Well, it's been quite a year (again!) - both in the world of Sherlock Holmes and the planet in general. Turmoil and corruption seem to be what fills the headlines daily on our floating rock, and I'm sure the people of Victorian London felt the same way. Still, it's possible to mine beautiful nuggets out of the piles of waste, and it's something we will continue to do here at Historical Sherlock. How? By doing what we've always done - staying true to the subject.
Wednesday, December 29, 2021
Wednesday, November 17, 2021
Last month we lost a giant in the Sherlockian world - Michael Whelan passed away. Mike (as I knew him) had accomplished much in our hobby, and it left indelible marks upon those who knew him and those whom he affected. His list is far too long to go into here, but the one thing I can do is introduce you to a paper that he gave to me to read in his absence years ago. I have held onto it all this time, and it seems a fitting tribute given our journey here.
I give you the paper in its entirety and exactly as Mike wrote it. I have changed nothing. Enjoy.
"Watson's Wives & Chronological Mires"
By Michael Whelan
It is a brave or foolhardy writer who would simultaneously tackle an accepted Canonical commandment by invoking the quicksand of chronological inconsistencies. However, in this short but conclusive analysis, I hope to persuade this small audience of the validity of my thesis.
There has been much speculation whether Watson was married twice or even three times. What has not been generally open to question was that Mary Morstan was Watson's first wife.
It is my contention that Mary Morstan was Watson's second wife and definitive dates, not subject to multiple interpretations, will prove this analysis. First we must turn to NOBL to lay out the initial chronology of Watson's first marriage. When did this particular case take place? Most of the major chronologies place the case in early October. Most deduced the specific date to be from October 6 to October 12. Jay Peck and Les Klinger in The Date Being, at the top of each story's multiple chronologies, list the Canonical "facts" as "early October 1887." However, these eminent chronologists employ tortuous logic to push the story into 1888 so that Watson's direct quotation in NOBL of "It was a few weeks before my own marriage" would fit more neatly into meeting Mary Morstan in 1888 in SIGN.
But even that creates severe timing problems, for if we accept the chronologists' dates of SIGN occurring between July and September of 1888, and Watson's date between October 6th and 12th of that same year - stating his marriage would occur in a few weeks - doesn't that sound a bit precipitous for a presumed bachelor? I don't think it is possible for Watson and Mary Morstan to have set a wedding date one month after meeting, much less three months.
So what chronology makes the most sense? 1887 is the presumed year when Watson made his comment about the timing of his impending wedding. We know this because Holmes picked up a red peerage book which Holmes then quoted from that Lord St. Simon was born in 1846 and was 41 years of age. Ernest Zeisler dismisses 1887 as a simple error. Zeisler says "It must have meant 1847." Now I might believe that there are such things as printing errors, but in a book of peers I would wager not. The British are most meticulous about their titled aristocracy and Holmes' precise nature would hardly allow a slip of the tongue. So, early October - probably between the 6th and 12th, 1887 - was when Watson made his statement about his imminent marriage.
A "few" of something is generally considered to be not many, and a small number. When I asked people to place a value on "few", most answered "three". So we can deduce that Watson's wedding would have been scheduled in early to mid-November, 1887. How, then, could he marry someone he had yet to encounter until July to September of 1888? We can agree with this 1888 dating as most chronologists did, by referring to Mary Morstan's own words in her first meeting with Holmes and Watson when describing an advertisement which appeared in the Times asking for her address, "About six years ago - to be exact, upon the fourth of May, 1882....."
She should have been exact and accurate for she had one pearl sent to her on the May 4th date each year. As a sidebar, this would suggest that SIGN took place not between July and September, but before May 4th, for if it was that date, or later, she would have possessed a total of seven pearls.
So if Watson had not met Mary Morstan until 1888, when he referred to his upcoming wedding in 1887 - who was the first Mrs. Watson? Let's indulge in what I'd like to refer to as logical speculation. Since Canonical facts ipso facto have led to the conclusion that Mary Morstan was not Watson's first wife, who was? We cannot stray from the Canon for in doing so we will create even more speculative analysis.
We should be able to demonstrate that John H. Watson, M. D. had met his first wife well before his wedding date. The case in which Watson met the first Mrs. Watson would, of necessity, had to have occurred no later than 1886, and hopefully earlier, to avoid an unrealistically short or infeasible engagement period. NOBL is an early case so just a few fit this search: MUSG, STUD, SILV, BERY, YELL, SPEC, CHAS, CARD and HOUN.
