Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Sherlock Holmes and Crime Detection by Frank W. Chandler 1907

Sherlock Holmes and Crime Detection by Frank W. Chandler 1907

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Doyle's supremacy is due in part to the fact that he has made himself the heir of what was best in his predecessors. From Poe  he has taken the analytical element, from Gaboriau the sensational. Where Dupin was sheer reason, and Lecoq sheer energy, Sherlock Holmes is reason governing energy, and energy marked by quiet nonchalance. The virtues of Dupin and of Lecoq unite in him, but he is more plausible than Dupin, because by hypothesis a man of exact scientific knowledge, and more plausible than Lecoq, because his success is the outcome of his qualities rather than the result of mere chance. In the matter of construction, also, Doyle has availed himself of Poe's concise presentation, and of Gaboriau's favorite device of interrupting the main narrative to insert the history of the criminal, by way of explaining his motives.

But literary influence was not alone responsible for Holmes's characteristics. During Doyle's medical apprenticeship in Edinburgh he was impressed by the analytical powers of one of his professors. In lecturing to a class Dr. Joseph Bell would supplement his diagnosis by brilliant inferences regarding his patient's manner of life, character, and past, — all based upon trifles. This Dupin of actuality provided a living model more potent perhaps than literary tradition in shaping Doyle's clever hero. At all events, Sherlock Holmes made his bow to the public in 1887 in a novel published in "Beeton's Christmas Annual." This was "A Study in Scarlet." It is largely analytical. Dr. Watson, the narrator, corresponds to the recorder of Dupin's feats, and is used, not only to tell the story, but also to take the edge from the reader's incredulity by his own oft-expressed astonishment. When Holmes investigates the scene and circumstances of a murder that has baffled the police, Watson regards his actions with wonder, and on retiring from the place is amazed to receive from Holmes a detailed description of the criminal and of his deed. Then the culprit is caught, and proves to be exactly as prefigured by Holmes, and there follows an account of the events leading up to the crime in the manner of Gaboriau.

Two years later appeared "The Sign of Four," which resorts more deliberately to the sensational. Here a mysterious treasure-chest, four Hindoos, an Indian captain, a major, a wooden-legged murderer and thief, and a poisoned thorn, are used to perplex the action, until only the acute inductions of Holmes can bring peace to the mind of the reader. Successive complications render the detective's feat more remarkable, and the flame of excitement, kindled by the original crime, is constantly replenished as the pursuit of the guilty gives rise to fresh situations that startle.

The mingling of melodrama with analysis becomes still more marked in "The Hound of the Baskervilles " (1902). Legend declares that the descendants of wicked Sir Hugo Baskerville are doomed to be haunted and killed by a phantom hound. The mysterious death of Sir Charles seems to confirm the story. His heir fears to take up residence upon the lonely moors lest the same fate await him; but Holmes, when called into consultation, laughs at the legend. Investigation convinces him that the criminal concerned in the case is a scheming descendant of another branch of the family, who seeks the extinction of the direct heirs. An attempt to seize the criminal red-handed gives rise to an exciting scene. Holmes and Watson, in ambush by night upon the moor, await the coming of the great hound that gleams with a strange light. They discharge their weapons at the phantom as it sweeps past, and Holmes in pursuit lays it low just as it springs at the throat of the young heir. Then the mystery is solved, for the hound proves to have been coated with phosphorus. His master has vanished, but a treacherous bog sufficiently accounts for his disappearance.

Even more characteristic, however, than these longer fictions are the thirty-six tales comprised in "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" (1891), "The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes" (1893), and "The Return of Sherlock Holmes" (1904). Here the technique of the short story of crime-detection reaches its acme, and every phase of mystery and of solution is exhibited. Although several of the tales are told by the detective himself. Dr. Watson as a rule acts the admiring Boswell to his friend, chronicling these cases ostensibly to illustrate Holmes's qualities of mind. Usually the account opens with Watson's calling upon Holmes at Baker Street. There he receives an incidental demonstration of the great man's analytic powers, or listens to the general features of some mystery. The bell rings, and a client enters. If Holmes has not already informed Watson of this client's business, the visitor explains it from the beginning, but if the matter has already been broached he adduces fresh details.

