Wednesday, February 4, 2015

"The Theory Is Too Tempting to Be Lightly Dismissed"

"Was Sherlock Holmes an American?"
By Christopher Morley (1890-1957).
The Saturday Review (July 21, 1934, page 6) and (July 28, 1934, page 23).
Online HERE (Part 1) and HERE (Part 2).
For Watson it was something almost too horrible to contemplate, but Christopher Morley dared think the unthinkable:
A CAPRICIOUS secrecy was always characteristic of Holmes. He concealed from Watson his American connection. And though Watson must finally have divined it, he also was uncandid with us. The Doctor was a sturdy British patriot: the fact of Holmes's French grandmother was disconcerting, and to add to this his friend's American association and sympathy would have been painful. But the theory is too tempting to be lightly dismissed. Not less than fifteen of the published cases (including three of the four chosen for full-length treatment) involve American characters and scenes.  . . .
True enough, but Morley persists, calling upon circumstantial evidence:
. . . Was Holmes actually of American birth? It would explain much. The jealousy of Scotland Yard, the refusal of knighthood, the expert use of Western argot, the offhand behavior to aristocratic clients, the easy camaraderie with working people of all sorts, the always traveling First Class in trains.  . . .
. . . Let it be noted that the part of London where he first took rooms (Montague Street, alongside the British Museum) is the region frequented more than any other by American students and tourists.  . . .
As for Holmes's older, smarter brother:
. . . Plainly he resented Mycroft's assumption that England was his only country. . . .
Morley notes that in a strange way Holmes owed a debt to America:
. . . He had much reason to be grateful to American criminals, who often relieved him from the ennui of London's dearth of outrage. The very first case recorded by Watson was the murder of Enoch J. Drebber, the ex-Mormon from Cleveland.  . . .
Morley concludes:
. . . Considering the evidence without prejudice, the idea that Holmes was at any rate partly American is enticing.  . . . I leave it as a puzzle, not as a proven case, for more accomplished students to re-examine.  . . .
- We've dealt with Morley's connection with the Sage of Baker Street HERE and HERE.

Category: Sherlockian scholarship (tongue-in-cheek division)

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