"this really is something a little recherché" [MUSG]
About three years ago, we shared a list of the Top 10 Most Suggestive Lines from the Sherlock Holmes Stories. This was from a little publication we assembled some two decades prior called Some Sherlockian Sillies. (Privately printed, Boston, 1997)
Imagine our delight when we were alerted to the existence of a paper along those same lines that John Bennett Shaw delivered to the Baker Street Irregulars, which later ended up in print. We later discovered that The Baker Street Journal rejected it (not surprising, as straight-laced BSI editor Julian Wolff, BSI ("The Red-Headed League") was likely red-faced after John's reading at the dinner).
But after this rejection, the essay landed in the hands of young Bruce Kennedy, BSI ("Bannister"), who edited a publication called Shades of Sherlock. This particular essay appeared in Number 18, from August 14, 1971, which we effortlessly tracked down on eBay.
After receiving permission from John Bennett Shaw's children, we're reproducing it here. And just for fun, here's the Shaws' response:
"My position is that you and anyone and anyone to come after us can use, re-use but not without attribution anydamnthing my father ever wrote. He wrote it for you, for me and for anyone and everyone who had the time and good will to read it."
We're glad to see the Shaw apples didn't fall too far from the tree.
So then, without further ado, we bring you this long-forgotten and ribald work.
WARNING: there is some risque material below. While this is typically a family publication, we must provide an advance alert. If you're offended by off-color material — well, first we're sorry for you, as you might not get as much humor out of life — and second, you might want to hit the "back" button on your browser. But why miss out? Consider yourself forewarned.
On January 8, 1971, the annual dinner of the Baker Street Irregulars was held at the Player's Club [sic] in New York City. All of these yearly get-togethers are similar in many respects, but usually differ greatly in the type of papers read.
Most of these papers run in the comical vein and this year was no exception including, among others, a rather unconventional translation into French of one of the Holmes episodes and another by our own John Bennett Shaw which is my subject for this editorial.
"To Shelve or to Censor" was read to some ninety uproarious Irregulars by the author who, obviously, enjoyed the topic even more than did his audience. This paper dealed [sic] with many "lewd" references in the Canon, and, admittedly, was not in the best of taste. Immediately after its reading, it was promptly refused by The Baker Street Journal. However, because it gave an indirect plug for an essay in our anthology Four Wheels to Baker Street ("On My Knees" by H.W. Starr), that I invited John to send it in for a future issue of SOS. And so, dear reader, in this issue you will find a brief sample of the scholarly work and efforts which go into making a typical meeting of the BSI so successful...
To Shelve or to Censor: Some Disturbing Thoughts About and Disgusting Evidence From the Sherlock Holmes Canon
A paper read at the meeting of the Baker Street Irregulars, January 8, 1971
By John Bennett Shaw
I must begin my discussion with a personal reference which is concerned with circumstances surrounding my disturbing discoveries. Discoveries I must now grudgingly reveal. Last summer was a most eventful period in my life: I remarried, adopted two lovely and literate girls aged 12 and 14, and decided to move to Santa Fe, New Mexico. This was a decision which made me pause and consider as I had in my house more than twenty thousand books. I had to reduce this quantity to a manageable amount, say six thousand. One consideration for preservation in the Shaw Library was its relation to the world of Mr. Holmes, and another almost as important was the value and influence these books would have on my new girls. It happened that at the time I was in the process of rereading most of the Watson Canon and, heaven forbid, it dawned upon me that I just couldn't let the girls read such "literature." I made the mistake of reading some of the passages that shocked me aloud to my wife and she at once suggested either a locked room or packing the girls off to a convent.
The decision is not yet made, but I feel I must call this whole matter to your attention.
I was familiar with the tongue-in-cheek (excuse that word, I should have said jowl) salacity bruited about by some Sherlockians such as Bill Starr's "On My Knees." I had discounted this for knowing Bill I knew he had a dirty mind, coming from Philadelphia and all that. Even the last issue of The Baker Street Journal had an article about "busts": one can't pass this by without pointing out that this sheet is edited by a man appropriately named Wolff. I also recalled an article that incensed me some years ago by a man inappropriately named Wellman (his mind, I thought, could not be "well") who opined that Holmes was living in sin with Mrs. Hudson. And the noted social critic Stout even suggested that Watson was a woman — I wish to God it was that simple.
Now I feel I must go on — I must share with you my notes made during that hot August in Tulsa (and let me say that my rereading these stories was the hottest thing going in Tulsa at this time) and as gentlemen, scholars, fathers and family men, and members of this (I almost said "uplifting") society, I ask you to excuse the vulgarity, suggestiveness, and shock that these excerpts will convey.
