Monday, July 13, 2015

In The Footsteps Of William S. Baring-Gould

When I first got interested in the Sherlockian community, nearly 20 years ago now, I had only The Annotated Sherlock Holmes by William S. Baring-Gould to feed my new obsession. The awe with which I looked upon this publication has never faded with me. It is still my go-to for info and ideas. At the time I was sure there wasn't anything I could find that would top it. It was annotated, illustrated, and chronological. Basically perfect.

I saw in some of those annotations that other people were interested in the little dating problems. Later I learned of newsletters and pamphlets. Then, somewhere along the way I picked up a small first edition of another chronology book. I don't recall where and when I found it, but I do remember being very excited by that light sage green trade paperback. My interest grew.

I Remember The Date Very Well is a 1993 book by eminent Holmesian John Hall. It seems to have been put together rather quickly. Most of the paragraphs are indented, while a few are not. (Others have an altogether different indentation.) It's only 78 pages long, doesn't have an introduction, and Page 1 is where the action begins. Mr. Hall finds himself facing the same frustrations every other chronologist does, often finding himself struggling with interpretation. Does the term "week" really mean a seven day week, or does it mean "around" a week? Does "all day" actually mean "most" of the day? He uses phrases like "most likely" and "very vague" at times, and finds himself in disagreement more often than not with others.

He does add a built-in escape route for all of his indecisiveness, however. "Some Sherlockian scholars persist in taking everything Watson says quite literally, forgetting that he was not giving a verbatim account - something he was not necessarily always in a position to do anyway - but telling a story for the amusement of the general reader."

So, how does he compare? I was shocked to find that Hall only agreed with Baring-Gould 13% of the time. Eight times they completely agree, but to be fair there are some stories where they come very close to agreeing and get to within the same week(s). They do this 13 times. Seven more times they get to within a month or two of each other, but the rest of the time they rarely land in the same year. In fact, with one story (SHOS) they are 14 years apart.

To show how they differ using the same evidence, here are Hall's paragraphs on SHOS.
"SHOS is a horse of a different colour. Baring-Gould dates it as 1902, but I am not happy with that at all. According to Baring-Gould, SHOS is a late case for three main reasons. Holmes uses a microscope in it, and he never did so before; Merivale, the policeman, appears in no other case, which he would do if SHOS were at the beginning of Holmes' career; and finally, there is a page boy at 221b, who must belong to the later, more prosperous years, of Holmes' stay there."

Hall then goes on to lay out his case for each of these points. He believes Watson's lack of mention of a microscope before doesn't mean Holmes didn't use one. He also points out that Merivale wasn't the only policeman who was only mentioned once - that there were at least four more. And finally he reminds us that "a boy in buttons" is found in IDEN (which most place in the late 1880's) and therefore that clue means nothing. (The rest of Hall's explanation is a page and a half long, and relies pretty heavily on SILV, HOUN, SIGN, and Watson's pension fund. Ultimately he lands on the end of May 1888.)

Stories they agree on:

Stories where they get close to agreeing:

Stories where they are within the same few months:

When it comes to the variances in findings, the way the two men get there is very different in some ways, but the same in others. Hall uses a minimalist approach and only uses how the cases themselves work for and against each other. Baring-Gould uses outside information. Hall rarely uses other factors - weather, street names, important dates - to prove his findings. Baring-Gould uses all of those and more, but still prefers to use his weather reports to finalize. Both use Watson's marriages, but as you can see by the differences in their dating, they do not often agree.

Once I was aware that people could come to such varied conclusions I started looking for more titles. More opinions. More data. Eventually I would go on to find about 20 chronologies, and to my delight and chagrin found that there is little agreement at all. In future posts we will examine more of those.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sometime In Winter...Or Not

Recently I had to do a chronology column for my home club's newsletter, and the topic was 'The Adventure of the Golden Pince-nez.' (GOLD) I found out, once again, that even when given the date by Watson for a story there always seems to be disagreement. Not as much in this case, as in others, but certainly a level of it.

Part of the reason might be the slight ambiguity with the timeline, but basically we are told when the case occurred. That should settle it, but it doesn't.

In the first paragraph we find that Watson is reviewing “the three massive manuscript volumes which contain our work for the year 1894” and going over cases from that year. In the second paragraph we see that “[i]t was a wild, tempestuous night towards the close of November.” Sounds relatively cut and dried. Late November 1894.

The chronologists almost unanimously agree with November of that year, but I find that a good number of them stopped short of committing to the time of the month. Those that do seem to have no problem with it being late, but I have a gut feeling that tells me they don't want to be more exact due to one tiny snag - there was no gale recorded in lower England in late November of 1894. And it is this one fact that causes the small divisions.

