Chat on the Society Slack Channel

We love to talk in the comments section here on the blog, but sometimes we’d like a bit more room to have conversations. Enter the John H Watson Society Slack Channel!

The channel provides a members-only space for chatting about a variety of topics. To get your invitation to join the channel, please complete the form below with your name, your Society moniker, and your preferred email address.

See you in the Slack!

William Gillette and the Art of Sherlock Holmes

This ad was shared in the Facebook group The ART of Sherlock Holmes recently:

The quote in the middle of the ad from Booth Tarkington makes me hunger for more than just only 9 minutes of William Gillette’s voice speaking lines from his play “Sherlock Holmes.” The recording was made when Mr Gillette was 82 years old, and he passed on the next year.The voice when spliced with some of the scenes from the 1916 silent film are awesome to hear and behold.

I have never posted my 5 top actors who played Sherlock Holmes. Here is the passage on why William Gillette is number 3 on my list:

3. William Gillette. I have only seen him in the recently discovered print of his classic 1916 Sherlock Holmes silent film. I have only heard him speak his role in the 9 minutes of the recording that survived and is floating around the internet. The sound recording I heard makes me desperately wish I could have heard more. It was revealed that William Gillette was 82 at the time he made the recording. His voice was so fine and modulated that he mirrored the emotions I imagined each of his actions called for. Had I heard the whole play I am almost convinced that he would be number one. I love the line that William Gillette does not look like Sherlock Holmes but that Sherlock Holmes looks exactly like William Gillette.

Take Good Care of yourselves during this hectic Holiday Season. -Chips

In Defense of John H Watson, MD

This is Chips speaking, and I am sure that Selena is speaking 100 percent beside me when we post this defense of our beloved Dr Watson. As we know, Holmes could not have existed so successfully without Watson and his invaluable aid, love, and devotion through their  years of companionship.

Robert Perrett (JHWS “Sampson”) calls our attention to an article in the Baker Street Journal (v45n4, December 1995) confirming what we have always believed. We’ll post just a sample here, but if you get the chance to read the whole thing, do!

[The article appears on p. 221, which I find delightful. I’ve taken the liberty of cleaning up some errors that appear in the PDF copy in the eBSJ. —Selena Buttons]

By Harlan Umansky

While Sherlock Holmes is lauded, idolized even venerated by his colleagues, Dr. Watson,has become a stereotype for all that is bumbling, non-comprehending, mindlessly courageous, physically powerfully built, mentally dull. Edmund Pearson has characterized him as Boobus Brittanicus. In a filmed interview Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who should have known better, spoke of “the stupid Watson.”

This derogatory view of Watson probably began with Msgr. Ronald Knox in his famous decalogue for writers of mysteries. Rule 9 declares, “The stupid friend of the detective, the Watsons must not conceal any thoughts which pass through his mind; his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly below that of the average reader.”

Something of this denigrating delineation of Watson may be due to his unalloyed integrity, for he never hesitates to show himself at a disadvantage if doing so makes our view of Holmes all the more impressive.

[…]However, the most potent reason for the widespread stereotype of Watson is very likely the manner in which the doctor was portrayed by Nigel Bruce in the 13 motion pictures featuring Basil Rathbone as Sherlock. Here indeed was the incarnation of Col. Blimp. In this portrayal we are confronted with a somewhat corpulent medical man whose talent for bumbling is equalled, if not exceeded, only by his inability to perceive the obvious. Could so intellectually inept a bungler have acquired a medical degree, become the lifelong friend and associate of a genius like Sherlock Holmes, and penned the marvelous adventures that have become an international treasure for over a hundred years? The answer cannot be other than a resounding no!

The fact is that the stereotype is totally false. Watson the comic foil, Watson the failed observer of the apparent, Watson the eternal bungler, Watson the prototype of Oliver Hardy, Watson the womanizer, Watson the incompetent physician, all these and more are elements of a myth so pervasive that it is almost impossible to eradicate from the mind of the public.
It is true that no one, including Watson, possessed Holmes’s breadth and depth of specialized knowledge, such as the history of crimes the varieties and locations of mud in the different sections of London, the diversified types of bicycle tires, and the multiple classes of perfumes. But that is more a tribute to Holmes’s professional qualifications than it is an indictment of Watson’s alleged mental retardation.