A Study in ScarletHope, perhaps with more than revenge in mind, said "I hung about all day but he never came…(and) I made my way into his room…" Also, Hope is described as having "speedily recovered from his temporary impotence."
The Sign of the Four"The man who addressed us mounted the box"…then "pulled up with a jerk." Holmes makes some references that seem pointed; "his stick," "I was limp," "I awoke with a start" and almost immediately after this he said "I can come with you." Remember that most of these remarks were made to Watson to whom he says in the same story "Watson, you never recognized my merits as a housekeeper."
"A Scandal in Bohemia""As a lover he would have placed himself in a false position" (this whole paragraph is fraught with psychological overtones and sexual undertones). There is reference to "sensitive instrument" and "crack," "you have been getting wet lately" and "you have a clumsy and careless servant girl." Watson says "I fail to see how you worked it out" and Holmes "rubbed his long nervous hands together." And in this story menstruation is first mentioned in the Canon: "Women are naturally secretive and they like to do their own secreting."
"The Red-Headed League"(Again suggestive imagery) "with an apology for my intrusion I was about to withdraw when Holmes pulled me…" "You could not possibly have come at a better time" and a little later on "try the settee…" "I know, my dear Watson, that you share my love" (and I could have stopped quoting it here and it would have been bad enough) (Holmes goes on) "of all that is bizarre and outside the conventions…" A few pages later "All the afternoon he sat in the stalls wrapped in the most perfect happiness, gently waving his long fingers…" Then, later in the story, the banker tells the detective "still I confess that I miss my rubber. It is the first Saturday night for seven and twenty years that I have not had my rubber" (at least his habits were regular). Again with obvious double meaning Holmes says to detective Jones "it will be the man upon whom you lay your hands." John Clay must have been bi-sexual as Jones says of him "He'll crack a crib" (cribhouse I assume) "in one week and be raising…"
"A Case of Identity"The second reference to menstruation. "She pulled a little handkerchief from her muff." In this story there is much talk of "a ball." Alas, the girl must work in a brothel as she says "I can often do from fifteen to twenty sheets in a day."
"The Cardboard Box""Imagine my surprise then, when looking at Miss Cushing, I perceived that her EAR corresponded exactly with the female EAR which I had just inspected…there was some shortening of the PINNA…" Holmes goes on to talk with her and then says "she at once gave me some" and a bit later "and the matter had begun to straighten itself out wonderfully."
The Hound of the BaskervillesThere is a doubly confusing statement that could refer to Reik's Orgone Box and the female anatomy: "I have not pushed it to the length of getting into a box to think…" And there is a highly charged scene which could refer to self-abuse near the end of Chapter XI: "waiting with somber patience for the coming of its tenant" (one wonders, could Watson be thinking of his army days and really mean "lieutenant") and Watson goes on "I shrank back into the darkest corner and cocked…" and of all things Holmes says "I really think that you will be more comfortable outside than in" (to paraphrase the old Burlesque story "Take it out"). And toward the end of the story (I almost said "tale") Holmes talks of the sexual difficulties of Stapleton "he could not help interrupting with a passionate outburst."
"Silver Blaze"Even the favorite "Silver Blaze" has some shockers in it. On the first page Watson says to Holmes "I should be most happy to go down with you." Then there is the oft-quoted mildly vulgar episode about the dog that did nothing in the nighttime…he was either well-trained, constipated, or there was no female nearby. Also, they talk in the story about arousing the lads in the loft and about pulling jockey and of practicing on sheep (not a new idea at all).
"The Illustrious Client"There is a reference to crepitation: "The girl broke in like a whirlwind." On the same page is a reference that leads one to believe that the Baron was a most versatile lover: "he'll have you one way or the other." Just in passing let me mention that a few pages later when Holmes and Watson were in intimate conversation, Watson says "I am here to be used, Holmes."
"The Blanched Soldier"Even in this very dull story one finds the constantly recurrent theme of homosexuality as one soldier speaks of another "he was my mate and we took the rough and smooth together…" And of Watson, the butler (did the butler do it?) says: "I think you might run short in the night-time." And again one soldier says of another: "he pulled me." And the evil old butler, described as rubbing his skinny hands, says: "Yes, sir, he is very hard at it just now. I'm frightened for his health. He gets paler and thinner…" And on the very next page Bill refers to a gentleman who has recently visited Holmes: "He's a stiff 'un." It is in this story that Holmes says to Watson "Your morals don’t' improve…" (How could they? Mine don't!)
