There’s something deep inside people that responds to Holmes. He has a genuine sense of natural justice. A sense of honor. People wish that he did exist. They feel somehow that society would be a safer place if he did. He is what we would like our leaders to be. Someone whom you trust who will never have feet of clay. Never going to be caught out. Whatever else changed in the world we would feel he would always remain as the fixed point.” Michael Cox.
Happy birthday Mr. Holmes! What’s in a birthday? A life that so far touches three centuries. And in that time Sherlock Holmes has taught so many of we Baker Street dwellers how to be the hero in our lives. Our admiration and our attempts to emulate the way he filters his cultivated deductive abilities through his many gifts leads us on. Because Sherlock is a genius at it, he makes it look easy. Yet, how many of us would or could spend those long years perfecting that cultivation which supports each of his deductions? We all take our own paths toward the fulfillment of our singular gifts. Knowing in the surety that Sherlock Holmes holds the lantern that lights the way. And as he does Watson, he congratulates us through each step we take towards our own awakenings. For me, this friendship is why I write. And why I write Sherlock Holmes. Happy one-hundred and sixty-eight brilliant years! The toast is Mr. Sherlock Holmes!
Where did this date come from? Watson was very careful to create a degree of anonymity for his famous friend. He never divulged Sherlock Holmes birthday in his stories. Yet, he is toasted around the world on 6 January.
The year we do know is 1854. In one of my favorite Holmes stories, “The Last Bow”, which is set in 1914, and represents Sherlock Holmes’, Dr. Watson’s, and part of Arthur Conan Doyle’s service in the War to end all wars. He declares that Holmes is 60 during an adventure that would hard press a twenty-year-old man.
But 6 January? Four years after Conan Doyle’s death, in 1934 Christopher Morley founded the Baker Street Irregular’s in New York City and began celebrating Sherlock Holmes’ birthday. At the same time the Sherlock Holmes Society in London were preparing their toasts to the Great Detective. Morley rushed to place the BSI’s birthday party ahead of the SHS, by one week, and winning for the BSI the distinction as the first. Today we share this joyous celebration as friends across the pond.
In the Saturday Review of Literature, Morley wrote that he had consulted an astrologer and combined this with his own knowledge of Sherlock Holmes to find 6 January, 1854. Part of his reasoning was that Sherlock Holmes quoted Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night twice in the canon.
I found some interesting parallels with the traditions of Twelfth Night to the character of Sherlock Holmes. As we know this date commemorates the visit of the Wise Men. Who were learned men, counselors, astrologers, and scientists. Celebrations at this time were often distinguished by a temporary suspension of rules and social orders. Something much less temporary in Holmes’ Bohemian character and in the societies who revere him.
In 1957 another theory was put forth by Nathan Bengis, of the BSI. In Watson’s novel The Valley of Fear, on the morning of 7 January, Watson says, “Really, Holmes,” said I, severely, “you are a little trying at times.” The reason for this Bengis puts forth is they were generously toasting Holmes birthday the night before. It is slim proof, but it is our right as Sherlockians and Holmesians to find meaning in obscure references.
And we have been celebrating Holmes’ every 6 January since. And we do so know how to hold a rollicking good birthday party!
Now, don’t get me started on Dr. John Watson’s date of birth!
Gretchen Altabef is an MX author of Sherlock Holmes novels. Mondadori Publishing has contracted to translate her novels into Italian. Ms. Altabef strives to emulate Dr. John Watson’s and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s literary style. The first, These Scattered Houses, is in Holmes’ own voice and resourcefully chronicles the last two months of his ‘great hiatus’. The second in the series is, Remarkable Power of Stimulus. After 3 years away, Holmes finds London awash in murders, No. 221B under siege, anarchists threatening Paris, and the return of Irene Adler. Fully aware he is being watched by Moriarty’s men, Holmes steps out of the cab into Baker Street knowing he will find Watson’s friendship and unerring aim are as dependable as the British Rail. THE KEYS OF DEATH is a genesis story of No. 221B Baker Street.
To forestall confusion: Jeremy Brett’s birthday is 3 November 1933.