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Friday, July 12, 2013

How the Press Treated Sherlock Holmes

Newspaper accounts of the Drebber-Stangerson case were not so accurate.

During his long and celebrated career, the name of Mr. Sherlock Holmes often appeared in Press accounts. Shockingly, those reports were not always fully accurate. A newspaper called The Echo wraps up the murders of Enoch Drebber and Joseph Stangerson by noting: 

It is an open secret that the credit of this smart capture belongs entirely to the well-known Scotland Yard officials, Messrs. Lestrade and Gregson. The man was apprehended, it appears, in the rooms of a certain Mr. Sherlock Holmes, who has himself, as an amateur, shown some talent in the detective line and who, with such instructors, may hope in time to attain some degree of their skill.  

It is to set the record straight that Watson writes A Study in Scarlet.

The twists and turns of the Sholto affair are covered in The Standard and other papers, starting with a story headed “Mysterious Business at Upper Norwood,” which mentions Holmes and Watson on its way to praising Athelney Jones. The false arrest of Thaddeus Sholto and the rest of the household does nothing to shake the newspaper’s faith in Jones. After reporting the release of Thaddeus and the housekeeper, The Standard confidently adds: “It is believed, however, that the police have a clue as to the real culprits, and that it is being prosecuted by Mr. Athelney Jones, of Scotland Yard, with all his well-known energy and sagacity. Further arrests may be expected at any moment.”

In “The Adventure of the Retired Colourman” – which is generally printed as the last Sherlock Holmes story in The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes, although not the last Holmes story written by ACD – things seem to have changed hardly at all. The bi-weekly North Surrey Observer gives full credit to Inspector McKinnon for solving the case. “Brilliant Police Investigation,” says the subhead on the story. 

In general, though, it appears that as the years go on the Press treats Holmes more favorably, though not necessarily more accurately – remember how they were fooled in “The Six Napoleons” and “The Illustrious Client.” At the time of “The Final Problem,” Watson seems to have been following Holmes’s career largely through the Press. He writes in the opening paragraphs: “During the winter of that year [1890] and the spring of 1891, I saw in the papers that he had been engaged by the French government upon a matter of supreme importance . . .”

Even traveling in disguise and under a false name Holmes is good copy. After his dramatic return from the dead, he tells Watson in “The Adventure of the Empty House”: “You may have read of the remarkable explorations of a Norwegian named Sigerson, but I am sure that it never occurred to you that you were receiving news of your friend.”

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