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Posts Tagged ‘Arthur Conan Doyle

“The criminal is the creative artist; the detective only the critic”*…

Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate has issued proceedings, complaining that Enola Holmes,  a recently released film about Sherlock Holmes’ sister, portrays the great detective as too emotional.

Sherlock Holmes was famously suspicious of emotions. “‘[L]ove is an emotional thing,’ he icily observed, ‘and whatever is emotional is opposed to that true cold reason which I place above all things’.”  “I am a brain’, he told Watson. ‘The rest of me is a mere appendix’.”

I can imagine that many professional scientists and philosophers would feel affronted if they were accused of being emotional animals. Holmes is a model for them. He’s rigorous, empirical, and relies on induction.

But here’s the thing. He’s not actually very good. Mere brains might be good at anticipating the behaviour of mere brains, but they’re not good for much else. In particular Holmes is not a patch on his rival, Chesterton’s Father Brown, a Roman Catholic priest. Gramsci writes that Brown “totally defeats Sherlock Holmes, makes him look like a pretentious little boy, shows up his narrowness and pettiness.Brown is faster, more efficient, and, for the criminal, deadlier. This is because, not despite, his use of his emotions.

In science it is rather more important to find out the right answer than to identify an answer that will fit one’s currently ruling paradigm. In moral philosophy it is rather more important to find the morally correct course than to identify one that doesn’t outrage the zeitgeist. Father Brown can help. Sherlock Holmes can’t.

Lessons for Philosophers and Scientists from Sherlock Holmes and Father Brown

For an example, see “Peirce on Abduction.”

[Image above: source]

* G.K. Chesterton, The Innocence of Father Brown


As we get in touch with our feelings, we might spare a thought for Humphrey DeForest Bogart; he died on this date in 1957. An actor whose career began in the theater, his motion picture roles made him a cultural icon; in 1999, the American Film Institute selected Bogart as the greatest male star of classic American cinema. While there can certainly be legitimate debate as to his most memorable role, his turns as a detective (Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon; Phillip Marlowe in The Big Sleep) are certainly among the contenders.


“This land is your land, this land is my land”*…


Willie Nelson


“City of New Orleans” isn’t a song about New Orleans. It’s a song about a train called the City of New Orleans. Willie Nelson didn’t write it. But he made it a Grammy Award-winning hit in 1984.

Looking back, it’s easy to see how Willie Nelson came to it. Over the course of his career—a five-decade ramblin’ run that spans recordings as far back as 1962 and as recent as last year—Willie has written endlessly about his affection for (and occasional vexation with) cities across the land…

No one map could track all the sites and cities Willie sings about. He’s recorded songs about rivers: the Rio Grande and the Pedernales, the Mississippi and the Ohio, the Rhine and the Jordan. He’s played songs about trains: the Midnight Special, the Wabash Cannonball, the Golden Rocket, the City of New Orleans. (And, of course, a song about rainbows.) Georgia, Montana, Tennessee, and Texas all loom large over his songbook…

Still,  the map above does contain a  great many of them… An appreciation: “On the Road Again: Mapping All the Cities in Willie Nelson’s Songs.”

* Woody Guthrie


As we celebrate one red-head, we might also celebrate others: it was on this date in 1887 that the (fictional) action began in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes short story, “The Red-Headed League”– a piece that Conan Doyle ranked second on his list of his twelve favorite Holmes stories.


Sidney Paget‘s illustration of Watson reading the newspaper to Holmes and Wilson in “The Red-Headed League” in The Strand Magazine, where the story first appeared.



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December 9, 2019 at 1:01 am

Black and WTF…

Swimming Lessons

circa 1910

seen at the 1939 World’s Fair

Many, many more arresting images at Black and WTF.


As we slip into sepia, we might send ethereal birthday greetings to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; he was born on this date in 1859.  While the Scottish physician and author is, of course, renown as the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle was also a prominent spiritualist, who devoted years of his life (and over 1 million pounds) to supporting belief in the existence of “little people,” or Fairies.

