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HOLMES IN ERROR, GOOSEWISE?

THERE’S CONTROVERSY resulting from Dr. John H. Watson’s chronicling of “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.” The gemstone of this title, belonging to the Countess of Morcar, was allegedly found lodged in the crop of a Christmas goose.

The tale occurred in Christmas season 1891, but the real controversy arose in 1946 when Sherlockian Mildred Sammons made the stunning observation that a goose has no crop.

Was Holmes in error, goosewise?

“The bird gave a gulp.” Illustration by Dan Smith, in Sunday Portland Oregonian, August 20, 1905, from The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes.

A crop, anatomically, is a thin-walled expandable portion of an animal’s alimentary tract used for food storage prior to digestion. Many birds have crops; so do snails and slugs, earthworms, and some insects.

A pigeon cutaway. Image from Zoology; an elementary text-book, 1901, by A. E. Shipley.

Among birds, the vultures, hawks, eagles, and pigeons have crops. Owls do not. Chickens and turkeys have crops. Geese do not.

An appended article “A Winter’s Crop” in The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, Vol. 1, gives details of this. It wisely avoids any comments along the lines of “Alimentary, my dear Watson,” or even the more familiar misquote.

The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Short Stories, 2 Vol. Set, edited by Leslie S. Klinger, additional research by Patricia J. Chui, W.W. Norton, 2005.

Eminent Sherlockian Dr. Jay Finley Christ concurred about cropless geese: “Consultation of one ornithologist, two zoologists, and three poultry dressers, together with ocular demonstration, made it abundantly clear that the lady is correct.”

Then the Sherlockian community got hold of this, with quibbles about the difference between merely a distended gullet and an actual dilation of the oesophagus. Noted a poultry expert at the Agricultural School of the University of New Hampshire, “The crop is simply not as visible as on a turkey, but apparently all barnyard fowl have them.”

The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes also cites the British Ministry of Agriculture: “The view of the Ministry’s Chief Poultry Advisor, Dr. Rupert Coles, M.Sc. (Agric.), M.Sc. (Econ.), B.A., Ph.D., D.Sc. (Agric), D.V.Sc., is: The American Professor [Christ] is quite correct in stating that a goose has no crop. However, as a Sherlock Holmes fan I am glad to say that this fact does not necessarily invalidate the theory in the story of The Blue Carbuncle.”

SimanaitisSays, B.S., M.A., Ph.D. (Maths), calls “alternative fact” on this last sentence.

Illustration by Sidney Paget for Strand Magazine, 1892, from The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes.

Indeed, I agree with Sherlockian Peter Blau’s “The Matter is a Perfectly Trivial One,” also cited in The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes. Blau writes, “… the matter of geese’s crops is really beside the point… if we assume that the Blue Carbuncle was not found in the goose’s crop at all, and that the long debate has actually centred on a printer’s error, which substituted an o for Watson’s a.” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2018

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