Like the rest of us mere mortals, Watson soon discovered that his friend’s mind functioned on a lofty level that he could never attain or fully comprehend but could only be in awe of. Despite this perhaps ego-shattering discovery, Watson faithfully assisted the great detective in many of his cases and penned a number of Sherlock’s adventures in which he (Watson) often played a less than distinguished role. However, Watson’s chronicles argue both a modesty and a rare ability at self-evaluation that are in themselves as admirable as they are unique.

[…]Watson was an Englishman whose unhesitating valor Holmes depended upon and often relied on. He was wounded at the Battle of Maiwand in the Second Afghan War, a bloody battle in which the British were outnumbered, outgunned, overwhelmed, and finally routed. Medical officers are usually in the rear, fairly safe from actual combat. Watson’s being wounded persuades me at least that he was by his own choice fairly dose to the fearful fighting, that he was tending to the wounded nearer to the front than he was required to be, and that he was in typical Watsonian fashion, less concerned with his own safety than with the welfare of others.

[…]But surely Watson’s greatest talent is that of panning in gripping narrative form the adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Rather than relating them in flat reportorial style or dry police procedural fashions he conceived and brilliantly carried out the idea of relating them in the form of novels and short stories. He may not have been the first to use the technique of the retrospective or the flashback, but he made use of that authorial device in exciting and ingenious fashion, as in, for example The Valley of Fear and A Study in Scarlet. So successful was Watson in casting the adventures and cases in his chosen narrative form that they are read and re-read today by millions the world over. Mycroft’s compliment, “I hear of Sherlock everywhere since you became his chronicler,” has been true ever since the first narrative appeared, Obviously the world would know very little, if anything about Sherlock Holmes were it not for the writings of Watson and his noteworthy literary skills, for the name of the great detective appears nowhere in the police records of the day nor in the news reports of the period. Indeed, were it not for Watson, there would be no such organizations as the Baker Street Irregulars or The Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes. Indeed, once again, were it not for Watson there would be no plaques around the world commemorating significant events in the career of the Master. In a very real sense, Watson is our progenitor and we are his offspring. […]

Of Watson we may well say in summary, as Holmes quotes Flaubert in quite another connection in A Case of Identity, “The man is nothing. The work is everything.”

Watson, of course, had his faults and failings. He also had his virtues and his talents. On balance he emerges not as a light-weight hanger-on, a mere go-fer, a mediocre follower, but rather as an invaluable ally, a worthy colleague, a peerless companion. The world in general and we Sherlockians in particular owe to John H. Watson, M.D., a monumental debt of gratitude that we can only acknowledge but can never replay.

The defense rests.

On December 15th…

The Sherlockian and Watsonian world received many gifts from a man born on this day in 1884. Already a Business Law Professor at the University of Chicago with several books and articles to his credit, he discovered the joy of playing The Game after reading Profile by Gaslight in 1944. He wrote a 16-page response to Anthony Boucher’s essay, “Was the Later Holmes an Imposter?”

He soon became acquainted with Vincent Starrett, who invited him to join the Hounds of the Baskerville (sic), which Starrett himself founded in 1943.

Among our Mystery Man’s Sherlockian publications were An Irregular Chronology of Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street (1947) and An Irregular Guide to Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street (1947, with supplements in 1947 and 1948).

It was the latter volume that introduced his most enduring and outstanding gift, one that almost every Sherlockian writing on the Canon uses nearly every day around the world. We use it whenever we post quotes or events from the Canon. It is an obvious convenience to use this rather than spelling out “The Hound of the Baskervilles” every time we refer to that book. It is, of course, Jay Finley Christ’s system of abbreviations of all 60 Canonical tales:

