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WAS SHERLOCK HOLMES AN AMERICAN? PART 2

YESTERDAY, NONE other than noted Sherlockian Franklin Delano Roosevelt offered the view that the world’s first consulting detective was indeed an American. Here in Part 2, we hear from another noted American Sherlockian, Christopher Morley.

The Standard Doyle Company: Christopher Morley on Sherlock Holmes, edited and with an introduction by Steven Rothman, Fordham University Press, 1990.

Christopher Morley was one of the founders of the Baker Street Irregulars. To know the man better, consider a last message he left to friends: “Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to continually be part of unanimity.”

Christopher Morley, 1880–1957, American writer, stage producer, Rhodes Scholar, and Sherlockian authority. Among his novels are Parnassus on Wheels, 1917, (a charming tale of a traveling bookshop); The Haunted Bookshop, 1919, (the Parnassus sequel); and Kitty Foyle, 1939 (a New York Irish lass falls for a rich Philadelphian, adapted as a 1940 film).

Morley wrote, “Was Holmes actually of American birth? It would explain much. The jealousy of Scotland Yard, the refusal of knighthood, the expert use of Western argot, the offhand behavior to aristocratic clients, the easy camaraderie with working people of all sorts, the always traveling First Class in trains. How significant is Holmes’s ‘Hum!’ when he notes that Irene was born in New Jersey.”

Morley associated the world’s first consulting detective with American physician, poet, and polymath, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. “My own conjecture,” Morley said, “is that there was some distant connection with the famous Holmes household of Cambridge (Mass.).” Morley offered proof, with tongue in cheek: “Every reader has noticed Holmes’s passionate interests in breakfasts. Does this not suggest The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table?”

The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table, by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., originally published in The Atlantic Monthly, 1857 and 1858, later collected in book form.

Morley observed about a previous Holmes address: “Let it be noted that the part of London where he first took rooms (Montague Street, alongside the British Museum) is the region frequented more than any other by American students and tourists.”

Morley also stressed Holmes’ personality traits: “He praises American slang, quotes Thoreau, shows his knowledge of the prices of cocktails, and utters the famous sentiment:—”

To wit, in “The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor,” Holmes says, “It is always a joy to meet an American, for I am one of those who believe that the folly of a monarch and the blundering of a minister in far-gone years will not prevent our children from being some day citizens of the same world-wide country under a flag which shall be a quartering of the Union Jack with the Stars and Stripes.”

A cogent and lovely sentiment. These days, the Brits aren’t the only ones with folly and blundering. Do you suppose Queen Elizabeth II would take us back? ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2018

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