Saturday, August 29, 2020

Arthur Conan Doyle, The Return of Sherlock Holmes


Opening Passage: From "The Empty House", as is only fitting:

It was in the spring of the year 1894 that all London was interested, and the fashionable world dismayed, by the murder of the Honourable Ronald Adair under most unusual and inexplicable circumstances. The public has already learned those particulars of the crime which came out in the police investigation, but a good deal was suppressed upon that occasion, since the case for the prosecution was so overwhelmingly strong that it was not necessary to bring forward all the facts. Only now, at the end of nearly ten years, am I allowed to supply those missing links which make up the whole of that remarkable chain. The crime was of interest in itself, but that interest was as nothing to me compared to the inconceivable sequel, which afforded me the greatest shock and surprise of any event in my adventurous life. Even now, after this long interval, I find myself thrilling as I think of it, and feeling once more that sudden flood of joy, amazement, and incredulity which utterly submerged my mind. Let me say to that public, which has shown some interest in those glimpses which I have occasionally given them of the thoughts and actions of a very remarkable man, that they are not to blame me if I have not shared my knowledge with them, for I should have considered it my first duty to do so, had I not been barred by a positive prohibition from his own lips, which was only withdrawn upon the third of last month.

Summary: If we look at Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's list of favorite Holmes stories, he gives four from The Return of Sherlock Holmes: "The Dancing Men" (#3, due to originality of plot), "The Empty House" (#6, for the obvious reason), "The Second Stain" (#8, with "The Naval Treaty" among the best of the series but a better story than the latter), and "The Priory School" (#10, for the scene in which Holmes points his finger at the Duke). No doubt Doyle is partly trying to make sure his list has variety, but "The Empty House" and "The Dancing Men" consistently make lists of fan favorites, and are probably the only Return stories to do so, and while all the Return stories have their interesting points, "The Second Stain" is easily the most cleverly structured, with its interwoven double-layered mystery to match the two layers of official police and above-official diplomatic intelligence, and for the most striking twist it's a choice between "The Priory School" and "Charles Augustus Milverton". Most of the other Return stories have, despite their experiments in putting Holmes in different situations, a pedestrian feel, or perhaps 'episodic' would be better for the television age, since they are a bit mystery-of-the-week; the most obvious example being "The Three Students", which I think works very well as an example of the puzzle-fiction branch of detective fiction, but wouldn't be much different in character if the detective were not Holmes but Encyclopedia Brown. In any case, "The Empty House" is obviously the story that has to be looked at, "The Dancing Men" is obviously the one most people find most memorable, and "The Second Stain" is the one I looked at adaptations for (and provides a suitable bookend to "The Empty House").

"The Adventure of the Empty House", of course, brings Sherlock Holmes back by establishing that he did not in fact die at Reichenbach Falls. Three years have passed since that fateful day, and in March of 1894 an extraordinary murder happens: behind locked doors, Ronald Adair is killed, with no obvious way for the murderer to have escaped. Watson, who due to his past association with Holmes takes an interest in cases he thinks his deceased friend might have found worthwhile, visits the scene of the crime, but when there runs into an angry elderly book collector. The book collector visits him again later, and it turns out to be Sherlock Holmes in disguise. Holmes has been pretending to be dead for the past three years in order not to be killed by the remnants of Moriarty's organization, and he is almost at the end of that tunnel -- Holmes finally sees a chance to take down Colonel Sebastian Moran, the last of Moriarty's right-hand men. With the help of Inspector Lestrade, Holmes and Watson will find a way to hold him accountable for his most recent murder, that of Ronald Adair.