ABBE         The Abbey Grange
BERY         The Beryl Coronet
BLAC         Black Peter
BLAN         The Blanched Soldier
BLUE         The Blue Carbuncle
BOSC         The Boscombe Valley Mystery
BRUC         The Bruce-Partington Plans
CARD         The Cardboard Box
CHAS         Charles Augustus Milverton
COPP         The Copper Beeches
CREE         The Creeping Man
CROO         The Crooked Man
DANC         The Dancing Men
DEVI         The Devil’s Foot
DYIN         The Dying Detective
EMPT         The Empty House
ENGR         The Engineer’s Thumb
FINA         The Final Problem
FIVE         The Five Orange Pips
GLOR         The “Gloria Scott”
GOLD         The Golden Pince-Nez
GREE         The Greek Interpreter
HOUN         The Hound of the Baskervilles
IDEN         A Case of Identity
ILLU         The Illustrious Client
LADY         The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax
LAST         His Last Bow
LION         The Lion’s Mane
MAZA         The Mazarin Stone
MISS         The Missing Three-Quarter
MUSG         The Musgrave Ritual
NAVA         The Naval Treaty
NOBL         The Noble Bachelor
NORW         The Norwood Builder
PRIO         The Priory School
REDC         The Red Circle
REDH         The Red-Headed League
REIG         The Reigate Squires
RESI         The Resident Patient
RETI         The Retired Colourman
SCAN         A Scandal in Bohemia
SECO         The Second Stain
SHOS         Shoscombe Old Place
SIGN         The Sign of the Four
SILV         Silver Blaze
SIXN         The Six Napoleons
SOLI         The Solitary Cyclist
SPEC         The Speckled Band
STOC         The Stockbroker’s Clerk
STUD         A Study in Scarlet
SUSS         The Sussex Vampire
THOR         The Problem of Thor Bridge
3GAB         The Three Gables
3GAR         The Three Garridebs
3STU         The Three Students
TWIS         The Man with the Twisted Lip
VALL         The Valley of Fear
VEIL         The Veiled Lodger
WIST         Wisteria Lodge
YELL         The Yellow Face

Our thanks to A Curious Collection of Dates: Through the Year with Sherlock Holmes, by Leah Guinn (JHWS “Amber”) and Jaime N Mahoney (JHWS “Tressa”) for including Professor Christ’s birthday (and the note that his surname rhymes with “list”) among many other fascinating tid bits!

A Puzzling Quiz

A quiz from “Chips”, inspired by this picture:

The picture above is a small segment of a jigsaw puzzle. What is the name of the puzzle, and where could one find it?

In the picture, there are 4 items. A rather well-known Canonical quote involves some of the items pictured above.

What is the quote, who says it to whom, and in which case?

And why are there four when there are not that many mentioned in the quotation in question?

Please feel free to respond or not. But those who choose not to respond may be dogged for the rest of their lives by the Hound of the Baskervilles.

…Is that a dog I see over your shoulder?


On December 13th… The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

“The Final Problem” appeared in the December 1893 issue of The Strand. It was also the last story in the collection The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, published on December 13, 1893, by George Newnes of London.

Readers did not take Holmes’s demise very well. A Curious Collection of Dates: Through the Year with Sherlock Holmes, by Leah Guinn and Jaime N Mahoney, quotes this passage from the Manchester Courier and General Lancashire Advertiser (December 30, 1893):

If […] Dr. Conan Doyle has some new vein [of gold] to work, well and good. We question if he can improve on Sherlock Holmes. But if not, he must resuscitate his hero, for we simply do not know what the reading public will do without him.

[A Curious Collection of Dates is a really remarkable book and a great read. –Chips]

Further Notes on Lupin and (S)holmes

Chips writes: We have no Canonical events of note in our calendar for this date. So, a couple of notes about Arsene Lupin, discussed in yesterday’s post. There is a story floating around about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Lupin the the Gentleman Thief. I have heard different versions of the story; maybe one of our audience can supply more information about the true facts.

The story is this: Sir Arthur was supposed to be a devoted billiards player. While playing at one parlor he was given a piece of chalk that was used to chalk up the tip of the billiard cue to allow the tip to hit the ball and not slide off it. The fellow that gave Sir Arthur the chalk said to keep it as a prize. Sir Arthur did and used it for some time. Then, one day, the chalk broke open, and inside the pieces was a note with the message “for SH from AL”. Any comments from our readers?

[Note from Selena: Doyle himself related this tale in Memories and Adventures:

Mr. Sherlock Holmes has always been a fair mark for practical jokers, and I have had numerous bogus cases of various degrees of ingenuity, marked cards, mysterious warnings, cypher messages, and other curious communications. It is astonishing the amount of trouble which some people will take with no object save a mystification. Upon one occasion, as I was entering the hall to take part in an amateur billiard competition, I was handed by the attendant a small packet which had been left for me. Upon opening it I found a piece of ordinary green chalk such as is used in billiards. I was amused by the incident, and I put the chalk into my waistcoat pocket and used it during the game. Afterward, I continued to use it until one day, some months later, as I rubbed the tip of my cue the face of the chalk crumbled in, and I found it was hollow. From the recess thus exposed I drew out a small slip of paper with the words “From Arsene Lupin to Sherlock Holmes.”

Imagine the state of mind of the joker who took such trouble to accomplish such a result.

And now back to Chips!]