I pulled down the chronology books that I have to see what everyone had to say. I found
that of all of them E.B. Zeisler is the one who gives the lengthiest explanation for his reasoning. (Not that that is surprising.)

My favorite piece was written by Gavin Brend in his fantastic book My Dear Holmes: A Study in Sherlock. He gets right to the point with this line: "The date is given." No dispute, no controversy. Watson gives the date, and Brend has no problem with it. Another who gave it no attention at all is June Thomson in her book Holmes and Watson. She more or less passes it over and devotes no words to the date. Apparently she was okay with it as well.

John Hall lists it on the first page of his thin chronology book as one of the "six cases [that] should cause no difficulty at all." (For the record the others are SPEC, FINA, DEVI, BLAN, and LAST.)

Our old friend William S. Baring-Gould uses his usual weather reports to find a date, but goes against the part about it being late. He finds that the dates of November 14th and 15th fit just fine with his research, but really doesn't try very well to correlate those dates with "late" November. (Jay Finley Christ agrees with Baring-Gould, by the way.) Interestingly, though, it is the exact same info that Zeisler uses to come up with his date. He is infamous for having his own little way of going against the grain, and this time it is no different. What does he say? The 27th...of October. How? Well, let's see what he has to say about it.

I'll say here that Zeisler spends the most time on this story. He hammers his logic home by pouring over and examining every minute of Holmes' involvement and coming up with a timeline that seems to prove his point. Here, in bullet points, is what he says.
3:15 pm - Hopkins receives wire to go to Yoxley Old Place (herein YOP)
5:00 pm - Hopkins reaches YOP
(The above is the info he gave Holmes)
6:00 am - Holmes takes train to YOP
8-9:00 am - Holmes and Watson arrive

It would seem, according to Zeisler, that Holmes and Watson must have taken a slower train than Hopkins did (to the same location) as Watson tells us it was a long, tiring ride. By Hopkins' account he got to YOP in around 45 minutes. Once they all got off the train they ate a quick breakfast and them got in a trap to get to their destination. What Watson says about that buggy ride is where Zeisler begins to vary in his dating.

Watson says:
"...when we started upon our journey. We saw the cold winter sun rise over the dreary marshes of the Thames and the long, sullen reaches of the river, which I shall ever associate with our pursuit of the Andaman Islander."

Here is Zeisler's response to that:
"The indication is that they saw the sun rise over the Thames shortly after they left Charing Cross, since during the pursuit of the Andaman Islander they had been within ten miles of London. Hence they saw sunrise within the first ten miles of their journey. The train left London at 6:00 A.M., and even allowing for slowness and many stops, the first ten miles could not have taken as long as an hour; hence sunrise must have been before 7:00 A.M. Sunrise on November 15, 1894, was at 7:20 A.M. and was even later on every later date in the year, so it could not have been as late as this. Since no other days in November could fit this data we must look at October. In October of 1894 the only two days which meet the meteorological requirements are the 27th and 28th, on the latter of which the sunrise was at 6:49 A.M. And the 27th actually is towards the close of the month. "November" is a slip. The story begins Saturday, October 27th, 1894."

I love this kind of reasoning and research, but it really doesn't sit well with Watson's use of the word 'winter.' I find no fault with it being late November, but there’s no indication of an actual date. To get that you must determine when the “close of November” falls. Is it the last week of the month, or the penultimate one? I don’t think it means the last week. But, where to from there?

Hopkins mentions the “latest editions” (newspapers) but doesn’t specify that it was the same day’s papers or from days past. I got the impression when reading it that he was talking about the same day. Therefore, we aren’t talking about a weekend. Outside of that, we have nothing.

(I'm not ignoring the "gale" part, but I am going to say it could have been nothing more than just a storm. Those are considerably more common, especially in lower England.)

So, can we conclude anything? Well, I’m going with the middle of the week. Watson usually mentions whether a story is at the beginning or end of a week. For my money I’m going to say that this case begins on Wednesday, November 20, 1894.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Canonical Highlights

Years ago when I took up the charge to tackle the subject of chronology, I knew I was going to need a system to follow that would help me make sense of the dozens of little facts and tidbits in each of the stories. I thought back on the days of seeing church-going friends of mine use highlighters in their Thompson-Chain Reference bibles and it gave me an idea. I gave it some thought, bought a five-pack of highlighters, and got to work on my beloved copies of The Annotated Sherlock Holmes.

