An interesting little bit came across the feed from the Twitter machine today when Martin M. Montague posted a shot of something Denis Conan Doyle wrote in to The Lancet:
"As a matter of actual fact," Sir Arthur's eldest son wrote to the medical journal, "my father neither conceived nor depicted Sherlock Holmes as a drug addict. He was represented as one of those rare individuals who use drugs sparingly and occasionally, and who are the masters rather than the slaves of the drug concerned."
That was in 1937.
Come the 1960s, when drug culture was growing with rise of the hippies, Viet Nam, etc., the Baker Street Irregulars were disproving Holmes's possible addiction right and left.
"There can be no doubt that Sherlock Holmes was not addicted to narcotic drugs. There is very little evidence to support such a belief, and the facts are all against it," wrote William H. Miller in an award-winning 1969 article in The Baker Street Journal, and he was just one of many. Some even considered the cocaine and morphine references a hoax or joke Holmes concocted.
And then, in 1971, Richard Nixon declares a "war on drugs," and drugs are suddenly a very big deal, where a minimal amount found on a person can destroy a life. And, unfortunately, a minimal amount of drugs could be found in the Canon of Sherlock Holmes.
A seven percent minimal amount.
It's probably not too surprising, then, when in 1974, an ambitious young writer named Nicholas Meyer decided to do the literary equivalent of tabloid journalism and exploit a celebrity's minor connection to a particular drug to give his budding career a jump start . . . right to the top of The New York Times bestseller list with The Seven-Per-Cent Solution.
Within four years, a member of the Sherlockian community named Jack Tracy backed Meyer's play with a little book called Subcutaneously, My Dear Watson, where Tracy refers to "Sherlock Holmes, cocaine addict" in the very first line, as if the matter is an accepted truth. And maybe, after Meyer knocking Holmes off his pillar in Seven-Per-Cent, it was an accepted truth to those who prefer their heroes with feet of clay. But even Tracy, knowing his Sherlockian brethren, had to put a line in his book's acknowledgements that read, "Needless to say, any conclusions reached in this book are those of the authors, who alone must bear responsibility for errors of fact or judgement."
Even without Tracy turning on Holmes where Irregulars before him did not, the damage was done. I never will forget a cocky young bookstore clerk in Toronto, upon seeing me buying a copy of the Sherlock Holmes stories, felt compelled to inform me authoritatively, "You know the guy that wrote those was addicted to opium!"
"Yeah," I replied, knowing he meant Holmes instead of Doyle, and cocaine instead of opium, and that Meyer was to blame for it all, giving stoner bookstore clerks a drug-using hero.
So it was nice to see Denis Conan Doyle defending our friend Sherlock on Twitter today, preaching the gospel of a Holmes who was a master of his drug use and not mastered by it.
Especially on Thursday night, when Elementary is due to come 'round once more and punish Sherlock some more for being caught by the War on Drugs with that litttle amount. It'll be nice to see his sentence in that particular jail of public gossip over one of these days.