As retcons go, "The Empty House" is, I think, moderately successful. The account of Holmes's survival is not particularly plausible, nor is the account Holmes gives of how spent the next three years, which requires us to believe that he has been traveling to places with misspelled names and is apparently, and completely unexpectedly, fluent enough in Norwegian to have been able to become, also completely unexpectedly (and a little oddly, given that he's trying to keep a low profile), internationally famous as a Norwegian explorer. Perhaps the charitable reading there is that Watson is deliberately changing details, and signaling that he is doing so, in order to protect either the innocent or government secrets, which we know from other stories he occasionally does. However, the idea that Moriarty's end doesn't mean the end of his dangerous organization is a shrewd one, and it is plausible that, despite Holmes's efforts in "The Final Problem", some of Moriarty's gang might slip through the nets due to happenstance and luck. And perhaps more important, Colonel Moran provides a sufficiently exciting spark to light the new fire.

"The Empty House" is nominally a locked-room mystery, although the locked-room takes backseat to the re-introduction of Holmes. "The Adventure of the Dancing Men" is a different genre of detective fiction altogether, being a cryptographic mystery. Cryptographic mysteries are by their nature tricky, because you need a code or cipher that is challenging to make your detective look intelligent but easy enough to give the interested reader a chance to match wits with them and try to solve it first. "The Dancing Men" is a relatively successful example of the genre -- the cipher itself is a relatively straightforward substitution cipher, and Holmes himself solves it with elementary frequency analysis. But the cipher itself is, I think, well done -- it's different enough that you could see why someone would not recognize it as a cipher, which goes a long way to making Holmes seem clever in catching the point at once. Hilton Cubitt has recently married an American woman, Elsie Patrick; he knows, without knowing the details, that she is running from some dark secret in her past. Recently it has become clear that the trouble is catching up to her, as she starts acting differently upon receiving messages containing little dancing stick-figure men. Holmes, of course, can solve the riddle, but he is coming into the puzzle late in the game, and time is running out.

"The Adventure of the Second Stain" is Doyle's second attempt to put Holmes to rest. In "The Adventure of the Naval Treaty" in the previous series, Watson had mentioned a case by this title, and then goes on to say of it:

The first of these, however, deals with interest of such importance and implicates so many of the first families in the kingdom that for many years it will be impossible to make it public. No case, however, in which Holmes was engaged has ever illustrated the value of his analytical methods so clearly, or has impressed those who were associated with him so deeply. I still retain and almost verbatim report of the interview in which he demonstrated the true facts of the case to Monsieur Dubugue of the Paris police, and Fritz von Waldbaum, the well-known specialist of Dantzig, both of whom had wasted their energies upon what proved to be side issues. The new century will have come, however, before the story can be safely told.

"The Second Stain" explicitly refers back to this, so it is intended to be the promised story. However, the story we actually have only has a few features. It is a matter of importance, but we have no reason from the story itself to think that it implicates many of the first families of the kingdom; the French are indeed investigating a side issue, but it seems implausible given the story that we have that Holmes would have told any police, much less foreign police about the letter. Holmes does impress the prime minister and some others by rediscovering a lost letter, but not in a way that exhibits his analytical method; indeed, the only people who know about how Holmes knew where to find the letter are Holmes, Watson, and the thief. So by "those who were associated with him" no one could possibly be meant except Watson himself!

Regardless, "The Second Stain" takes us into yet another branch of detective fiction, espionage mystery. An important diplomatic letter has been stolen, nobody knows how. It must be kept secret, even from the police. Holmes is engaged to discover the culprit, and as he is investigating it intersects with a police case, the murder of Eduardo Lucas. By putting the two together, Holmes is able to trace the matter back to the culprit.

