The curious case of Sherlock Holmes | Daily News


The 166th birth anniversary of the most loved detective

The curious case of Sherlock Holmes

Blue plaque at Sherlock Holmes Museum on Baker Street, London.
Blue plaque at Sherlock Holmes Museum on Baker Street, London.

Sherlock Holmes was born yesterday. On a day like yesterday – January 6 - in 1854. Yes, we are talking about Sherlock Holmes’ birthday here. Those of us who had a nightmarish fair share of reading of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s old-world English lived in merry with this famous character. Sir Arthur has nowhere, in his works, mentioned the birth of his fictional character. Interestingly, however, the detective’s birthday is celebrated by fans all over the world on January 6. And the year is believed to be 1854.

Now it looks the most serious mystery left by the legendary detective for his fans to uncover. That Holmes is a fictitious character is a fact. But then how does he have a birthday? And why January 6 in particular?

We can reach for Sherlockian scholars who draw their findings from the Shakespearean scholarship. Paul Singleton is such a scholar who cites Christopher Morley:

“Sherlock Holmes quotes Shakespeare often, but the only play he quotes twice is the Twelfth Night. He determined that Sherlock Holmes was born on the twelfth night, which is January 6.” (That date would coincide with the night of the 12 drummers drumming from the famed song. The drummers’ labours costs, incidentally, are used to calculate of gifts forms a good consumer price index).

Hence, January 6, which is the 12th night after Christmas, should be his birthday.

Another argument comes from William S Baring-Gould who compiled the first annotated Sherlock Holmes collection. They bank on The Valley of Fear, the final of the series to claim that it should be January 7.

“Mr Holmes seems to be a little cranky at the beginning of the story and snaps at Dr John H. Watson. But why would he be in a bad mood? Because of a hangover. Why would he have a hangover? He must have been celebrating the night before. What could he have been celebrating? Certainly, it was his birthday.”

According to Nathan Bengis, the day is January 7, and the reason Holmes is disoriented is that they were drinking the previous night, to celebrate his own birthday. Hence January 6 can be chosen.

What most Holmes fans tend to forget – or overlook – is Joseph Bell the Scottish surgeon who influenced Sir Arthur to create the detective’s character. Dr Joseph Bell’s birth anniversary falls on December 2.

Not only the date but the birth year has also attracted controversy. Though 1854 is now taken for granted, Holmes was said to be a man of 60 in 1914 when he played a pivotal role in the capture and arrest of a Prussian spy known as Von Bork. On a different note, his centennial was celebrated in 1987, 100 years after he made the debut in print.

Whatever controversy, let it rest, we have to settle down with January 6 as Holmes’ birthday because that’s what the real-life counterparts of the Baker Street Irregulars insist.

“He was the leader,” Singleton notes, “he reinforced it over the years. Eventually, everyone just accepted it. God knows why we have to come to New York in the middle of January. I wish he were born in May somewhere.”

In fact, he said, someone has even proposed a May birthday, after the Shear Lock season, which is a sheep-shaving tradition in Ireland.

Reason, Watson, reason... Holmes would have said had he been alive today. What else is available as evidence to support Holmes’ birthright?

Sir Arthur, in his story The Last Bow set in 1914, mentions Holmes as a 60-year-old. Put two and two together and it’s easy: the detective must have been born in 1854. And what’s more? Here are a few of the theories established to support the claim.

The first and most well-known theory is attributed to Morley, who was a famous journalist and novelist. Morley, along with Vincent Starrett, started the Bakers Street Irregular gatherings in 1934. It is one of the oldest and largest Sherlock Holmes’ societies in the world.

Morley suggested January 6 as the birth date of the famous detective, he wrote in a US magazine named Saturday Review of Literature, published on January 6, 1933. He adds that, an astrologer had suggested that the super-sleuth was most likely born in January and in accordance with this information, he had nominated January 6 as his birthday.

In 1934, he hosted a small get-together for celebrating Sherlock Holmes’ birthday on January 6.

Yet another theory which substantiated January 6 as the legendary detective’s birthday was provided by Bengis, a member of the Baker Street Irregulars, in 1957.

Sherlock Holmes, so to say, was born on January 6, 1854. For over a century his name has been known in every part of the world. His appearance was too unique to let go of in memory; such hawk-like features and piercing eyes, the dressing-gown and pipe; the deerstalker cap and magnifying glass - these details are so familiar that if he were to appear amongst us today we should know him at once.

He is still, however, an enigmatic figure, as wrapped in mystery as the crimes he tried to solve, and as in most legends, it is often difficult to separate fact from fiction.

Whenever or wherever his birthday occurred, one fact is evident which cannot be separated from fiction. Sherlock Holmes would never be, if not for Dr Joseph Bell.

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