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The View from the East End (54)

By Inspector Hopkins

December 17, 2006

The Character of Holmes – part 5
Holmes and Spirituality

by Inspector Hopkins 

Thus far in this series, we have established that although Holmes was an invincible machine, he was capable of feeling love. Another intriguing part of Holmes’s inner character involves his spirituality.

Did Holmes ever go to church or belong to a congregation?  Was he religious?

Watson never recorded anything about either his or Holmes’s explicit religious beliefs.  In fact, the closest Sherlock Holmes ever seemed to get to a church was in the guise of a “drunken-looking groom” in A Scandal in Bohemia. Yet, once again, careful observation of certain things that he said and did can reveal this secret side of him.

Hearts and Flowers

Consider the case of The Naval Treaty. Every time I read this story I am always struck by his seemingly out-of-context soliloquy as he said, “Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers”.  Although he mentioned “giv[ing] a few hours to the birds and flowers” in Black Peter, that remark could easily be interpreted as his appreciation of nature itself. But in NAVA, his remarks about the flowers can leave little doubt in the mind of the reader that he was specifically referring to God, and the relationship between God and humankind.

From time to time in the Canon, we see that Holmes slipped into a reverie, or stared out into space as he contemplated the case he was working on. In this example though, he combined an analogy involving deduction and religion and inadvertently let his deeper religious feelings slip out.

Although the name of God is brought up many times in the Canon, it is mostly used in the forms of “Thank God”, or “Oh my God”, etc.  The careful reader will note that in the few times in which Sherlock Holmes used the name “God”, he did so in a specific, respectful, and prayerful manner. For example in BOSC, he said, “There but for the grace of God, goes Sherlock Holmes.”  He admitted that God had given him brains in LADY. He credited his escape from death to the “the blessing of God” as he described his ordeal at the Reichenbach Falls in EMPT.  And in FIVE, when he said, “If God sends me health, I shall set my hand upon this gang”, he tacitly admitted that his actions were dependent upon the approval of the Almighty.

Wait, there’s more:

Let’s not forget the case of The Crooked Man, either. In it, Holmes deciphered the meaning of the reference to the name “David”. Recall that during the closed-door argument between the evil Colonel Barclay and his wife, the housemaid overheard Nancy Barclay uttering that name twice.  Holmes put emphasis on this, but it was not until the end of the story that we see how the name was relevant.

Holmes was right.

The Bible describes the way that King David sent Uriah out to a battle where he would certainly be killed. Once Uriah was out of the way, David married his widow Bathsheba.
 “A trifle rusty” or not, Holmes’s knowledge of the Bible was accurate enough for him to recall the story and make the connection to the case. After some work, and using a search engine, I managed to find the relevant Biblical passages. The description can be found in the second book of Samuel, Chapter 11, verses 15-17.

It is interesting to note that even though the name “David” appears some 970 times in the Scriptures, Holmes was immediately able to make the connection to the correct Biblical passages. This indicated that he had read the Bible frequently enough (or was at least familiar with it enough), to be able to do so. Recall from The Noble Bachelor that Holmes claimed to only read the criminal news and the agony columns. Since the Bible (particularly the King James Version) is not one of the easiest books to read, it follows that he would not have bothered to read it unless he had a very compelling interest in the subject matter!

My Conclusion:

Sherlock Holmes was indeed spiritual, even thought he might not have explicitly gone to any particular church. He believed in God, and had detailed knowledge of the Bible. He had a sense of justice, and he exercised it frequently.  Above all, his sense of spirituality also gives us a glimpse into his humility, a trait we do not often associate with him.

Until next time and thanking you once again for your attention, I am indeed,

Yours faithfully,