The Dissecting Room . . . January 1993
It looks like Sherlock Holmes.
It sounds like Sherlock Holmes.
Is it Sherlock Holmes?
In last month's column, you may remember, your forever- digressing columnist was picking at the great detective's performance in "Solitary Cyclist." Holmes walks into a local bar to try to cunningly draw information from the locals and winds up getting beaten up. There were a lot of holes in his story, and all in all, it seemed a very un-Holmes-like performance.
Everybody has an off day, but Sherlock Holmes is not everybody. When he's not performing up to par, we Sherlockians tend to look for a reason that makes sense to us. We're not about to buy any theories that he didn't eat a good breakfast, or that his biorhythms were combined with a bad planetary alignment in his zodiac sign. We want solid facts.
Sherlock Holmes didn't perform like Sherlock Holmes?
Well, then, maybe it wasn't Sherlock Holmes.
"The Solitary Cyclist" takes place in the spring of 1895. One of the most notorious theories of Sherlockiana is that of the "Deutero-Holmes." First championed by Anthony Boucher, this theory basically states that Holmes did indeed perish in the Reichenbach Falls in 1891. The Holmes who came back later was an inferior replacement who doesn't care for the violin, isn't addicted to cocaine, and breaks the law whenever he feels like it. The Deutero-Holmes is said to be a Holmes cousin, an imaginary construction of Watson, or possibly even Moriarty in disguise. All of the Deutero-Holmeses have one thing in common, however. They all come to replace the Sherlock Holmes who died at Reichenbach. Before that, they were someone else.
But what if the Deutero-Holmes was Sherlock Holmes before he replaced Sherlock Holmes after Sherlock Holmes's death?
There would have had to have been two Sherlock Holmeses, right?
That would explain a whoooooole lot of things. Holmes went to college at Oxford and Cambridge. Holmes was a sedentary deductive reasoner and an energetic man of action. Holmes could be present in London handling an important blackmail case and hiding out on the moors of Devonshire to back up Watson in The Hound of the Baskervllles. No one man could possibly have been everything Holmes was ... but two?
One Holmes who was ignorant of Copernican theory and one Holmes who discussed the obliquity of the ecliptic. One Holmes that could shoot the leaves off a four-leaf clover, and another who couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. One
From "Solitary Cyclist," and so many other post-1895 cases, I would have to speculate that the more active of the Holmes twins was the survivor. He tends to get his hands dirty doing his detect!vework, rather than sitting at Baker Street being the ideal reasoner. He's not addicted to cocaine, morphine, or just lying around 221B in a mood.
That isn't to say that the less-active Holmes had. to die in 1891. Prior to the Moriarty case, Holmes (probably that Holmes) was talking about retiring. He could have sat out the post-Reichenbach years in Sussex while the other Holmes, who wanted to go on, continued the practice ....
.... only not quite as well.
Sherlock Holmes couldn't have just had an off day, an off year, or an off decade. He was Sherlock Holmes, after all.