Things being a bit slow here at Sherlock Peoria, I've been doing a bit of walking through the fall weather and contemplating whatever impulses my brain thinks to muse upon. This morning's walk brought me back to a thought a Sherlockian named Alan King shared with me a long time ago, which has probably been written up somewhere by now, and that's the disappearance of the Baker Street Irregulars.
In Watson's first two novel-length works, the street urchins who scour the city for Holmes are featured quite prominently. They even get their own chapter title in The Sign of the Four. They "go everywhere, see everything, overhear everyone." And get their pay in shillings.
But after that? One of them, named Simpson, shows up to watch an old man in "The Crooked Man," and we never hear of the rest of their lot again.
"The Crooked Man," according to my calculations, occurs in 1887. Something else that occurred in 1887? The publication of Watson's first write-up of a Holmes case, and one of the only three mentions of the Irregulars, A Study in Scarlet.
And after 1887, Sherlock Holmes's use of the Irregulars abruptly stops. At least as far as we know.
Watson's publications and the rise of Holmes in public popularity seems to go hand-in-hand with the disappearance of the Baker Street Irregulars from Holmes's work. And that coincidence makes perfect sense when you think about it.
The younger Holmes of the 1880s probably found it easier to work with kids as he wasn't so far from being one himself. And, as he said, nobody noticed street kids hanging about.
Until, of course, some accounts of Sherlock Holmes's doings started growing in popularity, at which point, anyone who suspected Holmes of being on their trail would go, "HEY! What's that kid doing here? Is that one of Holmes's?" And then things would turn very nasty for the lads.
One hopes that Sherlock Holmes saw this possibility coming once Watson's works hit the public press and disbanded the group before one of the kids got hurt. One hopes it wasn't the tragic fate of one of the kids that made them disappear from the writings. Or that Watson himself just saw the danger and quit writing about them.
But disappear they did, and Sherlock Holmes seems to have voluntarily lost on of his best tools for searching London, fairly early on in his career.