Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Other Dr. Watson - Conan Doyle's Harrogate Friend & Colleague.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on the Western Front in 1916.
A year or so before his May 1916 visit to the Front, Conan Doyle embarked on a lecture tour to boost morale. As the List of World War I Battles indicates, 7 months of war had provided a tragically rich fund of material for the lecture entitled "The Great Battles of the War".

From Tunbridge Wells on February 20th, his itinerary took him to Scotland by March 10th, Queen's Hall, London on the 20th and so to Harrogate, my North Yorkshire home town, on the 22nd. The tour and its dates are detailed in three letters to Mary Doyle, written in February & March.

As I read these letters I realised they provided a basis and motivation to research the author's connection with Harrogate. This post details what I have discovered thus far - some of which has rather taken me by surprise. I'll present my findings under three sub-headings: Doyle's Harrogate, The Other Dr. Watson and One Degree of Separation.

Prospect Hotel & Gardens.

1. Doyle's Harrogate.

If only in imagination, Conan Doyle had 'visited' Harrogate before. In 1891, J. S.Wood persuaded 24 writers to write a chapter each of a novel published in his weekly magazine, The Gentlewoman. Without consulting each other, authors of both sexes wrote alternate chapters of "The Fate of Fenella", including Doyle's Chapter 4 and Bram Stoker's Chapter 10. The Prospect Hotel (shown) figures in the novel, along with Harrogate's famous Pump Room and Valley Gardens a short walk down the hill.

Given Harrogate's importance as a Spa, Conan Doyle's first profession and acquaintance with his tour host, it would not be surprising if evidence emerged of visits prior to the 1915 lecture. 

The Kursaal in 1908.

As things stand, Monday, March 22nd found him on the stage of Harrogate's Kursaal. Built in 1903, with considerable input from the great theatre designer, Frank Matcham, the Kursaal was a "Cure Hall" in every sense, providing those who came to take the waters with daytime and evening entertainment as well as continuing the sale of waters from its own spa spring, incorporated in the vast venue.

The Kursaal & its Gardens.

In a letter to Mary Doyle, her son mentions 'a huge house' gathered for his lecture. He was in illustrious company given the List of Performers since 1903 - Vaughan Williams and Pavlova had appeared there in 1914 and Lily Langtry followed Conan Doyle in May of '15.

It seems in keeping with the spirit of Doyle's patriotism that I conclude this section with an invitation to read an article on just one Harrogate man who died in battle - the composer E.B.Farrar, A Bright Hope of English Music and listen to his 'Heroic Elegy - for Soldiers' :

The Kursaal from Ripon Road.

2. The Other Dr. Watson.

The venue could not have been handier - Conan Doyle was 'putting up with Dr. Bertram Watson', as he wrote to Mary from the Midland Hotel, Bradford. The good doctor lived at 2, Ripon Road, about 50 yards behind the camera in the image above. This address heads the letter Doyle wrote to Mary before travelling on to Shrewsbury.

The House of Dr. Watson (as it looks today).

Dr. William Bertram Watson was certainly a medical colleague though I am assuming some prior acquaintance given Doyle's resort to a hotel in Bradford, but not in Harrogate. This Watson headed the Harrogate Medical Society for many years and was heavily involved in the spa treatments. His specialism was the treatment of sciatica and I append below links to articles by or about him in the British Medical Journal, which, in April, 1912, describes him as M.D.Lon., and "Honorary Physician to the Yorkshire Hospital for Chronic and Incurable Diseases, Harrogate."

Thus far in my researches I know, ironically, little of him, much more of his wife. The BMJ dutifully records his death aged 70, eight days before I was born in 1948. He died January 12th in Gibralter. The funeral took place there on the 14th with a memorial service at St. Peter's Church in Harrogate on the 21st.
St. Peter's Harrogate with War Memorial & Prospect Hotel.

Hence, born in 1878, Dr. Watson was 37 at the time of Doyle's visit in 1915. [Until I can confirm this date of birth it must remain provisional as it is at odds with the age given for his marriage in the Daily Mail article cited below.]

