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Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Holmes, Watson, and Walking Sticks


I own several handsome walking sticks, but I’ve never actually used one. Not so Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Doubtless the walking stick was such an indispensable element of a gentleman’s attire in late Victorian England that our friends each carried one most of the time. Specific mentions are relatively few, however.

Young Stamford talks about Holmes “beating the subjects in the dissecting-rooms with a stick,” which probably means a walking stick. The detective carries a “thick oaken cudgel,” later called a stick, when in disguise as an old salt in The Sign of Four. He uses his stick to thump the pavement at a memorable moment in “The Red-headed League.” Was this the same walking stick Holmes that left with his cigarette box at the Reichenbach Falls? No, that was an alpenstock! But we know that “Neither dog nor man liked the look of my stick” in “The Missing Three-Quarter.”

And there’s Watson.

In Chapter Three of The Sign of Four, Watson tells us, “I picked up my hat and my heaviest stick” – clearly indicating that he owned more than one. Four chapters later, Holmes comments, “You have not a pistol, have you?” Watson replies, “I have my stick.” Similarly, Holmes’s inquiry in “The Disappearance of Lady Francis Carfax,” “Are you armed?” elicits Watson’s laconic reply, “My stick!”

And rightly so did the good doctor regard the stick as a potential tool of violence. A walking stick was the murder weapon in “The Cardboard Box” and the suspected weapons in “Silver Blaze” (where the stick in question is a penang-lawyer) and “The Norwood Builder.”

Other individual who carry or raise a walking stick in the Canon include Rueben Hays, Mr. Merryweather, Professor Coram, Sir Eustace Brackenstall, Inspector Gregson, Ted Baldwin, Count Sylvius Negretto, Sir Robert Norberton, Henry Baker, Jephro Rucastle, Judge Trevor, Henry Wood, and Mr. Melas’s captors.

But my favorite use of a walking stick in the Sacred Writings occurs in opening chapter of The Hound of the Baskervilles, where Sherlock Holmes learns so much from the one left behind by James Mortimer, M.R.C.S. “Interesting, though elementary,” Holmes comments. “There are one or two indications upon the stick. It gives us the basis for several deductions.” And so it did.

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