Conan Doyle was deeply moved by the “Cottingley Fairies Photographs,” a series of five pictures taken by Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths, two young cousins who lived in Cottingley, near Bradford in England– indeed, he used them to illustrate a 1920 article in The Strand.  (In the early 1980s, Elsie and Frances finally admitted that the photographs were faked [using cardboard cutouts of fairies copied from a popular children’s book of the time], though Frances continued to claim that the fifth and final photograph was genuine.)

The first of the five photographs, taken by Elsie Wright in 1917, shows Frances Griffiths with the alleged fairies.

Your correspondent is off to visit the fairies, and thus out of radio contact for a few days.  Regular service should resume by the beginning of next week…  meantime, readers might amuse themselves, even as they improve themselves, with this informative interview and  this helpful how-to.

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May 22, 2012 at 1:01 am

The Annals of Relativism: The High Art of Doublespeak…

Judge Soggy Sweat (source)

In 1952, a young Mississippi State Legislator, Noah S. “Soggy” Sweat, Jr., spoke on the Assembly’s floor to the question of whether Mississippi should continue to prohibit alcoholic beverages (which it did until 1966) or finally legalize them:

My friends, I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, here is how I feel about whiskey:

If when you say whiskey you mean the devil’s brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.

But, if when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman’s step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life’s great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it.

This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.

Sweat went onto to a judicial career, then taught law, and founded the Mississippi Judicial College (the first full-time state judicial education program in the nation; a division of the University of Mississippi School of Law).  But he is surely best remembered for his “if by whiskey” speech, the canonical example of the use in political oratory of a relativist fallacy, via doublespeak, to satisfy listeners on both sides of an issue.

Hear it here (reprised by Mississippi State Rep. Ed Perry on 100th anniversary of opening of the Mississippi State Capitol, as broadcast on public radio).

As we hear altogether too many echoes in the political discourse of today, we might note that today is a special day for Baker Street Irregulars the world over, Sherlock Holmes Day.  Sherlockian Carl Thiel:

Although Holmes’s date of birth is nowhere mentioned in the Canon (ie, all 60 stories written by Doyle), the 6th of January was first suggested by Christopher Morley (1890-1957) in his ‘Bowling Green’ column in The Saturday Review of Literature in 1933. Through the efforts of the Baker Street Irregulars, and largely the influence of William S Baring-Gould’s 1962 biography of Holmes (Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street: A Biography of the World’s First Consulting Detective), January 6th has become the traditional birthday of the great detective.

Morley wrote: ‘I have not looked up the data, but if, as an astrologer has suggested, Sherlock Holmes was most likely born in January, some observance is due. Therefore, if the matter has never been settled, I nominate January 6th (the date of this issue of the Saturday Review) as his birthday.

Morley, incidentally, believed the year of Holmes’s birth was 1853. Subsequent tradition has settled on 1854, largely due to the fact that in the story ‘His Last Bow’ (which takes place in August 1914) Holmes is described as a ‘man of sixty.’

In the 60 original stories, Holmes was depicted in illustrations as wearing a deerstalker cap in only four. Nowhere does Doyle mention that type of headgear.
image source

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January 6, 2012 at 1:01 am

The March of Progress, Dinosaur Edition…

Among the many chastening revelations that come of aging, surely the most disturbing is the discovery that the dinosaurs whose names and characteristics one so lovingly committed to childhood memory didn’t actually exist…  at least not in forms that even vaguely resemble the ones one knew and loved.

Consider the pterodactyl, that leathery flying lizard, denizen of Conan Doyle’s The Lost World,


and inspiration for Rodan.


Turns out that no such beast actually existed.  Rather, the march of science has revealed, there were a family of creatures, Pterosaurs, with rather different– though not necessarily less cinematic– characteristics.  For instance,

Caulkicephalus trimicrodon (illustration: Luis Rey)

Happily, Dave Hone has created Pterosaur.net— a font of remedial information.

As we come to terms with the advance of knowledge, we might give a tip o’ the birthday hat to Susan Sontag, the essayist (“Against Interpretation,” “Illness as Metaphor”), critic (“Notes on Camp,” “On Photography”), novelist (Death Kit, The Volcano Lovers, In America— which won the National Book Award for fiction in 2000), and Berkeley grad; she was born on this date in 1933.

Susan Sontag, by (her partner) Annie Leibovitz

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