December 1905 sees him living at Mont Laurel, Harrogate, a Physician & Surgeon (according to this London Gazette entry, in which he is joint-executor in the estate of one Harriot Pinnington.) I suspect this was the original name of 2, Ripon Road.The March, 1906 BMJ article by Bertram Watson confirms his post with the Yorkshire Hospital named above.

My last section will confirm his marriage in November, 1910 and the birth of two children to William and Pauline Bertram Watson: Ruth in 1911 and Paul in 1916. It will also provide the only evidence I have so far that he had a regimental history.

But Pauline will now take centre stage for her story has a personal dimension I had not expected to encounter. I had better introduce my father to the reader.

Grandma's House.

3. One Degree of Separation.

While Sir. Arthur Conan Doyle lectured in The Kursaal that March Monday, my father was (hopefully) sleeping like the eight-month-old babe he was a few miles up and off the Ripon Road in a Dales mill village. By the end of the Great War, his family would move from the centre to the edge of the village. That's their home in the image above at the far end of the terrace from the Methodist chapel they would take care of for the next half century. (It's now a house.)

He's still in Harrogate, 99 in July, hale and hearty. He likes a drive round the town when we go out to lunch. A month ago, we passed 2, Ripon Rd and I told him about Conan Doyle's visit in 1915. Later, over lunch, I mentioned Bertram Watson.
My father remembered him as a well-known and rich local figure. "And you worked for his widow," he said.

The Widow Watson's Home, York Place, Harrogate.

Before leaving Harrogate for university in 1966, I had a Saturday job gardening and cleaning the yard for an American lady called Watson. Dad's remark gave this research a fascinating new direction and, 47 years late, I now know I worked for the lady who welcomed Conan Doyle into her home in 1915.

Dad was a gardener. He had worked for her as her flat was just down the road from our nursery. "She was a very regal lady", he recalls. No wonder - when you hear her story.
Pauline Fithian Aged 19 in her Wedding Dress.

My Mrs. Watson was engaged on September 4 , 1910, and married William in her home town of Portland, Oregon. The Sunday Oregonian of November 13th reported the wedding two nights earlier:
"The wedding of Miss Pauline Fthlan and Dr. William Bertram Watson,
of Harrogate, England, took place at the Marshall-Street Church Friday
evening, when Rev. C. W. Hays performed the ceremony. Miss Flthian was
attired In an Imported gown of embroidered Japanese silk with rose point
and a complete veil, which covered her face and fell to -the hem of her gown.
She .was attended by Miss Helen Hunt Williams, of Los Angeles, as maid of
honor, and Miss Margaret Powell, of Marysville, Cal., and Miss Lucille Ad
dison, of Berkeley, who were both Kappa Alpha Theta slaters of Miss
Fithlan at the University of California. Miss Mabel Shea and Miss May
Coon, of Portland, completed the number of bridesmaids. The ushers at the
wedding were Robert Fithlan, EarlGrant. Dr. V. B. McCauley and Howard
Rigler, while Elmer Young was best man." 
Click this link to read the full report on p36 & 37: Marriage .
The report says the happy couple are to sail for their new home in Harrogate on November 26th, by White Star Line on The Baltic from New York. Please click HERE to see details and a fabulous magnified panorama of The Baltic moored at The White Star dock in New York Harbour.
William had married well for Pauline's family were rich and very prominent in Portland society. That very year, her father, Orrin H. Fithian, businessman, had been so successful in shoe-making that he went solo, setting up the Fithian Barker Shoe Company, the third largest manufacturer of shoes in the World. Please click HERE to read a detailed history of his businesses and family history.

The Fithians were descendants of early Oregon settlers and one senses this spirit in Orrin. Totally devoted to his business, it's clear from the society news that he leaves his wife to run a full social calendar. She is also often reported on vacation alone or with friends in The Bermudas and elsewhere.

