Commentaries

"The Religious Sherlock Holmes"

by Edgar S. Rosenberger, Baker Street Journal (old series) 3 no. 2 (1948), pp. 138-147.

This article is a classic of the early Sherlockian style: an analysis of one subject, based squarely on primary evidence (it has 53 footnotes, nearly all to the canonical stories). It argues that Sherlock Holmes was “religious,” but it does not indicate what religion he may have preferred. The author's surname might suggest that he was Jewish, and while the article mentions three prominent Christian churches in the London of Holmes's time, it concentrates on the moral aspects of religion rather than, say, eschatology. There is no reference to “salvation,” an important theme in Christianity though not in Judaism.

Rosenberger makes the case that Holmes “had a soul,” judging from his appropriate reactions to major emotional events; was inclined to “flay mercilessly the rich and the mighty” if they strayed from justice; knew something of scripture; was humble; showed an “extraordinary respect for the clergy”; and, over and over again, displayed a mastery of homiletics, preaching justice in the next world (if not in this one) and the existence of a clear purpose to life. The author finds important references to Holmes's beliefs in “The Veiled Lodger,” “The Boscombe Valley Mystery,” “The Naval Treaty,” and “The Retired Colourman.”

“Like all mortals, Sherlock Holmes had his times of doubt and misgiving,” Rosenberger writes. But he concludes that Holmes had a life-long ambition to be a member of the clergy himself (even disguising himself in that role a couple of times), and that when he took early retirement it was not to raise bees but to study philosophy and theology, and eventually appear in the pulpit.

Chris Redmond, 7 November 2013

"And Love Will Still Be Lord of All: The Bright Heart of 'The Devil's Foot'"

by Karen Campbell, Baker Street Journal 62 no. 1 (spring 2012), 34-37.

This brief article describes "The Devil's Foot" as being about "the triumph of human goodness over evil," noting that Sherlock Holmes is on the side of goodness, even comparing his final words to Leon Sterndale to a saying of Jesus in the gospel of John. It also notes a number of instances of religious imagery in the story, including the reassuring presence of solid churches amid a bleak and threatening landscape, and identifies "insight, wisdom and compassion" in the superficially comic character of the vicar, Mr. Roundhay.

Chris Redmond, 1 December 2013

"However Improbable: Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes, and Spiritualism"

by Erinn Fry, Baker Street Journal 62 no. 1 (spring 2012), 38-47.

This well-written article revisits a frequently asked question: why did Arthur Conan Doyle, who advocated the beliefs of Spiritualism with every fibre of his being for the last fifteen years of his life, not enlist Sherlock Holmes as an advocate for Spiritualism as well? In fact, Fry demonstrates, issues important to Spiritualism figure largely in the Sherlock Holmes tales written during those final years. One of them, "The Veiled Lodger," offers many suggestions of a typical Victorian seance. Several have "near-death experiences" as important plot elements. Holmes's attitude to life and death, and the transition between them, is also seen to change during the last stages of his career.

And then there is The Hound of the Baskervilles. Fry builds on the comments of an earlier scholar, Francis O'Gorman, about this story, which is often interpreted as being about a tension between the scientific and the supernatural. "What is really discredited in The Hound," O'Gorman is quoted as saying, "is not the supernatural but a supernatural explanation" for specific earthly events.

Chris Redmond, 2 December 2013

“The Sleeper Awakens”

by William R. Cochran, Camden House Journal 35, No. 10 (October 2013), 2-3.

This brief paper notes themes of resurrection in the story of "Lady Frances Carfax," observing that the name of the lady's maid indicates the presence of the divine, and that "Watson did not save Lady Frances Carfax, but was the tool of the creator, who placed him in precisely the right position."

Chris Redmond, 3 February 2014

“Was Sherlock Holmes Brought Up as a Catholic?”

by Hugh Ashton, Baker Street Journal 63, No. 2 (Summer 2013), 29-31.

The author briefly reviews what little evidence there is, suggests that Holmes was educated at Stonyhurst and Trinity College (Dublin), and proposes that “some respect for the Church as a whole, if not for its teachings, remained” after he, like Arthur Conan Doyle, left the faith in which he had been reared.

“Sherlock Holmes and Religion”

by Albert J. Menendez, Baker Street Journal 25 no. 2 (1975), pp. 80-83, 97.

Author's final argument: Holmes is “probably to the left of liberal Protestantism and latitudinarian Anglicanism, but to the right of secular humanism. Possible he was a Unitarian or a liberal freethinker.” He was a “thoughtful but nondogmatic inquirer” of religious and philosophical affairs but likely professed no one religious affiliation.

Strengths:

  • Explores multiple religions in straightforward, easy-to-understand fashion
  • Quick read
  • Occasionally provide historical backdrop for some claims

Weaknesses:

  • Is not remarkably in depth — sums up a book's worth of points/analysis within two or three pages.
  • Does not include Islam, though it covers other major religions

Implications and Evidence:

  • SH was knowledgeable of multiple religions but held none as an affiliation.
    • Buddhism
      • Knowledge of the Buddhism of Ceylon (SIGN), music of the Middle Ages (BRUC) — may have implied “intellectual dilettantism or a genuine interest”
      • Spent time with the head lama (FINA)
    • Catholicism
      • Took on two cases at Pope's direct request, contrary to “no popery” sentiments of the time
      • Attended chapel service while at university (GLOR)
        • Was not Roman Catholic or Jewish, as members of these groups were not permitted to take degrees at either of these colleges during the times SH was attending
        • Possibly implies “a nominal attachment to the Church of England or a Protestant church”
      • No mention of SH having attended church
        • But Sundays are rarely mentioned in the canon and church attendance would not have much bearing on recorded cases
      • Biblical knowledge was “a trifle rusty”
        • Likely indication of disinterest in Christianity
    • Pantheism
      • “His disquisition on the moss rose ... seems to suggest a sentimental pantheism which was in vogue among many Victorians.”
    • Existentialism
      • Speech in RETI on the futility of life
        • May be a byproduct of mercurial temperament rather than religious statement
    • Intellectual Design & Divine Judgment
      • “What is the meaning of it, Watson? What object is served by this circle of misery and violence and fear? It must tend to some end, or else our universe is ruled by chance, which is unthinkable.” (CARD)
      • “The ways of fate are indeed hard to understand.” (VEIL)
      • To John Turner: “You will soon have to answer for your deed at a higher court than the Assizes.” (BOSC)
    • Traditionalism
      • Attributing surviving Reichenbach to “the blessing of God” (EMPT)
      • Refers to World War I as “God's own wind” (LAST)
      • Makes reference to the devil as “the Father of Evil” (HOUN)
    • Humanism
      • Holds Winwood Reade's The Martyrdom of Man in high regard (SIGN)
        • Though this may not indicate acceptance
    • “Situational ethicist” with no religious affiliation
      • Believed in “justifiable retribution”
      • Would on multiple occasions refuse to turn over wrongdoers to the police on his own judgement

Elizabeth Fregoso