Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Sept. Reading list - VEIL - 'Like water for lions' - and early retirement.

Should VEIL be in a compilation of stories called 'Casebook of Sherlock Holmes'?

Probably not. There is no actual case really, is there?

Should it be in the Canon of Sherlock Holmes?
For sure!

Once again it is the treats we get in the first few paragraphs that make this story fun.

"When one considers that Mr. Sherlock Holmes was in active practice for twenty-three years, and that during seventeen of these I was allowed to cooperate with him and to keep notes of his doings, it will be clear that I have a mass of material at my command. The problem has always been not to find but to choose. There is the long row of year-books which fill a shelf, and there are the dispatch-cases filled with documents, a perfect quarry for the student not only of crime but of the social and official scandals of the late Victorian era. Concerning these latter, I may say that the writers of agonized letters, who beg that the honour of their families or the reputation of famous forebears may not be touched, have nothing to fear. The discretion and high sense of professional honour which have always distinguished my friend are still at work in the choice of these memoirs, and no confidence will be abused. I deprecate, however, in the strongest way the attempts which have been made lately to get at and to destroy these papers. The source of these outrages is known, and if they are repeated I have Mr. Holmes’s authority for saying that the whole story concerning the politician, the lighthouse, and the trained cormorant will be given to the public. There is at least one reader who will understand. "

Just the first sentence is enough to send any Sherlockian into Canonical ecstasy;
"When one considers that Mr. Sherlock Holmes was in active practice for twenty-three years, and that during seventeen of these I was allowed to cooperate with him and to keep notes of his doings, it will be clear that I have a mass of material at my command."

Just from this one sentence we learn that Holmes had done well enough at his chosen profession to be able to afford early retirement, sometime before the age of 60. (That is if we agree his birth year was around 1854.)

We learn that Watson was with him for much of this time for he states that he was allowed to cooperate with him for seventeen. (How can that be when they met in 1881 and had a case together in 1914? More like twenty-two years.)

We learn that there are many more that we will never hear about, and that some of these are still rather sensitive to certain individuals.

We often read (in pastiche form) of individuals finding a 'battered tin dispatch box' and recovering lost works of Watson's. In this introductory paragraph we learn that there were indeed "dispatch-cases", plural,  containing his writings.

We hear of the famous "trained cormorant" and the "politician" and "the lighthouse".

But for me the most interesting aspect for my imagination is wondering where Watson is at when he puts this story down on paper and how old he is? 
It was published in 1927. Watson and Holmes would have probably been in there seventies and both retired. 
Is Watson alone, or is he still married" Where is he living? How long has it been since he last met up with Holmes. 
Is he in a large estate, earned by his writings and practice? Our is he in a flat in London, or a home for retired service men? Is wife, number what-ever,  still alive?
What kind of desk is he seated at?

The story itself takes place at what would have been fifteen years into the working relationship between Holmes and Watson.

No, this cases shows us none of Holmes' talents which we live for in his tales, and really it offers more questions than it answers. And maybe that is the real case.


  1. "Mr. Sherlock Holmes was in active practice for twenty-three years, and that during seventeen of these I was allowed to cooperate with him" Many scholars have tried to make the math work. For Holmes it's fairly easy. He retired in 1903. Subtract 23 years and we get 1880--but we also need to subtract three more years to correspond to the Great Hiatus when Holmes wasn't in active practice but globetrotting. Thus, we get 1877, a year which will work pretty well with what we know from MUSG. If we use 1903 for Watson as well, and subtract 17 we get 1886; subtract three more years for the Great Hiatus and you get 1883. A few scholars have noted the during VEIL Watson is not living at Baker Street, so for some reason they must have been apart (another marriage?) and so subtract another year. (I disagree with that opinion, so we'll disregard it) Some Sherlockians have calculated things down to months and have gotten it pretty close. Let's not count 1891 as there is only FINA and Watson may not have included that as part of the "allowed to cooperate" (in Winter 1890/Spring 1891 Holmes was on a case in France), so that would also make the calculation 1882. While Watson moved into the Baker Street flat and was present during STUD, he may not have been an active companion in Holmes' cases until 1882 ("When I glance over my notes and records of the Sherlock Holmes cases between the years '82 and '90" Watson writes in FIVE). Remember, in those early days of 1881 Holmes may not have gotten many juicy cases like STUD and there may have been little opportunity for Watson in what we think of as his traditional role. 1882 maybe the start of the partnership. As with many Canonical things, a lot of room for debate.

    Once again, another thought-provoking post, John.

    1. And you bring in some very good discussion points. Thanks.