Jody Baker: Cut Out The Poetry, Watson

Saturday, July 5, 2014 - 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 Retired Colourman episode, as I recall. In that adventure since Holmes was preoccupied with a case involving two Coptic Patriarchs, he dispatched Watson to go on ahead with the new client, Josiah Amberly the colourman, to take evidence at Amberly'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 and colorful language the details of Josiah Amberly's house 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...."  [RETI, Doubleday One Vol   p.1114]

Holmes was okay on poetry, so long as it was his poetry, e.g., the reverie on a moss rose [NAVA] And the board-schools as beacons of the future, hundreds of bright seeds out of which will spring the wiser better England [NAVA].

But Holmes had little patience for the poetry of others.

Interrupting Watson's beautiful description, Holmes charged at Watson like an enraged bull, he and gored him with: "Cut out the poetry, Watson. -- I note that it was a high wall." [RETI Doub. p.1114]

"Well, enough is enough, " thought Watson.  "That's the last piece of poetry you'll ever get in a report from me."

And 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 a part of 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 exquisite 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." [COPP, Doub.p.322]

Is there a lovelier description in all of literature than this?

Insp. Baynes

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

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