“I Believe You Have Had a Letter From My Namesake”: Profiles of the Five Arthurs in the Canon

The discussion of ”The Priory School” at our last meeting and the ill-treatment of Arthur, Lord Saltire, inspired one member to research the incidence of characters named Arthur in the Canon. The following is adapted from her presentation.

A man who was not very kind to his namesake characters.

The Incidence of Arthurs in the Canon
by Terri Zensen

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used his own first name for characters who exemplified innocence, except for one case in which it was used as an alias by a very inventive forger.

1. The Priory School

Arthur, Lord Saltire: This young, innocent son of the Duke of Holdernesse is maligned and abducted by his half-brother, James Wilder, to force the Duke to break his estate’s entail. Arthur is not a developed character; his only real significance is his disappearance from his school, which causes Sherlock Holmes to be brought into the case. The Duke is upset at the headmaster for consulting Holmes, who sets off to discover the whereabouts of poor Arthur. Some odd cow tracks lead the Master to the resolution of the case.

2. The Bruce-Partington Plans

Arthur Cadogan West: This Arthur’s death brings Mycroft Holmes out of his usual haunts and into 221B Baker Street. Cadogan West’s death and the discovery of the missing submarine plans make the case a matter of national security. Arthur is blamed for the theft; fortunately for his reputation, Holmes is on the case. Then another man—Sir James Walter, the official guardian of the papers—is found dead. Col. Valentine attests that his brother’s honor had been compromised. Holmes finally unravels the case, saving both the country and the memory of poor Arthur Cadogan West.

3. The Beryl Coronet

Arthur Holder: Our next Arthur is accused of stealing the beryl coronet, left as collateral for a £50,000 loan. His father, Alexander Holder, the banker holding the treasure, wants his son prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Arthur remains silent even when imprisoned for the crime, trying to protect his cousin, Mary Holder, whom he saw passing the coronet to a confederate. Holmes discovers that the true culprit is Sir George Burnwell, a rakish friend of Arthur’s. Sir George was romantically involved with Mary, who has run away. The Master traces the gems—which, he learns after threatening Sir George at gunpoint, have been sold—and buys them back, returning them to Alexander Holder and clearing Arthur’s name.

4. A Study in Scarlet

Arthur Charpentier: This namesake is falsely accused of the killing of Enoch Drebber and Joseph Stangerson. This son of Madame Charpentier, keeper of a boarding house where the two men had stayed for several weeks, is a sub-lieutenant in Her Majesty’s Navy. Drebber’s attempt to force himself on Alice, Mme. Charpentier’s daughter, caused Arthur to take off after Drebber with a cudgel. Inspector Gregson arrests him for the murders. Holmes then unravels the scarlet thread—the tale of the Mormons and the true reason for the deaths of Drebber and Stangerson—and effects the arrest of the true culprit.

5. The Stockbroker’s Clark

Arthur Pinner: This is the one case in which a character named Arthur is not an upstanding citizen. Arthur Pinner convinces Hall Pycroft to abandon the position he is about to take up at the firm of Mawson and Williams in favour of taking a job as business manager of the Franco-Midland Hardware Company. Pycroft becomes suspicious about what is occurring and consults Holmes and Watson. The detective and his chronicler confront Pinner and discover the scheme: This man is not truly named Arthur Pinner but is, in fact, one of the notorious Beddington brothers, forgers and cracksmen who were recently released from prison. “Pinner”’s brother is posing as Hall Pycroft with the intention of absconding with bonds from Mawson and Williams.

So the only Canonical character named Arthur who is neither a crime victim nor a falsely accused innocent is not a true bearer of the name. This blog will leave any conclusions from these facts to those appropriately trained in psychology.

“He Was Eager That I Should Break the Entail”: What the Blazes Is an Entail?

As part of our June meeting, your Gazetteer researched the inheritance issue behind the crime in “The Priory School” (and discovered a legal pastiche while she was at it). The following is adapted from her presentation.

