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VOL. 35 | NO. 9 | Friday, March 4, 2011

Who am I? It’s elementary, my dear Watson

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I started this column as yet another “Who am I?” But ulterior motive did me in. I’ve a story to tell.

Before you abandon your post, be assured I’ve not told the story in this venue before.

First, let me acknowledge “The Straight Dope,” by Cecil Adams, the source of some of the material herein. I love its tagline: “Fighting Ignorance Since 1973 (It’s taking longer than we thought).”

Let’s mix the genres a bit. He was born in 1854 (not Cecil Adams). Or was it 1861? A case has been made for both.

He’s “tentatively” been proved to have attended Cambridge, though there are fans who claim that he attended Oxford.

He made his first appearance in a novel, “A Study in Scarlet,” in 1887.

Popular from the get-go, he was known for drawing grand conclusions from the smallest of observations.

A second novel followed in 1890. A series of 12 short stories ensued, and then another such series.

His creator, though pleased with the financial success, wanted to write other works. So, in a third novel, in 1893, he had our hero and his nemesis engage in a mutually fatal battle.

Though fans were outraged, the author devoted himself for the next eight years to other writings.

As fate would have it, in 1901, he found himself with a plot in need of a detective. So, he used his departed character, adjusting the time line, so as to have the action take place before the date of his death.

This 1901 novel, “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” was such a success that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had to find a way to resurrect Sherlock Holmes.

He did just that in 1903, explaining in “The Open House” that Holmes had not really plunged into the waterfall with Professor Moriarty after all.

One Dex, of TSD’s Science Advisory Board, writes:

“If you’ve not read Sherlock Holmes … I heartily recommend him. I draw your attention to ‘The Annotated Sherlock Holmes’ by William S. Baring-Gould (1967), which contains all the stories with ample footnotes ….”

It was the above note that put me in mind of my infamous contact with Holmes. Although, in point of fact, it was not Sherlock with whom I had the encounter, but an aficionado.

In the summer of 1977, I was a third-year law student. In my capacity as executive editor of Law Review, I was charged with editing a review of “The Annotated Sherlock Holmes.”

The review was written by Henry Woods, at the time one of America’s leading trial lawyers. A future federal judge, Woods was a past president of the state bar association and had written a treatise on comparative negligence that was awaiting publication. And I was his editor. What a mismatch!

Judge Woods’ writing was grammatically flawless, but a tad verbose in spots. I recall the trepidation with which I approached the author late one afternoon, unsure how he might react to my having parsed his compound sentences.

Ever the gentleman, though, Judge Woods regaled me with stories of how he had become a fan of Holmes while working as a special agent of the FBI in the mid-1940s. (For five years, he WAS Sherlock Holmes!)

He told me that however I wanted to rewrite his sentences was fine with him. He was glad for some editorial assistance.

I left his office uplifted with confidence, and we remained friends till his death in 2002.

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.

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