“if you will be good enough to understudy me” [RETI]
When Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson first meet, thanks to the introduction via Stamford, they seem an odd pair — like two circles of a Venn diagram that just barely overlap. And yet this combination is exactly what was necessary to bring the many adventures of Sherlock Holmes to the world.
Had they been more alike, we wouldn't have experienced the wonder and awe with which Watson treated some of their interactions. Nor would we have instances of Holmes's ultimate disappointment when he sent Watson in his place during certain cases.
For instance, in "The Solitary Cyclist," Watson returns from his observation of the cyclist, which was done at a considerable distance:
Mr. Sherlock Holmes listened with attention to the long report which I was able to present to him that evening, but it did not elicit that word of curt praise which I had hoped for and should have valued. On the contrary, his austere face was even more severe than usual as he commented upon the things that I had done and the things that I had not.“Your hiding-place, my dear Watson, was very faulty... As it is you were some hundreds of yards away, and can tell me even less than Miss Smith... You really have done remarkably badly.”“What should I have done?” I cried, with some heat.“Gone to the nearest public-house. That is the centre of country gossip. They would have told you every name, from the master to the scullery-maid...Well, well, my dear sir, don’t look so depressed. We can do little more until next Saturday, and in the meantime I may make one or two inquiries myself.”
In "The Retired Colourman," Holmes was finishing up his investigation of the two Coptic Patriarchs, so he sent Watson off to Lewisham as his "understudy." But we can't say Holmes wasn't prepared; he did so knowing that Watson didn't have the power of observation as him.
He managed to outdo Watson on Watson's description of Josiah Amberley:
“Left shoe wrinkled, right one smooth.”“I did not observe that.”“No, you wouldn’t. I spotted his artificial limb. But proceed.”
Watson was already disturbed at this kind of set-up in The Hound of the Baskervilles. But Holmes saves the day by reassuring Watson of his utility:
“Then you use me, and yet do not trust me!” I cried with some bitterness. “I think that I have deserved better at your hands, Holmes.”“My dear fellow, you have been invaluable to me in this as in many other cases, and I beg that you will forgive me if I have seemed to play a trick upon you.”
This pairing works well, for as Holmes admits earlier in that same story: “Some people without possessing genius have a remarkable power of stimulating it.”
We're glad they were stimulated to be friends 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.