Then, when the detective has engaged to look into the affair, his client leaves, and later Holmes, alone or in company with Watson, journeys to the scene of the crime, surveys it carefully,
and meets and interviews various suspects. The solution of the problem may be reached at home, or else upon the spot after exciting manoeuvres. In either event Holmes loves a surprising
denouement. So he smokes out the Norwood builder from his hiding place, shows the troubled diplomat a stolen document  in the very treasure-box from which it has been taken, paints a
missing race-horse and runs him in a steeple-chase beneath the unsuspecting owner's eyes, or serves up in a dish at breakfast the Naval Treaty, whose loss has threatened the breakfaster
with ruin.

Sometimes what has seemed no more than an odd mystery proves the preliminary to a crime perpetrated during the course of the story, and Holmes, in the light of what has gone before, is enabled to explain the problem where others fail. This is the case in such tales as "The Red-Headed League," "The Five Orange Pips," "The Stock-Broker's Clerk," "The Resident Patient," "The Adventure of the Dancing Men," "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons," and "The Adventure of the Second Stain," More often the crime has already been committed. Then it is Holmes's duty to exonerate some one wrongfully suspected of the deed, as happens in "The Boscombe Valley Mystery," in "The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet," in "Silver Blaze," in "The Crooked Man," and in "The Adventure of Black Peter." He may even succeed in proving that no crime has been done, as in "A Case of Mistaken Identify," in "The Crooked Man," and in "The Man with the Twisted Lip," or he may apprehend the criminal, as he does the burglar who is burrowing into a bank vault, the thief who has concealed a blue carbuncle in a goose, that other thief who slips the black pearl of the Borgias into a soft plaster cast, the seaman who has slain his old enemy, the father and son who have murdered their servant, or the professor's wife, who having killed her husband's secretary, and, being discovered hidden in a wardrobe, swallows poison. More than once, however, Holmes, although he unearths the criminal, conceals that fact from the police, and allows his quarry freedom, believing that a higher law of justice has warranted this mercy.

Although Holmes is primarily an analyst, he now and then proves as active as the detective of the purely sensational school. When in "A Scandal in Bohemia" he seeks to regain for a noble personage compromising letters held by an adventuress, he pursues the lady to her secret wedding, comes forward to serve as a witness to the ceremony, then disguises as a clergy-man, arranges a dispute before her house, and has Watson raise a cry of fire without, so that, when the lady rushes to secure her papers from the supposed danger, he may observe their place of concealment. In "The Final Problem" he dresses as a decrepit Italian priest, in order to elude the insidious Moriarty, with whom, however, he presently engages in a hand-to-hand struggle on the brink of a Swiss precipice. In "The Adventure of the Empty House" he amazes Watson by appearing in the guise of an old book-worm, when supposed to have lost his life, and then leads in the capture of Moriarty's lieutenant, who is shooting with an air-gun at an illusive silhouette of Holmes rigged up in an opposite window. In "The Adventure of Milverton," Holmes and Watson, in quest of certain documents,
boldly break into the mansion of a blackmailer and chancing to witness there his murder by an irate mistress, bum the contents of his safe, and escape.

Occasionally, by contrast, Holmes does little or nothing. Thus, in "The Yellow Face" he offers an explanation of a mystery, but when upon closer investigation the truth emerges, be is as much surprised as his client. In "The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb," a den of coiners that be seeks is repealed before be has had a chance to act, and the criminals themselves escape. In "The 'Gloria Scott,'" moreover, he merely recounts to Watson the story of a convict mutiny aboard a brig bound for Australia, and the later hounding to death of one the convicts, who, having reformed and grown prosperous, is recognized by a sailor of the expedition.

It is in the more analytical tales, however, that Holmes appears at his best "Problems," he declares, "may be solved in the study which have baffled all those who have sought a solution by the aid of their senses." He rails at his biographer for having slurred over "work of the utmost finesse and delicacy in order to develop sensational details which may excite, but cannot possibly instruct, the reader." His only emotion is the {Measure born of the chase, or the pride that is fed by success. His closest approach to love is admiration for the woman sharper who outwits him. If he delights to astonish the uninitiated by his prowess, or to patronize Inspectors Lestrade and Stanley Hopkins of Scotland Yard, he evinces no desire for public notoriety, rarely accepts payment for his services, and is content that his professional rivals shall profit by what he himself has achieved. The intellectual satisfaction of having resolved an enigma is his sufficient reward. Watson declares him to be "the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen."