I do not know where or how William met Pauline (or Conan Doyle for that matter) but the trusty Sunday Oregonion of May 22nd, 1910, documents a visit to Europe to be undertaken by Pauline and her mother that Summer. Perhaps they took the waters in Harrogate? Or, more romantically, perhaps William also happened to attend that year's Passion Play at Oberammergau to which Pauline and her mother were headed.
Titanic First Class Cabin ( courtesy

There is no doubt such a family travelled First Class and it is fortunate indeed that the new Mrs. Watson is reported back for a Portland visit in May 1913 - a year earlier would possibly have found her on The Titanic. She travels, like her mother, without her husband (I suspect to show off baby Ruth) and is the toast of all Portland society on her return.

To read the society columns of the Sunday Oregonian is to realise each period has its own version of Facebook & Twitter.
August 30 1914 sees the paper actually report the contents of a cable from Mrs. Fithian to her daughter in England, imploring her to get out of the country with her baby as soon as possible. She expresses the fear that William Watson will be called up by his regiment along with anxiety that passage may not be allowed now that Pauline has British nationality.
The looming war would also separate mother from son.

Pauline's brother, Robert, was a Lieutenant in the Aviation Corps. Read his Letter from Deauville written August 24, 1918 to his mother. It makes reference to sister, Pauline, in England, and he expresses regret that he will be unlikely to be granted permission to cross the Channel to see her. The letter is a moving snapshot of the impact of war on one family.


"Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past."

(Burnt Norton. The Four Quartets. T.S.Eliot).
I recall the Widow Watson as often unwell when I arrived for work, but was not aware until now that she passed away on the 7th November, 1966, during my first university term. The London Gazette records her married and maiden names, her address on York Place and the names of her children, executors Paul Bertram Watson and Ruth Watson Green.

Reflecting on her life and my short association with her it is gratifying to record her legacy. She gave me more than the National Geographic magazines kindly passed on (received from America): she afforded me one degree of separation from Sir. Arthur Conan Doyle I never appreciated until today.

More importantly, she left her family with an enduring reminder of a vanished age - that wedding dress described by the Sunday Oregonian has been passed lovingly down the generations. It is of considerable historic importance as these two modern news articles indicate:- if you read Daily Mail Article & Wilmslow Express Article you will see just what I mean.

One further delightful connection before I conclude: in 1963 the actor, Geoffrey Palmer, married one of Pauline's grand-daughters, Sally. She wore the 1910 dress walking down the aisle with an actor who played Sherlock Holmes (in The Mask of Moriarty).

Selected British Medical Journal links - Dr. Bertram Watson:

BMJ March 10 1906 article

BMJ April 27 1912 Sciatica

BMJ notice of birth of a son, January 1916


Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Red-Headed League - A Note on Watson's Chronicling.


Unusually and helpfully, the opening sentence of this, the second published Adventure, explicitly places the events "in the Autumn of last year". We know from the dissolution notice that year is 1890. Given that the story appeared in The Strand in  August, 1891, publication and the imagined moment of recording coincide. We apply this synchronicity to all the stories for all are cast as reminiscences.

Before chronicling REDH Watson has therefore written & published THREE stories: STUD (Dec 1887), SIGN (Feb 1890) & SCAN (July 1891). SCAN's events happened well before those of REDH in chronology but only the two novels have knowingly happened and been chronicled before Autumn 1890: Watson cannot logically refer in REDH to the chronicling of a story not written up for publication until July '91.

In commenting on Watson's relish for the bizarre Holmes speaks of: “the enthusiasm which has prompted you to chronicle, and, if you will excuse my saying so, somewhat to embellish so many of my own little adventures.” Given that Watson will not have the current case to chronicle until it has happened, these “many...little adventures” amount to precisely TWO.

IDEN (chronicled/published Sept 1891) is placed in the Chronology (by Sherlock Peoria and SmartRemarks) in 1888, relying on refs to SCAN in IDEN and dismissing the evidence of REDH. Both scholars suggest REDH probably refers to a more recent additional problem brought to Holmes by Mary Sutherland when he says:

