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 "laborers and dockmen were already astir" [SIGN]

Here in the United States, the first Monday in September traditionally marks Labor Day. It's a national holiday that signals the unofficial end of summer, as people take final trips to the beach or mountains, enjoy a cookout, and the kids prepare to head back to school.

The holiday was officially recognized at the federal level in the 1930s, but its origins date to the late 19th century, as the trade union and labor movements grew. In 1887, Oregon became the first state to recognize Labor Day as a public holiday; by 1894, some 30 states were celebrating it as President Grover Cleveland signed it into law. But the law only gave the holiday to federal workers. It would take nearly 40 years to make it a holiday for everyone.

The Sherlock Holmes stories, set solidly in late Victorian / early Edwardian time, was filled with workers: sometimes nameless, faceless characters who were an essential part of the background of the action: cab drivers, gardeners, dockmen, weavers, housemaids, footmen and more. But there were others who sprang to relevance as they provided ample information to Holmes in his investigations.

For you see, Sherlock Holmes believed in data over class. He knew that household staff and regular working-class people, like his Baker Street Irregulars, could see everything and overhear everyone without notice. And they deserved his attention.

Sherlock Holmes thrived on work—sometimes to a fault. While he told Watson "I never remember being tired by work, though idleness exhausts me completely," in The Sign of Four, his career would later see his constitution begin to suffer.

In 'The Reigate Squires,' he was recovering from the "strain caused by his immense exertions," and in 'The Missing Three-Quarter' he returned to his rooms "exhausted with hunger and fatigue." But it isn't until 'The Devil's Foot' that it gets truly serious, as he and Watson take a holiday in Cornwall after "Holmes’s iron constitution showed some symptoms of giving way in the face of constant hard work."

Still, Holmes tried to lift Watson out of his "own sad bereavement" in 'The Empty House' by telling him, "Work is the best antidote to sorrow, my dear Watson."

We've done a series of audio discussions on various workers and jobs in the Canon over on Trifles. Feel free to click that link or to use the playlist below from SoundCloud.

In case you'd like to visit the show notes for each of these episodes, they are as follows:

What would you add to this series?

And if you're in the United States today, happy Labor Day. If not, happy Monday.