“The Cardboard Box” Or, Watson. BAMFs don’t complain about the weather when it’s ONLY 81 DEGREES!

Honestly, Watson, pull yourself together, man! Baring-Gould assures me that it was only 81 degrees on this supposedly blazing hot day. Know what temperature it is here, Watson? It’s 93 degrees! Yeah. And you know what I did? I baked a cake. AND ran for twenty minutes on my treadmill. Because I’m hardcore like that.

Don’t worry, I still love you, Watson.

Rant about Watson’s claims of manliness aside, “The Cardboard Box” was published in January of 1893 and, according to Baring-Gould and his trusty weather reports, takes place Saturday, August 31 to Monday, September 2, 1889.

Baring-Gould points out that it being 1889 means, of course, that Watson is married to the homewrecker lovely Miss Morstan. What, then, is he doing contemplating interior design at Baker Street? According to Baring-Gould, ‘Mary Morstan Watson had not yet completely recovered from [the events of The Sign of the Four]. In such a heat wave [Eighty-one degrees is NOT a heat wave, Baring-Gould. Stop humoring Watson.] as London was experiencing, Watson undoubtedly hoped that they might feel the metropolis together. When finances made this impossible, he gallantly gave up his own holiday and sent Mary off alone. To ease his loneliness [Aw, that’s quite sweet, Baring-Gould, you’re forgiven for the heat wave comment.], he moved for about a fortnight into Baker Street, bringing a few books and pictures with him’ (BG, 194). But it strikes me funny that Watson’s fine with sending his wife off to the countryside for two weeks, though he is unable to spend the same amount of time away from his portrait of Henry Ward Beecher. Maybe he brings it back and forth with him and that’s why there was the perfect blank spot on the wall for it – Holmes knows that whenever Watson comes to stay, so to must his Henry Ward Beecher portrait and plans accordingly for it.

Which brings us to the elephant in the room. No, the other elephant in the room. ‘In “The Dancing Men,” generally dated in 1898, Holmes reminds Watson, “Your cheque-book is locked in my drawer.”‘ leading Leslie to point out that there may be ‘a causal connection between Watson’s depletion of funds and Holmes’ later control’ (NA, 424). Surely the reason Watson’s finances didn’t allow him to escape to the country is undoubtedly because, thanks to “Silver Blaze,” his gambling problem was back in full swing.

This time around it’s Leslie who points out something very interesting which Baring-Gould fails to mention at all. It seems that when it came time to publish the Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes in London, “The Cardboard Box” was left out as ACD deemed it unsuitable for young readers. However, the first American edition included it, though a revised edition omitting it was soon after published and the ones that include it are apparently very rare – I know what I want for Christmas! But it gets weirder – the whole passage that includes Holmes’ mindreading trick was cut from “The Cardboard Box” and inserted into “The Resident Patient.” And the Holmesians do not disappoint with their theories as to why this was done! H.W. Bell guessed that this scene ‘so perfectly illustrated Holmes deductive talents that Watson was loath to eliminate it altogether; thus he simply transferred it to another vehicle’ (NA, 427). For reasons I won’t get into here due to spoilers, Bell concludes that ‘the passage…threw too bright a light on Holmes’ genius to be allowed to slumber in the files of a periodical’ (NA, 427). Trevor Hall, however, ‘claims that Doyle, distressed at this scene’s debunking of a supposed mystical practice [Yes, how far are we from the whole Doyle-gets-duped-by-fake-fairy-photographs debacle?] as little more than a parlour trick, asked Watson to eliminate the entire story as a result’ (NA, 427).

No Holmesian discussion be without the requisite completely crazy theory and James C. Iraldi obligingly brings the cray-cray. He notes that Paganini – the topic of Holmes and Watson’s cozy lunch – sat for a portrait by Horace Vernet who is, of course, Holmes’ great uncle. He goes on to say that Paganini ‘moved in the highest circles, was invited everywhere, met everyone worth meeting–including Horace Vernet, the famous artist, for whom he sat for a portrait. Would it be so inconceivable as to imagine that, in the course of those sittings, Paganini met–and loved–Vernet’s sister–the same lady who was destined to become the grandmother of Sherlock Holmes?’ (BG, 201). Wait, what?! So now Holmes’ grandfather is Paganini? Those crazy Holmesians…

Speaking of Paganini and Holmes and Watson’s lunchtime conversation, I do believe this is where we find out where Holmes got his Stradivarius! And the lovely Baring-Gould once again does the math for us. Know what Holmes paid for his priceless Stradivarius? The equivalent of $13.75. I know, right?! I don’t know if that’s Victorian dollars or Baring-Gould era dollars, but still! Well spotted, Holmes.

My miscellaneous thoughts! [Let me show you them!]

  • [I see here that Watson has taken to the time-honored tradition of sitting very still while completely dressed, collar and all, to beat the ‘heat.’ I do very much the same, though I do adopt a somewhat less formal dress code…]

  • [Why does Holmes appear to be wearing a boater?]
  • Holmes scribbled a few words upon the back of one of his visiting cards and threw it over to Lestrade. ‘That is the name,’ he said. ‘You cannot effect an arrest until to-morrow night at the earliest. I should prefer that you do not mention my name at all in connection with the case, as I choose to be only associated with those crimes which present some difficulty in their solution. Come on, Watson.’ (NA, 436) [Oh, Holmes, back to your favorite pasttime of Lestrade-insulting. ILU!]
  • In Lestrade’s letter to Holmes containing Browner’s confession: ‘He is a big, powerful chap, clean-shaven, and very swarthy–something like Aldridge, who helped us in the bogus laundry affair.’ (NA, 441) [Forget the giant rat of Sumatra, I want to hear about the Affair of the Bogus Laundry!]

Up next is the infamous “Yellow Face” – stop by next week if you want to see if Holmes ever makes a mistake.

*Most of my notes, I think, come from the New Annotated simply because I find its format easier to work through and it is, therefore, the version that I’m reading first (I’m only reading the notes in the Baring-Gould). Much of the information is doubled up, but there is some that is unique to either volume, so if you see NA, that’s the Baring-Gould edition and BG is the New Annotated. No, I’m totally kidding – it’s the other way (the logical way) round.


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