Jody Baker: "Cut Out The Poetry, Watson"

Tuesday, April 30, 2013 - by Jody Baker

It was in the year 1898, if my memory serves me faithfully, that Sherlock Holmes admonished Dr. Watson to "cut out the poetry." It was in the “Adventure of the Retired Colourman,” tale as I recall. In that account Holmes was preoccupied with a case involving two Coptic Patriarchs. He dispatched Watson to go on ahead with the new client, Josiah Amberley, to take evidence at Amberley's home and to report back.

Watson dutifully did as he was told. He took evidence, and he recorded it in great detail. Watson was guided by the principia maxima of Holmes, and he adhered to the rule: "Never trust to general impressions...but concentrate yourself upon details."

It was late in the evening when Watson returned and made his report to Holmes. He set forth every particular which had been observed. Watson recited in descriptive language the details of Josiah Amberley's home and its surroundings:

"It is like some penurious patrician who has sunk into the company of his inferiors. You know that particular quarter, the monotonous brick streets, the weary suburban highways. Right in the middle of them, a little island of ancient culture and comfort, lies this old home, surrounded by a high sun-baked wall mottled with lichens and topped with moss...."

Holmes was OK on poetry, so long as it was his poetry. For example in The Naval Treaty. Holmes had no problem in rhapsodizing upon a rose as being “Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence.”

Again, in the same tale Holmes indulges himself in grandiloquent prose as he invites Watson’s attention to the campus of a board school:

“Look at those big, isolated clumps of buildings rising up above the slates, like brick islands in a lead-coloured sea.”

 *****

“Light-houses, my boy! Beacons of the future! Capsules with hundreds of bright little seeds in each, out of which will spring the wiser, better England of the future. “

Homes seemed to enjoy poetry, only when it was his own poetry. When Holmes was exposed to the poetry of others he became intolerant and intolerable. In a rude and boorish manner he interrupted Watson's description. He charged at Watson like an enraged bull. He gored Watson and inflicted pain:

"Cut out the poetry, Watson. -- I note that it was a high wall."

In the face of such treatment, Watson thought silently to himself:

"Enough is enough, That's jolly-well the last poetic writing you'll ever get in a report from me, old boy."

Never again, so far as we can tell, did Watson ever embellish his reports to Holmes with that particular beauty of expression and freedom of spirit that was so much a part of Watson.

Beauty has always been in Watson's soul, and it often found its release by rolling forth inexorably from the creative mind and the artistic pen of this remarkable man and incomparable writer. So it is that in our study of The Copper Beeches matter we again encounter the poetic spirit of Dr. Watson and the beauty of his expression:

"It was an ideal spring day. A light blue sky, flecked with little fleecy white clouds drifting across from west to east. The sun was shining brightly, and yet there was an exhilarating nip in the air which set an edge to a man's energy. All over the countryside, away to the rolling hills around Aldershot, the little red and gray roofs of the farm steadings peep out from amid the light green of the new foliage. "

I suppose there may be such beautiful  passages in the mystery stories of other authors. If so, I have overlooked them. Mrs. Baynes and I will be ever so grateful to anyone  who will point us in that direction.   

Respectfully, Insp. Baynes

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


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