The Real Sherlock Holmes (article 27 october 1907)
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
The Real Sherlock Holmes is an article published in The San Francisco Call on 27 october 1907.
The article is about the George Edalji case.
- in The San Francisco Call (27 october 1907 [US]) as The Real Sherlock Holmes
- in The Sunday Oregonian (29 october 1907 [US]) as Conan Doyle as a real Sherlock Holmes
The Real Sherlock Holmes
He is Sir Conan Doyle himself who has just employed the great detective's system to clear a man falsely convicted of a crime.
"What An ingenious imagination!" was the exclamation of the millions who had followed the adventures of the masterful sleuth.
"What a fund of fancy, but how thoroughly logical withal!" they cried.
Now "Sherlock Holmes" is no longer, a creature built of the stuff "that dreams are made of." He is no longer, merely the stage conception of his dramatic friend, William Gillette. He is a real, live man.
And his name is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Thereby hangs a story that has stirred all England and sent its echoes far across the distant seas.
Even as his own hero worked many times in fiction Just for the glory of clearing a man's name of dishonor and righting the wrongs of the oppressed, so Sir Arthur has labored in the interests of justice, without reward save, the knowledge that his deed was good, and he has triumphed in two particulars.
He has cleared a man unjustly accused — cleared him at least in the eyes of the world, if not completely in the legal sense, and he has gained through his efforts the right to be called the original "Mr. Sherlock Holmes of Baker street."
Tardily enough, but none the less emphatically, hard headed British justice has indorsed his work, for within a few days the authorities with whom the author worked for years to clear his much wronged client have consented to arrest another man accused of the crime, and have admitted that they blundered badly in the first instance. This is how it all came about:
In the early part of 1903 all England was startled by a series of fiendish crimes in the country about Great Wyrley, district of Staffordshire. Cattle and horses belonging to farmers and "country gentlemen" living in that picturesque part of the island were found by their owners shockingly maimed. Horses, cows and sheep were slashed with knives or stabbed and left dying in field and stable. Many of the beasts were not fatally hurt, indicating that the "slasher's" sole desire was to inflict painful wounds on the dumb brutes. He would visit one or two farmhouses in one locality on the same evening, and the next time he would be heard from many miles away from the scene of the previous outrage.
To many it seemed like the work of a lunatic, but the stolid, unimaginative land owners decided that it was some one trying to wreak vengeance for a fancied wrong. But so silently and swiftly did the fiend work that the local police could find no clew to his identity.
Finally anonymous letters began to arrive at houses in Great Wyrley — letters threatening fresh outrages; and the cattle slashing was repeated. Many of the land owners got these letters and turned them over to the police, but still the authorities could find no clew.
Among the persons who received letters at this time and turned them over to the police was George Edalji, son of a Church of England clergyman, who was Vicar of Great Wyrley. The elderly Edalji was a Parsee, who had been; educated in England and had become christianized. The son was a studious youth, who had studied law after a university course, and had obtained admission to the bar.
Either because of racial prejudice against him, or because the police in their feverish desire to run down the criminal grasped at any straw, the authorities determined to arrest George Edalji, because, they fancied they detected a resemblance between his hand-writing and that of the anonymous letter writer. They asserted that he had maimed, his neighbors' cattle because of fancied insults, and that he had written the anonymous letters and had included himself in the list of those threatened to avert suspicion.
In vain the young man protested his innocence and in vain his father, the vicar, swore that his son was in his own home on the nights when the outrages were committed. Public sentiment was against Edalji; he was convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison.
Meanwhile there were many who believed that Edalji, was the victim of a miscarriage of justice, and among these was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The more he thought of the peculiar circumstances the more he felt convinced that Edalji was not the real culprit. One day he made up his mind to go to Wolverhampton, where the young man was imprisoned, and like his hero, Holmes, he acted on the spur of the moment, hurried to an express, and was soon on the scene of action.
Bringing, to bear the famous "Holmes system of deduction, Sir Arthur went to work on the case with an energy that would have thrilled his hero's Boswell, "Dr. Watson." It wasn't long before he had something to work on, and presently, he knew, that Edalji could not have committed the crimes with which he was charged. It was a perfectly simple, yet apparently conclusive point.
