Good-night Mister Sherlock Holmes

May 10, 2009

“You have doubtless heard of the Beryl Coronet?”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mark Loper @ 4:25 pm
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The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet is a clever little yarn and one of 12 included in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. It is not particularly good, or particularly bad, but it has a couple of glowing errors that can only be laid at Doyle’s feet; Holmes had nothing to do with it.

Mr. Alexander Holder, one of the principles at Holder & Stevenson (the second largest private banking concern in the City of London), has agreed to accept the Beryl Coronet (which he describes as “one of the most precious public possessions of the empire”) as collateral on a four day, ₤50,000 loan. Holder doesn’t feel comfortable leaving the coronet at the bank so he takes it home and locks it in a bureau in his dressing-room.

The owner/curator of the coronet (who is not disclosed) admonishes Holder:

“I rely upon you not only to be discreet and to refrain from all gossip upon the matter but, above all, to preserve this coronet with every possible precaution because I need not say that a great public scandal would be caused if any harm were to befall it. Any injury to it would be almost as serious as its complete loss… “

Through some family shenanigans, the coronet is stolen. During the theft, Holder’s son attempts to regain the coronet from the thief. During the struggle and unbeknownst to the son, a corner of the coronet, with three stones (beryls) attached is broken off and retained by the the the thieve.

Holmes is called in, quickly sorts out the mystery, and eventually returns the coronet to Holder who presumably returns it to its rightful owner.

Here are my concerns:

If any injury would be “almost as serious as its complete loss, why, after Holmes recovers the broken corner (with the beryls attached), does Mr. Holder exclaim:

“You have it!” he gasped. I am saved! I am saved!”

Saved? The coronet is severely damaged and Holder was specifically cautioned that any injury was tantamount to a complete loss.

I also wonder that Mr. Holder, after having been admonished to “refrain from all gossip upon the matter” proceeded to tell his son (who had known gambling issues) and niece the whole story and exactly where he is going to leave the coronet?

And why does not the younger Holder realize the coronet has been broken? Holmes says that a break would make a noise “like a pistol shot”. Certainly the “pistol shot” would have occurred concomitant with the break so why would not Holder have heard it and realized the coronet had been damaged?

This story is uncharacteristically full of holes the biggest of which is: why did Holder take the coronet home in the first place rather than leave it in the vault of the second largest private banking concern in the City of London?

April 22, 2009

“Watson, I mean to burgle Milverton’s house to-night.”

In The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton, Holmes make the unprecedented decision to unlawfully enter the home of a private citizen in order to better serve his client. There were some other cases when Holmes burgled a home or business but always with at least a modicum of authorization such that had the police caught him, it is unlikely he would have been prosecuted. In the case of Milverton, Holmes openly admits to Watson the illegality of his proposed actions:

“We have shared this same room for some years, and it would be amusing if we ended by sharing the same cell.”

In any event, the die is cast, Holmes has made the decision to step outside of the law, Watson has forced him into taking him along, and they set out to commit the crime. While burgling the home, they discover that Milverton is awake and sitting up when all intelligence had indicated he would be sound asleep.

As it turns out, Milverton has an appointment with a client who has promised to give him some compromising letters. The client shows up one-half hour late and is not whom she has told Milverton she was; she is a woman Milverton ruined because she failed to pay the blackmail for some compromising letters. Milverton released the letters to her husband who, as a result of a broken heart, dies.

After a short exchange, she pulls a pistol and kills Milverton. Watson and Holmes are secreted behind a curtain, where they retreated when Milverton came into the room, and they witnessed the murder. After Milverton is dead and the assailant has fled, Holmes quickly retrieves the letter that compromised his client (as well as all other letters Milverson had), hurls them into the fire, and he and Watson bolt from the house.

There were five rounds fired and the alarm was quickly raised:

“I could not have believed that an alarm could have spread so swiftly. Looking back, the huge house was one blaze of light. The front door was open, and figures were rushing down the drive. The whole garden was alive with people, and one fellow raised a view-halloa as we emerged from the veranda and followed hard at our heels. Holmes seemed to know the grounds perfectly, and he threaded his way swiftly among a plantation of small trees, I close at his heels, and our foremost pursuer panting behind us. 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 grass-strewn coping.”

Forgetting for the moment that these two middle aged men easily negotiate a six-foot fence, I wonder what happened to the woman who actually killed Milverton? Where did she go? I will allow that Holmes and Watson spent some additional time in Milverton’s office because Holmes (without Watson’s help) made multiple trips from the safe to the fireplace but, according to Watson’s narrative, the servants were almost instantly on the scene. In fact, they were banging on the locked office door even as Holmes was dumping the material from the safe into the fire.