Specifically, Holmes is a student of facts and of character, and a specialist in many odd sciences. He keeps a register of the biographies of notables and of rogues for ready reference. With
his microscope he can point the significance of every footprint and scratch, or recognize every variety of cigar ash. He is an expert in identifying handwriting, thus being enabled to resolve
"The Reigate Puzzle" by proving that the words scrawled across a paper found in the clasp of a murdered coachman have been penned in their alternate letters by two different hands. He is further a master of every cipher, a reader of palimpsests, and a research chemist.

Watson at the outset has said, "I shall...give the preference to those cases which derive their interest not so much from the brutality of the crime, as from the ingenuity and dramatic quality of the solution;" and later he insists that the facts have often been commonplace when his friend's most remarkable feats of reasoning have been performed. Accordingly it is in the interpretation of trifles light as air that Holmes is shown to excel. From a hat he deduces the characteristics of its wearer; from a golden pince-nez dropped by an assassin he divines its owner to be a well-dressed lady, whose nose is thick, whose eyes are set close, whose forehead is puckered, whose expression is peering, whose shoulders are rounded, and whose record will exhibit at least two recent visits to an optician. In "The Adventure of the Abbey Grange" the sediment in one of three wine-glasses, a severed bell-rope frayed at one end, and a peculiar knot lead him to conclude that the murder of a brutal nobleman has been perpetrated by a seafaring lover of the latter's wife, and not by the burglars that the lady and her maid describe. In "The Adventure of the Norwood Builder" he proves from the carelessness with which a will has been drawn, from the irregularity of the writing, which has evidently been done in a railway carriage, from bloody thumb prints on a wall, and from measurements which show a secret room in an attic, that the alleged murder has never been committed. In "The Musgrave Ritual" — a piece reminiscent of Poe's "Gold Bug" — Holmes
disengages from an old family catechism explicit directions as to the location of a vault where has been hidden the crown of Charles I. His inference that the ritual has already been deciphered by a missing butler is then confirmed as correct, for the butler is found dead in the vault where he has been shut by a jealous maid-servant, his accomplice in the hunt for treasure.

Such tales are typical in their mingling of sensation with analysis, but there are others in which the interest is purely intellectual. In "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor" the bride who vanishes during her wedding breakfast is shown by Holmes to have recognized at the ceremony a husband she had thought dead, and to have merely rejoined him, leaving her bridal clothes in a pond to throw pursuers off the scent. In "The Adventure of the Three Students" the copier of an examination paper is detected by his unusual height, which alone could have enabled him to look in at his tutor's window, by the strange fainting of the tutor's porter, which is shown to have been feigned in order to cover a glove that the culprit, a son of a former master, had dropped on a chair, and by certain scratches and cones of clay and sawdust, which are identified as the traces left by a pair of spiked jumping shoes carried in the hand of an athlete.

As for the crimes upon which these stories are based, they vary from murders and thefts to kidnappings and forcible marriages. Warnings of imminent death are conveyed by the five orange pips of the Ku Klux Klan, by the hieroglyphics known as the dancing men, and by the footprints observed in the room of the resident patient. Now an ex-whaling-master is transfixed in his shanty by one of his own harpoons; now a hydraulic press closes down on the engineer who has inspected it too curiously. A gang of swindlers employs the fumes of charcoal to suffocate recalcitrant captives, and Holmes himself is dragged over a cliff, apparently to perish. In "The Speckled Band" a malignant physician, in order to prevent the marriage of a step-daughter, attempts her murder by the means that have proved effective in disposing of her sister. At dead of night he introduces into her room a swamp-adder, which glides down a bell-rope, and being beaten back by the waiting Holmes, poisons its manipulator.

Here, also, are thefts of papers and of valuables, a burglary or two, swindlings, and mysterious appearances and disappearances. In "The Man with the Twisted Lip" a beggar, arrested on complaint of a lady for having made away with her husband, proves to be the husband himself, who has gained a livelihood thus transformed. In "A Case of Mistaken Identity" the girl who deplores the disappearance of her lover on the eve of marriage learns from Holmes that he is merely her stepfather who has sought in disguise to engage her affections that she may continue thereafter unwed, and so secure him in the enjoyment of her properly. In "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches" another rascal, inspired by similar motives, imprisons his step-daughter, and procures a governess to pose in a window as the girl, thus deceiving a watching lover into believing her happy and free. Now a little nobleman is kidnapped from the Priory School by a wicked half-brother; now a Greek interpreter is carried off by plotters who require his linguistic services; presently a lady is seized by a ruffian who hopes through marriage to gain her fortune; and then, in "The Stock-Broker's Clerk," a youth who is lured from the London berth just offered him by the promise of a better position in Birmingham, finds that his name and the former place have been assumed by a rascal, in order to rob the London firm.

