Saturday, April 23, 2016

Random finger point Canonical study.

One of my favorite things about the Canon of Sherlock Holmes is the pure detail density of the thing.

Flip a book open, stab your finger at a page, and you get a nice catch, more often than not. So many interesting details, so many jumping off points for a ramble in the world of the great detective.

This morning, my finger stab harpooned this line:

"My name is Doctor Percy Trevelyan," said our visitor, "and I live at 403 Brook Street."

Seems pretty plain. A simple introduction. But it's who he's introducing himself to that gets interesting. John H. Watson.

"Are you not the author of a monograph upon obscure nervous lesions?" I asked.

Trevelyan is the author of a very specialized, very poor-selling work that very few people read. Yet Watson did.

Nervous lesions is basically damage to the nerves, either through disease or injury. It's a very broad category, when you come right down to it, but the questions we come to quickly are "Why was Watson reading it?" and "Why was it so memorable to him?"

The immediate thought is that someone very close to Watson had a nervous lesion problem. And who might that have been? Following his conversation with Percy Trevelyan a little further, one finds:

"You are yourself, I presume, a medical man."

"A retired army surgeon."

They quickly switch topics to Trevelyan's case, but the glimpse we get of Watson's here is interesting. He retired as an army surgeon after taking some damage in Afghanistan. Damage to his shoulder from a Jezail bullet -- the sort of thing that definitely could cause nerve damage. And retire a man from being a surgeon.

Which brings me back to a talk Marilynne McKay gave at 221B Con, about the difference between doctors and surgeons in Watson's time, and the way, for example, and the way Dr. Mortimer insisted that he, as a surgeon, was a "Mister" and not a "Doctor" as was the way of things at that time.

Could it be, during that hazy time in the middle 1880s, when Watson was hanging about Baker Street and not participating in case-work so much, he continued his studies (including looking into his own nerve issues) and became a "Doctor" after already having been a retired "Mister."

In any case, that simple meeting between two medical men before the case written up as "The Resident Patient" starts is an intriguing thing.

Which the Canon of Sherlock Holmes is always good for . . . finding intriguing things at the mere poke of a finger.


  1. I tried the random finger point and got, "I give you five minutes, Mr. Holmes."
    "One is enough, Lady Hilda."
    Was Holmes THAT horned up? By the end of the page we have, 'Lady Hilda was down on her knees at Holmes's feet, her hands outstretched, her beautiful face upturned and wet ...'
    Now I know why it was called 'The Second Stain.'

    1. I learned this from watching Stephen Fry on "Q.I."

      "Watson ‘ejaculates’ twice as often as Sherlock Holmes in Conan Doyle’s stories. There are 23 ejaculations in total, with 11 belonging to Watson. On one occasion, Holmes refers to Watson’s ‘ejaculations of wonder’ being invaluable; on another, Watson ejaculates ‘from his very heart’ in the direction of his fiancée. Holmes is only responsible for six ejaculations, although it is not clear which of the two men ejaculate in the passage below:

      So he sat as I dropped off to sleep, and so he sat when a sudden ejaculation caused me to wake up, and I found the summer sun shining into the apartment. The pipe was still between his lips, the smoke still curled upward, and the room was full of a dense tobacco haze, but nothing remained of the heap of shag which I had seen upon the previous night.
      The Man with the Twisted Lip, 1891

      A chap called Phelps ejaculated three times during the story of The Naval Treaty. The only other ejaculator is Mrs St Clair’s husband, who ejaculates at her from a second-floor window.

  2. Do not know what TAG means. Insult or positive?