Weekly Forum: 16 September 2014

A Final Comment

This Forum has produced a very interesting conversation which we will consider for a paper in the April 2015 issue of The Watsonian.

WE ARE REQUESTING all who have commented and others who wish to comment to post their final thoughts, conclusions, rebuttal, agreement, or alternative thoughts before we close out the Weekly Forum.  We will select a Lead Writer for the paper and wish to assure everyone who wishes to have their comments included has that opportunity.  Thank you ALL for a most fascinating discussion.

Nemesis

This week’s Weekly Forum asks the question: “Did Holmes invent Moriarty?”

Comments

Weekly Forum: 16 September 2014 — 25 Comments

  1. And if he did invent Moriarty… to what end?

    If his Nemesis was an invention, then this was an elaborate ruse played on Dr. Watson, as well as the London public and possibly the Scotland Yard.

    If Watson knew of the ruse, did our dear Doctor invent the entirety of The Final Problem as a way for Holmes to escape his life in London without worry or responsibility? If the elaborate game was played to fool Watson, was this Holmes way to completely free himself from his friend who was torn between a newly married home life and a desire to continue following Holmes on his adventures? Did Holmes leave his life behind to escape enemies, travel the world, or perhaps even build his very own vast criminal empire? Could, as some pastiche propose, Holmes be his own Moriarty?

    Your question is quite a good one, though it brings up a multitude of new questions for me than any answers I could provide. Nice one. 🙂

    • Wonderful comment . . . Here, perhaps, is a place to begin: Does anyone else, besides Holmes, see, hear, talk with, or touch Moriarty in the Canon? Is there textual evidence, for instance, of Dr Watson actually being in a room and seeing and hearing Moriarty? Or is Moriarty reported only in the experience, words and description of Holmes alone, and only through relating the exchange with Moriarty through after-the-fact narrative?

      With that basis established, we would have a bit more factual basis from observation upon which to proceed. I admit to not knowing the answer to this intriguing question, but will attend to some research this evening. Perhaps others will do the same so we can compare notes.

      • Inspector MacDonald had an interview with the Professor in VALL. But given that’s Mac’s only appearance in the Canon, perhaps someone will say he’s an invention–an actor hired for the occasion–too.

  2. In FINA, when Holmes and Watson are leaving by train from Victoria Station, there is mention of “a tall man pushing his way furiously through the crowd”. Some commentators have assumed this was our only direct glimpse of Moriarty but it is clearly non-specific. Otherwise, our descriptions of The Professor are, at best, second hand. Recall also that no bodies were recovered from the Reichenbach. We know that Holmes did not die. But it’s also difficult to recover a body that never existed.

    • Once again, Inspector MacDonald interviewed Moriarty in VALL:
      “Man, you can’t but recognize it. After I heard your view, I made it my business to see him. I had a chat with him on eclipses – how the talk got that way I canna think – but he had out a reflector lantern and a globe and made it all clear in a minute. He lent me a book, but I don’t mind saying that it was a bit above my head, though I had a good Aberdeen upbringing. He’d have made a grand meenister, with his thin face and gray hair and solemn-like way of talking. When he put his hand on my shoulder as we were parting, it was like a father’s blessing before you go out into the cold, cruel world.”

      • Well, fantasies are rarely spun of whole cloth. The premise of The Seven Per Cent Solution was that there was a real person, a real Prof. Moriarty, on whom Sherlock Holmes built his fantasy of an evil genius. Inspector Mac could certainly have interviewed a real Prof. Moriarty and had his Aberdeen upbringing stretched to its limits, while the criminal mastermind of Sherlock Holmes’s imagination remained a fantasy. But that also invites us to consider who “Porlock” may have been: whether Sherlock Holmes invented those communications as well?

  3. And what of Col. Sebastian Moran, the Stationmaster, and other Moriarty-linked characters? Were they also invented by Holmes? Is there any solid textual evidence of their actual existence, or is it narrative only?