    “You will remember that I remarked the other day, just before we went into the very simple problem presented by Miss Mary Sutherland, that for strange effects and extraordinary combinations we must go to life itself, which is always far more daring than any effort of the imagination.”
    It seems to me these chronologists focus on the first part of this quotation and do not follow up the remark about life being stranger than fiction, which clearly refers to the opening of IDEN: “life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We would not dare to conceive the things which are really mere commonplaces of existence”.
    I take it the reference in IDEN to Bohemia's gift means that Holmes forgot to show a (typically) delayed present (after the SCAN case of March 1888) when he last saw Watson some weeks ago.
    Hence, if the IDEN case occurs but a day or two before REDH (the remark was made “the other day” before Mary's case appeared) it has to be in Autumn 1890 AND unless we are to imagine Watson swiftly writing it up in (unpublished) Mss. & Holmes reading it, we can't add IDEN to the 2 chronicles written before the events of REDH.
    One more point: SCAN was chronicled/published in July 1891. As he writes it, Watson knows Irene is dead : “the late Irene Adler”. I warm to the notion that it would be typical of the egocentric Bohemia to have marked the news of her death (in 1890 I'd guess) by sending a belated thankyou of relief to Sherlock Holmes as reported in IDEN. Which leaves two matters to resolve:
    a) how to account for Holmes' reference to “SO MANY” adventures.
    b) his reference in IDEN to Watson having been good enough to “chronicle one or two of my little problems.”
    Well, I detect two influences at work here – one internal and the other Conan Doyle.
    In REDH at this point he is introducing Watson to Wilson and keen to present them as a team. A little judicious exaggeration does the agency no harm and helps Wilson trust Watson. Holmes is also playing on Wilson's growing pride in having an especially interesting case – he will be more forthcoming with full details.
    I think equally we hear Conan Doyle already writing the first batch of 6 Strand stories & committing himself to an as yet unchronicled backlog of cases to be mined in future by Watson - “many” adventures as it transpires which occurred chronologically prior to Autumn 1890 (and many more mentioned in passing).
    In IDEN the apparently contradictory reference to “one or two of my little problems” is (as I have argued) the truth – Watson is chronicling in Sept. 1891 a remark made in Autumn 1890 when only TWO stories (the novels) have been published.
    I think also the phrasing to be typical of Holmes' understatement for effect – the central operative word is “little”.
    Ha! "Little"! - they are anything but...and their Timelines are positively Byzantine.
    key to abbreviations.
    REDH - The Red-Headed League
    SCAN - A Scandal in Bohemia
    IDEN - A Case of Identity
    STUD -A Study in Scarlet
    SIGN - The Sign of Four

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Case of the Sherlock Holmes Casebook - a Literary Note.

d/j of Ist 1927 ed via Wikipedia.

“The character Sherlock Holmes is protected by copyright,” said Benjamin Allison, a lawyer for the (Conan Doyle) estate, adding, “Holmes is a unified literary character that wasn’t completely developed until the author laid down his pen.” (quoted in The New York Times article "Suit Says Sherlock Belongs to the Ages" by Jennifer Schuessler, March 6, 2013).

Benjamin Allison's resort to literary argument flies in the face of the literary evidence and represents an attempt to have the tail (those Casebook stories not yet in the public domain) wag the dog of the whole Holmesian Canon.

However, the literary having been introduced into this lawsuit evidence, it is pertinent to answer in the language of literary criticism.

If the Federal Court of Illinois proposes to make a ruling which respects the spirit of the Canon and takes account of the author's artistic choices the following remarks may be of value.

1. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle cast every Sherlock Holmes story in the form of reminiscence, usually in the fictional narrative voice of Dr. Watson, twice in that of Holmes and even in the few third person narratives.

2. The third person story entitled "His Last Bow", published in 1917, records the events of 2 August 1914. By definition, no story in the Canon invites the reader to imagine events after that final retirement date. The spirit of the Canon determines this story as representative of the most mature Sherlock Holmes we shall ever encounter. 

3. Hence it is a literary logical nonsense to advance the notion that any of the last ten published short stories offer anything that may be identified as "development". The literary truth is that when "the author laid down his pen" (after composing the last sentence of "Shoscombe Old Place", he had simply completed 'writing up' notes we are asked to imagine his narrator, Dr. Watson, made (according to the plurality of Sherlockian chronologists) in May, 1902. Was Holmes more developed in 1902 than 1914? I think not. Neither would Conan Doyle.

