A Study in Scarlet … (Part 2: Mr Sherlock Holmes)

In Part 1, I endeavoured to expose the Ignorance
and curtail the bewilderment that is so
evidently confounding the modern masses who
find it an easy thing to wonder what Doyle
“was doing” when he included a “Wild West” story
in A Study in Scarlet.

Multitudes now base their conceptions of Holmes
upon the perverse, vulgar trash of a disgraceful
BBC series in which “Holmes” (from what segments
I have endured) is portrayed as a smart-mouthed punk,

do a tremendous disservice to themselves, and insult
(as does the buffoonery of said television atrocity)
the work and memory of Conan Doyle and his
dignified, mature … pipe smoking … character.

In providing the historical background to this story,
I sincerely hope that there will be one or two folk
who will receive it with appreciation, and find
new reason to enjoy the company of … CONAN DOYLE’s
Sherlock Holmes.

A Study in Scarlet


In the year 1878 I took my degree of Doctor of Medicine
of the University of London,
and proceeded to Netley to go through the course
prescribed for surgeons in the army.

Having completed my studies there, I was duly attached
to the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers as Assistant Surgeon.

The regiment was stationed in India at the time,
and before I could join it,
the second Afghan war had broken out. …

I was removed from my brigade and attached to
the Berkshires, with whom I served at the fatal battle
of Maiwand.

There I was struck on the shoulder by a Jezail bullet,
which shattered the bone and grazed the subclavian artery. …

For months my life was despaired of, and when
at last I came to myself and became convalescent,
I was so weak and emaciated that a medical board
determined that not a day should be lost in sending me
back to England. …

I had neither kith nor kin in England, and was therefore
as free as air – or as free as an income of eleven shillings
and sixpence a day will permit a man to be.

Under such circumstances, I naturally gravitated to London,
that great cesspool into which all the loungers and idlers
of the Empire are irresistibly drained.

There I stayed for some time at a private hotel in the Strand,
leading a comfortless, meaningless existence,
and spending such money as I had,
considerably more freely than I ought.

So alarming did the state of my finances become,
that I soon realised that I must either leave the metropolis
and rusticate somewhere in the country,

or that I must make a complete alteration
in my style of living.

Choosing the latter alternative, I began by making up
my mind to leave the hotel, and to take up my quarters
in some less pretentious and less expensive domicile.

On the very day that I had come to this conclusion,
I was standing at the Criterion Bar,
when some one tapped me on the shoulder, and
turning round I recognized young Stamford,
who had been a dresser under me at Barts.

The sight of a friendly face in the great wilderness of London
is a pleasant thing indeed to a lonely man.
In old days Stamford had never been a particular crony of mine,
but now I hailed him with enthusiasm, and he, in his turn,
appeared to be delighted to see me.

In the exuberance of my joy, I asked him to lunch with me
at the Holborn, and we started off together in a hansom.

“Whatever have you been doing with yourself, Watson?”
he asked in undisguised wonder, as we rattled through
the crowded London streets.
“You are as thin as a lath and as brown as a nut.”

I gave him a short sketch of my adventures, and had hardly
concluded it by the time that we reached our destination.

“Poor devil!” he said, commiseratingly,
after he had listened to my misfortunes.

“What are you up to now?”
“Looking for lodgings,” I answered.
“Trying to solve the problem as to whether it is possible
to get comfortable rooms at a reasonable price.”

“That’s a strange thing,” remarked my companion;
“you are the second man to-day
that has used that expression to me.”

“And who was the first?” I asked.

“A fellow who is working at the chemical laboratory
up at the hospital. He was bemoaning himself this morning
because he could not get someone to go halves with him
in some nice rooms which he had found,
and which were too much for his purse.”

“By Jove!” I cried, “if he really wants someone to share
the rooms and the expense, I am the very man for him.
I should prefer having a partner to being alone.”

Young Stamford looked rather strangely at me
over his wine-glass.

“You don’t know Sherlock Holmes yet,” he said; “perhaps
you would not care for him as a constant companion.”

“Why, what is there against him?”
“Oh, I didn’t say there was anything against him.

He is a little queer in his ideas –
an enthusiast in some branches of science.
As far as I know he is a decent fellow enough.”

“A medical student, I suppose?” said I.

“No – I have no idea what he intends to go in for.

I believe he is well up in anatomy, and he is a first-class
chemist; but, as far as I know, he has never taken out
any systematic medical classes.

His studies are very desultory and eccentric,
but he has amassed a lot of out-of-the way knowledge
which would astonish his professors.”

“Did you never ask him what he was going in for?” I asked.

“No; he is not a man that it is easy to draw out, though he
can be communicative enough when the fancy seizes him.”

“I should like to meet him,” I said.