    • Of course Watson, Lestrade and two constables saw Moran in EMPT. Perhaps one could theorize that Moran had nothing to do with Moriarty, his link to the Professor based on Holmes’ word only.

    • That’s fascinating!

      Considering that for about a decade after The Final Problem Holmes had insisted that Watson not put any of his post-FINA stories for publication without his allowance, could it be that Holmes had enough of the limelight by the early 1890s and that FINA was due to an agreement between the two friends that Holmes continue on his work with most of the general populace believing he was dead?

      Even with the general population believing he was dead throughout the 1890s, word-of-mouth seemed to insure that he and Watson would have plenty of clients paying visits to 221B.

  4. Very interesting and provocative suggestion by Cocoa. It would be fascinating to hear from members as to why Watson might have invented the Moriarty character. This also implies that the Great Hiatus is also a creation of The Good Doctor.

  5. So . . . If Moriarty did not exist, and Watson invented Moriarty, is this the beginning of the heretical construct that Watson also invented Holmes? Is our beloved Doctor the true Puppetmaster and the Deus ex Machina?

  6. Well . . . Many thoughts. There does seem to be a sort of reluctance to offer alternatives to the existing textual evidence. Perhaps we believe the Dr Watson and the Mr Holmes, as well as the Prof Moriarty, we have and know are preferable to the shades we do not know. I, for one only, am given to trusting the good doctor and his words and–in all candor–no one could invent someone like Sherlock Holmes. I’m going with they’re ALL real and quite possibly still alive.

    • The long comment from “Pippin” below uses up the available space for comments and must be read in three installments. He repeats the paragraph where the previous comment ended and continues in each one.

  7. “Did Holmes invent Moriarty?” Let’s recap.

    Why did Holmes invent Moriarty is immaterial to a discussion of its mechanics, although Carla is right in stating “then this was an elaborate ruse played on Dr. Watson, as well as the London public and possibly the Scotland Yard.” In FINA, the only person who has seen Moriarty is Holmes. Watson has never hear of Moriarty before the evening of the 24th of April. 1891. Holmes describes in meeting with the villainous Professor and asks Watson to come away with him on the Continent. As the train is leaving, Holmes points out to Watson a random tall stranger running into Victoria Station as Moriarty. As Holmes is at the train station long before Watson, he could have gleaned the information that a special train had been commissioned by a totally unrelated person or group that would follow their train, so having alighted at Canterbury, he could point the special out to Watson as Moriarty hot on their trail.

    The best conspiracies are conspiracies of one, so Mycroft need not be Watson’s cabbie to Victoria but a random rotund hack (“Did you find your brougham?” “Yes, it was waiting.” “Did you recognize your coachman?” “No.” “It was my brother Mycroft.”). Throughout their Continental sojourn, Holmes could make the coincidental seem conspiratorial (“Once, I remember, as we passed over the Gemmi, and walked along the border of the melancholy Daubensee, a large rock which had been dislodged from the ridge upon our right clattered down and roared into the lake behind us. In an instant Holmes had raced up on to the ridge, and, standing upon a lofty pinnacle, craned his neck in every direction. It was in vain that our guide assured him that a fall of stones was a common chance in the springtime at that spot. He said nothing, but he smiled at me with the air of a man who sees the fulfilment of that which he had expected.”)

    The note that decoyed Watson from Holmes’ side at the Falls could have been written by Holmes in disguise (Old Steiler of the Englischer Hof to Watson: “But it has the hotel mark upon it! Ha, it must have been written by that tall Englishman who came in after you had gone. He said – ” We can conjecture that, untold to us by Watson, and indeed perhaps a forgotten detail, Holmes could have left the doctor momentarily at the begin of their hike, even before leaving Meiringen, donned a simple but effective disguise went back to the Hof, wrote the note, engaged a local lad to take it up to them after a suitable interval, then return to Watson to continue the hike.) The man Watson saw walking very rapidly up the path on his detour back to the village could have be a happy (to Holmes) happenstance.

