Monday, July 21, 2014

SECO - Brad's summer reading list #13 - The Second Stain - a couple of quivering stiff upper lips.

As is so true with many of Watson's works, it is the first paragraph that really grabs your attention.

We find out, that at the time of the writing down of this case, that Holmes is retired, no longer in London and seeking solitude to study and to bee-farm in Sussex.

We know at the time the case took place, Holmes and Watson were still together in Baker St; ". . . we found two visitors of European fame in our humble room. ..".

What is really fun to try to figure out in this case is the date and not many have come up with a great argument yet.

And Watson doesn't really help.

Several chronologist of the Canon place the date for this story in July of 1887 or 1888.
We do however have Watson himself stating in NAVA that the story took place in the July succeeding his marriage, which took place after SIGN which most people put in 1888, with two chronologist putting SIGN in the fall of that year. Which means SECO would have to be, if you are going with July, in July of 1889. But neither of the two I use most place SECO after SIGN.

Again Watson does not help us in stating they he still lives in Baker St. and that this case took place in the Autumn of the unnamed year.

So, which story do you believe and from where do you take your dates.

NAVA says; "The July which immediately succeeded my marriage was made memorable by three cases of interest." Of which he lists SECO as one.

SIGN of which most put in 1888 in the fall, which would place SECO in 1889, which only a few do, but if you use the other stories for dates, that is the only year it works.

And in SECO Watson says the story took place in the autumn of an unnamed year or decade.

By 1889 there had been two Prime Ministers who could have been  'twice Premier' by that time of the story.

So the exercise becomes one of which time to you believe Watson to be accurate and which facts do you question.

One problem with dating the story in July is that Watson states in SECO that the story took place in the autumn. If he was being vague about everything else about the story, year and decade, way not be vague about the season or the day.
Was it meant to be misleading?
Is there a reason the autumn and Tuesday are important?

We will probably never know when SECO actually took place, the best you can do is build an argument based on the most facts that actually fit your theory.
Was this 'episode', Watson's words, that has become known as SECO part of a more elaborate investigation that include the NAVA and un-documented 'The Tired Captain' (hence forth know as TIRE)?
We know two involve international intrigue. And with a somewhat military title of 'The Tired Captain', it to could spell international adventure.

So, pick your starting point and prove your argument. Well, at least as far as Watson will let you.


  1. "It was, then, in a year, and even in a decade, that shall be nameless, that upon one Tuesday morning in autumn..." Watson did his job well despite the fact he puts a "Second Stain" in the year 1888 in NAVA and places another "Second Stain" almost with certainty in the 1880s in YELL (Watson only records three cases for 1890 and I don't think that any chronologist made SECO one of the three). The descriptions of the "Second Stain" in YELL and NAVA do not match the final product, so we may have a case of three adventures being called "The Second Stain" in Watson's notes.

    1. Do you think that SECO is one of the hardest stories to date?

  2. Many of Watson's stories present challanges, even those that he seems to date fairly concretely. HOUN is dated Sept- Oct 1889 by Watson, but if that's so, where's his wife? No hint of Mary, leaving Sherlockians to invent theories on where she is and why Watson never mentions her based on scant or no evidence. The phases of the moon mentioned in the story couldn't have occurred in the way he says, no matter what year you choose. In fact, all the long stories are tough to date, not because there are not enough time clues, but too many.

    SIGN is very difficult and the date of so many other stories in Adventures and Memoirs depend on when Watson was married. SIGN in Sept 1887 or 1888? Or July 1887 or '88 for that matter? I prefer E.B. Zeisler's April 1888 because it fits so many of Watson's time clues. Certainly, SECO is hard to date (and I'm not impressed when someone dates it July 1888, because that's what Watson wrote in NAVA), but I'll have to consult "The Date Being..." by Peck and Klinger to give you a good answer.

  3. Cases like YELL and BERY are hard to date because there are so few time clues. BERY has February and snow so a check of the weather for London for 1891 and earlier will turn up possibilities. CHAS is also all over the calender but electricity in Hampstead and Appledore Towers is a good clue leading a good number of chronologists to a latter date (usually 1899). WIST is another candidate, as Watson has the impossible 1892 recorded in his notebook (most choose 1894 or '95); REDC can be anywhere post-Reichenbach; same with LADY. SHOS has been placed between 1882 and 1902. What is surprising is that there are a large number of adventures which most chronologist agree to the year (if not month and date).