Jody Baker: Lighthouses, Beacons And Hundreds Of Bright Seeds

Tuesday, October 29, 2013 - by Jody Baker

From time to time Dr. Watson liked to come to Surrey and spend a quiet weekend with Mrs. Baynes and me. As you may know from the report that he wrote of the Wisteria Lodge matter, Dr. Watson held me in high regard. He so expressed himself in that tale, and this endeared him to Mrs. Baynes who is profoundly grateful to him for writing me up as he did in that case.

Mrs. Baynes and I reside in a cottage near Esher not too far from Oxshott.  This is peaceful country, and the fly fishing in the nearby trout streams is good. Our home is not pretentious, but it is comfortable, and we do have a guest room within.

Dr. Watson enjoyed an occasional outing to our place, where he sought refuge from the noise and din of London and respite from the swirls of yellow fog and the billowing black smoke that belched forth from the coke ovens and the other furnaces of industry. Sometimes, too, his excursions into Surrey were an escape from boredom when his friend, Sherlock Holmes, was off on one of his continental jaunts chasing after international miscreants.

In particular, Dr. Watson enjoyed our evenings of spirituous indulgence and companionable conversation when he availed himself of our hospitality and partook liberal libations of our liquor.

It was during one such visit, on a winter evening as I recall, that Dr. Watson, Mrs. Baynes and I sat before the hearth fire as the slowly burning peat hissed and sizzled in the grate. It was then that we had the conversation of which I now write. As our supply of single-malt waned, our friendship and mutual fondness prospered, and Dr. Watson became loquacious.  He took us into his confidence and told us of undisclosed details in some of his reported collaborations with Mr. Holmes. 

One such experience related to The Naval Treaty adventure. You may recall a part of the conversation between Watson and Holmes as they were aboard the train returning from Woking to Waterloo Station in London. Dr. Watson revealed to Mrs. Baynes and me the rest of that conversation, the part that he had not reported in his writings.

The train was travelling along elevated tracks over suburban London, and Holmes was looking down upon the board schools below. He philosophized to Watson about the schools and about the students --- and about the future: 

" Light houses, my boy ! Beacons of the future !
Capsules with hundreds of bright little seeds
... out of which will spring the wiser, better

England of the future." [Doubleday pp. 456-57] 

Watson complimented Holmes upon the depth of the thought and upon his effort to be poetic. But Watson also commented that Holmes's phrasing lacked a certain quality of style and, perhaps, could be improved by some minor modifications:

“Light houses, beacons and hundreds of bright  seeds," repeated Watson.  “That's not bad, Holmes, but perhaps it could be improved if you compressed  it and said simply, `A thousand points of light.'"

Holmes attempted to interrupt, but Watson continued: "Then, too, instead of a `wiser, better, England,' let's express it as ‘a kinder, gentler world.’ That has a clarion ring to it."

Sherlock Holmes was not accustomed to being corrected by anyone. His temper flared, and he instructed: "Watson, I like it the way it is. Leave it alone. Don't change it. Write it up my way when you report upon it." 

Watson, feeling stung by this rebuke, retreated into himself. He silently mouthed the words of his own version as he penciled them on the back of his ticket stub:

“A thousand points of light....
A kinder gentler world."

Then Watson said audibly, but more to himself than to Holmes: 

“Some day, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, someone will come along who prefers my version to yours. It will be someone who has grace and style, and a bit of class. And I'll give that person permission to use my expression as if it were his own --- and without attribution. And then, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, that person may very well replace you as the best and the wisest man whom I have ever known. "

As the train rolled on down the tracks into London, Watson settled back in his seat and smiled to himself as he thought, "Yes, perhaps, some day a head of state will address his citizens and seek to lift their spirits by telling them that they are:

“ ‘A thousand points of light
out of which will come
a kinder, gentler world.’ "

This was the tale that Dr. Watson told Mrs. Baynes and me as we sat around the fire on that particular winter night, and I believe it to be true. 

Insp. Baynes

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

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