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Yellow Fog

A Study in Scarlet, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (ed. Darryl Jones and Nicholas Daly), Oxford University Press, pp. 192, $9.95

The Sign of the Four, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (ed. Darryl Jones and Caroline Reitz), Oxford University Press, pp. 176, $8.95

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (ed. Darryl Jones and Jarlath Killeen), Oxford University Press, pp. 368, $9.95

The Return of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (ed. Darryl Jones and Christopher Pittard), Oxford University Press, pp. 368, $11.95

The Hound of the Baskervilles, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, (ed. Darryl Jones), Oxford University Press, pp. 224, $7.95


In devout homes these works require no advertisement. It is to the credit of the publisher that his edition is attractive, and if some will question the propriety of certain notes evidently meant for perusal by both women and children, one can only reply that others are available and, for obvious reasons, preferable. A detailed review of the prefatory matter and commentary supplied by the editors is beyond the scope of the present address. Suffice it to say that they are typical—sadly typical!—of their age. Let us instead manfully seize the opportunity to discuss problems of a more general and wide-ranging nature.

For brothers and sisters in the light of Baker Street, I come before you today not with hymns of praise, but with a righteous fury! It is more than a hundred years since the plague of doubt descended upon the sacred halls of 221B. It began, of course, with the apostate Knox. He was the father of the lies whose pernicious effects are still with us today, and as the father went before, so have the children gone. These heretics, disguised as “scholars,” peddle their blasphemy under the banner of “higher criticism,” seeking to corrupt the very foundation of our faith in the chronicles of Dr. John H. James Watson! These agents of the Great Deceiver dare to question the infallible word of the good doctor. They squabble over stairwells, counting steps like demented Pharisees, as if the number of stairs diminishes the brilliance of Holmes’s deductions! They mock the record of his very fiddle-playing, deaf to the symphony of truth that resonates within his music!

I wish I could say, brothers and sisters, that none of this filth has defiled the imaginations of any of those who call themselves ordinary decent Doyle-reading Sherlockians. But that would be a lie. For the hearts of the weak are easily corrupted. The sectaries of modernism have been aided by the racketeers of publishing, and the result has been ever-increasing destruction. By their denial of the authority of Doyle, nay even of the very inspiration of Watson, they have opened the floodgates of vice.

I do not speak here of those open unbelievers, who dismiss the good books without a second thought. Unlike those profane persons, whose infidelity need not concern us, the sin which began to take root a century ago and soon spread to the very flower of our best Sherlockians, is more subtle and therefore more dangerous. For rather than dismiss the reminiscences as the heathens do—as mere “novels” or—with what trepidation I begin even to write these words!—“short stories”—these wolves in sheep’s clothing would have you believe that the personal memoirs of Dr. Watson are something other than what every good Sherlockian child knows them to be. Thus we are told that the records are not “detective fiction,” to be sure, but rather a hodgepodge of inconsistencies, “continuity” mistakes, and even fabricated narratives. These so-called scholars posit the existence of multiple authors, attributing the records as we know them to such mythical figures as “deutero-Watson” or “proto-Watson”—the ether of their own unbelief! With their forked tongues, they cast aspersions upon the Holmesian chronology. They make grotesque insinuations, viz., that Watson did not know his own first and middle names and that he married more than one wife—indeed, it is not unknown for them to posit the existence of three or four or even as many as seven distinct Mrs. Watsons! Then there are the so-called “inconsistencies” related to the matter of his war wound. It is often imputed that someone—Doyle, or Watson, or perhaps both men—erred in describing his heroic service. As all schoolchildren once knew, Watson received two wounds, the first the result of a bullet to the leg (as we learn in A Study in Scarlet), the second of a similar missile which we learn pierced his shoulder (as is discussed in The Sign of the Four). Only an imagination wholly given over to skepticism would attempt to churn the devil’s buttermilk from the pure water of fact—the fact of a distinguished Doctor of Medicine’s service with Her Majesty’s Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers during the Second Afghan War.

Unsatisfied with their unspeakable attempts at sullying the reputation of Watson, they attempt a similar trick with the life of Holmes himself. Of their horrible insolence I need not speak in detail. Needless to say, they scoff at his feats of memory and athleticism; they cast doubt upon the proven record of his short university career; they wonder at his understanding of sport, and confute the color of his dressing gown, in hysterical ignorance of the now-extinct blue-gray mouse (Pseudomys glaucus); they question even his narrow escape from death in combat with Moriarty. More offensive still to pious ears, these damned spinners of yarns—usurping for themselves the high seat of authority—presume to question his harsh words with certain criminals and to murmur with affected superiority at the alleged inconsistencies in Holmes’s knowledge of our solar system and of polite literature. Do these doubting Thomases not understand that a superior intellect might choose to conceal certain knowledge for reasons beyond their limited comprehension? Is it not possible that Holmes, in his infinite wisdom, chose to test the limits of their understanding just as he did Watson’s, by feigning ignorance?