"The Second Stain" is very adaptable tale, with a high-stakes plot and a lot of room for adding a little extra excitement if you need to do it. I listened to the 1940 radio adaptation in The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, with Basil Rathbone as Holmes. the 1954 radio adaptation in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, with John Gielgud as Holmes; Gielgud was only Holmes for a few months, but "The Second Stain" is one of the ones he did. I also watched the 1986 TV version, with Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes. And for good measure, I watched the episode, "The Adventure of the Second Stain", from the animated series, Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century, with Holmes voiced by Jason Gray-Stanford. All of them were remarkably faithful -- they emphasized different things, and they added things of their own, and of course the last of the four was a much freer adaptation than the other three in order to include the science fiction elements (it also simplifies the blackmail issue), but it is, as I said, a very adaptable tale. Unsurprisingly the TV episodes add more physical activity. The primary differences were in the Holmeses; Gielgud's comes across as relatively quiet while the other three are much more rambunctious. Brett's comes across as more vain and yet also lighter-hearted than the other three. And in terms of how they were written, the 22nd Century Holmes is much more concerned with upholding the law than the other three are. All of them are good, though, even the animated one; Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century episodes are very uneven, with some decent and some schlocky, but "The Adventure of the Second Stain" is probably one of the best episodes.

My overall impression of The Return is that here we begin to have a Holmes whose relation to the law is much, much looser than in the previous series. Obviously, he's been pretending to be dead in "The Empty House", even to the police. "The Norwood Builder" opens with Holmes remarking that London has become boring without Moriarty. In "The Dancing Men", Holmes is annoyed to be misidentified as a police detective. In "The Priory School", Holmes helps with a cover-up. In "Charles Augustus Milverton", Holmes deliberately engages in burglary and remarks, "I have always had an idea that I would have made a highly efficient criminal." In "The Abbey Grange" and "The Second Stain" he helps the culprits get away. No single one of these is perhaps much of a stretch beyond the Holmes we've previously had, particularly given the circumstances in each case, but the impression of them altogether is of a Holmes who operates less as a consultant to the police and more as an independent agent not wholly confined to the law.

Favorite Passage: From "The Priory School":

Holmes opened the case, and moistening his finger he passed it along the shoe. A thin film of recent mud was left upon his skin.

“Thank you,” said he, as he replaced the glass. “It is the second most interesting object that I have seen in the North.”

“And the first?”

Holmes folded up his check and placed it carefully in his notebook. “I am a poor man,” said he, as he patted it affectionately, and thrust it into the depths of his inner pocket.

Recommendation: Recommended.

Four Poem Drafts

The Tree Is Rising High

The tree is rising high,
the eye is drawn
as sun is pouring down
in glory bright;
the morning is its gift.
The songful birds
are flirting with your ear
and upward soars
that gladness that we share,
as you are mine
and I am also yours,
beside the waves
that ripple through the lake.

Waiting for a Hurricane

The stillness is stormy.
The clouds are dark.
The birds are growing quiet
in the trees around the park.
A tickle sparks the atmosphere,
makes my hairs to rise,
as rumbles out of hearing
shimmer through the green-grey skies.
My breath is bated now.
I fell a mist of rain
as a worry like chill lightning
plays across expectant brain.
The wind tugs at my hair
then presses on my limbs
and the blackness shrouds the heaven dark
until the eye is dim.


If time can heal the wounds of sorrow's love,
what length of time must roll across the earth
like endless tape in angel-seamstress' hand
before my wounds are healed? What measured span
will bring the promised cure and save my soul?
No, time is not a healer; people lie
to comfort grieving sadness, so they say
that time will by itself make sorrow leave.
But nothing save new love for those who grieve
will draw the boat to holy haven's shore.
The loves that cover sadness like a salve
are many, some for children, some for God,
or art, or thought, or home, or lovers new,
but only love can heal a broken heart.

Cain and Abel

Cain was growing golden grain
and Abel herding sheep.
Abundant with the firstfruits
Cain did mighty harvest reap.
But envy is a noxious weed
and murder knows no class,
and Cain did kill his brother dead
and hid him in the grass.

The Lord had blessed the elder Cain
with more than tongue could tell;
he had the certainty of grain
and gardens growing well.
But envy starts from little seed
and grows and gnaws inside,
and Cain did kill his brother dead
and then to God he lied.

Cain brought God the best of all,
the finest in his store,
but Abel gave the fatted lamb
and God loved Abel's more.
And envy from a mote of dust
becomes a mountain tall,
and Cain did kill his brother dead
and thereby lost it all.