The Duke of Holdernesse with James Wilder. Sidney Paget, 1904

Entails: What Are They, and What Did It Mean to Break One?
by Janice M. Eisen

As recounted by Dr. Watson in “The Priory School,” Sherlock Holmes deduced that James Wilder, the Duke of Holdernesse’s illegitimate son, had plotted the kidnapping of young Lord Saltire in an attempt to force the Duke to break the entail on his estate and make Wilder his heir. Entails crop up in several of Holmes’s other cases: The Hound of the Baskervilles, “The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax,” and “The Missing Three-Quarter.” Entailment features prominently in 19th-century British fiction as well, such as the works of Jane Austen. Aficionados of Masterpiece Theater may also be familiar with entails from Downton Abbey. So it’s worth asking what an entail was, why it was so difficult to break, and why it existed in the first place.

An estate, no matter how large, soon dwindles to a patchwork of tiny parcels if it is divided equally among the landowners’ sons with each generation. Think about an estate split into 3 or 4 parts; in just a few generations, it will just be a bunch of tiny parcels.

The solution to that problem was primogeniture, the principle that the firstborn legitimate son inherits his parent’s entire main estate. (There were all kinds of possible complexities that we won’t get into here.) This idea dates back to Biblical times—see the tale of Jacob and Esau in Genesis 25—and it reemerged in feudal Europe. In England, by law all real estate passed to the eldest male descendant until 1540, when the Statute of Wills allowed landowners more control over who inherited. Primogeniture remained the legal default until 1925, and it continues to control the inheritance of titles of nobility even today. (Female children were given equal status for succession to the throne in 2015, but efforts to pass legislation to extend that equality to all peerages have failed.)

Allowing estate owners to alter their inheritance, however, meant that estates could be over-divided, as mentioned above, as well as giving rise to the possibility of inheritance disputes. There were also concerns that some dissipated spendthrift or gambler who inherited the estate might be tempted to sell it off to raise cash. So how could a man ensure that his family’s status would continue indefinitely? He established an entail (also known as a fee tail), a form of trust that legally prevented the estate from being sold or inherited by any but the eldest legitimate male heir, in perpetuity.

This was the problem faced by the avaricious James Wilder in “The Priory School.” As an illegitimate son of the Duke of Holdernesse, he was prevented by the estate’s entail from inheriting. As the Duke explained Wilder’s motives for kidnapping young Lord Saltire:

In his view he himself should have been heir of all my estates, and he deeply resented those social laws which made it impossible. At the same time, he had a definite motive also. He was eager that I should break the entail, and he was of opinion that it lay in my power to do so. He intended to make a bargain with me—to restore Arthur if I would break the entail, and so make it possible for the estate to be left to him by will. (PRIO)

Although the Duke claimed he couldn’t possibly meet Wilder’s demands, there would, in fact, have been several ways for the Duke to break the entail if he wanted to. Illegitimate children ordinarily couldn’t inherit land; however, if the Duke went through the legal procedure of “barring” [breaking] the entailment, he could then have changed his will to leave the estate to Wilder. That would, of course, have caused the scandal that the Duke was so desperate to avoid that he employed the unprincipled Wilder as his secretary. Even if the Duke had agreed to accede to Wilder’s demands, it is likely that a court would have voided the will on the grounds of coercion.

One problem frequently faced by heirs to great estates, in Victorian times and later, was lacking the means to maintain one’s land, but being barred from selling any of it to raise capital. This is the reason for the frequent appearance, in both fiction and real life, of the nobleman in search of a wealthy heiress to marry. Indeed, rich American families might bring their daughters to Europe for the purpose of marrying them into the aristocracy. (Edith Wharton depicts this scathingly in her 1913 novel The Custom of the Country.) In more recent times, high inheritance taxes have caused many of the great estates to be donated to the government.