I draw your attention to BERY. Watson is fully engaged in the case. An attractive woman plays an important part as the case unfolds. The case occurs sometime between 1882 and March of 1886, according to all but one of the major chronologists - fitting our need for a respectable engagement period. As you might have guessed, I'm referring to Mary Holder, Alexander Holder's niece, who was implicated along with the notorious Sir George Burnwell in the theft of the Beryl Coronet and who fled with him to escape prosecution.
If she fled with Burnwell how could she possibly have become Watson's first wife? I base this on two things: (1) she wrote a note to her uncle indicating remorse for her actions - she is not all bad; and (2) she later fully discovers what Holmes pointed out in the case's retrospection that Burnwell is "one of the most dangerous men in England--a ruined gambler, an absolutely desperate villain, a man without conscience" and also "a man of evil reputation among women." Obviously he was one of the many sociopaths in the Canon.
So discovering Burnwell's true nature, she left him. She did have the semblance of a conscience but she had a streak of wildness within herself.....she was not a villainess, just a wayward girl.
Imagine a chance Watson encounter with Mary Holder. Watson's gallantry and protectiveness would have been a factor in his attraction to a woman wronged who had escaped a spider's web. They married in November 1887 but the wild streak of Mary Holder remained and shortly thereafter Watson obtained an annulment in early 1888, leaving him a damaged but free man when he and Holmes met Mary Morstan sometime before early May.
So, yes, there were two Mrs. Watsons and after all these years of endless speculation as to the identity of the second Mrs. Watson, and countless toasts, we may take some comfort in learning that Mary Morstan, in fact, was the second Mrs. Watson.
So, what are we to make of Mike's theory? I have to step away from it as I am of the opinion that Watson was only married once - sometime around 1903. (If you want to know more, I am publishing my theory in The Sherlockian Chronologist Guild newsletter TIMELINE. I can tell you how to get that fine publication if you wish.)
I know many different suspects have been named when it comes to who the other mysterious wives may have been - basically every woman in The Canon. (Except Mrs. Hudson, I think.) However, it's all speculation. Sixty cases just doesn't give us all the information we need to construct any kind of a exhaustive history of these men's lives. There just isn't enough data.
Several more papers could be written just off the ideas, theories, and postulations in this one, and I'm certain that I will refer back to it many times in future posts, but for now - in the interest of space - I will leave the debating up to you and your thoughts.
I'll miss seeing Mike at Sherlockian gatherings, and I am heartbroken for his family and other friends. We have truly lost someone that was important, outstanding, and wonderful. His memory will live on, and I will keep this original piece of his safely tucked away in my files.
Thank you for indulging me and allowing me to give a small tip o' the hat to my friend. I appreciate your time. See you soon, and as always...thanks for reading.
Wednesday, October 27, 2021
It's always fun to compare things. I do it as often as I can whether it be foods or pens/pencils or pants or chronologies. When pondering my blog post this month I decided to do so and compare the two timelines that purport to follow and trust Watson's word to the letter. My database is done alphabetically, and I found that the very first on the list - 'The Abbey Grange' (ABBE) - presented a problem right up front. So, we're going to look at what I found with that case. Let's get to it.
Mr. Miller says:
'The Adventure of the Abbey Grange (ABBE)
First publicly published: September 1904
Main action: 18 January 1897 to 20 January 1897
'"It was on a bitterly cold and frosty morning during the winter of '97" when this story gets going. Most of the rest of the dating is based around the regrettable decision of Miss Mary Fraser to marry Sir Eustace Brackenstall.
Mary's maid tells us that "we met [Sir Eustace], only eighteen months ago," when Mary "had only just arrived in London...We arrived in June, and it was July. They were married in January of last year." If they had known each other eighteen months since they met in early July, then the action of the case is taking place in January 1897.
From there we need only look for remarkably bitter weather for a January and we find it once again in the Meteorological Office reports: "Lowest reading occurred...mostly between the 17th and 19th." Making 18 January 1897 the coldest day.'