“If I am to lodge with anyone, I should prefer a man of studious
and quiet habits. I am not strong enough yet to stand much noise
or excitement. I had enough of both in Afghanistan to last me
for the remainder of my natural existence.

How could I meet this friend of yours?” …

As he spoke, we turned down a narrow lane and passed through
a small side-door, which opened into a wing of the great hospital.

It was familiar ground to me, and I needed no guiding
as we ascended the bleak stone staircase
and made our way down the long corridor
with its vista of whitewashed wall and dun-coloured doors.

Near the further end a low arched passage branched away
from it and led to the chemical laboratory.

This was a lofty chamber, lined and littered with countless bottles.
Broad, low tables were scattered about,
which bristled with retorts, test-tubes, and little Bunsen lamps,
with their blue flickering flames.

There was only one student in the room,
who was bending over a distant table absorbed in his work.

At the sound of our steps he glanced round
and sprang to his feet with a cry of pleasure.
“I’ve found it! I’ve found it,” he shouted to my companion,
running towards us with a test-tube in his hand. …

“Dr. Watson, Mr. Sherlock Holmes,” said Stamford,
introducing us.

“How are you?” he said cordially, gripping my hand
with a strength for which I should hardly have given him credit.

“You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.”

“How on earth did you know that?” I asked in astonishment.

“Never mind,” said he, chuckling to himself. …

“We came here on business,” said Stamford,
sitting down on a high three-legged stool,
and pushing another one in my direction with his foot.

“My friend here wants to take diggings, and as you were
complaining that you could get no one to go halves with you,
I thought that I had better bring you together.”

Sherlock Holmes seemed delighted at the idea
of sharing his rooms with me.

“I have my eye on a suite in Baker Street,” he said,
“which would suit us down to the ground.

You don’t mind the smell of strong tobacco, I hope?”
“I always smoke ‘ship’s’ myself,” I answered. …

“Oh, that’s all right,” he cried, with a merry laugh.
“I think we may consider the thing as settled –
that is, if the rooms are agreeable to you.”

“When shall we see them?”

“Call for me here at noon to-morrow,
and we’ll go together and settle everything,” he answered.

“All right – noon exactly,” said I, shaking his hand.

We left him working among his chemicals,
and we walked together towards my hotel.


Holmes was certainly not a difficult man to live with.
He was quiet in his ways,
and his habits were regular.

It was rare for him to be up after ten at night,
and he had invariably breakfasted and gone out
before I rose in the morning.

It was upon the 4th of March, as I have good reason
to remember, that I rose somewhat earlier than usual,
and found that Sherlock Holmes had not yet finished
his breakfast.

… I picked up a magazine from the table
and attempted to while away the time with it,
while my companion munched silently at his toast.

One of the articles had a pencil mark at the heading,
and I naturally began to run my eye through it. …

The writer claimed by a momentary expression,
a twitch of a muscle or a glance of an eye,
to fathom a man’s inmost thoughts.

Deceit, according to him, was an impossibility
in the case of one trained to observation and analysis.

Before turning to those moral and mental aspects
of the matter which present the greatest difficulties,
let the enquirer begin by mastering more elementary problems.

Let him, on meeting a fellow-mortal,
learn at a glance to distinguish the history of the man,
and the trade or profession to which he belongs.

Puerile as such an exercise may seem,
it sharpens the faculties of observation,
and teaches one where to look and what to look for.

By a man’s finger nails, by his coat-sleeve, by his boot,
by his trouser knees, by the callosities of his forefinger
and thumb, by his expression, by his shirt cuffs –

by each of these things a man’s calling is plainly revealed.
That all united should fail to enlighten the competent enquirer
in any case is almost inconceivable.”

“What ineffable twaddle!” I cried,
slapping the magazine down on the table,
“I never read such rubbish in my life.”

“What is it?” asked Sherlock Holmes.

“Why, this article,” I said, pointing at it with my egg spoon
as I sat down to my breakfast.

“I see that you have read it since you have marked it.
I don’t deny that it is smartly written. It irritates me though.

It is evidently the theory of some arm-chair lounger
who evolves all these neat little paradoxes
in the seclusion of his own study.

It is not practical.

I should like to see him clapped down
in a third class carriage on the Underground,
and asked to give the trades of all his fellow-travellers.

I would lay a thousand to one against him.”

“You would lose your money,” Sherlock Holmes remarked calmly.

“As for the article I wrote it myself.”

As a boy … as a school-teacher in Italy …
and as a man past 55, I never lose that
thrill of anticipation upon opening one of Doyle’s
to re-live another adventure with Holmes,
and his friend and colleague, Dr Watson.

I hope that there might be one or two folk
who visit this page, who will feel the same way.

P Livingstone

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