So where did she go? We know she exited the house because Watson felt the outside air enter the room:

“She looked again, but there was no sound or movement. I heard a sharp rustle, the night air blew into the heated room, and the avenger was gone.”

But how could she have eluded the staff when they were apparently (almost) immediately at the door? And did she too scale the six-foot wall?

Watson was actually caught by the heel as he went over the fence so clearly people were about, why would they not have seen the woman?

March 21, 2009

“… but as a lover he would have placed himself in a false position.”

So what was the deal with Sherlock Holmes and women? Was he a misogynist? Was he a homosexual? What?

For sure he wasn’t a homosexual. In The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot, he specifically tells Watson:

“I have never loved, Watson, but if I did and if the woman I loved had met such an end, I might act even as our lawless lion- hunter has done.”

In the Valley of Fear, Holmes mentions his feelings toward women. Speaking to Watson:

“Should I ever marry, Watson, I should hope to inspire my wife with some feeling which would prevent her from being walked off by a housekeeper when my corpse was lying within a few yards of her.”

In Charles Agustus Milverton, Holmes goes so far as to become engaged to be married to one of Milverton’s house maid:

“You would not call me a marrying man, Watson?”

No, indeed!”

“You’ll be interested to hear that I’m engaged.”

“My dear fellow! I congrat –”

“To Milverton’s housemaid.”

“Good heavens, Holmes!”

“I wanted information, Watson.”

“Surely you have gone too far?”

“It was a most necessary step. I am a plumber with a rising business, Escott, by name. I have walked out with her each evening, and I have talked with her. Good heavens, those talks! However, I have got all I wanted. I know Milverton’s house as I know the palm of my hand.”

“But the girl, Holmes?”

He shrugged his shoulders.

“You can’t help it, my dear Watson. You must play your cards as best you can when such a stake is on the table. However. I rejoice to say that I have a hated rival, who will certainly cut me out the instant that my back is turned.

Two things here.

When Holmes asks Watson, “You would not call me a marrying man, Watson?”, Watson responds with, “No, indeed!” (Emphasis Doyle’s).

In other words, it struck Watson as quite out of the ordinary that Holmes would consider marriage. Also note that, even though Holmes expects to be “cut out” by a hated rival, it is certainly not a prerequisite to Holmes’s courting – some might say seducing – of Milverton’s housemaid. 

Later in the same story, Holmes is contemplating burgling Milverton’s home in order to retrieve some letters that compromise his female client.  Watson is quarrying him on the risks and Holmes counters with:

“Since it is morally justifiable, I have only to consider the question of personal risk. Surely a gentleman should not lay much stress upon this, when a lady is in most desperate need of his help?”

So there is no evidence that Holmes was a homosexual. There exists no real evidence that he was a misogynist either. I think it more likely that Holmes was simply asexual.

Holmes did indeed enjoy the company of men more than women. Most of his professional work brought him into contact with men but we also know that Watson was only able to cajole Holmes to visit Colonel Hayter – one of Watson’s patients from his service in Afghanistan – when he (Watson) was able to assure Holmes that that there would be no women present.

“A little diplomacy was needed, but when Holmes understood that the establishment was a bachelor one, and that he would be allowed the fullest freedom, he fell in with my plans and a week after our return from Lyons we were under the Colonel’s roof.”

In The Sign of the Four, Holmes describes the lovely Mary Morstan – the woman Watson subsequently married – as a “unit”.

“What a very attractive woman!” I exclaimed, turning to my companion. He had lit his pipe again and was leaning back with drooping eyelids. “Is she?” he said languidly; “I did not observe.”

“You really are an automaton — a calculating machine,” I cried. “There is something positively inhuman in you at times.”

He smiled gently. “It is of the first importance,” he cried, “not to allow your judgment to be biased by personal qualities. A client is to me a mere unit, a factor in a problem. The emotional qualities are antagonistic to clear reasoning.

Mary Morstan was a unit and Violet Hunter was quickly forgotten after a successful conclusion to the Adventure of the Cooper Beaches and this was after Holmes took an initial interest in her:

I could see that Holmes was favourably impressed by the manner and speech of his new client.

Though after Holmes closed the case, he completely dismisses her:

As to Miss Violet Hunter, my friend Holmes, rather to my disappointment, manifested no further interest in her when once she had ceased to be the centre of one of his problems.

