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.)


Send Your Opinions To Chattanoogan.com

We welcome your opinions at Chattanoogan.com. Email to news@chattanoogan.com . We require your real first and last name and contact information. There is no word limit, but if your article is too long you may lose your reader. Please focus more on issues than personal attacks. (click for more)

Patsy Hazlewood Will Lead

Our times demand leadership and not constant politics and bickering. Patsy Hazelwood will be a leader for District 27 in the Tennessee House and for this entire area. Patsy has a common sense approach to the importance of excellence in the classroom that will prepare our children for world-class jobs. Patsy will put to work her experience in marshaling resources and talent ... (click for more)

Mayor Berke, Chattanooga Police Department, And Community Members Reach Out To Group Members To End Violence

The city of Chattanooga held a call-in on Thursday night, as part of the Violence Reduction Initiative. Dozens of law enforcement officials, community members, social service providers and clergy gathered to deliver a message to over 20 members of violent groups in Chattanooga. Family members of the probationers watched the call-in from another building. Although the call-in was ... (click for more)

Tribute Service For Luther Masingill Held At Historic Engel Stadium

It took a place as big as historic Engel Stadium for Chattanooga to say goodbye to their beloved Luther. Hundreds came Thursday afternoon to pay tribute to Luther Masingill who died early Monday morning after a radio career that spanned an amazing 74 years. It was clear from all who spoke that he was considered not only a radio personality, but also a role model. One after ... (click for more)

Notre Dame Claims Region 4A/AA Soccer Title

Junior Sofia Olenchek scored twice, including the winning goal in the second overtime (95th minute) period as host Notre Dame defeated crosstown rival Chattanooga Christian 2-1, for the Region 4 A-AA championship Thursday night. In a well-played, physical match, CCS led at halftime, 1-0,  after senior Hannah Henry scored in the 14th minute, but Olenchek's first goal ... (click for more)

Baylor Beats Briarcrest For Shot At Father Ryan, DII-AA State Volleyball Title

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – OK, Father Ryan.  Baylor’s still hanging around. The Lady Red Raiders stormed past Briarcrest, 3-1, Thursday in the loser’s bracket final at Siegel Middle School and advanced to Friday’s Division II-AA volleyball tournament championship match. The set scores were 26-24, 25-15, 24-26, 25-15. The Lady Red Raiders lost to Father Ryan, ... (click for more)