Thursday, August 15, 2013

Both ends of August

Ah, August. Terrible and melancholy August. 

Terrible from Watson's introduction to "His Last Bow" in which he references the onset of the first world war with the words: "It was nine o'clock at night upon the second of August - the most terrible August in the history of the world." And melancholy, from the point of view of the Sherlockian, who both recognizes those words as the beginning of what will be the last we hear of Mr. Sherlock Holmes, as well as the month of the trope "stand with me here upon the terrace, " with which many a Sherlockian has been saluted in passing from this world.

But August is not just a time a terraces, it is also a time of sitting on the lawn on garden chairs, as Sherlock Holmes was doing just before he returned to London with a very great idea in his head.

August may be the last month of the Canon Sherlockian, but it is also the month of what might have been the first.

In "The Gloria Scott," old Mr. Trevor first uttered the words, "I don't know how you manage this, Mr. Holmes, but it seems to me that all the detectives of fact and of fancy would be children in your hands. That's your line of life, sir, and you may take the word of a man who has seen something of the world."

Sherlock Holmes himself claimed that those words were the very first thing that ever made him think he could have a profession as a consulting detective. They were, as any chronologer including myself will tell you, probably spoken in July. But the next month of his life, when Sherlock Holmes returned to his London rooms to work out "a few experiments in organic chemistry," took place entirely in August, and it's there that I would place the true beginnings of the detective's career.

Experiments in organic chemistry . . . like "the Sherlock Holmes" test that he was working on when he first met Watson, perhaps?

August these days comes as the end of summer fun, but it's also a time when we start rolling up our sleeves (if we dared wear long sleeves in August), for the work of the fall. It's a time of endings and a time to be thinking of beginnings.

And in the lore of Sherlock Holmes, we get a little of both.

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