As a non-lawyer, I don’t ordinarily go around reading the Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Journal. But in researching entails, I ran across a fascinating study of the law in the Holmes cases that involve them, as well as other adventures in which inheritance furnishes the motive: “The Game Is Afoot!: The Significance of Gratuitous Transfers in the Sherlock Holmes Canon,” by Professor Stephen R. Alton, published in that legal journal in 2011. I reproduce the abstract here:

This article presents a recently discovered and previously unpublished manuscript written by John H. Watson, M.D., and annotated by Professor Stephen Alton. Dr. Watson’s manuscript records an extended conversation that took place between the good doctor and his great friend, the renowned consulting detective Mr. Sherlock Holmes, regarding issues of gratuitous transfers of property—issues involving inheritances, wills, and trusts—that have arisen in some of the great cases solved by Mr. Holmes. This felicitous discovery confirms something that Professor Alton has long known: these gratuitous transfer issues permeate many of these adventures. Often, the action in the case occurs because of the desire of the wrong-doer to come into an inheritance, a bequest, or the present possession of an estate in land more quickly—perhaps by dispatching the intervening heir, beneficiary, or life tenant. Professor Alton has annotated this manuscript, providing extensive analysis of these issues and citations to relevant, contemporary authority in his footnotes.

Alton, Stephen R., The Game Is Afoot!: The Significance of Gratuitous Transfers in the Sherlock Holmes Canon (2011). Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Journal, Vol. 46, Spring 2011. Free PDF available.

Anyone who wishes to better understand the legal issues confronted by the Master should read Watson’s analysis and Alton’s annotations. They greatly improved the work you have just finished reading.

“A Gentle Little White Mouse”: The Reader as Dr. Watson

As part of our discussion of “The Final Problem” and “The Empty House” at our May meeting, member Christine Ellis shared this insightful analysis of how the reader shares Watson’s point of view in these stories and other Canonical cases we’ve discussed recently. Enjoy!

Watson Has a Mouse in His Pocket: Dr. Watson, Our Alter Ego
by Christine Ellis

Watson personifies the reader’s ability to sit in 221B and participate in the delicious conversations around the fire or at the chemistry table. With a revolver in pocket, we climb into the hansom and are off on another adventure. In the moment, Watson is us, and we are Watson—or at least, an invisible mouse carried in his pocket, seeing and hearing what he sees and hears.

In “The Red-Headed League,” we all know that Jabez Wilson’s job is a scam, but why? In “The Twisted Lip,” we are merely called out in the middle of the night by Kate Whitney to bring her husband Isa back from the opium den on Upper Swandam Lane. This part of the adventure is easy-peasy, of course. It is when we meet Holmes in the opium den that the evening takes a turn, and we dash away in a tall dog-cart, rushing back to Neville St. Clair’s house. Where, mostly in the dark, we sleep, while Holmes smokes his pipe until twenty past four. He awakens us, and off we go to Scotland Yard.  Holmes announces that we “are now standing in the presence of one of the most absolute fools in Europe.”  Oh, really? The mouse, like Watson, still has no idea what’s going on, but the adventure is thrilling, and, of course, all is soon made clear.

Now, on to our adventures for this meeting, “The Final Problem” and “The Empty House.” These stories together create a wonderful synopsis of the mouse in Watson’s pocket. We are in our own lodgings, not at 221B Baker Street. It is late at night when Holmes comes knocking.

“The Final Problem” has a series of events we must obey to the letter. Dispatch luggage by a trusted messenger unaddressed to Victoria; send for a hansom, taking neither the first or second; drive to the Strand end of the Lower Arcade; hand the address to the cabman; have fare ready; dash through the Arcade, timing our arrival for quarter past nine. We will find a small brougham waiting, with a coachman in a heavy black cloak with a red collar, and reach Victoria in time for the Continental Express. Enter the second first-class carriage from the front for our rendezvous. Wow, how much more mysterious can this be? We learn much about  the Napoleon of Crime, Professor Moriarty. We go from Canterbury to Newhaven, over to Dieppe, then into Switzerland via Luxembourg and Basle.

On the way, Holmes gets a telegram from the London police and declares that Moriarty intends to devote his whole energies to revenging himself upon Holmes, and that Watson (and we) really should return to England.  Well, we refuse to do that. So it’s on to the Valley of the Rhone, Leuk, Gemmi Pass, Interlaken, then Meiringen. Holmes confesses again and again that if society was freed from Professor Moriarty, he would cheerfully bring his own career to a conclusion. We get to the Englischer Hof and settle in, making plans to hike over to Rosenlaui. By now we should be very concerned for our safety. Rocks are falling out of the sky. Holmes talks of life’s ending. Still, we head out on this lonely hike. Is anyone else feeling just a little bit edgy? Or even more?

