Which all leads us back to the original question, who wrote The Hound of the Baskervilles?  Obviously it was Doyle.

Doyle needed a new story to publish after the death of Holmes, and only Watson could help him.  However, Watson was too depressed to write the tale.  He could not bear to think of those many hours in their Baker Street Lodgings, and the many cases he had chronicled.  During the course of their discussion, Doyle asked Watson: “Surely after so close an association with Holmes you must have tried to outguess the Master?”  “There was such a case,” Watson replied, “It involved the Baskerville family, and an old Dartmoor legend.  Holmes left the majority of the case in my hands, but...I became baffled and had to call on Holmes to solve the case.  No, Dr. Doyle, I could never hope to presume myself the equal of Holmes.”  At this point we must return to the beginning of our narrative.  Finding Watson uncooperative, Doyle was forced to go to Dartmoor and research his first and only Sherlock Holmes story.

Watson is made to look as if he is no longer the dupe because his modesty does not hamper the narrative.  With Doyle as the author the truth can be told─Holmes does at times make mistakes too.  Robinson is not Dr. Mortimer of the text, rather Dr. Mortimer is Robinson in the acknowledgement.  Holmes's cocaine addiction was not mentioned in the narrative because Doyle was not aware of its importance.  In spite of these drawbacks, The Hound of the Baskervilles  is the most successful Sherlock Holmes story because it shows Watson and Holmes at their best─a team.  Even Holmes admits to Watson: “you excel yourself....I am bound to say that in all the accounts which you have been so good as to give of my own small achievements you have habitually under-rated your own abilities.  It may be that you are not yourself luminous, but you are a conductor of light.  Some people without possessing genius have a remarkable power of stimulating it.  I confess, my dear fellow, that I am very much in your debt.” [6]  So are we all...all very much in your debt Dr. Watson.


1  `The History of Sherlock Holmes,' (Sherman Oaks, CA: E-GO Enterprises, Inc. 1975) pp 13-14.

2  The Green Flag, “The King of the Foxes,” A. Conan Doyle, (New York: McClure, Phillips & Co., 1900) pp 269-291.

3 Baring-Gould.  William S.  The Annotated Sherlock Holmes, New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1977.  V. II, p 1-1.

4  John Dickson Carr, The Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, (New York: Vintage Books, 1975) p 217.

5  Charles Higham, The Adventures of Conan Doyle, (New York: Vintage Books, 1975) p 146.

6  Baring-Gould.  William S.  The Annotated Sherlock Holmes, New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1977.   v.II, p 4.