Inside each of the 60 stories are pieces of info that would assist someone in not only putting together a chronology column/paper, but that would also help in writing a term paper or a presentation of some kind. To make sense of it all I needed to go through each tale and notate each of the necessary bits. I broke it down to five basic items, and thus used five different colors. They are as follows:

Any time there is a reference to the layout of 221b, or to Watson's wife/wives, or to the partnership in any way, I would use Blue.
Whenever the age of a canonical character, or something that helps determines their age, is mentioned directly, Green was used.
Orange was used to mark passages that referred to anything historical - a newspaper, a historical figure, a business, a word/phrase, etc.
Used when a past case is mentioned.
Denotes anything that directly concerns the dating of the story.

(I seem to remember someone else doing something similar to this, but for the life of me I can't find the info.)

A good example of what it looks like would be this page from 'The Adventure of the Second Stain.'

In this particular example the colors were used for the following items:

"...our humble room in Baker Street."
"...since he has definitely retired from London and betaken himself to study and bee-farming on the Sussex Downs."
"...Secretary of Foreign Affairs..."
"...since I have notes of many hundreds of cases to which I have never alluded..."
"It was, then, in a year, and even a decade, that shall be nameless, that upon one Tuesday morning in autumn..."

I colorized the text of my well-worn copies of The Annotated many years ago. Whenever I have to use the system nowadays I find that not all of the colors land true. Some of the things I have highlighted could be another color, especially when it comes to Blue and Yellow. For the most part, however, it seems to work. I also find myself highlighting things I had missed before. In fact, if you look closely at the picture you'll see that I completely missed using Pink in the very first few words of the story. (I need to fix that.)

Perhaps one day I'll find the strength to actually make liner notes in the books. Adding my own annotations to an annotated that's the mark of a true scrutinizer.

Monday, January 19, 2015

"A Most Singular Mixture Of Dates"

Upon looking over my notes for this blog entry I find that my original idea was interesting, but not doable. I had been thinking about the fact that the closest any two chronologies came to agreement was 40%. In other words, only 40% of the time did two of the major chronologists agree on the timeline of any of the stories. (To be fair, I do not know which two those are, but I will look into it more at a later time.)

Along that same line of thinking I began to wonder about the length of time between dates that they had settled upon for the stories. E. B. Zeisler's date for The Hound of the Baskervilles (HOUN) doesn't match William S. Baring-Gould's: Gavin Brend's dating of 'The Adventure of the Copper Beeches' (COPP) doesn't agree with June Thomson's, etc. So, I thought it might be interesting to look at this info and see where some of them stood.

I would like to say up front that of all of the chronologies I have only one has an actual date for each story. Brad Keefauver managed to place an actual day of the week, month, and year to each of the 60 stories. (I suspect, however, that at times he settled upon a date because it didn't conflict with anything, and it fit with the evidence. I have done this numerous times. It goes something like this: "There is nothing in this tale to tell us the precise date of it, but as we know it had to have happened on a Friday sometime around the middle of May of 1889, I'll just go with Friday, May 17th.*)

*Not part of an actual dating of mine. Totally generic.

I began looking at my spreadsheets and found that there are some stories which almost everyone agrees on with approximate dating. Howard W. Bell, T. S. Blakeney, Brend, and John Hall all say that 'The Adventure of the Dying Detective' (DYIN) occurred in November. They don't always agree on the year, but none could find enough data to say what day in November. Henry Folsom, Hall, and Roger Butters all say 'The Adventure of the Five Orange Pips' (FIVE) took place in September of different years, but again can't pin a date down. This would make comparing full chronologies against each other a bit difficult so I thought we might just look at a few examples instead of entire works.

The aforementioned HOUN is a good place to start. The Canon tells us that the story starts in October of 1889. What do the people say? Well...

Earliest: Bell thinks the correct dating is September 28, 1886.
Latest: Zeisler, Dakin, and Folsom all say it was September 25, 1900.
Difference: 13 years, 11 months, 29 days!

'The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place' (SHOS) is a fine example of this wide spread, as well. All The Canon says is May - no year.

Earliest: Jay Finley Christ says it was May 9, 1883.
Latest: Keefauver and I both agree on May 26, 1903.
Difference: 20 years, 18 days.

And what about 'The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge' (WIST)? The Canon says late March of 1892.

Earliest: Christ says March 21, 1892.
Latest: Zeisler says it was March 24, 1902.
Difference: 20 years, 3 days.

There are other examples like these, but the chronologists didn't have specific dates. 'The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone' (MAZA) has timelines that range from 1894 to early-to-mid 1903. 'The Adventure of the Red Circle' (REDC) has disagreement that stretches from 1883 to Summer 1903. This isn't always the case as most of the dates fall with just a few years of each other for most of the stories, but as you can see not only is it almost tough to get a lot of congruity, sometimes it's impossible.

(I would like to point out that there is a chronology written by Carey Cummings that would have changed a few of the differences, but Mr. Cummings chronology is not complete. He only dated 27 of the 60 and as such his dates cannot be wholly relied upon as accurate.)