The elder brother angry grew;
his face did fall in wrath;
and God said, "This is nothing great;
beware to tread this path."
But envy is a rot that grows
and spreads like burning flame,
and Cain did kill his brother dead
and tried to shirk the blame.

Said God, "I may the fatted lamb
for reasons hid regard,
but it is well if you do well,
your precious soul to guard."
But envy from a little stream
a river great will grow
and Cain did kill his brother dead,
for envy brought him low.

And you yourself will no doubt think
an Abel, not a Cain,
but you the elder brother know
like whispers in the brain,
and envy from a little start
becomes an evil end,
as Cain did kill his brother dead,
his brother and his friend.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Doctor Gratiae

Today is the feast of St. Augustine of Hippo, Doctor of the Church. From the Tractates on I John, Tractate 5:

Look, the baptized person has received the sacrament of birth. He has a sacrament, and a great sacrament, divine, holy, ineffable. Consider what sort of thing it is. That it makes a new man by remission of all sins. Yet let him focus attention upon the heart, if what has been done in the body has been perfected there. Let him see if he has love and then let him say, "I have been born of God." But if he does not have it, he does indeed have the mark that has been infixed, but he roams at large, a deserter. Let him have love; otherwise let him not say that he has been born of God. "But," he says, "I have the sacrament." Hear the Apostle: "If I should have all sacraments, and have all faith so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing."

[St. Augustine, Tractates on the Gospel of John 112-24; Tractates on the First Epistle of John, Rettig, tr. Catholic University Press (Washington, DC: 1995) p. 191.]

There Shall Be Plates A-Plenty

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

I’ll keep a little tavern
Below the high hill’s crest,
Wherein all grey-eyed people
May set them down and rest.

There shall be plates a-plenty,
And mugs to melt the chill
Of all the grey-eyed people
Who happen up the hill.

There sound will sleep the traveller,
And dream his journey’s end,
But I will rouse at midnight
The falling fire to tend.

Aye, ’tis a curious fancy—
But all the good I know
Was taught me out of two grey eyes
A long time ago.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Evening Note for Thursday, August 27

Thought for the Evening: Implicature

H. P. Grice coined the term 'implicature' to indicate aspects of meaning which seem practically to follow from what is said, and which we might colloquially say are 'implied', but are not logically implied. (This is sometimes put in terms of a distinction between 'speaker meaning' and 'sentence meaning', but, as I've argued occasionally here, I think this is a false distinction -- 'sentence meaning' is just 'usual speaker meaning', and is thus much fuzzier than most people assume.) This is understood in pragmatic terms; that is, it builds on the fact that linguistic expressions are for a practical end. Grice then proposed what is called the Cooperative Principle as characterizing the basic means-end structure:

Cooperative Principle: Contribute what is required for the purpose of the conversation.

He then suggested four maxims that clarify the 'required' element of the Cooperative Principle, which could be expressed in the following ways:

Maxim of Quality: Convey what is true and justified.

Maxim of Quantity: Convey no more and no less than what informs.

Maxim of Relation: Convey what is relevant.

Maxim of Manner: Convey what would be perspicuous.

We recognize what is implicated by a sentence when we recognize that that something has to be the case, beyond what the sentence says or logically implies, for these maxims to be preserved. For instance, if John asks Mary out for drinks, and Mary says, "I have to wash my hair", we would assume that this means that Mary is not going to go out for drinks with John, because otherwise washing hair wouldn't be relevant to going out for drinks.

There are other, and often controversial, aspects of Grice's theory, but this is enough for a beginning. It's worth nothing that, while Griceans usually focus on language, the character of the theory means that it's actually just an account of the linguistic forms of cases of means and ends. Practical actions can, in only a slightly broader sense, be said to have implicatures as well. For instance, if I walk into your room and you are at your computer, you might not think much of it -- I'm working or doing something like that. But if, when you walk into the room, I suddenly scramble to hide the screen, you will understand this in light of some broader versions of the maxims of Quantity and Relation: you're doing a lot of work that would be more than is required for the assumed end, and it is presumably relevant to your intended end, so you'll conclude that I'm doing something that I don't want you to know about.

