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"proof against the little god's arrows" [NOBL]



When one searches the Canon for Valentines, the only one one comes across is Colonel Valentine Walter ("The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans") and the only mention of Cupid is how one noble bachelor managed to avoid “the little god’s” [Cupid’s] arrows for twenty years. Surprising, given how many couples and the many permutations of love inform the adventures and the fact that the Victorians pretty much invented the holiday as we know it.

There were apparently three saints called Valentine (Valentinus) — one a priest in Rome, one a bishop in Turni, Italy, and one who died in the Roman province of Africa Proconsularis — all connected to February 14.

Little is factually known of the three; legends about the priest and bishop may have been conflated into the stories known today. Valentine was martyred for secretly marrying Christians; or for secretly marrying Roman recruits, thus preventing them to fight in war (soldiers had to be single at the time); or that he was executed for trying to convert the Emperor; or that after being arrested he restored the eyesight of an Umbrian judge’s blind daughter, converted him and his family, later arrested again in Rome, became friendly with the Emperor Claudius Gothicus, tried to convert him, whereupon the Emperor had Valentine beaten with clubs and beheaded on February 14, 269; or that Valentine refused to make sacrifices to Roman gods, was imprisoned, healed the jailer’s daughter of blindness, and on the day of his execution left the girl a note signed, “From your Valentine.”


But like many other Christian holidays, Valentine’s Day has a very long history and pagan origins. Lupercalia was held in ancient Rome on February 15 in honor of Juno, in this case one of her specific aspects, Juno Februalis, involving fertility and purification. One ceremony had the
"names or tokens representing all the young girls in the district ... placed in a love urn and the young lads each drew a token and the couples paired off. This was a kind of mating lottery game. During the Roman occupation of Britain, the idea was brought to this country and adopted by the ancient Britons. When people were converted to Christianity the pagan and Christian festivals were merged; the festival of Lupercalia was put back a day and celebrated on St. Valentine's day, February 14. The old pagan customs still continued and in Britain up to the beginning of the present century it was customary for local lads and lasses to draw lots for partners. In Lancashire, on St. Valentine's eve, the names of eligible young people were written on separate slips of paper and divided into two groups, male and female. The boys drew a slip from the girls' pile and vice versa. Thus each person received two sweethearts and then had to work out for themselves the most satisfactory arrangement. After the final selection had been made the boys treated their maidens to all sorts of outings and surprises including dances and gifts." (British Culture, British Customs and British Traditions: Valentine's Day in the UK - February 14th)


"I have never loved" [DEVI]

The linking of Valentine’s Day and love started in Europe in the Middle Ages, continued with written notes of verse in the 1500s and evolved in to giving tokens of affection, sometimes left anonymously on the doorstep of the beloved. Gloves were a popular gift because the name contained the word love. Flowers became widespread in the 1700s when Charles II of Sweden imported selam, the old Persian art of the language of flowers to the West where it evolved to specific flowers and fruits having specific meanings, the giving of which conveyed messages to the receiver.

Postal reforms in England, including the Uniform Penny Post in 1840 made it much more cost-effective to send your homemade Valentine to your love. Before then, postage was calculated by pages and distance; it could cost more than an average day’s wages to send a one-sheet letter from London to Edinburgh. Now the cost was one penny. Pre-printed Valentine cards became a big business. “Just one year after the Uniform Penny Postage, 400,000 valentines were posted throughout England. By 1871, 1.2 million cards were processed by the General Post Office in London.” Mail carriers were given a refreshment allowance to help them cope with the increased burden in the days before the fourteenth.

The cards ranged from simple color illustration and verse to elaborate constructions of paper lace, bird’s feathers, ribbons, bits of colored glass or mirror and hidden messages and gifts designed to be overlooked by the prying eyes of fathers. There were “mechanical” valentines made to pop-up or move by pulling paper levers or spinning discs.

There were also "vinegar valentines" designed to be sent, sometimes anonymously, to the object, not of your desire, but disgust. These early versions of trolling were less elaborate then their loving counterparts, but no less imaginative, ranging from clever to crass and crude. One example, to be sent to an “old maid” read:
’Tis all in vain your simpering looks,
You never can incline,
With all your bustles, stays and curls,
To find a Valentine.

Richard Cadbury, son of John Cadbury, knew when to jump on a trend. The family chocolate business had refined its drinking chocolate in 1866, reaching new taste heights.
"This process resulted in an excess amount of cocoa butter, which Cadbury used to produce many more varieties of what was then called "eating chocolate." Richard recognized a great marketing opportunity for the new chocolates and started selling them in beautifully decorated boxes that he himself designed."

Richard didn’t patent his 1868 heart-shaped chocolate box, but it not only became associated with the holiday, but they were so beautiful that people kept them, filling them with tokens from their love.

With all this rich history and contemporary popularity, it’s a shame that Watson never recorded a case connected with Valentine’s Day. Or did he?