Chronologists are divided about the dating of this case - but just barely. No one disagrees with 1897, and all (but one) go with January or February. Those with specific dates seem to go with weather reports, and that's very acceptable. However, the division comes from taking liberties with the "about a year" and "toward the end of winter of 1897." Internal evidence tells us that we are definitely dealing with the first months of that year, though one chronologist (Vincent Delay) takes it more literally and goes with December 1897. (We won't be tackling that this time.)
But our purposes here this time are the disparities between two people who say they've taken Watson wholly at his word and trust him, and somehow still come to different conclusions. So, how did that happen? Well, let's take a look at what each wrote.
Mr. Layng takes his liberties with the line 'She married him in January, 1896, and had been married just over a year...' ABBE was published in 1904, so I pulled down a copy of it from that year just to check the original wording. To back it up I looked for it in an actual newspaper from the time and checked it, as well. Nowhere did I find the phrase "just over a year." It was always "about a year." Since Mr. Layng didn't bother to narrow it down to a specific date it means he didn't bother with the weather reports and simply used his own incorrect logic to justify his month as February.
Mr. Miller takes his liberties with the 'eighteen months'. It's one of the biggest challenges for timeline constructors to try and interpret what Watson meant with his time phrases, but 'eighteen months' seems pretty straightforward. However, does he mean an actual eighteen months, or approximately eighteen months? Since most every chronologist sticks with the first two months of 1897 it would seem they all trust the math, and think 'eighteen months' means just that. It appears, then, that Mr. Miller has to be given credit for trusting Watson's word to the letter. Gotta commend him for sticking to his guns.
I could go with Mr. Miller on this one, but I still cringe a bit at any text that doesn't use words like "exactly" or "precisely" when talking about dates or timelines. (I know not many do, but it sure would help from time to time.) He looks at them as if they do, in fact, mean exactly what they say, and that usually doesn't work in our beloved Holmes stories.
I might also go with Mr. Layng, but not because I think he got to the possibly correct answer the way he did, but because "toward the end of the winter of 1897" certainly doesn't sound like January to me. In fact, by then it would have only aged less than one month. (It works a little better if you use the meteorological calendar where winter starts on December 1 and ends on February 28, but I doubt that's what Watson meant.) So, February works better.
Brad Keefauver likes February 15, and says that the whole meeting between Lady Brackenstall and Jack Croker was pre-planned for around Valentine's Day since their love was so strong. I like that, and it is clever, but don't know if I would use it myself. (Two others also like that date, but both admit that Mr. Keefauver's timeline factored heavily into theirs.)
So, it all hinges on when "the end of the winter" actually falls for each person. Too often in The Canon we come across vague or imprecise date range phrases and mentions, and while it kind of works here (for one person), you will definitely find folks using them to their advantages when they want, and ignoring them when they don't. It keeps the chronological fire stoked, and always will.
Well, we come to the end of the winter of this entry. It was fun writing this, and I could make a lot more posts based on this same premise between these two men, but I'll try and spread them out. I love when you make it this far down. See you next time, and as always...thanks for reading.
Wednesday, September 29, 2021
Being gifted a book from a fellow book lover is a thing of pure joy. When others know where your passions lie and notify you when a tome suddenly jumps out of nowhere, it keeps the sunshine around for a little longer. This happened to me recently, and I'd like to talk about how this non-chronological title still holds interest for our journey here.
"And in His Last Bow, Watson writes that he had recorded in his notebook that, in the latter part or March in the year 1892, it was a bleak and windy day."
2. "To take up space in the manuscript." (I'm not sure what to think of this one. Did Watson get paid by the word? There was no set word count for the cases, and Holmes hated the way Watson padded his writings with what he saw as unnecessary fluff, so this one leaves me hanging.)
3. "To use the subject of the weather as an excuse for some fine writing." (Again, Holmes hated that kind of stuff, and Watson would only inflame him more if he did it, so is this a valid reason?)
4. "To reveal Watson's little-suspected love of nature." (Hmm...maybe.)
Wednesday, August 25, 2021
A journey through the shelves here in my office is what inspired this post. We all have those books we pick up way more often than others, and some that lay forgotten. What follows is some thoughts about a lesser known annotated version that sits silently by waiting for its day.