One has to wonder, was Watson hopeful that Holmes and Miss Hunter would have something in common?

Watson sums it up pretty succinctly in A Scandal in Bohemia:

It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen, but as a lover he would have placed himself in a false position. He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer. They were admirable things for the observer — excellent for drawing the veil from men’s motives and actions. But for the trained reasoner to admit such intrusions into his own delicate and finely adjusted temperament was to introduce a distracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all his mental results. Grit in a sensitive instrument, or a crack in one of his own high-power lenses, would not be more disturbing than a strong emotion in a nature such as his. 

And this from the Greek Intrepter:

His aversion to women, and his disinclination to form new friendships, were both typical of his unemotional character…

Sherlock Holmes is exactly what you think he is: Sherlock Holmes.

March 16, 2009

“It is, of course, a trifle, but there is nothing so important as trifles.”

The Man with the Twisted Lip is a neat little Sherlock Holmes story with more than one twist. The opium-den introduction instantly captures the reader and promises a wild ride. It also gives Dr. Watson an opportunity to pontificate on the negative effect of drug use as he did in the opening pages of The Sign of the Four when speaking to Holmes about his (Holmes) cocaine use.

The story is straightforward enough and Holmes solves it easily enough though he does go through some consternation before coming to his conclusion by pulling an all-nighter and, not for the first time, “… sitting upon five pillows and consuming an ounce of shag.”

And to his credit, he acknowledges his blunder:

“I think, Watson, that you are now standing in the presence of one of the most absolute fools in Europe. I deserve to be kicked from here to Charing Cross. But I think I have the key of the affair now.”

And later:

“I confess that I have been as blind as a mole, but it is better to learn wisdom late than never to learn it at all.”

Just one question?

When Holmes scrubbed the make-up off of Neville St. Clair’s face, we find a “… a pale, sad-faced, refined-looking man, black-haired and smooth-skinned”.

Smooth-skinned? Here’s a man who hasn’t shaved in three days and Doyle describes him as smooth-skinned? Possibly by smooth-skinned, Doyle meant smooth-skinned as opposed to the rough-skin created by the make-up?

It is, of course, a trifle, but there is nothing so important as trifles.

As an aside, I seriously considered trying this ploy when I was once at “low-water”. I wasn’t going to necessarily use make-up but I was going to wear dark-glasses and carry a cane for the visually-impaired. I went as far as to buy a cane (off of eBay) but never went through with it.

March 14, 2009

“… the calculation is a simple one.”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mark Loper @ 8:33 am
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In Silver Blaze, Holmes and Watson are on a train going to Exeter. Holmes has been reading all that the papers have to say about the disappearance of the horse, Silver Blaze. Apparently satisfied, he thrusts the papers under the seat and comments to Watson:

“We are going well,” said he, looking out of the window, and glancing at his watch. “Our rate at present is fifty-three and a half miles an hour.”

“I have not observed the quarter-mile posts,” said I.

“Nor have I. But the telegraph posts upon this line are sixty yards apart, and the calculation is a simple one.

So how did Holmes calculate the speed of the train? According to Watson, Holmes was looking out of the window then glanced at his watch so we will assume he counted a set number of poles, then noted elapsed time.

Let’s assume Holmes decided to count, say, 25 posts, how many seconds would have elapsed when he again looked at his watch? We know that the rate of the train divided into the distance equals elapsed time (Rate x Time = Distance → Time = Distance ÷ Rate). In this case we know the rate is 53.5 mph and the distance of the 25 posts is 1500 yards (the posts are 60 yards apart). After Holmes counted 25 posts, he would have consulted his watch and noted that 57.35 seconds would have elapsed. The calculation would have been: 1500 yards/57.35 seconds = 53.5 mph. Maybe not a simple calculation but for Holmes, apparently it was.

But wait, we’re talking Sherlock Holmes here, maybe he had a better way? Let’s think… he would know, for example, that 29.33 posts is one mile, therefore, glancing at his watch after he counted the 29.33th  post, he would note 67.29 elapsed seconds. Now, he knows the rate of the train, it’s one mile per 67.29 seconds. Dividing 67.29 into 3600 seconds (the number of seconds in an hour) yields: 53.5 mph. Voilà.

I do wonder, though, that even Sherlock would feel confident enough to estimate the speed of the train at fifty-three and a half miles an hour? But hey, he’s Sherlock Holmes.

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