"The Three Gables"A notorious gaffe or double-entendre appears in this story. You will remember the story: young Maberly died of a broken heart in Milan and his effects were returned to England to his mother. She was robbed and Holmes was called into the investigation. He asked her if she had anything of value and she said: "I am sure that there was nothing in my son's trunks." No wonder he died of a broken heart!!!
"Charles Augustus Milverton"The great detective and Victorian gentleman described how he wooed Agatha the housemaid: "I am a plumber with a rising business…" and "I have got all I wanted…" And a most frankly carnal remark from "Silver Blaze" - "so spirited a creature must surely have awakened the soundest sleeper when he felt the prick…"
"The Empty House"In EMPT appears this excerpt, upon which I would not wish to comment: "He cuddled the misshapen butt into his shoulder, giving a little sigh of satisfaction." And in the same case-history appears this shameful dialogue starting with the passage commented upon by Professor Starr in his treatise in which Holmes reports that Mrs. Hudson works it from the front. The passage goes on to have Holmes say, "You observed all the precautions, Mrs. Hudson?" And she replied, without apparent shame, "I went to it on my knees, sir, just as you told me," and he merely says "excellent." And in the very next paragraph there is talk of a beautiful bust.
Sex seem to have been in the minds of both Holmes and Watson. For example in "The Sussex Vampire" they talk of a boy being circumcised - and this has no real bearing on the story at all. In the same episode, Ferguson says to Holmes, "Don't play with me," and ever faithful Watson hastens to say, "I should be glad if I could be of use." And then he says "I followed the girl, who was quivering with strong emotion…"
An in "The Three Gables" Watson openly comments "in my position as partner…" and "I am particularly careful to avoid any indiscretion."
And in "The Problem of Thor Bridge" Holmes states that Mrs. Gibson "somewhat overdid it by holding it in her hand."
Shockingly, in "The Creeping Man," Holmes says to Watson, "There is always Nature, Watson, Nature and Josiah Amberly - you can be in close communication with both."
Another frank description appears in "The Man with the Twisted Lip": "a sudden ejaculation caused me to wake up…"
In the noted case "His Last Bow," Holmes says, "We need not hurry ourselves, Watson. We are safe from interruption. Would you mind touching…" And, at the very end of this story Holmes says, "Start her up, Watson." Who, for God's sake is she?
Of his only brother Mycroft, Holmes reports (in "The Greek Interpreter") that he, Mycroft, was well known in certain circles, The Diogenes Club, for example. Watson asks about this club and Holmes replies, "The Diogenes Club is the queerest club in London and (note this!) Mycroft is one of the queerest men."
I have covered (and even the innocent word 'covered' carries, for me, salacious connotations) a bit more than half of the 60 cases of the Great Detective and I think I have made my point (there I go again). In conclusion, I do want to consider a bit of careful examination, one of his most noted cases - a case that is well written up by Dr. Watson and is everybody's favorite - a case that is so well written that, until now, few realized it is a description of a sex orgy. "The Speckled Band" is such a carefully camouflaged tale (T-A-L-E), such a welter of prurience, lust and impudicity that one who is a gentleman cannot countenance keeping it upon his shelves, unless, of course, he does so for research and analysis, and only if then he released his findings to serve as a warning to fathers, clergy, and other do-gooders.
The opening paragraphs of this story are among the most carnal in literature: for example, these direct quotations: "working as he did rather for love…" "When we were sharing rooms…", of Holmes Watson said "he was a late riser…" and of himself Watson says "I was regular in my habits…" Then Holmes says, "Very sorry to knock you up…Mrs. Hudson has been knocked up…she retorted (what a euphemism that is!) upon me, and I upon you."
Later on in the same shameful narrative, Miss Stoner says, "He is a hard man…" and Holmes immediately replies, "you have been cruelly used" and then "this is a very deep business…." And Miss Stoner must have been a virgin as it is said that "the wall must have been pierced." And a few pages later she says "I am in your hands" and in the next sentence Holmes says "both my friend and I must spend the night in your room."
And so on through this shameful recounting of Victorian debauchery. At the very end Dr. Roylott at least must have found satiety for his is described thusly: "across his lap lay the short stock…"
Gentlemen, I could go on: I could quote you the episode where "they laid her on the sofa"; I could analyze the 25 stories not covered in this shameful expose — but I know I need not. You now have a glimmering that all is not serene and wholesome at 221B Baker Street in gas-lit London and in the year 1895.
I leave my judgment making, if any be needed, to psychologists and psychiatrists and, God forbid, to moralists. I can only leave with you the disturbing thought that I have had that Moriarty and Moran are a pair of prudish Irish immigrants compared to Mrs. Hudson's roomers.