    In EMPT, Colonel Sebastian Moran, while a murderous crook, need not have any connection to Moriarty. Once again, we have Holmes’ word the he was Moriarty’s “chief of the staff”. We may expect a de rigueur denial of involvement with Moriarty, or of any of his criminal actions, from Moran.

    All of the above we may place on the pro or plausible side of the ledger. There are those points in the Canon where the Invented Moriarty Theory require more work to make workable. The fire in Baker Street in 1891 must have happened, though there was no time for Watson to check its veracity before leaving for Switzerland, he could have check on it after. (“Have you see the morning paper, Watson?” “No.” “You haven’t seen about Baker Street, then?” “Baker Street?” “They set fire to our rooms last night. No great harm was done.” “Good heavens, Holmes! This is intolerable.”) It is certainly possible for Holmes to set a controlled fire and arrange it so that it could be quickly discovered (perhaps in time to the local constable’s scheduled stroll down the street, for example) and cause little damage. Of course, fire is unpredictable and it seems a little cold-blooded to expose Mrs. Hudson and staff to the potential dangers, as well as the Baker Street neighborhood if something should go wrong.

    There is the evidence of VALL which highlights Scotland Yard’s involvement with Moriarty that exists throughout the Canon. Inspector Alec MacDonald gets probably the highest praise of any Yarder in the Canon: “Those were the early days at the end of the eighties, when Alec MacDonald was far from having attained the national fame which he has now achieved…Twice already in his career had Holmes helped him to attain success, his own sole reward being the intellectual joy of the problem. For this reason the affection and respect of the Scotsman for his amateur colleague were profound, and he showed them by the frankness with which he consulted Holmes in every difficulty. Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius, and MacDonald had talent enough for his profession to enable him to perceive that there was no humiliation in seeking the assistance of one who already stoo

    • “Did Holmes invent Moriarty?” Let’s recap. Part II

      There is the evidence of VALL which highlights Scotland Yard’s involvement with Moriarty that exists throughout the Canon. Inspector Alec MacDonald gets probably the highest praise of any Yarder in the Canon: “Those were the early days at the end of the eighties, when Alec MacDonald was far from having attained the national fame which he has now achieved…Twice already in his career had Holmes helped him to attain success, his own sole reward being the intellectual joy of the problem. For this reason the affection and respect of the Scotsman for his amateur colleague were profound, and he showed them by the frankness with which he consulted Holmes in every difficulty. Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius, and MacDonald had talent enough for his profession to enable him to perceive that there was no humiliation in seeking the assistance of one who already stood alone in Europe, both in his gifts and in his experience. Holmes was not prone to friendship, but he was tolerant of the big Scotsman, and smiled at the sight of him.” Here, I will respectfully disagree with Hound’s assessment: “Inspector Mac could certainly have interviewed a real Prof. Moriarty and had his Aberdeen upbringing stretched to its limits, while the criminal mastermind of Sherlock Holmes’s imagination remained a fantasy.” In the Invented Moriarty Theory (let’s call it the IM Theory), Holmes is not out to fool Watson, but Scotland Yard and ultimately the public. We can see that for an invented Moriarty to work in those three arenas—Watson, Yard, public—Holmes needed to invest time, effort and money in the project.

