"But I'm always ready to back my opinion on a matter . . . ."
We think of Sherlock Holmes as a man of facts, a man of logic, and a man of science. Yet he was also a man with an opinion.
"I simply wish to hear your real, real opinion," Mrs. St. Clair told Holmes in "The Man With The Twisted Lip." Many a client sought his opinion, his guidance . . . it wasn't that they expected an absolute solution to their problems from him, often just an opinion of their circumstances that they could use to carry on with their lives. Holmes's opinions had value.
Sherlock Holmes's opinion was that of the specialist, taking in the current data, running it by his years of study and carefully developed techniques, and coming up with is best diagnosis of what was occurring that troubled his client. The medical model that his unique profession was based on is fairly clear and much cited in Sherlockiana past.
Sherlock Holmes was no cookie-cutter solver of MURRR-DURRRRs. In many cases, Sherlock Holmes was a sort of "life doctor." Something weird got your life off course? Weird request from your employer? (So many weird employers in the Canon.) Go to Sherlock Holmes for his professional opinion.
Professional, because it had value. And you had to seek it out.
We've had the saying "Opinions are like [insert body part here], everybody has one" for a very, very long time. But what we didn't have until relatively recently was a constant, free-flowing tsunami of opinions, incited, amplified, and generally super-charged by a legion whose job or hobby it is to supply stimulation to the greatest number of people they can attract to their ongoing flow of opinion, reaction, or opinion-reference. Controversies flare and recede simply to supply opinion fodder. Why?
Well, the simple answer is that we are a world of faulty Sherlock Holmeses.
"My mind," he said, "rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram, or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere. I can dispense then with artificial stimulants. But I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation. That is why I have chosen my own particular profession, or rather created it, for I am the only one in the world."
"I am the last and highest court of appeal in detection. When Gregson, or Lestrade, or Athelney Jones are out of their depths - which, by the way, is their normal state - the matter is laid before me. I examine the data, as an expert, and pronounce a specialist's opinion."
Ah, those silly Gregsons! Out there in the world, running around out of their depths. How good it is to be Sherlock Holmes, setting them straight.
Although we are not the only one in the world, and our sitting room is not 221B Baker Street . . . more like just the steps in front of the building, where we hope Gregson, or any client, really, will happen to wander along the sidewalk in front of us while we're talking about the case he is interested in.
"I am the only one in the world," Sherlock Holmes said, and indeed he was. For good reason.
So here's to Sherlock Holmes and those truly like him, and hoping their voices don't get lost in the din.
(This said as a card-carrying member of the din. Irony, it always gets you in the end.)