(From the Personal Confessions of S. Holmes, Detective; unpublished by the wish of the executor of his estate, John H. Watson.)
43. The Nature of My Fame,
And Resulting Developments
(cont’d and concl’d)
Thus the published accounts of my friend, John Watson, mispresented me out of necessity. They make me into a monster of near magical ability, by picking solely from among those cases where I could extricate the Truth from the morasses of mystery. for the detective, crying “What does it all mean?”, does not make for the kind of a story the readership of the Strand Magazine is likely to find palatable to their tastes.
Still more damning, though still necessary, was the second kind of sieve my friend was forced to utilize: he could only recount the mysteries where the actual mysterious was present.
Thus, in one example out of many, in the “adventure” of the “Boscombe Valley Mystery” we were sought by a young woman who was mortally certain her childhood friend could not be the murderer he was, seemingly inevitably, to be branded as by the courts.
In that case her guess, unjustified as it was by any kind of evidence, still was shown correct. In dozens — in hundreds! thousands! — of other cases, all stillborn, we were approached by girls, women, boys, husbands, mothers, uncles, neighbors, masters, servants, even a stranger with the same name, all as equally certain, and as bereft of all proof save vagaries of emotion, that a cast-iron police case was mistaken, and only the great and infallible Sherlock Holmes could set the matter to rights.
Watson did well for the peace of mind of the British public to not tell of those cases — of the high hopes, the days of picking at the most clear and forbidding monuments to guilt as ever went to Tyburn’s gallows, of how in so many cases there was no place for doubt in the correctness of the guilt as originally placed, and not even a place for reasonable enough doubt — better for the cheer of the public that Watson did not tell how, so many times, two days into an investigation I had been forced into, his eyes began to follow me, asking the same damnable question: “Nothing, Holmes? Nothing, again?”
I may be the greatest detective that has ever lived, save a handful of more gifted individuals, but against the facts even I cannot do much. And much as such might please my friend, it cannot be thought very sporting to bring up excuses to spring a murderer free, no matter how odious the victim, unpremeditated the act, and hypothetically delighted the concerned lady friend!
Not only that, but my actions as a detective, in exercising my mental faculties as was the only alternative to the lassitudes of opium or madness, and as an “agent of justice” as Watson so ceaselessly delighted in portraying me, were dependent on a deluge of willing customers — and for that reason, the great Sherlock Holmes could not dabble in perversions of justice overmuch, or spend time on cases where no great mystery was present, but only the self-evident and sordid stench of guilt, obscured by the cloud of love, affection or some other human incredulity.
Whenever the police approached me with a case, I reacted with alacrity, and hope: being familiar with kind of crimes that Watson never dared to commit to paper, and the kind of gentle, upstanding and beloved people who often committed those crimes, they were also free of excesses of emotional illusion, and thus not likely to bring obviously clear cases to me. Nine times out of ten, a Lestrade brought me a genuine mystery; nine times out of ten, a member of the public brought me only irritation and a waste of my abilities and time; and to themselves and Watson, nothing but added grief.
The reasons for my many retirements were diverse, as I have explained above in the part of these memoirs relating to the actual history of my operations, and not to their philosophical content; but one constant reason to abandon my pursuits for opium, science or even the collection of stamps was this — the more famous Sherlock Holmes became, the greater the masses of these sad, hopeless fools became. And I worked in ratiocination, in logic, in the cold trade of facts and iron-clad inferences; I cannot work miracles, and make wishes come true. Such power belongs only to — pshaw, on that matter I have not exhausted all other possibilities as of this date.
* * *
Note: Whenever I read or see enough of a detective show, I’m struck by how horrible the lives of these people would be. The Great Sleeping Detective Kogoro Mori, so sure to run into a corpse wherever he goes that it is an actual joke in the works — Hercule Poirot, whose vacations always seem to involve arsenic and blood — and Sherlock Holmes, most of all, always sought out by people so sure there’s a more comfortable truth, if there only was a Sherlock to find it.
For another piece of my meta-Sherlockian dickery, see “Charles Augustus Milverton: Never happened?“