Sherlock Holmes, violist

A close reading of the canonical texts yields conclusive evidence that the celebrated sleuth was not a superb violinist—he was a superb violist.

The mistake was likely perpetuated by an early printer’s error. After all, Watson was a doctor, which means that even at best his handwriting was nearly illegible; he undoubtedly wrote “viola”, not “violin”. References to Holmes’s playing such as a “low, dreamy, melodious air” and “low melancholy wailing”—as well as to his habit of playing it “thrown across his knee”—clearly indicate that his instrument must have been a viola.

In fact, further textual references point to a historical mystery solved. Holmes referred to his instrument as a Stradivarius bought from a shady broker for only 55 shillings; surely this was the one Stradivarius viola, dated 1695, whose whereabouts has eluded instrument historians.

This according to “Quick, Watson, the fiddle” by Rolfe Boswell (The Baker Street journal, October 1948; reprinted in Journal of the American Viola Society online 26 [summer 2010] pp. 14–18). Above, a classic depiction by Sidney Paget, Conan Doyle’s original illustrator; below, Jeremy Brett holds forth.

Related article: Dickens and music

2 Comments

Filed under Curiosities, Humor, Instruments, Literature

2 responses to “Sherlock Holmes, violist

  1. Tim Symonds

    If you like Holmes ‘Classic’…
    Sherlock Holmes And The Dead Boer At Scotney Castle

    Never before had Holmes and Watson come up against a brotherhood like the Kipling League. Dedicated to their Patron Rudyard Kipling, the Poet of Empire, the League’s sole allegiance was to England’s civilising mission. Its members would allow nothing to get in their way.

    Tim Symonds’ new novel Sherlock Holmes And The Dead Boer At Scotney Castle will be published March 19 by MX Publishing, known for their Sherlock Holmes’ authors.

    Holmes and Watson take the train to address the mysterious Kipling League at Crick’s End, a Jacobean mansion in deepest Sussex. A body is found in a wagon pond at nearby Scotney Castle – but why the wagon pond and not the moat? And why unclad? What is the meaning of the pair of shiny dark glasses clutched in one hand? And that hatband – could it really be from the skin of a yellow and brown spiny snake?

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sherlock-Holmes-Dead-Scotney-Castle/dp/1780920911
    Also at Foyle’s Online http://www.foyles.co.uk/item/Fiction-Poetry/Sherlock-Holmes-and-the-Dead-Boer-at-Scotney-Castle,Tim-Symonds-9781780920917
    North America http://www.mxpublishing.com/brand/Tim+Symonds
    Review copies – Steven Emecz mxpublishing@btinternet.com

    Like

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