The View from Sherlock Peoria (286)
December 2, 2007
Uncle John Watson
Oddly enough, I have a great-great-great–uncle named John Watson.
Really. Yes, I know, there’s another writer on this website who purports to be the great-grandson of Sherlock Holmes, so you might tend to look at that statement with some suspicion. But hear me out.
My great-great-uncle John Watson Thomazin was born on December 24, 1887. As happened all too frequently in those times, he didn’t live much beyond that. He was, as far as I can tell, named after two uncles of his own, John and Watson, so I’d like to think that on that Christmas eve when he was born, there was some hope of a full life for the lad. But like so many things one finds out during genealogical research, all one has is names and dates and rarely personal details.
That’s good, in a way. We have enough sadnesses in our own lives to do without bearing the sorrows of all our forebears. History absorbs a lot, letting us focus on what we have to deal with here and now. But at the same time, all of those ancestors that stand behind each and every one of us, pushing us forward, through the curtain and onto the stage of life . . . they’re quite a force if you think about it. Maybe we don’t owe them much, but maybe we do. Even the ones whose branch of the family tree stopped with them.
I don’t know if anyone else currently living on my family tree thinks overmuch about John Watson Thomazin, beyond including his dates on genealogical chart. There’s not really much to cling to there . . . unless, of course, you happen to be the one great-great-great-nephew who is a Sherlockian. And if you are that nephew . . . .
Well, John Watson Thomazin, who was born at Christmas of 1887, will always have a doppelganger named John Watson who was born at Christmas of 1887, in a publication called Beeton’s Christmas Annual. And that makes him a very special baby boy, to Sherlockian eyes. What was it that Sherlock Holmes said?
“If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs, and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the plannings, the cross-purposes, the wonderful chains of events, working through generations, and leading to the most outre results, it would make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable.”
Strange coincidences working through generations, that describes it. Sure, it’s not at all unlikely that somewhere on Earth a baby was born with the name “John Watson” in the same month that Sherlock Holmes’s friend John Watson was first delivered unto the world. In fact, there are probably quite an army of them. A quick Google search even tells me that there was a whole string of John Watsons who lived back in the 1800s not twenty miles from where I now sit. And a few of their descendants surely became Sherlockians. But that doesn’t make one enjoy such little coincidences any less.
And consider this: if there was a baby John Watson who didn’t make it while the character of John Watson went on to lead a rich, full fictional life, maybe back in 1957 some aspiring writer crumpled up a rough draft with a character named “Brad Keefauver” while a baby of that name went on to lead his own rich, full life.
You just never know.
Your humble correspondent,