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Friday, September 11, 2015

Father Brown and Mr. Holmes

G.K. Chesterton, creator of the great detective Father Brown, was a fan of the Great Detective.
“Virtually every genre of his writing – literary criticism, theology and philosophy, social commentary – is littered with references to Sherlock Holmes,” Steven Doyle noted in his introduction to G.K. Chesterton’s Sherlock Holmes.
But –
“Did Sherlock Holmes Meet Father Brown?”
That’s the question the Martin Gardner asked in an essay of that name in his 1989 book Gardner’s Whys and Wherefores. The essay discusses the theory advanced by Robert John Bayer in 1947 that a detective known only as Carver in the Father Brown story “The Man with Two Beards” in The Secret of Father Brown was actually Holmes.
What is the evidence? Much of it is too convoluted to get into here and involves Watson or Conan Doyle changing or concealing facts. More convincingly, Carver is interested in bees and is a “tall, erect figure with a long, rather cadaverous face, ending in a formidable chin.” This causes Gardner to ask: “Could one ask for a better description of Holmes in his old age, after his retirement to beekeeping in Sussex?”
But wait! Carver has blue eyes, whereas Holmes’s are gray. Gardner posits that Father Brown, from whose viewpoint the story is told, altered the color of Carver’s eyes to conceal his true identity and save Holmes embarrassment because he was in error in the case. If the purpose was to hide Holmes, why describe him accurately except for the eyes?
Reluctantly, I think the answer to Gardner’s question has to be “no – at least, not that we can tell from ‘The Man with Two Beards.’”


  1. Holmes meets Father Brown on several occasions, such as in “The Adventure of Merlin’s Tomb” contained in “Sherlock Holmes: The Grand Horizontals” by Frank J. Morlock , the full-length “Nightwatch” by Stephen Kendrick, and in “The Vatican Cameos” and “The Second Coptic Patriarch”, both in “Murder in the Vatican” by Ann Margaret Lewis. I believe that Father Brown is the priest that Holmes mentions to Ellery Queen in "The Logical Successor" (“The Baker Street Journal”, Vol.32, No.3.)

    Finally, there is an interesting essay about “The Man With Two Beards” contained in an old chapbook called “Some Notes on a Meeting at Chisham” by Robert John Bayer (Magico).

  2. About the "blue" and "grey" eyes, I have heard that the British refer to very light blue eyes as "grey."