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22 May 1859, Edinburgh M.D., Kt, KStJ, D.L., LL.D., Sportsman, Writer, Poet, Politician, Justicer, Spiritualist Crowborough, 7 July 1930

"The Hound of the Baskervilles" at Fault (An Open Letter to Dr. Watson)

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

"The Hound of the Baskervilles" at Fault (An Open Letter to Dr. Watson) is an article written by Frank Sidgwick published in 23 january 1902 in the Cambridge Review, long before the beginning of the Sherlockiana.


Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes

Dear Dr. Watson, - Before the appearance of the February number of the Strand Magazine, it is my desire to draw your attention to one or two points in your story, "The Hound of the Baskervilles," in which the world was rejoiced to welcome the reappearance of the late Sherlock Holmes. Whether you can escape all the charges of inconsistency which I shall bring against you, without straining the bonds of literary morality, is to me, and I hope to others, an important question.

From your first chapter the fundamental deduction can be made, that the year of your story is 1889. ("He left five years ago," says Sherlock, looking at Dr. Mortimer's stick, engraved with the date 1884). Now Sir Charles Baskerville met his death on the 4th of May in that year, the night before leaving the Hall for a sojourn of some months in London. A short calculation, or reference to a diary, shows us that May 4, 1889, was a Saturday. Did Sir Charles mean to go from Devonshire to London on a Sunday? Again, in Chap. XI, Mrs. Laura Lyons says that she “saw his [Sir Charles'] death in the paper the next morning." That was quick work anyhow, as Sir Charles was not discovered till midnight on Saturday; and are local Sunday papers so common in villages as Coombe Tracey?

You give no precise dates (of the month) till Chap. VIII, which contains your first report to Sherlock, dated October 13th (which was a Sunday, though you do not seem to know it). At the beginning of that report you say that a fortnight has passed since the flight of Selden, the escaped convict. Now you, Sir Henry, and Dr. Mortimer came down to Baskerville Hall from London on a Saturday, upon the evening of which Perkins the coachman told you that the convict had "been out three days now," that is, he must have escaped on a Wednesday or Thursday. From these data, I conclude that your "fortnight" is only approximate, and that Selden escaped Wednesday, Oct. 2, or Thursday, Oct. 3, and that you arrived in Devonshire on Saturday, Oct. 5th.

At least you must confess that your first day on the moor was a Sunday, whatever the day of the month was. Now on that first Sunday you went to Grimpen to make enquiries of the postmaster, concerning the test telegram sent by Sherlock to Barrymore. And you found the postmaster, "who was also the village grocer," at home. Then you met Mr. Stapleton, the naturalist, out for a Sunday walk, with the net which you justly call “absurd” in another place; and later in the day he came over to call on Sir Henry.

Of the interval between this Sunday and October 13th, also a Sunday, when your first report begins, you give us only two dates: - "the very next morning" after the Sunday call on Sir Henry paid by Stapleton, the latter took you both to show you "the spot where the legend of the wicked Sir Hugo is supposed to have had its origin." The other date is a Thursday, when Dr. Mortimer lunched with you. This must have been October the 10th.

Now your report accounts for the following dates: October 12, when you first saw Barrymore on his nightly excursions; October 13, when Sir Henry seized the opportunity of it being a Sunday to meet Miss Stapleton on the moor and propose to her under your eyes and those of her alleged brother, and when you and Sir Henry sat up for Barrymore the first time; October 14, when you again sat up for and caught Barrymore, heard his (or rather his wife's) explanation, went to catch the convict, and saw "the man on the Tor."

But of October 15 you give no account beyond mentioning that "to-day we mean to communicate with the Princetown people where they should look for their missing man." The extract from your diary in Chap. X begins on October 16th, which you call "the morning which followed our abortive chase of the convict." It was not. Your "abortive chase" was on the night of October 14, as is proved by your writing the diary of it on the 15th. This you cannot escape. It is true that you say (Chap. VIII, init.) "one page is missing" from your letters to Sherlock Holmes, which may account for the 15th of October; but is this an intentional subterfuge?

In Chap. XI, which is the present limit of your tale, you are discovered, by one who can only be Sherlock himself, sitting in a neolithic hut, at sunset. A careful calculation reveals that this day is Friday, the 18th of October, which is the day on which you and Sir Henry "are to dine at Merripit House as a sign" of the healing of the breach between Sir Henry and the Stapletons. I hope you will get back in time to dress, but I doubt it.

Lastly, and worst of all, you cannot have been living with Sherlock in Baker Street at the date of the beginning of this story. In the "Sign of Four" you became engaged to Miss Morstan in September, 1888, and you were married "a few months later." How then in September, 1889, were you still a bachelor in Baker Street?

The identity of Murphy, the gipsy horse-dealer; the so-called “death” of Roger Baskerville in that vague place where all black sheep die (especially if they are younger sons), namely, Central America; and the evidence that you are a minor poet: - these are points about which I may say more another time.






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