Jewels are concealed by thieves in the most unlikely of places; a beryl coronet is filched from the house of a banker, who believes his son guilty of the deed, until Holmes fixes the crime on the young man's cousin and her unscrupulous lover; and in "The Naval Treaty" the theft of that document leaves the reader's suspicions to vacillate among several possible culprits, from the diplomat who has asked that it be copied, and the porter of the office where the copying has been done, to the porter's wife, the copyist's sweetheart, and the sweetheart's brother.

Crime as such, however, counts for little in fiction of this type, for the more analytical the tale, the less is the figure cut by mere roguery. In "The Red-Headed League," for example an amusing mystery and a clever solution are based upon the simplest of facts. An advertisement offering a position to a red-headed man is shown to a pawnbroker by his clerk. The flaming locks of the pawnbroker secure him the place, which only requires the copying out in a certain office for a few hours a day of pages from the "Encyclopedia Britannica." The pay is excellent, but one morning the pawnbroker finds his sinecure gone, for a placard announces the dissolution of the Red-Headed League. Desiring reinstatement, he consults Holmes, who, learning that the clerk had come to the pawnbroker for half pay, and that he had manifested a fondness for developing photographs in his master's cellar, calls at the shop, notices the man's wrinkled trouser knees, and observes that a bank, located on another street, adjoins this shop in the rear. Evidently a tunnel has been dug during the pawnbroker's enforced absence, and a burglary is in contemplation. That Holmes and the police then capture the robbers as they emerge from their burrow is a matter of minor importance, since it is neither the rogues nor their deed, but the oddity of dues to the case, and the ingenuity of the detective's inductions, that command the reader's attention.

For Doyle, in short, the detective, not the rogue, is the thing. Once only does he conjure up an anti-hero fit to cope with his hero in guile. Moriarty is an ex-professor of mathematics, turned chief of a great criminal syndicate. "He is a genius," says Holmes, "a philosopher, an abstract thinker. He has a brain of the first order. He sits motionless like a spider in the centre of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them. He does little himself. He only plans." This modernized and sublimated Jonathan Wild is left undeveloped, however, in order that the fascinating Sherlock Holmes may continue to hold the stage without a rival.

While the upper classes have been catered to by Conan Doyle, the great unwashed have been regaled in shilling shockers and in dime novels by Nicholas Carter [John Russell Coryell], and by countless of his kind. Writers of this school have lent their pens either to cheap periodicals or to paper-covered volumes, published in series. One collection of such volumes already boasts five hundred novels. That few if any of these works deviate from crudest melodrama, and that most deserve oblivion, needs no demonstration. To discuss them, or the output in similar vein of authors more approved, would transgress the limits of this study. It is here sufficient to have recognized in the literature of crime-detection an heir of the literature of roguery, and to have marked the circumstances of its birth and the trend of its development. That this subsidiary genre will attain to the rank or to the influence of its picaresque parent seems unlikely; but that both are destined to survive while society continues subject to the depredations of the anti-hero, who can doubt?

As a force moulding literary history the English literature of roguery has proved most potent in affecting the drift of the drama in the early seventeenth century, in cooperating to create the novel in the eighteenth century, and in amplifying the scope of that novel, and in producing the detective story in the nineteenth century. If it has stood at a far remove from art in such departments as the anatomies of roguery and the criminal biographies, and in such a work as "The English Rogue," it has also achieved artistic distinction in the later fiction, and it has reckoned among its devotees many whose names rank high in the annals of literature. Most picturesque in the days of Elizabeth, most immoral in the days of the Stuarts, and most earnest and at the same time most merry under the Georges, it has become since the advent of the nineteenth century most diffused, complex, and varied. Now it views sordid actuality in the dry light of reason; now it yields to the play of imagination and of sentiment; now it is merely ingenious. It receives the tribute alike of the romanticist and of the realist. It adapts itself equally well to the purposes of the moralist and to those of the jester, to the propaganda of the humanitarian reformer, or to the inventions of the light-hearted teller of tales. To entertain has ever been its purpose, but although much of it has done only this, in the main the genre has acquired significance in so far as it has also subserved the ends of satire, or revealed the manners and life of the underworld, or contributed to an understanding of character, or furthered a study of social conditions with a view to social improvement. In some or all of these directions the literature of roguery has successfully adventured in the past, and these remain the pathways open to its progress in the future.

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