At his first meeting with Edalji the latter peered at him steadfastly as though trying to see through a fog, and when Sir Arthur, extended his hand the young man groped for a moment in the air before he could grip the novelist's fingers.
"Near sighted," said the real "Sherlock Holmes"; almost blind."
And such was the case. Edalji had been a close student all his days, and he did not realize that his eyes, never naturally strong, were growing weaker and weaker. Sir Arthur, himself a physician, ordered spectacles for his protege. Then as he thought it over, he realised what his discovery meant.
How could a man who was almost sightless, to whom the world appeared as in a mist, steal across moor, bog and field on the darkest nights, creep up upon horses in the pasture, or find his way into a stable, slash the animals after the manner of the Great Wyrley fiend, and then steal noiselessly away into the dark? How could such a man find his way over streams and ditches without a slip or a false step to betray him?
If Sir Arthur had any doubt of his client's innocence, this development removed the last trace of it.
Then began the battle between the real "Sherlock Holmes" and his theories and the stern law which called for facts as loudly and as insistently as ever did Mr. Gradgrind. There were sneers for Sir Arthur; he was called "dreamer," "idle theorist" and even "crank." The secretary of state for home affairs, before whom he carried the case, snubbed the author detective and other government officials followed suit.
But Sir Arthur had much of the public with him, and so great became the popular clamor that after Edalji had served three years the home secretary, Mr. Herbert Gladstone, announced that the crown would "pardon" the young man. So Edalji got out of prison with a pardon, but not a vindication; he was free, but he could obtain no satisfaction for the years he had spent in jail.
Edalji, with Sir Arthur's aid, then began a fight to clear his name and recover damages for false imprisonment.
But the government was obdurate. A pardon was all Edalji could get.
Then, like a thunderbolt from a clear sky, came the news that the Great Wyrley "slasher" was at work again. And this time Edalji was a hundred miles away at the hour the outrages were committed. Sir Arthur had prophesied when he was arguing with the government that the "slasher" would return, and that Edalji would then have an absolute alibi. Time had vindicated his client
At last the officials made an arrest of a suspect; at Wolverhampton. There wasn't anything very important about this arrest itself, for the prisoner is not supposed to be the man wanted, and Sir Arthur has a theory that points "at vastly different way. But it did show absolutely that the police were ready to admit that Edalji ; had been wrongfully, accused, and, that Sir Arthur was right in his protestations of his client's innocence.
That Edalji, will get the compensation he seeks for the false imprisonment and full restoration of his rights no one doubts. Meanwhile Sir Arthur may prevail upon his friend. Dr. Watson, to tell another story of the real "Sherlock Holmes."
In an interview the other day on the Edalji case, Sir Arthur said:
"There is no doubt in my mind that the crimes of 1903 and 1907 were committed by the same man. When at Great Wyrley, where, by the way, nobody knew me, I traced back the history of the whole miserable business to personal vengeance. For reasons which I need not go into there were two brothers who hated Edalji like poison. One of them is now dead; the other, who is still alive, appears to me, speaking, as a medical man, to be a type of the malignant degenerate.
"He undoubtedly is a madman. His particular mania might be called cruelty to animals. It is a sort of blood lust, and well known to students of the psychology of crime. It can be seen frequently in children who do fiendish things to animals and birds."
Should the Wolverhampton suspect prove his innocence, it is quite likely that the police, now thoroughly humbled, will seek out Sir Arthur and take up his once despised theory of the madman, even as they indorsed his efforts by deciding to make the first arrest.
They are telling stories now in England about Sir Arthur's early ability as a detective. Long before he brought out "Sherlock Holmes" he met a man at his tailor's who was buying a suit of clothes and seemed to have a strong objection to any material with a stripe in it.
Sir Arthur at once set the man down as an ex-criminal, and, to satisfy himself as to how far his deduction was correct, he determined to try to trace the man's history. This was by no means an easy matter, but some months afterward, chancing to visit a convict' prison, he saw the man's portrait in the rogues' gallery.