When the boy comes running up the hill with a note for Watson, he—though not we—believes the excuse and runs back down the hill.  Stupid, stupid fool! I challenge you to come up with an incident in the canon when Watson was any more the fool than he was that day!

Now, three years later, “The Empty House.” Watson turns over the facts of the Honourable Robert Adair’s murder in a locked room, coming to no conclusions. We are in our lodgings, late at night, when there is a knock at the door.  This time, it’s an old book-collector whom we met earlier in the day. And, well, come to find out it’s none other than Mr. Sherlock Holmes.  After we recover from our first and only faint: “Now, my dear fellow, if I may ask for your co-operation, a hard and dangerous might’s work is in front of us.”  Aw, this is normal again. The mouse will accompany the pair on one more adventure.

“But We Have Learned a Good Deal, You Perceive”: What the Heck is “Deal”?

Deal table, circa 1900
(This took a fair amount of Googling, since the algorithm thinks you intend the commercial meaning of “deal.”)

When the group discussed “The Man with the Twisted Lip” at our last meeting, it was the second Holmes case we’d read in a row (following “The Red-Headed League”) to feature the kind of wood called “deal.” In REDH, it was the material of some cheap furniture in the League offices; in TWIS, it made up the box that held the building bricks Mr. Neville St. Clair had bought for his son. It will crop up again for us next month in “The Empty House,” in which we learn that Holmes conducted his chemical researches on a “deal-topped table.” But what in the world is “deal”?

The question intrigued NMSOBC member Ken Meltsner (“The Hiding-Place Under the Carpet”), himself an amateur woodworker. Despite the minor handicap of originally believing that the blocks, and not the box holding them, were made of deal, he put together a PowerPoint presentation about the matter, which we will now share here.

As a newcomer to making such presentations, Ken began by explaining how he decided on his topic, using some spousal advice from your humble Gazetteer:

He followed by explaining what deal wood was (essentially, cheap planks of softwood), what it is now, and the origin of the word.

And, in this addendum, noted his original error, which answers the question he raised as to why the bricks would be made of deal, since blocks are usually made of hardwood.

So, despite a misreading, some interesting and useful background information for modern-day Americans trying to make sense of Watson’s accounts.

Sidelights on the Britannica

Volumes of the Encyclopædia Britannica (9th edition, 1875–1889) on a shelf.
Joi Ito via Wikimedia Commons

As part of our discussion of “The Red-Headed League” at our March meeting, we had a brief presentation on the story’s MacGuffin, the Encyclopaedia Britannica. We hope you’ll find it as interesting as we did.

Notes on the Encyclopaedia Britannica
by Janice M. Eisen

The Encyclopaedia Britannica was the English-language encyclopedia in print for the longest time: 244 years. The final printed edition, sadly, was issued in 2010.

It was first published between 1768 and 1771 in Edinburgh, in 3 volumes. It was born out of a period known as the Scottish Enlightenment, which also featured Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, Sir Walter Scott’s novels, Robert Burns’ poetry, and David Hume’s philosophy.

Sherlock (and Jabez) would have used the landmark 9th edition, which was issued in 25 volumes (the 25th being the index) from 1875–1889. This edition is known as the “Scholar’s Edition” because it’s, well, the most scholarly; it is also noted for its wide range of contributors and literary style. There were roughly 1,100 contributors, including such prominent experts as James Clerk Maxwell, Algernon Swinburne, Matthew Arnold, Sir James Frazer, Edward Everett Hale, William Jevons, Baron Kelvin (of the temperature scale), Andrew Lang, Henry Cabot Lodge, William Morris, Alfred Russel Wallace, and Robert Louis Stevenson (one of whose contributions, an article about Robert Burns, was unenthusiastic and thus never printed). Thomas Huxley both contributed and was the general advisor on science. More than 70 of the contributors were from the United States and about 60 from the Continent; they also included a few Canadians and Australians and one New Zealander. A handful of the contributors were women; this edition was the first to include a significant article about women (“Women, Law Relating to”). Evolution was listed for the first time but treated as a still-controversial subject. Oddly, no biographies of living persons were included.

