In the fall of 2005 I started a new feature in my home scion's newsletter. It was a column about my new-found love...chronology. I didn't know at the time where it would eventually take me, but I knew no one else was going to start one, so I wanted to add to the hobby in a way that wasn't going to happen otherwise. And, people needed to know the thoughts that were running around in my head. (Not that they asked.)
The Chronological Canon
by Vince Wright
We are pleased to offer a new regular column on the thorny subject of Canonical Chronology by Illustrious Client member Vince Wright. He leads off, appropriately, with "The Sussex Vampire."
Did 'The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire" take place in 1896/7 or 1901? This story requires looking outside the box in order to find an answer. We have the usual clues from Watson - train schedules, weather reports, the mail service, and his inability to properly read a calendar - but here we have something else. This case can probably be dated by investigating it etymologically and literally.
While most chronologists agree to the date of November 19, the year is always in question. Baring-Gould likes 1896, as do a few others, but yet others can do no better than placing it between then and 1902. The problem, however, is two-fold. First is the common usage of the term vampire/vampyre, and second is the appearance of the word "Yeggman."
Vampires were made world famous by the Irish novelist Bram Stoker. In May of 1897 he published a book about Count Dracula beased on the accounts written about a Vlad Tepes who ruled Walachia (now part of Romania) in the 15th century. Before this it's hard to find literature on vampires, as there are only three somewhat-well-known titles from the 1800's on the subject. If Dracula was released in 1897 it is hard to imagine that Holmes would already have it in his indexes as there would be little or no actual activity surrounding vampires before that. It seems more likely that a later date would be more accurate.
The other problem is the first appearance of the word yegg or yeggman. Specifically it refers to a burglar or safecracker and it is most likely a Gypsy word or name originally meaning 'bomber.' Noting that the word refers to a burglar who cracks safes sloppily, perhaps by using poorly made bombs, solves the bomber/burglar problem. The first recorded use of the word in print is attributed to The New York Evening Post in June 1903. It became part of the British vernacular in or about 1900 but was around in the mid-1890's in the United States as a slang term. In a series of speeches given and published from 1904 on by William Pinkerton, of the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency, the word is used heavily and in one case was what the entire speech was about. Holmes would have likely read these accounts but not in time to set the date in 1897. As "yegg" did exist in street lingo prior to these articles it is possible for him to have heard it, maybe from the Irregulars. Even so, he probably would not have yet had it listed in his files and certainly not in capitalized form.
Baring-Gould uses some logic when calculating post office schedules and effectively eliminates 1898 or 1899. Since I have already shown any year below that to be improbable we have to look at 1900 or later. 1903 seems likely but only on the basis of the newspaper piece in New York. This is the year our beloved detective retired and therefore can be counted out fairly safely. From 1896 to 1900 we have only a few tales recorded and even fewer published. In 1901 he got back into the swing of things and got back to detecting. In 1902 Watson moved to Queen Anne Street and was only around occasionally. Thus, we now have to draw the conclusion that the story happens from Wednesday, November 19 to Friday November 21, 1901.
See you again soon.