This is an important element to the theory of meaning that I think is often missing, namely, that human actions can have a meaning even if they are not specifically communicative.

Various Links of Interest

* An interesting breakthrough that makes solar-cell windows potentially viable.

* KPM Music has a large collection of production music.

* Robert Talisse, Democracy's Burden

* gives you the spatial dimensions of just about anything you could want.

* Matthew Wills discusses isinglass in Isinglass; or, The Many Miracles of Fish Glue.

* Ed Simon, In Defense of Kitsch

* Orson Welles's 1973 adaptation of the Allegory of the Cave. I often show this in my Ethics classes.

* Aaron Preston, Redefining “Racism”: Against Activist Lexicography

* The truth about Pheidippides.

* Thony Christie reviews John Farrell's The Clock and the Camshaft. I currently have this book sitting on my to-read pile.

* Ed Feser discusses wokeness and Plato's Republic.

* How much heavy water do you have to drink before it poisons you?

* Richard Marshall interviews John Schwenkler at 3:16.

* Photorealistic renditions of the Roman emperors.

* Academic urban legends.

Currently Reading

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Return of Sherlock Holmes
Yuri Slezkine, The House of Government
Henri Grenier, Thomistic Philosophy, Volume I
C. S. Lewis, Spirits in Bondage

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Clement of Alexandria on the Categories

For of Particulars there is no scientific knowledge, seeing they are infinite. But it is the property of science to rest on general and defined principles. Whence also Particulars are resolved into Universals. And philosophic research is occupied with Conceptions and Real subjects. But since of these the Particulars are infinite, some elements have been found, under which every subject of investigation is brought; and if it be shown to enter into any one or more of the elements, we prove it to exist; but if it escape them all, that it does not exist.

Of things stated, some are stated without connection; as, for example, "man" and "runs," and whatever does not complete a sentence, which is either true or false. And of things stated in connection, some point out "essence," some "quality," some "quantity," some "relation,'' some "where," some "when," some "position," some "possession," some "action," some "suffering," which we call the elements of material things after the first principles. For these are capable of being contemplated by reason.

But immaterial things are capable of being apprehended by the mind alone, by primary application.

Stromateis, Book VIII, Chapter VIII. So the idea seems to be that the categories are the most general heads to which particulars are traced in order to have knowledge of material things; and Clement's position seems to be that terms fall under categories insofar as the terms are used in propositions. The latter makes sense of the fact that Clement immediately goes on to talk about univocal and equivocal terms as things pertaining to what falls under the categories.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Le Prudhomme

Today is the feast of King St. Louis IX of France. Born in 1214, he became King at the age of twelve. He participated in both the Seventh and Eighth Crusades; both were disasters, the Seventh ending with him having to be ransomed at an extraordinary cost, and his participation in the Eighth ending in his death. During his reign, however, he made France the diplomatic center of Europe. He was famous for his courtesy, for his almsgiving, and for his mercy, although he could occasionally also be harsh. He was canonized in 1297, the only King of France ever to be canonized.

Emile Signol, Louis IX, dit Saint Louis, Roi de France (1215-1270)
Émile Signol, Louis IX, dit Saint Louis, Roi de France (1215-1270)

Monday, August 24, 2020

Augustine on the Categories

And what did it profit me that, when scarce twenty years old, a book of Aristotle's, entitled The Ten Predicaments, fell into my hands — on whose very name I hung as on something great and divine, when my rhetoric master of Carthage, and others who were esteemed learned, referred to it with cheeks swelling with pride — I read it alone and understood it? And on my conferring with others, who said that with the assistance of very able masters — who not only explained it orally, but drew many things in the dust — they scarcely understood it, and could tell me no more about it than I had acquired in reading it by myself alone? And the book appeared to me to speak plainly enough of substances, such as man is, and of their qualities, — such as the figure of a man, of what kind it is; and his stature, how many feet high; and his relationship, whose brother he is; or where placed, or when born; or whether he stands or sits, or is shod or armed, or does or suffers anything; and whatever innumerable things might be classed under these nine categories, — of which I have given some examples — or under that chief category of substance.