For the 9th edition, the Britannica adopted a controversial scientific approach to cultural topics. There was something of a kerfuffle over the articles on religion written by William Robertson Smith, a professor of theology at the Free Church College in Edinburgh and an intellectual prodigy who mastered advanced scientific and mathematical topics. He was the first contributor to the Britannica to address the historical interpretation of the Bible.

This edition had the Britannica’s first English-born editor-in-chief, Thomas Spencer Baynes, a professor of logic, metaphysics, and English literature at St. Andrews, who worked on it until his death in 1887. Smith’s controversial religious articles—in particular, his assertion that the Bible was not historically accurate—caused him to lose his teaching position in 1881, and he was immediately hired to be joint editor-in-chief, taking sole charge after Baynes’s death.

The 9th edition was much more luxurious than the 8th, with thick boards, high-quality leather bindings, premier paper, and production that took advantage of the latest technological advances, particularly the new ability to print large graphic illustrations on the same pages with the text, instead of only on separate copperplates. Roughly 8,500 sets were sold in Britain, a more than respectable number, but it was wildly popular in the States. Authorized sets for the US market were sold by Scribner’s and Little, Brown; they were identical to the British edition except for the title pages and of the same high quality. These publishers sold 45,000 such sets at $9 per volume. (This was a lot of money; while direct comparison is difficult, it would be well over $150 today.)

Americans also bought several hundred thousand cheaply produced pirated copies (because US law did not yet protect foreign copyrights). One Joseph M. Stoddart paid a spy in Britannica’s own print shop in Edinburgh to steal the proofreader’s copies and send them by fastest mail to him in Philadelphia, so he was able to publish his version simultaneously with the official one and for only $5 per volume. A court decision actually upheld his right to do so. Other pirates sold their versions even more cheaply. Finally, in 1896, Scribner’s, which had managed to copyright some of the articles, obtained court orders to shut down bootleg operations, including melting down their printing plates. Publishers got around this by rewriting the articles that Scribner’s had copyrighted.

Because Americans loved the Britannica so much, in 1901 all rights to publish it were acquired by a group of American businessmen, which left some lingering resentment among Britons, even a century later.

George Bernard Shaw claimed to have read the complete 9th edition, except for the science articles, during visits to the British Museum.

The encyclopedia’s appearance in “The Red-Headed League” was highlighted by the Lord Mayor of London at the celebration of the Britannica’s bicentennial in 1968.

Doyle biographer Charles Higham said that the use of the Britannica in the story serves as a sociological mirror of the times, confirming “the view of the upper middle class that the working orders were simply dolts.”

We’re told that Jabez Wilson wrote on the letter A. Presuming that he skipped the preface, he would have begun: “A, the first symbol of every Indo-European alphabet, denotes also the primary vowel sound.”

He tells Holmes that he got at least through “Attica,” making him astonishingly diligent. The first two volumes, A–Anatomy and Anaxagoras–ATH, contain over 1,600 pages of text (though some space is taken up by illustrations). The article on “Attica” is on pages 57–60 of Vol. 3. Wilson says he hoped soon to get to the Bs, which don’t start until p. 173.

Thomas L. Stix once calculated, based on the average page of the Britannica, that Wilson would have written 6,419,616 words. This seems a rather impossible amount to have copied out in 20 hours a week for eight weeks. There is at least one more mystery featuring the Britannica: Ruth Rendell wrote a mystery in which Vol. 8 was the murder weapon.

I’ll end with a poem by our eminent friend Christopher Morley:

Epitaph on the Proofreader of the Encyclopaedia Britannica
Majestic tomes, you are the tomb
Of Aristides Edward Bloom,
Who labored, from the world aloof,
In reading every page of proof.

From A to And, from Aus to Bis
Enthusiasm still was his;
From Cal to Cha, from Cha to Con
His soft-lead pencil still went on.

But reaching volume Fra to Gib,
He knew at length that he was sib
To Satan; and he sold his soul
To reach the section Pay to Pol.

Then Pol to Ree, and Shu to Sub
He staggered on, and sought a pub.
And just completing Vet to Zym,
The motor hearse came round for him.
He perished, obstinately brave:
They laid the Index on his grave.