Published in 1968 by Classic Press, with artwork by one Don Irwin, the Casebook of Sherlock Holmes is not terribly valuable even in perfect condition. I think I got mine off a dollar cart in a now-gone bookstore here in town. It's part of a twelve-volume set of educational books, and the Holmes edition was #7 in the collection. One of the best parts about them was that they were "complete and unabridged" according to the back cover. (Yes, it really is in all lower case letters.)
Mine is so clean that it still has the EDUCATOR CLASSIC LIBRARY tear-off mail-in postcard attached inside the front cover. Boy, those were the days, weren't they? For a few bucks kids could mail in a card and get wonderful books delivered to their door. Paper routes, allowances, baby-sitting, lawn-mowing...whatever it took to gather the cash and get a parent to take care of the rest. Then the painful wait. Still, so worth it.
This 281-page monster, and the others, were meant for children. It looks kind of like a big hardback comic book. and has that familiar look that "learning books" had at the time. In the back on page 273 is a section called Backword. (Well, the illustration for the section is on page 273. The actual wording begins on 274.) This part is a series of short pieces about Conan Doyle, detective work in general, forensics, and a little about Holmes himself. It definitely isn't done from the standpoint of The Game, but it's quite well done for young minds.
Page 99: this is talking about the month of August, but only about why it's the eighth month and how it got its name. Again...pass.
Page 144: here it mentions Michaelmas and its date of September 29th. Since the holiday is mentioned just in passing in HOUN it gets a pass here, too.
Page 193: I only include this in the interest of thoroughness. It talks about 'neolithic man' and how he likely existed 'possibly 10,000 or so years ago'. Pass.
Page 163: here we have a late Victorian year listed. It's talking about fountain pens and says that they were invented in 1884, but tells us the pen used in the story 'was a dip pen with a steel nib'. Almost...but pass.
Friday, July 30, 2021
It's always a wonderful moment when you find a common connection between two (or more) of your passions. That happened to me not long ago, and it's something that I thought worthy enough to share. It deals with Holmes and Baker Street and all that, even though it may not actually be chronological. Still, it's very cool, so let's talk about it.
Wednesday, June 30, 2021
Martin Dakin in the 27th.
A. R. Colpo in the 28th.
Mike Ashley, T. S. Blakeney, Gavin Brend, David Marcum, and Toshio Suzuki have it in the 29th slot.
H. W. Bell, the duo of Bradley & Sarjeant, Roger Butters, Steve Englehart, Henry Folsom, the aforementioned Craig Janacek, June Thomson, and Ernest Zeisler place it in the 30th spot.
William S. Baring-Gould's Annotated (his last version), Jean-Pierre Crauser, John Hall, Brad Keefauver, Charles Layng, Chris Miller, the mysterious online blogger The Norwood Builder, Robert Pattrick, Svend Petersen, Edgar W. Smith, and Mr. Trumbull have it in 31st.
Baring-Gould's first attempt put it at 32nd, as does Paul Thomas Miller.
Vincent Delay likes the 33rd.
And Jay F. Christ rounds it out with the 34th spot. (It should be known that he places FINA in 1893, thus the lower [or higher] number.)
Wednesday, May 26, 2021
Today I was reading something completely unrelated to Sherlock Holmes, and a line in it caught my eye. It said:
"The trick to approaching any monumental and controversial aspect of history is to find an access point, a facet that provides an entrance that might not have been used before or affords a perspective that endows the subject matter with a fresh point of view."
It prompted me to put away the subject I was going to write about this month and look at this very thing in relation to Sherlock Holmes and Canonical chronology.
Now, I realize that the statement above may not be new to some. We all know when writing something that this is what we try and do, but when I read it I saw it from a fresh perspective. Then I started thinking about how it applies to our hobby. So let's talk about it.
When you start thinking about Holmes and Watson and The Canon, certain images or ideals enter your mind. I think most people immediately imagine the deerstalker hat, magnifying glass, and big hanging pipe. The fun thing about the pipe and hat is that they're not actually canonical. (The magnifying glass is.) The deerstalker is never actually mentioned by name (for some reason), and the pipe was the brainchild of early stage Holmes portrayers. Still, the icons are instantly recognized the world over, and likely will never change.
But, what about the subjects that people tackle when it comes to Holmes? Well, I haven't actually done ANY research on this, but I'd be willing to go out on a limb and say that the following are near the top of the list:
Holmes and Jack the Ripper (without a doubt)
Holmes and drug use
Holmes and Moriarty (the whole good vs. evil thing)
Holmes and his religious (or spiritual) views
I've written about some of these, but the trick was to do the thing mentioned above - find a new angle.
