Saturday, February 2, 2019

The first Sherlockian chronologist

"We now pass on to the dating of the various pieces, so far as it can be determined by internal evidence, implicit or explicit."
-- Ronald Knox, 1912

Having a copy of Ronald Knox's essay "Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes" at hand for a regular re-visit gives one a good perspective on this hobby of ours and the wealth it offers. For the student of Sherlockian chronology, Knox spends a few short pages with history's first known attempt at that field of study. True, he was working with the forty-seven (or less) story Canon of that era. And it is extremely basic, placed next to later, book-length, entrants to the field.

But Knox was the first.

He dates A Study in Scarlet in 1879 without giving us his rationale. He also does this with several of the stories he assigns to 1888. But when it comes to The Hound of the Baskervilles, Knox starts bringing history external to the Canon into the calculation: Hound had to be before 1901, as old Frankland's lawsuit case is versus "Regina," indicating a female monarch was still on the throne.

Knox is the first of the Watsonian Monogamists, attempting to reconcile the order based upon the doctor's marital status. And yet, while he seems loyal to that concept, Ronald Knox still seems to allow room for theories that some of the Watsonian writings are completely made-up. That particular concept is one that Sherlockians were quick to leave behind, as it's a very slippery slope. 

Knox's 1912 essay is a very busy bit of work, and it's only right that the father of Sherlockian scholarship should be the father of Sherlockian chronology as well. Or at least that's the grander, historical way to put it.

A more familiar way might be to just say that, like so many of us that dive deep into Watson's writings on Sherlock Holmes, the Charybdis that is "trying to put the stories in order" pulled Ronald Knox down just like we who came after.

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