Such pseudo-difficulties could be multiplied endlessly, and as easily resolved. Indeed, to call any attempt at meeting the academic softness of the so-called “critical” tradition with the hard edge of pure faith a “resolution” is a grave mistake. Viewed in the light of faith, these “difficulties” vanish in an instant. If we attempt but once to see as our forefathers did, without the skeptical assumptions of the “critical” tradition, what do we find in the text? Is it indeed rife with “inaccuracies,” with “irregularity,” with “fabrication” and “impossibilities,” with the distortions of a Watson who exaggerated and falsified as his fancy dictated—a text in other words (to use plain English for once) full of errors? The answer is no.

Of course difficulties do exist, as any believing Holmesian will admit, but they have nothing whatever to do with the “problems” spuriously identified by the critics, and tend to involve comparatively minor questions, mostly of concern only to legitimate scholars; it is thought that in the future, thanks to the efforts of Holmesian archaeologists in London and elsewhere, such few as continue to exist will one day disappear. Here I speak of such work as the excavation of the original site of Baker Street, which is already underway. Prayers for its success, and financial support in the form of subscriptions, should be offered by all devout Holmesians.

I understand what many of you may be thinking. Why does it matter? Surely it is all one whether the critics or the fundamentalists—a badge of hate that should be worn proudly by all followers of Sherlock Holmes—are right. Perhaps (says the voice of the typical muddle-headed man in the street who calls himself a Sherlockian in this day and age) the answer lies somewhere between. If Holmes never really said, “You see, but you do not observe,” surely we may both see and observe?

But this is a delusion, and a fatal one. Any indulgence of such an attitude is both misguided and ultimately destructive. Do not dismiss these warnings as something of no importance, as a trifle, for it is written, “There is nothing so important as trifles.” Thus I say to you, brothers and sisters, let not their cacophony of doubt cloud your judgement, and let not your faith be shaken! For the real Dr. Watson, a man of science, was there, at the very side of the great Holmes, while the latter was present on this earth, witnessing the great man’s triumphs and tribulations firsthand! His accounts are as irrefutable as the very laws of physics themselves. Are we, the true believers, to abandon their undeniable truth for the gibberish of these academic apostates?

Nay, I say! We shall stand firm! We shall be the bastion of truth against the tide of skepticism and doubt! We shall not be swayed by their vainglorious pronouncements, by their parlor tricks with Persian slippers, or their microscopic examination of staircases whose dimensions have never been the subject of legitimate doubt among any devout Holmesian! For let us remember, brothers and sisters, that the words of Holmesian writ are not mere playthings for the idle mind, but testaments. These are the gospels of Baker Street, and we, the faithful, shall defend them with the righteous fury of a thousand Baskervilles!

Therefore, go forth, brothers and sisters, and spread the word! Let the clarion call of truth resonate from every corner of the land! Let the world know that the Sherlockian faithful will not tolerate the desecration of their sacred texts! We, the flock, shall gather in the sanctuary. May the lamp of truth continue to shine brightly from 221B Baker Street, guiding us through the yellow fog of doubt and into the glorious light of pure and unadulterated Sherlockian truth!

To these observations, the editors have appended the following declaration at the author’s request:


1. We believe that the memoirs of Dr. John H. James Watson as faithfully transmitted by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, K.St.J., D.L., present an exacting and inerrant account of the life, career, habits, and personality of Mr. Sherlock Holmes, B.A., of 221B Baker Street. We believe in one undivided Holmesian canon, to which nothing may be added and from which nothing may be subtracted. We believe that the canon comprises sixty discrete memoirs entrusted by Watson to Doyle, a fellow doctor and sometime gentleman of the press, in the latter’s capacity as the literary agent of the former, records commonly though erroneously referred to as “novels” and “short stories.” We believe that the aforesaid canon presents the chief incidents of Holmes’s mature life, from the investigations undertaken during his two years as an undergraduate—the very same “last years” to which he himself refers—until the eve of the First World War, without error or exaggeration. We reject any attempt by so-called Holmesian critics to undermine the canon in any particular while supporting all legitimate and devout study of the text, which we recommend to all. We disavow all editions of the Sherlockian canon that do not present the material as the unblemished record of pure truth, or which attempt to introduce material produced after Watson’s death.

Thomas Colbyry is a freelance writer.