As we go from very cold to very, very, very cold in parts of the country this week, an important question arises: Do we turn to the bitterly cold stories of Sherlock Holmes, or turn to the warmest of the tales in hopes of some illusion of comfort?
There are three of Watson's chronicles which are not only cold, but bitter cold: "Charles Augusts Milverton," "Abbey Grange," and "Blue Carbuncle." How cold was Watson's bitterly cold?
Early scholars, who liked to use old weather reports to help date the stories, put Milverton starting on an 18.9 degree February day, that being the low temperature for the day, and probably the week. (The great thing about being an American Sherlockian is that the Victorian era was still using Fahrenheit temperatures -- no conversions necessary!)
At the other end of the spectrum is "Cardboard Box," where "It was a blazing hot day in August," and "Baker Street was like an oven." Watson then talks about the brickwork across the street, and, having stayed in St. Louis on a blazing August weekend, I will attest that nothing heats up a city like brickwork. There's a reason people make brick oven pizza.
It's in "Cardboard Box" that we learn Watson had trained himself in India to tolerate heat better than cold and that "a thermometer at ninety was no hardship." As humans, I suspect we all can tolerate an uncomfortable ninety degree heat over a chill of eighteen degrees . . . one of those two things can kill us overnight, the other just makes us grumpy. (One old NASA experiment reported that over 40 and under 95 is where we humans can live just fine.) So Watson definitely didn't like those eighteen degree mornings . . . especially considering the heating technology of the 1880s.
With Wednesday's high predicted at negative eleven degrees here in Peoria, I think I'm going to drift toward the "Cardboard Box" end of the Canon temperatures for a time. And not complain too much, because we have Sherlockians in Minnesota and Canada who always have it worse.