“what he called my cock-and-bull story” [FIVE]
In A Study in Scarlet, as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are determining if they'd be suitable flatmates, they disclose various aspects of their lives and personalities, in an effort to be transparent about themselves.
Holmes begins by admitting to his love of strong tobacco and his proclivity for chemical experiments, which Watson has no problem with.
Then he goes into his personality traits:
“Let me see—what are my other shortcomings. I get in the dumps at times, and don’t open my mouth for days on end. You must not think I am sulky when I do that. Just let me alone, and I’ll soon be right. What have you to confess now? It’s just as well for two fellows to know the worst of one another before they begin to live together.”I laughed at this cross-examination. “I keep a bull pup,” I said, “and I object to rows because my nerves are shaken, and I get up at all sorts of ungodly hours. and I am extremely lazy. I have another set of vices when I’m well, but those are the principal ones at present.”
That first phrase, “I keep a bull pup,” has puzzled scholars for decades. Three separate explanations have been offered as to what it might be:
- A dog
- A pistol
- A quick temper
We have a strong preference for #3. Here's why.
- Holmes was attached by a bull-terrier while at university. We have to imagine that a strange dog might be a deal-breaker in a new arrangement with a flatmate. Not to mention that it's highly unlikely that Watson, recently discharged, injuries, and living in a hotel, would have a dog.
- Since when would a pistol (at least in Victorian London) be considered a shortcoming? After all, Watson is a former army man.
- The previous paragraph of Holmes's shortcomings were all personality-based. It seems only logical that Watson would have followed up similarly, referring to a personality trait rather than a physical object. And as we traverse the Canon, we find that Watson refers to a bull with respect to temper no fewer than three times: "He bellowed like a bull" [GLOR]; "a bellow like an enraged bull," [BLAC]; "a mad bull had arrived" [3GAR].
Given Watson's recent overseas service and battle injury, there's no question in our mind that his bull-pup was his nerve-frayed temper.
Whatever the case, he may have gotten his start down this path at Baker Street Elementary...
Baker Street Elementary follows the original adventures of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, as they and their friends work through the issues of elementary school in Victorian London. An archive of all previous episodes can be viewed at www.bakerstreetelementary.org.