The View from Sherlock Peoria (292)
January 6, 2008
Happy Birthday, Mr. Sherlock Holmes!
Today being the sixth of January, 2008, one cannot let the day pass without raising some small celebration in honor of Sherlock Holmes’s birth. The big festivities will take place in New York City next weekend, and in London not long after that, but to the traditionalist, today is the day. (And if you’re reading this on Monday morning, having whiled away Sunday over comics and football, for shame!)
Now, here’s where it gets sticky. Sherlock Holmes was born on January 6 somewhere in the 1850s. This means he’s either entering, or well into, his one-hundred-and-fifties, if he’s still alive.
In the past, Sherlockians used to steadfastly hold that Sherlock Holmes was still alive, even past age one hundred, because no obituary had ever appeared in the London papers. But lately I’ve been noticing modern Sherlockians starting to give up on that hope. As humans outside of the Bible have not been recorded to live as long as 150, even at their best, practical thinkers just can’t allow that there’s any chance Holmes is still among us.
But that’s the key, don’t you know. Sherlock Holmes hasn’t been with us for quite some time now. He disappeared from our radar once Conan Doyle, the single person to keep steady contact of any kind with him through the years, died in 1930.
And so, in 1930, Sherlock Holmes entered the realm of the missing. With Amelia Earheart, Ambrose Bierce, Jimmy Hoffa, and D.B. Cooper, we have a general theory that he isn’t alive, but no body to prove for certain. He becomes something of a Schrodinger’s cat . . . neither alive nor dead.
Sherlock Holmes’s time, of course, is long past. While he went into espionage as his “second act,” he has not moved through societal changes as his fellow spy James Bond has. (Of course, it is entirely possible, as was theorized in the 1960s, that “James Bond” is just a designation used by Her Majesty’s Secret Service for an entire series of agents.) There was just one Sherlock Holmes, and with the end of the Victorian era, his active part in solving crimes soon came to an end.
Note my use of the word “active.” If you count Sherlock Holmes’s example, his influence, and his imitators, Sherlock Holmes is still solving crimes today. Indeed, he may never stop solving mysteries in more fields than we can count. Those inspired by Holmes don’t just work in forensics, after all. They work in medicine, in technology, in government . . . in any field where there are problems to be solved and facts to be found.
One often hears it said of the departed, “he lives on in all of us.” There’s great truth in that, and it can be truer of no man more than Sherlock Holmes. When he dissipated from our view back in 1930, his essence spread across the world. My friend Don can probably tell you exactly how many countries he’s touched, but me, I’ll just have to go with “the world.” And that includes you, and that includes me.
So Happy Birthday, Mr. Sherlock Holmes! And Happy Birthday to that little bit of Holmes in you, and Happy Birthday to that little bit of Sherlock Holmes in me.
I hope you got cake.
Your humble correspondent,