4. Allison uses a particularly equivocal term when he refers to Holmes as a 'unified' literary character. Literary critics understand static and dynamic - essentially unchanging or deliberately developed. Whatever his meaning, it is worth reminding ourselves that he is talking about a world-famous fictional character who had by 1927 been instantly recognizable by the general public for at least 37 years. Are we seriously to conclude the reading public was responding to a half-life creation undergoing a lengthy gestation?

5. My forthcoming post based on The Solitary Cyclist will illustrate the means by which Doyle had fully established Sherlock Holmes in the imagination of his readers certainly by the close of The Sign of Four and arguably with A Study in Scarlet.

6. Copyright law is law and the Conan Doyle Estate has legal right and duty to protect those Casebook stories still in copyright in the USA. Beyond that, its lawyers will need to go back to the 60 Sherlock Holmes stories with clearer critical insight if they are to persist in deploying literary arguments to claim 'ownership' of Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Timing The Solitary Cyclist.

Exhibit in The Sherlock Holmes Museum (Wikicommons).
Establishing the timeline of a Conan Doyle short story is often rather like trying to ascertain the intended order of Shakespeare's Sonnets. Neither pursuit leads to certainty but the process has its rewards.

Preparing, as I am, to write about The Solitary Cyclist, this deceptively simple exercise throws into relief not merely the progression of plot but more subtly the substantial breadth,complexity and depth Doyle imparts to short stories that characteristically feel longer and richer in texture than brevity suggests. 

These qualities are often apparent from the outset in the author's deliberately opaque choice of titles, tending to the ambiguous and outre. I've not read or attempted a systematic study, but the clarity of The Hound of the Baskervilles is surely exceptional. Detective stories are mysteries and a Sphinx of a title is apt. Doyle sought typically to display with one hand and hide with the other. 

Granada TV immortalised my point in their inspired (non-Canonical) coda to The Resident Patient. David Burke's Watson makes several abortive (and very comical) attempts to name his new story before realising Holmes' title is the perfect choice. Conan Doyle must have done this countless times.We now know from the SOLI Mss. that The Solitary 'Man' was rejected in favour of 'Cyclist', rendering the title applicable to both Violet Smith and Bob Carruthers.

As the Museum exhibit above, Paget's illustrations and the Granada episode's emphasis show, Violet is generally taken as the title's subject, in spite of the published textual ambiguity. Even so, one is still left pondering the precise import of the adjective. Doyle is inviting us to think, drawing us in.

The Three Time Frames.

As I have noted in earlier posts, all the short stories exhibit three distinct time periods that give each narrative its variety, sense of history, complexity and depth. They may be termed The time of reminiscence, the narrative present of the story, and its narrative past.


The decision to cast every story as reminiscence was inspired. All but three of the short stories are cast as records in the first person of Dr. Watson providing his version of each Sherlock Holmes case. This is fiction and the reader willingly suspends disbelief in the good doctor's apparent ability to take detailed verbatim notes because the narrative is much enlivened by frequent recourse to dialogue and the use of sub-narrators, such as the client and Holmes himself. At such moments Watson is always there but his voice is muted while we attend to others.

I locate the date of reminiscence at the date of each story's first publication. This matters. Even (especially) does it matter with the third person narrative story His Last Bow. You could not read this story set in 1914 until its 1917 creation and publication. The voice you hear knows all the horror you as reader have lived through and the notion that even as war broke out the Empire was already on the alert and striking back would fall on ready, demoralised ears.

Written by May, 1903, SOLI was first read in America in December and by Strand readers in January '04. Doyle writes and Watson reminisces of 1895.

Narrative Present.

Watson clearly states that the narrative of events begins on the day of Violet Smith's visit to Baker Street, Saturday, April 23, 1895. The events of that and succeeding days to the end of the case constitute the narrative present.

Narrative Past.

All that is subsequently revealed of events preceding the Saturday of Violet Smith's visit belongs in the narrative past.

In a moment I shall present all the events both past and present in chronological order.

A Note about 23 April 1895.