"your time will not be misspent" [SILV]

To divine which villain cruelly used the holiday for his nefarious goals we need to turn to chronology. I hear the sound of marbles on porcelain as eyes roll in skulls, “Oh Gawd, not chronology!” I love the study of Sherlockian chronology; it can illuminate dark corners of the Canon, although I know it is the bane of some. But bear with me.
“It may be remembered that after my marriage, and my subsequent start in private practice, the very intimate relations which had existed between Holmes and myself became to some extent modified. He still came to me from time to time when he desired a companion in his investigations, but these occasions grew more and more seldom, until I find that in the year 1890 there were only three cases of which I retain any record,” 
writes Watson in "The Final Problem," giving a headache that chronologist masochistically enjoy. Which three? Well, certainly "The Adventure of the Red Headed League" gets an almost unanimous nod, and "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches," with its list of cases from the first year of Watson’s marriage comes in a close second. That leaves an opening for only one other case.

“You will remember that I remarked the other day, just before we went into the very simple problem presented by Miss Mary Sutherland…" [REDH], which would seem to settle it; "A Case of Identity" it is, except most chronologists are loath to put it in 1890, because in "The Adventure of the Dying Detective," Mrs. Hudson visits Watson “in the second year of my married life,” which would put it in 1890, if Watson was married in 1888 and if this is not a reference to the doctor's second marriage. Oh, Watson, why didn’t you tell us when the start of your “own complete happiness” began? The majority of chronologists relegate "A Case of Identity" to 1889.

In my incredibly erudite and rare monograph Some Observations Upon the Early Writing of John H Watson, MD, 1887-1894* I explain why "The Copper Beeches" did not occur in 1890, but sometime before 1887. This leaves a slot open for "A Case of Identity" and when we put it in 1890, something very interesting happens.

*Despite the sexy title, it is a monograph which ascends to such rarefied heights of pure Sherlockiana that it is said that there is no one in the Holmesian world capable of understanding it.

The “maiden,” as Holmes calls Mary Sutherland, asks Holmes to find her missing fiancĂ©, Hosmer Angel. That budding mathematician, that doctor with an eye for figures, Watson, finds something slightly ridiculous and wanting in the new client, 
“a large woman with a heavy fur boa round her neck, and a large curling red feather in a broad-brimmed hat which was tilted in a coquettish Duchess-of-Devonshire fashion over her ear…. the boy in buttons entered to announce Miss Mary Sutherland, while the lady herself loomed behind his small black figure like a full-sailed merchantman behind a tiny pilot boat.” 
And he later notes her “...preposterous hat and the vacuous face.” 

Angel disappeared from the cab in front of St. Savior’s Church on a Friday, which according to Mary’s “Missing” ad was the morning of the 14th. In 1890, the fourteenth fell on a Friday in February, March and November. November would be too late, for that would occur after "The Red Headed League" in October. Traditionally, weddings are not held during Lent (and this was to be a church wedding); Ash Wednesday was on February 19 and Easter on April 6, which eliminates March. So the perfidious James Windibank planned for Hosmer Angel to vanish on Valentine’s Day! The most romantic date on the calendar now becomes the most tragic day of Mary Sutherland’s life.

Holmes feels some sympathy for Miss Sutherland: “Quite an interesting study, that maiden. I found her more interesting than her little problem, which, by the way, is rather a trite one….But the maiden herself was most instructive." And harbors something of a deep protectiveness: “But between ourselves, Windibank, it was as cruel, and selfish, and heartless a trick in a petty way as ever came before me.” Holmes comes across as a chaste knight errant to a maiden who he judges, rightly or not, as unable to protect herself, leading to his famous quote to Windibank, “I’d horsewhip you, if I had a horse.” No, wait that was Groucho Marx.

"The law cannot, as you say, touch you,” said Holmes, unlocking and throwing open the door, “yet there never was a man who deserved punishment more. If the young lady has a brother or a friend he ought to lay a whip across your shoulders. By Jove!” he continued, flushing up at the sight of the bitter sneer upon the man's face, “it is not part of my duties to my client, but here's a hunting-crop handy, and I think I shall just treat myself to—" He took two swift steps to the whip, but before he could grasp it there was a wild clatter of steps upon the stairs, the heavy hall door banged, and from the window we could see Mr. James Windibank running at the top of his speed down the road.

But Holmes’ gallantry goes too far:
“And Miss Sutherland?”
“If I tell her she will not believe me. You may remember the old Persian saying, ‘There is danger for him who taketh the tiger cub, and danger also for whoso snatches a delusion from a woman.’ There is as much sense in Hafiz as in Horace, and as much knowledge of the world.”
Did he really think she was too delicate and psychologically fragile to handle the truth? Perhaps to spend the rest of her life as a spinster, never to find true love? Or did he think that the danger of snatched delusions was more physic than psychic—for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction? Indeed, did he see a different type of passion in the depths of Mary's astigmatic eyes? Did those parallel cases in Andover in '77 and The Hague “last year” have a victim who sought her revenge? Poison in the family soup? Forty whacks with a handy ax?

Whatever his reasoning, Holmes was overprotective of his client, treating her like a child, not a woman. Leave it to Watson, with experience of the “fair sex” over three continents and many nations to adjudge correctly. After a cooling period of a year, he unveiled the treachery of her step-father to her and to the public, perhaps also stopping a cold-blooded scoundrel in his rise from crime to crime.

Maybe Watson thought Mary's published humiliation was the just the shake of the shoulders she needed to wake her up and move on with her life. Cupid’s arrows wound all heels as well as bring the sting of love.
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