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Monday, November 7, 2016

Sherlock Holmes Among the Politicians

The Prime Minster at Baker Street in "The Adventure of the Second Stain"
Election day tomorrow in the United States has me thinking about Sherlock Holmes’s not-always-happy interaction with politicians of his day.

Watson’s description of Lord Holdhurst, the foreign secretary and “future premier of England” in “The Adventure of the Naval Treaty,” is quite telling: “Standing on the rug between us, with his slight, tall figure, his sharp features, thoughtful face, and curling hair prematurely tinged with gray, he seemed to represent that not too common type, a nobleman who is in truth noble.” As Watson hints here, not all cabinet ministers are portrayed so positively in the pages of the Canon.

Among the good guys is the Prime Minister to whom Watson signs the pseudonym Lord Bellinger in “The Adventure of the Second Stain." Watson calls this “the most important international case which he (Holmes) has ever been called upon to handle.” So the PM himself calls on Holmes at Baker Street, along with the Right Honorable Trelawney Hope, Secretary for European Affairs. There is a marvelous closing scene: 
The Premier looked at Homes with twinkling eyes.“Come, sir,” said he. “There is more in this than meets the eye. How came the letter back in the box?”Holmes turned away smiling from the keen scrutiny of those wonderful eyes.“We also have our diplomatic secrets,” said he and, picking up his hat, he turned to the door.
In the lamentable “The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone,” an even bigger phalanx of politicians descends on Baker Street – the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, and a reluctant Lord Cantlemere – to plea with Holmes to recover the eponymous gem by any means necessary.

Billy the page can get along with the Prime Minister and has nothing against the Foreign Secretary, but he can’t stand Lord Cantlemere. “Neither can Mr. Holmes, sir,” Billy tells Watson. “You see, he don’t believe in Mr. Holmes and was against employing him.”

Holmes gets his revenge in the end by slipping the recovered Mazarin stone into the politician’s own overcoat and pretending to find it there. Like a certain monarch, Cantlemere is not amused. In fact, he lives up to Billy’s description of him as “a stiff ’un.” But ultimately he is forced to acknowledge the nation’s debt to Holmes and to withdraw his skepticism about the sleuth’s professional powers. Holmes, not entirely mollified, twists the knife a bit as he dismissively refuses to explain how he got the diamond back:

“This case is but half-finished; the details can wait. No doubt, Lord Cantlemere, your pleasure in telling of this successful result in the exalted circle to which you return will be some small atonement for my practical joke. Billy, you will show his Lordship out, and tell Mrs. Hudson that I should be glad if she would send up dinner for two as soon as possible.”
Why did Holmes even take the case in the face of Cantlemere’s skepticism and their clear mutual dislike? Possibly his ego was a factor, the drive to prove the skeptic wrong. But, surely, so was patriotism. For Sherlock Holmes was not a man to let “the folly of a monarch or the blundering of a minister” (NOBL) keep him from answering the call of duty.
Years later, in “His Last Bow,” Watson asks Holmes how he got lured away from his bees to serve the nation once more. “Ah, I have often marveled at it myself. The Foreign Minister alone I could have withstood, but when the Premier also deigned to visit my humble roof –”

But that was at least the third Prime Minister who visited Holmes at home; he should have been used to the honor by then.

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