“A Summer With Virgil” (Bruce Thornton): From Homer’s Iliad to Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War, these five classics make for sublime and delightful beach reading.
“To read the Latin & Greek authors in their original,” Thomas…
What a great article! What a great find!
Mike Hagan, who happens to be the Tantalus for The Stormy Petrels of Maumee Bay (a BSI Scion since 1974) in Toledo, OH, recently emailed me inquiring about the possible date(s) of Dr John H. Watson’s birthday. In particular Mr Hagan wanted to know whether or not I thought July 7th or August 7th was the more appropriate date to celebrate the birth of everyone’s favorite “one fixed point”.
We all ‘know’ - thanks to rigorous speculation and pleasant wishful thinking by Christopher Morley and friends - that Sherlock Holmes’s birthday falls on January 6th. In fact we are so sure that Holmes was born on this date that the annual BSI Week in NYC (as well as the Sherlock Holmes Society in England) is scheduled to coincide with said date. (I sometimes wonder how many Southern or West Coast Sherlockians wish that Morley’s reasoning had led to a more temperate date?) But what of Holmes’ best friend and Boswell? Is Watson not equally deserving of some speculative gymnastics for determining a date on which to celebrate his birthday?
After receiving Mr Hagan’s question, William S. Baring-Gould’s excellent and still highly relevant biographical study of the Great Detective Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street: A Life of the World’s First Consulting Detective (1962) immediately came to mind*. And of course after a quick perusal I came across ‘Appendix I: The Chronological Holmes’ (p. 293) where WSB states that John Hamish Watson was born on Saturday, August 7, 1852.
But because we are Sherlockians, one date - one specific, simple, uncontroversial date - is never enough…
Michael Hardwick in The Private Life of Dr Watson: Being the Personal Reminiscence of John H Watson MD mentions on page 10 that John Hamish Watson was born on July 7, 1852.
[The excellent and quite entertaining dusk jacket for The Private Life of Dr Watson by Michael Hardwick.]
When doing a search for “Watson’s birthday” in my digital copy (from the CD-ROM) of the BSJ (from 1946 - 2000) I received four unique references:
1) BSJ - September 1974 (Vol.24 No.3) ‘Doctor Watson - A Case of Identity’ by Betty Jo Graves.
The first line (it’s a poem) states: “Written on the Occasion of Watson’s Birthday.” Though the poem never refers to an actual date, we might assume that Ms Graves had the August date in mind since the BSJ issue in which it appeared is from September.
2) BSJ - December 1974 (Vol.24 No.4) From ‘The Scion Societies’ section (p. 245)
“Noble and Most Singular Order of the Blue Carbuncle of Portland, Oregon - The Annual Watson’s Birthday Party was held on 7 July with thirty members in attendance. Anne Kirwin provided both Watson’s birthday cake and a Mr. Magoo Sherlock Holmes cartoon. Following the cartoon, innumerable bottles of champagne provided ample opportunity for uncountable toasts to the indomitable doctor.”
3) BSJ - June 1988 (Vol.38 No.2) From ‘The Sherlockian Societies’ section (p. 119).
The Silver Blazers of Louisville, Kentucky announced that “Finally, agreement was reached to hold quarterly meetings, two of them on or near 6 January and 7 August to commemorate Holmes’s and Watson’s birthdays, respectively.”
4) BSJ - December 1991 (Vol.41 No.4) From ’The Sherlockian Societies’ section (p. 246).
Mrs Hudson’s Cliffdwellers of NJ mention that “A highlight of the meeting was the ‘Let’s Hear It for Dr. Watson” homework assignment, for which the members had to complete a limerick suggesting a date for Dr. Watson’s birthday.” Unfortunately, no specific date is mentioned though I’d be curious if any current Cliffdwellers have a record of any of these limericks. The piece mentions Bob Thomalen being in attendance and by total coincidence he is actually on my ‘to email’ list for this month, so I’ll be sure to mention it to him.
So if you are so inclined - regardless if my modicum of evidence has swayed you in one direction or another - join me in wishing the good (the best!) doctor a very happy birthday on this day, August 7th.
A special note of thanks to Mr Mike Hagan of The Stormy Petrels of Maumee Bay of Toledo, OH for inspiring this post.
* Though WBG’s Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street: A Life of the World’s First Consulting Detective (1962) is still relatively easy to come by used in either hard- or softcover, Christopher Roden & Barbara Roden of Calabash Press recently announced a forthcoming e-book version which is due out in late September (last I heard). Along with providing an searchable version of an excellent Sherlockian book, I hope the Roden’s re-release turns on an entirely new generation to the serious(ly) fun and whimsical speculation of WBG’s Holmesian biography.
[Photo of one of my copies of WBG’s classic Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street.]
** Pure Coincidences: The Literary Agent, ACD, died on July 7th, 1929. Edward Hardwicke, the brilliant actor who took on the role of Watson after David Burke for Granada was born on August 7th, 1932 (Thanks to @BakerStJournal for the reminder!).
Wot’s in a name? — she sez … An’ then she sighs,
An’ clasps ‘er little ‘ands, an’ rolls ‘er eyes.
“A rose,” she sez, “be any other name
Would smell the same.
Oh, w’erefore art you Romeo, young sir?
Chuck yer ole pot, an’ change yer moniker!”
Doreen an’ me, we bin to see a show —
The swell two-dollar touch. Bong tong, yeh know.
A chair apiece wiv velvit on the seat;
A slap-up treat.
