The other side of Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes is a fictional detective created by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Referring to himself as a “consulting detective” in the stories, Holmes is known for his proficiency with observation, deduction, forensic science and logical reasoning that borders on the fantastic which he employs when investigating cases for a wide variety of clients including Scotland Yard.

Although I cannot recall precisely when or where I read it – though most certainly it was before I imagined owning a computer much less relying upon the internet for intelligence –  I have this image of Sherlock Holmes as an addict of nefarious combustibles specifically laudanum of which I believe opium is the active ingredient. This in turn left me with a very pleasing though no doubt erroneous visual impression of vermillion flowers tossing about in a breeze upon a lush hillside perhaps somewhere far, far away.

Sherlock Holmes, the most famous consulting detective in literature, occasionally used cocaine and morphine to escape, as he said, from “the dull routine of existence”. This was nothing unusual in Victorian times because sale of opium, laudanum, cocaine and morphine was legal. Victorian users took these dangerous drugs as self-medication and as recreation.

I recall having seen an artistic rendition of the prostrate Holmes in a less than inspiring state of addiction, curled upon a mattress of accumulated billowing white bedclothes, deep within a dark and dank dungeon as though he were recovering from days of intoxication. Always his identity was muted except to the reader. His was an uncomfortable condition, worn down by despair, essentially alone in the world apart from Mrs. Hudson and Dr. Watson.

Financial difficulties lead Holmes and Dr. Watson to share rooms together at 221B Baker Street, London. Their residence is maintained by their landlady, Mrs. Hudson.

The equation of drugs with intelligence is not a new abuse or unfamiliar misguided analgesic. Nonetheless the picture of Holmes embracing the narcotic lent a decidedly cultivated air to the excess. Having witnessed the legal transition of marijuhana from a criminal factor to a recreational habit, the literary secrecy of Holmes’ private indulgences has rendered a more telling conclusion; namely, nothing wrong with a bit of pain killer – even when reputedly employed to escape from “the dull routine of existence”.

Personally I resent the assertion that there is anything dull about routine.  I say this not in defence of my lack of novelty or erudition; rather as a chastisement of what I consider the utter miscalculation of life at any level as dull.  Indeed I have devoted the predominance of my existence to making the best of what I can with what is at hand.  Nor have I ever felt the necessity to elevate my presence on this planet otherwise than afforded by nature to reveal life’s unequivocal dynamism.  To my tender reasoning, Holmes’ difficulty wasn’t life’s lack of entertainment; rather its abbreviation by other circumstances, the weight of which overwhelmed him, forcing him to descend to those pitiable caverns for putative recovery. I’m guessing.

Aside from the vomit, I do not distinguish narcotic from alcoholic indulgence. The lingering image of complacency with drugs is something well recognized in early 20th century Hollywood movies, pictures of the ubiquitous martini were as universal as the studio whence they derived!

I am of mixed opinion regarding the utility of narcotic or alcoholic escape.  Obviously it is not a frequency which is likely to disappear anytime soon. There is however the persuasion of old age and retirement; basically, why not? I mean to say, it’s but a corollary of saving it for the funeral. That is, permitting oneself a casual indulgence cannot be all that bad. I cling fast to the recollection that it is prostate cancer which will ultimately get me. Meanwhile some other passive persuasion is not to be caste aside carelessly.