What about in the subset of chronology, though? Well, one of the above applies, and is probably number one on the list - Watson's wives. This is the sticking point for many-a-paper and always will be. Figuring out the number of wives doesn't directly affect a whole chronology, but it does a fair chunk of it. What else? What other things can one almost certainly be assured of finding if they pick up a chronology or book, or open a chronology blog? Well, here's a list after the wives thing:
Typesetter or editor errors
How to explain the dating of 'Wisteria Lodge' (WIST)
The maddening aspects of 'The Mazarin Stone' (MAZA)
The pearls in The Sign of [the] Four (SIGN)
The date problems in 'The Red-Headed League' (REDH) (among many others)
Whether A Study in Scarlet (STUD) took place in 1881 or not
There are many more examples, but these are some of the biggies.
Recently a new chronological attempt came across our desks, and those of us who can't get enough of Sherlockian timelines ate it up. It was quickly realized, however, that once again nothing was truly new. Maybe a couple of cases had some original thinking, but for the most part it was another example of why chronology books don't sell in the millions. There just wasn't enough new reasoning or material to make it exciting. (I'm refraining from mentioning the name or author.)
By far the most unique perspectives I've come across are those of Brad Keefauver. I've said before that I don't agree with every date he chose, but his ways of getting to those dates is almost always different and unusual. I like that. You can read his stuff here.
I try my best to come up with new ways of examining the possible timeline of Holmes and Watson and their place in the world, but it isn't easy. My purpose here (in case you didn't know or forgot) is to connect The Terrific Two to their world and time by looking at what was happening around them in London and the world during the time they were chasing bad guys. If I find an article about new telegraph offices being opened somewhere in London in 1888 or whenever, I go to the database and look for cases that might have been affected by this. If I read about a new type of Hansom cab introduced to the public, I look for cases where this might apply. I am constantly looking into the day-to-day activities of the world they lived in and ramming them into it.
Now, the usual topics that I listed above are one of the main reasons I don't have my own chronology. Yes, I have a partial one, but stopped more than halfway through the stories when it occurred to me that making one would take a lifetime because we just don't know everything about everything, and can't possibly be 100% certain our work is definitive. (Maybe others can do this, but I can't.) It is possible to date some cases with comfort, but not many. The others are the reason we have so many different chronologies. The same problems in the same cases keep getting the same treatments, and we wind up with basically more of what we already have too much of.
In essence, if we're going to look at The Canon as a record of actual events (The Great Game), then we need to do just that. If Watson tells us he and Holmes saw a particular performer at a particular venue, then every effort must be made to nail down the history of that performer and that venue. This will help confirm or eliminate a clue to the true date of the case. If something turns out not to be a solid fact, even though Watson said it was, then we have to try and figure out why he told us that - but not in some flimsy excuse-making way. Do this with 60 cases and mix it with a regular life with a job and family and pets and responsibilities and stuff, and it takes a while. (I would rather not put out a product that I didn't give my all to, so I do what I can here to help out those who are putting proverbial pen to paper and offering their findings.)
So, those are my thoughts on the subject. Now, I realize that sometimes this blog gets away from good old fashioned chronological work and becomes more of a 'what's happening in the chronological world' kind of thing, but I promise it won't be every time. I really enjoy digging into my databases and pulling out facts and curiosities and details, so don't despair - we'll get back to the roots often enough.
The blog count, and number of Followers, continues to grow, so it means people are still interested. That's a good thing. Hopefully it will continue and we can spend more time together. In the meantime, should any of you have any questions or need to access some info in my files, let me know. It's all available, and I don't mind sharing. I'll see you next time, and as always...thanks for reading.
Wednesday, April 28, 2021
Last month I lamented the tale of the "death" of a chronology. In short, after further examining one of my thirty beloved timelines I found one of them was not what it appeared to be, and had to take it off the list. But, from that death came new life. Let me explain...
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
It it with a heavy heart that I must report a death. One of my beloved thirty chronologies has bitten the proverbial dust. I will use my platform here to tell you about its life...and its demise. It's not easy to write this as my tears are making the keyboard soggy and hard to type on, but I'll power through.