John H. Watson was a rare individual.
Seen as an "everyman" by many commentators through the years, he is beginning to seem a little less representative of the typical Anglo-Saxon male. In fact, in his way, John Watson is starting to seem like as much a paragon as the fellow he wrote about, though not a paragon of detection as his friend was. No, Watson's virtues lie somewhere entirely different.
"You have a grand gift of silence," Holmes famously commented in "The Man with the Twisted Lip." "It makes you quite invaluable as a companion."
But we cannot take Holmes entirely at his word, however, for as he compliments Watson on their ride out to the Cedars, he is not uttering those words so Watson will stay silent. Quite the opposite as he immediately follows them with: "'Pon my word, it is a great thing for me to have someone to talk to, for my own thoughts are not over pleasant. I was wondering what I should say to this dear little woman tonight when she meets me at the door."
Holmes wants Watson to talk. He wants thoughts other than his own. And yet, he plainly has no use for a self-appointed pundit at his side. There's a reason he doesn't hang out with Tobias Gregson instead of John Watson. When Watson says something, Holmes knows it isn't just being said to fill the air.
"I know, my dear Watson, that you share my love of all that is bizarre and outside the conventions and humdrum routine of everyday life. you have shown your relish for it . . ."
"There is a delightful freshness about you, Watson . . ."
"Native shrewdness." "Pawky humor." "Never failed to play the game." And of course . . .
"A confederate who foresees your conclusions and course of action is always dangerous, but one to whom each development comes as a perpetual surprise, and to whom the future is always a close book, is, indeed, an ideal helpmate."
It is very important to note that Holmes isn't calling Watson "stupid" here. He's saying that Watson has no prejudice in him. He takes life as it comes, living in the moment like a Zen master. "A confederate who foresees your conclusions" isn't speaking of a psychic who knows every move you're about to make. Holmes is talking about the sort of person who thinks they know what you're going to do and then acts accordingly with their theories. John Watson let Sherlock Holmes do what he was going to do and say what he was going to say before reacting.
There is that lovely little passage used in two different stories where Sherlock Holmes deduces what Watson is thinking. But that is Sherlock Holmes, and that is Sherlock Holmes doing a trick at that, just for effect. Holmes is not telling Watson what his opinion is. Holmes isn't creating a straw man version of Watson just to set up an argument he was going to make in any case. No, Holmes is simply putting a little bit of the theatric into their day. But Watson, who is not such a performer, doesn't do those things either.
In these social media days when expressing our opinions often becomes more important than waiting to see what someone else has to really say . . . and then actually listening to those words . . . John H. Watson is, indeed, a paragon for our modern age. And a companion we should all enjoy having along for our adventures.
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