As the reader may be aware, there is a long history of debate arising from the fact that this date did not fall on a Saturday that year.

My Timeline corrects this to Saturday, April 27 based on the following reasoning.

- A Saturday is required by the story.
- There seems no reason to question the choice of month.
- According to Watson the case falls in the years 1894 to 1901 inclusive. Thus 1892 (when April 23 was a Saturday) is out of the question. 1898 (the only possible candidate) has been suggested by some, but would not solve the insoluble problem of Violet's reference to her late father's conducting the orchestra of 'the old Imperial Theatre'.

By 1895, the Imperial was but 19 years old, erected at one end of the Royal Aquarium in 1876. On two occasions only was the theatre altered: in 1898 Walter Emden made some modifications to meet safety requirements (but this must have been after April as he was still completing a South coast project then.)

Only in 1901 when all but the dressing rooms was demolished for a new Imperial Theatre (owned by Lily Langtry) could one realistically refer to 'The Old Imperial'. Watson (or rather Doyle) knows this in 1903/4 and mistakenly places the phrase in the mouth of Violet Smith, speaking in 1895.

- Some commentators suggest the typist misread the Mss. either '23' instead of '13' or '27'. Until I see the original Mss and assess the likelihood of either explanation, I accept 27 for a different (equally likely) reason. If Doyle was like me, there are occasions where, on consulting a diary or calendar, inadvertently I look at the month before or after the one I want. Doyle can get it right (in DEVI for example) and like all of us he can err. I think he went to 1895 and looked at March by mistake - the 23 April was a Saturday.

Timeline for The Solitary Cyclist.
1870: Uncle Ralph Smith went to South Africa.
1893 or 4: assume a fairly recent death of James Smith.
by December 1894: Carruthers & Woodley arrived from Africa
December 1894: Violet has interview and probably starts work for Carruthers.
Earlier than Saturday 13 April 1895: Woodley forced his attentions on Violet and had not been seen again before her visit to Baker St. Probably assaulted just prior to March 29 as this is the approximate date Charlington Hall is rented.
Woodley hooked up with Williamson at this time.

Sat 13 April 1895: Violet first followed as she cycled to catch the 12.22 from Farnham to Waterloo and her mother's.
Mon 15 April: returned by the 9.50 from Waterloo and is followed.
Saturday 20 and Monday 22: a repeat of the previous week.

Saturday 27: (no horse & trap despite Carruthers' promise) so she bikes to the station for the 9.50, is followed the six miles, and late evening calls on Sherlock Holmes for guidance.
(NB: Granada show her parking her bike outside 221b. - the text does not say she takes it on the train.)

Monday 29 April: Watson catches the 9.13 to Farnham so he can be in position when Violet cycles the route after catching the 9.50.
Watson proceeds to a local house agent, thence back to London and a Pall Mall agent, thence (that evening) to Baker Street to report.

Tuesday 30 April: a note from Violet saying Carruthers has proposed marriage.
Holmes to Farnham, returning that evening after a fight with Woodley in the inn.

Thursday 2 May: a note from Violet that she is leaving through strain because of Carruthers' attentions and Woodley's reappearance. The trap has arrived so she will travel in it to the station on Saturday 4 May.
It is on 2 May the cable arrives with news that Uncle Ralph has really died - hence the urgency.

Sat 4 May: Holmes & Watson catch (we assume) the 9.50 to Farnham and regret not getting the earlier train. They walk the 6 miles from the station but are too late (even allowing a half hour) as Violet would appear to have come for the train before the 12.22.

Empty dog cart..injured groom...the solitary man...the bowling alley...shooting and citizen's arrest...groom goes for the police.

The police arrive. The groom is recovered. Holmes and Watson prepare to take Violet to her mother's; Holmes gives Carruthers his card.

In Epilogue: we knew Violet and  Cyril Morton hoped to marry in Summer 1895. Watson knows at the time of writing that they did so; that she is wealthy and they have a thriving, well-known electrical business in London.
Williamson was jailed for 7 years (out in 1902). Woodley is still in jail serving 10 yrs for abduction and assault.
With Holmes' help Carruthers served a light sentence of a few months.