Augustine, Confessions, Book IV, Chapter 16. Augustine, who knew only a smattering of Greek vocabulary, almost certainly read the book in Marius Victorinus's Latin translation. An interesting passage, both for its testimony of how difficult Aristotle's doctrine of the categories was thought to be and for Augustine's interpretation of it. Augustine seems to differ from his teachers in having a minimalist interpretation of the Categories. After Porphyry (d. 305), the Platonists seem to have largely interpreted the Categories as being about language, but earlier there were many vying interpretations, some more metaphysical and some less, so perhaps there were still controversies over the matter in Roman Carthage. Or perhaps Stoic criticisms of the doctrine were common there, creating some controversy over how they were to be answered.

Regardless, the Aristotelian doctrine of the categories plays a significant role in Augustine's intellectual life; immediately after the above passage he diagnoses his early theological difficulties as consisting in treating divine being as if it were categorical.

The categories come up elsewhere:

What, therefore, we do not find in that which is our own best, we ought not to seek in Him who is far better than that best of ours; that so we may understand God, if we are able, and as much as we are able, as good without quality, great without quantity, a creator though He lack nothing, ruling but from no position, sustaining all things without having them, in His wholeness everywhere, yet without place, eternal without time, making things that are changeable, without change of Himself, and without passion. Whoever thus thinks of God, although he cannot yet find out in all ways what He is, yet piously takes heed, as much as he is able, to think nothing of Him that He is not.

On the Trinity, Book V, Chapter 1. This passage continues the same theme as above, i.e., that one must not think of God in terms of the categories. Very notably, though, here Augustine does not list substance, and he only identifies one specific kind of relation -- a significant part of the argument of the De Trinitate is a discussion of substance-terms and relation-terms as they apply in talking about God.

I Gaze on the Moon as I Tread the Drear Wild

Home, Sweet Home
by John Howard Payne

'Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home;
A charm from the sky seems to hallow us there,
Which, seek through the world, is ne'er met with elsewhere.
Home, home, sweet, sweet home!
There's no place like home, oh, there's no place like home!

An exile from home, splendor dazzles in vain;
Oh, give me my lowly thatched cottage again!
The birds singing gayly, that come at my call --
Give me them -- and the peace of mind, dearer than all!
Home, home, sweet, sweet home!
There's no place like home, oh, there's no place like home!

I gaze on the moon as I tread the drear wild,
And feel that my mother now thinks of her child,
As she looks on that moon from our own cottage door
Thro' the woodbine, whose fragrance shall cheer me no more.
Home, home, sweet, sweet home!
There's no place like home, oh, there's no place like home!

How sweet 'tis to sit 'neath a fond father's smile,
And the caress of a mother to soothe and beguile!
Let others delight mid new pleasures to roam,
But give me, oh, give me, the pleasures of home.
Home, home, sweet, sweet home!
There's no place like home, oh, there's no place like home!

To thee I'll return, overburdened with care;
The heart's dearest solace will smile on me there;
No more from that cottage again will I roam;
Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.
Home, home, sweet, sweet, home!
There's no place like home, oh, there's no place like home!

Byrne, who was one of the earliest internationally recognized American dramatists and actors, wrote this as the lyrics for his opera, Clari; it was set to a tune by the British composer, Sir Henry Bishop. It became without any doubt one of the most popular songs of the nineteenth century, although now it's a poem whose influence is known more by continuing reverberation than by direct acquaintance. The song was so popular that for years it made very large sums of money for Bishop, for the publishers of the sheet music, and for the producers of the opera. Byrne, who could not have negotiated a good business contract to save his life and spent most of his life pouring most of his income into debts already owed, made relatively little from it.