The drarmer’s writ be Shakespeare, years ago,
About a barmy goat called Romeo.
“Lady, be yonder moon I swear!” sez ‘e.
An’ then ‘e climbs up on the balkiney;
An’ there they smooge a treat, wiv pretty words
Like two love-birds.
I nudge Doreen. She whispers, “Ain’t it grand!”
‘Er eyes is shining an’ I squeeze ‘er ‘and.
‘Wot’s in a name?” she sez. ‘Struth, I dunno.
Billo is just as good as Romeo.
She may be Juli-er or Juli-et —
‘E loves ‘er yet.
If she’s the tart ‘e wants, then she’s ‘is queen,
Names never count … But ar, I like “Doreen!”
A sweeter, dearer sound I never ‘eard;
Ther’s music ‘angs around that little word,
Doreen! … But wot was this I starts to say
About the play?
I’m off me beat. But when a bloke’s in love
‘Is thorts turns ‘er way, like a ‘omin’ dove.
This Romeo ‘e’s lurkin’ wiv a crew —
A dead tough crowd o’ crooks — called Montague.
‘Is cliner’s push — wot’s nicknamed Capulet —
They ‘as ‘em set.
Fair narks they are, jist like them back-street clicks,
Ixcep’ they fights wiv skewers ‘stid o’ bricks.
Wot’s in a name? Wot’s in a string o’ words?
They scraps in ole Verona wiv the’r swords,
An’ never give a bloke a stray dog’s chance,
An’ that’s Romance.
But when they deals it out wiv bricks an’ boots
In Little Lon., they’re low, degraded broots.
Wot’s jist plain stoush wiv us, right ‘ere to-day,
Is “valler” if yer fur enough away.
Some time, some writer bloke will do the trick
Wiv Ginger Mick,
Of Spadger’s Lane.
‘E’ll be a Romeo,
When ‘e’s bin dead five ‘undred years or so.
Fair Juli-et, she gives ‘er boy the tip.
Sez she: “Don’t sling that crowd o’ mine no lip;
An’ if you run agin a Capulet,
Jist do a get.”
‘E swears ‘e’s done wiv lash; ‘e’ll chuck it clean.
(Same as I done when I first met Doreen.)
They smooge some more at that. Ar, strike me blue!
It gimme Joes to sit an’ watch them two! ‘
E’d break away an’ start to say good-bye,
An’ then she’d sigh
“Ow, Ro-me-o!” an’ git a strangle-holt,
An’ ‘ang around ‘im like she feared ‘e’d bolt.
Nex’ day ‘e words a gorspil cove about
A secret weddin’; an’ they plan it out.
‘E spouts a piece about ‘ow ‘e’s bewitched:
Then they git ‘itched …
Now, ‘ere’s the place where I fair git the pip!
She’s ‘is for keeps, an’ yet ‘e lets ‘er slip!
Ar! but ‘e makes me sick! A fair gazob!
E’s jist the glarsey on the soulful sob,
‘E’ll sigh and spruik, a’ ‘owl a love-sick vow —
(The silly cow!)
But when ‘e’s got ‘er, spliced an’ on the straight
‘E crools the pitch, an’ tries to kid it’s Fate.
Aw! Fate me foot! Instid of slopin’ soon
As ‘e was wed, off on ‘is ‘oneymoon,
‘Im an’ ‘is cobber, called Mick Curio,
They ‘ave to go
An’ mix it wiv that push o’ Capulets.
They look fer trouble; an’ it’s wot they gets.
A tug named Tyball (cousin to the skirt)
Sprags ‘em an’ makes a start to sling off dirt.
Nex’ minnit there’s a reel ole ding-dong go -—
‘Arf round or so.
Mick Curio, ‘e gets it in the neck,
“Ar rats!” ‘e sez, an’ passes in ‘is check.
Quite natchril, Romeo gits wet as ‘ell.
“It’s me or you!” ‘e ‘owls, an’ wiv a yell,
Plunks Tyball through the gizzard wiv ‘is sword,
‘Ow I ongcored!
“Put in the boot!” I sez. “Put in the boot!”
“‘Ush!” sez Doreen … “Shame!” sez some silly coot.
Then Romeo, ‘e dunno wot to do.
The cops gits busy, like they allwiz do,
An’ nose around until ‘e gits blue funk
An’ does a bunk.
They wants ‘is tart to wed some other guy.
“Ah, strike!” she sez. “I wish that I could die!”
Now, this ‘ere gorspil bloke’s a fair shrewd ‘ead.
Sez ‘e “I’ll dope yeh, so they’ll think yer dead.”
(I tips ‘e was a cunnin’ sort, wot knoo
A thing or two.)
She takes ‘is knock-out drops, up in ‘er room:
They think she’s snuffed, an’ plant ‘er in ‘er tomb.
Then things gits mixed a treat an’ starts to whirl.
‘Ere’s Romeo comes back an’ finds ‘is girl
Tucked in ‘er little coffing, cold an’ stiff,
An’ in a jiff,
‘E swallows lysol, throws a fancy fit,
‘Ead over turkey, an’ ‘is soul ‘as flit.
Then Juli-et wakes up an’ sees ‘im there,
Turns on the water-works an’ tears ‘er ‘air,
“Dear love,” she sez, “I cannot live alone!”
An’ wiv a moan,
She grabs ‘is pockit knife, an’ ends ‘er cares …
“Peanuts or lollies!” sez a boy upstairs.