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The View from the East End (41)

By Inspector Hopkins

June 18, 2006

A Trifling Monograph

 by Inspector Hopkins

Once I got my feet wet as a Sherlockian, I couldn’t help but notice all the articles and papers and books that related to the subject. 

I read that Christopher Morley once said, “Never has so much been written by so many for so few”. As I explored the web, the sheer magnitude of the literary compositions relating to Sherlock Holmes began to hit home, and I started to realize what he meant. I was as first awed by these efforts, but rapidly became overwhelmed, then finally intimidated by them. 

There are any number of Sherlockian publications out there including the Baker Street Journal, the Holmes and Watson Report, the Serpentine Muse, the annual Hounds List publications, and so on and so forth. Some of these works are no longer active, some are directly linked to the BSI or ASH, and many are related to individual Scion societies such as the Tin Boxer’s Irene’s Cabinet or the Three Garridebs’s Prescott’s Press.

I secretly yearned to write something about the Canon myself, to be one of the great writers, or authors, or Sherlockian “commentators” as they are often called. This would be a lofty goal, one which I could aspire to, and one which would challenge me as I gained experience in Sherlockian circles!

With this idea in mind, and as I looked through some of these journals and publications, the thought occurred to me that perhaps these were collections of what Mr. Sherlock Holmes referred to as “monographs”. Throughout the Canon he mentioned several monographs that he himself wrote. For example, in CARD he stated that he had written two of them on the human ear. In both SIGN and BOSC he mentioned his same work on tobacco ashes, and in DANC he referred to his analysis of cipher codes.

In other cases, Sherlock Holmes stated that he was considering writing a monograph but had not yet done so. For example in IDEN, DYIN, and CREE he said he was thinking of writing one on typewriters, malingering, and the use of dogs in detection, respectively.

It turns out that, according to the dictionary, a monograph is not the sort of essay that I thought it was all this time.  It is a detailed paper, being a long, involved academic sort of work, with many footnotes and references included.  So, in order of length and complexity, we have the “essay”, the “treatise”, and the “monograph”.  Putting that into perspective and tying these ideas in with my own struggling efforts at Sherlockian literary acclaim, I can assure you that I now have an even greater appreciation for these concepts.

When I realize how busy Sherlock Holmes was with his career, including the traveling, the interviewing of clients, and the corresponding with his peers, to say nothing of any of his own personal itinerary (haircuts, medical and dental care, shopping for clothes and the like), I have to wonder when he would have the time to write anything!

There are one or two mentions of his other monographs such as the ones he had written about dating documents (HOUN) and analyzing footprints (SIGN), but only in BRUC does Watson record that Holmes was actually actively working on one of these things. (That was his “Polyphonic Motets of Lassus” paper, in case you are wondering).  So then, we know he must have taken the time somehow, but even so, imagine writing a paper without the benefits of modern conveniences!  Imagine writing (by hand with pen and ink no less), a long, detailed, analytical paper complete with footnotes and references, and a bibliography. Next, imagine the time and effort spent to find and correct mistakes before submitting this paper. Finally, imagine doing this over and over again . . .

It seems those “trifling monographs” really weren’t so trifling after all, were they?

Maybe I need to consult my dictionary more often.

Until next time, and thanking you for your attention, I indeed remain,

Yours faithfully,