Jody Baker: Baynes On Holmes And Oysters

Thursday, January 31, 2013 - by Jody Baker

In The Adventure of the Dying Detective, Sherlock Holmes feigns delirium and engages Watson in a seemingly maniacal, bizarre conversation about the world being overrun by oysters. In reporting upon this conversation Watson, for dramatic effect (or more personal reasons), omitted parts.  Certain remarks made by Watson and replies and actions by Holmes were not included by Watson in his write-up. 

We know from the reported text that Holmes said to Watson, “Indeed, I cannot think why the whole bed of the ocean is not one solid mass of oysters, so prolific the creatures seem.” That was written. What follows was not.

Watson replied:  "Tweedledee." 

Holmes, picking up interest: "Don't you mean, `twaddle,' Watson, ineffable twaddle? "

Watson, sternly: "No, Holmes. I mean Tweedledee – as in Tweedledee and walruses and carpenters -- and such." 

Holmes, sitting upright in the bed with a clear eye, apparently having shaken his delirium, said forcefully, "Watson, I wish you would make sense. I'm the one here who's supposed to be delirious. What the deuce are you talking about?"

"Well, Holmes," replied Watson, "Tweedledee was telling Alice about poetry, and at Tweedledum's suggestion, he gave her the Walrus-and-the-Carpenter bit about why the whole world is not overrun by oysters: 

“O  Oysters, come and walk with us!”

The Walrus did beseech,
“A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
        Along the briny beech....”
                         * * * * *
... four young oysters hurried up,
        All eager for the treat
Their coats were brushed, their faces washed,
         Their shoes were clean and neat---
                         * * * * *
Four other oysters followed them,
         And yet another four,
         And more, and more, and more---"
                         * * * * *
“A loaf of bread,” the Walrus said,
         “Is what we mainly need:
  Pepper and vinegar besides
           Are very good indeed---
  Now, if you're ready, Oysters, dear,
            We can begin to feed."
                         * * * * *
  “It seems a shame,” the Walrus said.
            “To play them such a trick.
      After we've brought them out so far,
            And made them trot so quick!'
      The Carpenter said nothing but;
            “The butter's spread too thick”
      “O, Oysters,” said the Carpenter,
             “You've had a pleasant run !
       Shall we be trotting home again?”
            But answer came there none---
       And this was scarcely odd, because
            They'd eaten every one."

 [(Abridged from “Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There,” by Lewis Carroll nom de plume for Charles Lutwidge Dodgson)]

This had so engaged Holmes's attention that he was excited out of his lethargy. He was giggling, sitting cross-legged in a Yoga position and was bouncing up and down on his bed with glee. Suddenly, he realized that he had been tricked out of his feigned illness. But he was so pleased with his discovery that he just repeated Watson's enigmatic expression over and over: "Tweedledee, Tweedledee, Tweedledee."   

It was after this that Holmes pronounced his salient observation on oysters. It was a scientific truth spoken by Holmes that Watson did report: “No doubt there are natural enemies which limit the  increase of the creatures.”

These were the facts of the conversation between Watson and Holmes of which Watson has given only a partial report. 

Insp. Baynes

(Jody Baker is a Chattanooga attorney, who specializes in Sherlock Holmes lore. He can be reached at

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