I received this volume from a fellow collector. He had decided he needed more shelf space, and so he gave it to me. It has two collections of stories inside the cover and shows quite a bit of wear. However, it is quite a nice volume with the feel of velvet on the front and back cover. The two volumes inside are Arsene Lupin— Gentleman Burglar, which ends with a story entitled “Sherlock Holmes arrives too late”, and The Extraordinary adventures of Arsene Lupin versus Herlock Sholmes. My collection seems to be two separate books that were taken apart and bound together inside one board cover. I assume that partly because of the separate spellings of the Holmes and Sholmes, the name change which occurred after the legal objections of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, as mentioned yesterday.


Arsene Lupin Contre Herlock Sholmes

Cover of 1963 edition of Arsene Lupin contre Herlock Sholmes

French author Maurice-Marie-Émile Leblanc was born on December 11, 1864, in Rouen, France. A novelist and journalist, he is best known today as the creator of Arsène Lupin, the gentleman thief featured in more than sixty stories.

Lupin’s first appearance – “L’Arrestation d’Arsène Lupin” – was published in Je Sais Tout on July 15, 1905, and the character quickly gained a following. The following year, Je Sais Tout published the story “Sherlock Holmès Arrive Trop Tard” (“Sherlock Holmes Arrives Too Late”). That story came to the attention of Arthur Conan Doyle, who objected to the violation of his copyright. When the collected Lupin stories were published in book form in 1910, it was under the title Arsène Lupin Versus Herlock Sholmes. For the UK edition, the name was Arsène Lupin versus Holmlock Shears.

A century later (give or take a few years), Lupin and the now-public-domain Holmes met in digital format in the computer game Sherlock Holmes versus Arsène Lupin (Frogwares, 2007 (original) and 2010 (remastered)). In the game, Lupin tries to steal five valuable items in order to humiliate Britain, and it is up to Holmes (and some other characters) to stop him.

Sources: A Curious Collection of Dates: Through the Year with Sherlock Holmes, by Leah Guinn and Jaime N Mahoney; Encyclopædia Britannica

Corrections to the Watsonian

Greetings, all! I come with editor hat in hand: I must to admit to two eratta that need to be applied to the fall Watsonian.

  • Page 44, in Brad Keefauver’s Of All Ghosts: “Your patience [has] been most useful.”
  • Page 81, in Ruth Borgar’s The War Service of Dr John H. Watson: paragraph 3 should indicate that Watson was born around 1852, rather than 1862.

Any other corrections noticed by eagle-eyed readers can be directed to Thank you!

On December 10th…

We continue with the dating of the events of MISS in December (rather than February – as explained in a previous entry) and take today’s event from A Day by Day Chronology of Mr. Sherlock Holmes according to Zeisler and Christ, compiled by William S Dorn, BSI, DWNP.

Illustration by Sidney Paget for The Strand Magazine (August, 1904)

December 10, 1896: Godfrey Stanton’s wife died. [MISS]

A woman, young and beautiful, was lying dead upon the bed. Her calm, pale face, with dim, wide-opened blue eyes, looked upwards from amid a great tangle of golden hair. At the foot of the bed, half sitting, half kneeling, his face buried in the clothes, was a young man, whose frame was racked by his sobs. So absorbed was he by his bitter grief that he never looked up until Holmes’s hand was on his shoulder.

‘Are you Mr. Godfrey Staunton?’

‘Yes, yes; I am – but you are too late. She is dead.’

Chips writes: This story always struck me as so sad. The passion for position and appearance should lead to conviction and punishment for murder, but the Golden Rule of how we should live our lives is so agreed to on a Sunday but ignored in behavior in the rest of life.

On December 9th…

We continue with the dating of the events of MISS in December (rather than February – as explained in a previous entry) and take today’s event from A Day by Day Chronology of Mr. Sherlock Holmes according to Zeisler and Christ, compiled by William S Dorn, BSI, DWNP.

December 9, 1896: Oxford defeated Cambridge by a goal and two tries. [MISS]

‘Yes, the local evening paper has an excellent account in its last edition. Oxford won by a goal and two tries. The last sentences of the description say: “The defeat of the Light Blues may be entirely attributed to the unfortunate absence of the crack International, Godfrey Staunton, whose want was felt at every instant of the game. The lack of combination in the three-quarter line and their weakness both in attack and defence more than neutralized the efforts of a heavy and hard-working pack.”‘

[MISS – Sherlock Holmes: The Ultimate Collection. Maplewood Books, Kindle Edition]