      When did Holmes start? Here is where chronology matters. VALL could not have taken place in January 1891 (FINA: “He still came to me from time to time when he desired a companion in his investigations, but these occasions grew more and more seldom, until I find that in the year 1890 there were only three cases of which I retain any record. During the winter of that year and the early spring of 1891, I saw in the papers that he had been engaged by the French Government upon a matter of supreme importance…”), possible but unlikely in 1890 as it can be only one of three cases Watson was involved with and there a more than three candidates for those slots in the Canon, impossible for 1889 if SIGN occurred in 1888 and the next time Watson saw Holmes was March 1889 in SCAN, or impossible in 1888 if SIGN occurred in 1887 and SCAN in 1888. So, if January 1887 is the date of VALL (“Those were the early days at the end of the eighties…”) that means Holmes was setting up the Invented Moriarty (IM) in 1886.
      Holmes had to set up the IM criminal empire. FINA: “As to the gang, it will be within the memory of the public how completely the evidence which Holmes had accumulated exposed their organization, and how heavily the hand of the dead man weighed upon them. Of their terrible chief few details came out during the proceedings…” For there to be trials in the public press, there had to be criminals to prosecute. This means that Holmes, in disguise as an IM lieutenant, went into the criminal underworld and recruited criminals to commit crimes. And crimes must have been committed for prosecutions to go forward. Holmes: “He does little himself. He only plans. But his agents are numerous and splendidly organized. Is there a crime to be done, a paper to be abstracted, we will say, a house to be rifled, a man to be removed – the word is passed to the Professor, the matter is organized and carried out. The agent may be caught. In that case money is found for his bail or his defence. But the central power which uses the agent is never caught – never so much as suspected.”

      The IM must have had a convincing CV: MacDonald in VALL: “I won’t conceal from you, Mr. Holmes, that we think in the CID that you have a wee bit of a bee in your bonnet over this Professor. I made some enquiries myself about the matter. He seems to be a very respectable, learned, and talented sort of man.” Holmes must have rented a house or villa (not an apartment; IM had a separate room for a study), filled with the type of furniture a mathematics Professor would have and a Greuze, whether an original or very good copy, and in a convincing disguise, able to hold up under close scrutiny, fool the wily Mac (“After I heard your view, I made it my business to see him. I had a chat with him on eclipses – how the talk got that way I canna think – but he had out a reflector lantern and a globe and made it all clear in a minute. He lent me a book, but I don’t mind saying that it was a bit above my head, though I had a good Aberdeen upbringing. He’d have made a grand meenister, with his thin face and gray hair and solemn-like way of talking. When he put

  8. “Did Holmes invent Moriarty?” Let’s recap. Part III

    The IM must have had a convincing CV: MacDonald in VALL: “I won’t conceal from you, Mr. Holmes, that we think in the CID that you have a wee bit of a bee in your bonnet over this Professor. I made some enquiries myself about the matter. He seems to be a very respectable, learned, and talented sort of man.” Holmes must have rented a house or villa (not an apartment; IM had a separate room for a study), filled with the type of furniture a mathematics Professor would have and a Greuze, whether an original or very good copy, and in a convincing disguise, able to hold up under close scrutiny, to fool the wily Mac (“After I heard your view, I made it my business to see him. I had a chat with him on eclipses – how the talk got that way I canna think – but he had out a reflector lantern and a globe and made it all clear in a minute. He lent me a book, but I don’t mind saying that it was a bit above my head, though I had a good Aberdeen upbringing. He’d have made a grand meenister, with his thin face and gray hair and solemn-like way of talking. When he put his hand on my shoulder as we were parting, it was like a father’s blessing before you go out into the cold, cruel world.”)

    Once we see how elaborate the mechanics of the IM theory is, Carla’s query on motive becomes very relevant: “If the elaborate game was played to fool Watson, was this Holmes way to completely free himself from his friend who was torn between a newly married home life and a desire to continue following Holmes on his adventures? Did Holmes leave his life behind to escape enemies, travel the world, or perhaps even build his very own vast criminal empire? Could, as some pastiche propose, Holmes be his own Moriarty?” For the IM Theory to work, Holmes indeed must become his own Moriarty, and in the process become less the man Watson portrays and as Sherlockians we believe he is. At some point Occam’s razor comes in to effect; the simplest theory is often the most likely and it is easier to believe that there was an actual Moriarty than an elaborate imitation.

  9. To all who have or wish to comment:

    Please read through the string of posts and make any final comments you wish to make. We will likely be turning this blog string into another very interesting article for The Watsonian. It would be good to have everyone who has commented to date (and others, as well) to have an opportunity to rebut, add to, agree, or provide an alternative thought before we close out this week’s Forum.

    And THANK YOU all for what has become a very interesting discussion!

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