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Tuesday, March 16, 2021

The Essential Young Stamford

Holmes meets Watson by George Hutchinson

The focus on A Study in Scarlet at Saturday’s meeting of the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis had me thinking about the most important person in the Canon, even though he only appears once and briefly.

I refer, of course, to young Stamford.

“Without him, we wouldn’t be here today,” Illustrious Client Louise Haskett observed in her toast to the dresser under Watson at St. Barts. “We may not know his first name, but we owe him so, so much.”

Stamford – most likely not Archie Stamford, the forger in “The Solitary Cyclist” – appears in just six pages of the original Beeton’s Christmas Annual appearance of the novel. Although he has quite a few lines of dialogue, the most import of them are: “Dr. Watson, Mr. Sherlock Holmes.” If he hadn’t made this introduction, we wouldn’t have the Canon.

(The same could be said for Watson’s orderly, Murray, throwing him across a pack horse and taking him safely to the British lines. But Murray is just a name; not a character in the story as Stamford is.)

Watson isn’t just a foil. Holmes calls the good doctor his partner in “The Red-Headed League” and “Charles Augustus Milverton,” so we know Watson isn’t stretching it when he refers to their partnership in “The Norwood Builder” and “The Three Garridebs.” While the great detective was the senior partner, Watson is as essential to Holmes as Archie Goodwin is to Nero Wolfe.  

Let’s engage in a thought experiment: What would have happened if Holmes and Watson had never met?

Pat Ward, in her toast to Dr. Watson at the Illustrious Clients gathering, speculated that Holmes would have been lost to cocaine addiction and Watson would have killed himself out of depression. That’s possible. And this is for sure:

  •  Holmes is lost without his Boswell, as he says in “A Scandal in Bohemia.”
  • Watson is lost without his Holmes, as we see in the opening scenes of “The Empty House.”   
  • We are all lost without Watson telling the story, especially in “The Mazarine Stone,” “The Blanched Soldier,” and “The Lion’s Mane.”

No wonder Young Stamford has given his name to a BSI investiture and a scion society, the Younger Stamfords!

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