9th Annual 12th Night Giveaway: Day 6

Well! That was a day! I always laugh whenever anyone talks about how much they’d looooove to work in a library “with all the books.” I’ve worked in libraries for 11 of my 20 working years; it has very little to do with books. I am behind, I know, so here’s a short one!

Well, in line with our theme of “What would so-and-so get for Christmas,” I decided to consider the world’s most patient landlady (not housekeeper). It’s very easy to lose the real Mrs. Hudson amongst all of the screen versions, so I went back and searched for all of the places she shows up in the Canon, just to make sure I did not do the same. First off, I was very surprised by all of the”Hudson” mentions that were not her. Going by the searchable Canon at arthur-conan-doyle.com, she appears in 30 of the 63 total uses of the word “Hudson,” the others being “Hudson street” (“The Adventure of the Crooked Man”); the villainous sailor Hudson (“The Gloria Scott”), and Morse Hudson, (“The Six Napoleons”). Whenever we encounter her in the Canon–with one key exception–she is usually doing something domestic: cooking, serving food, showing in clients, or fretting over the mess up in 221 B. She worries about her lodgers, wants to care for Holmes when he’s “ill” (“The Dying Detective”), and is hysterically overjoyed to have him back after the Hiatus–all in line with a maternal nature. The major exception in her depiction as a stereotypical middle-aged or older woman is the role she plays in “The Empty House”: going in to turn the wax replica of Holmes every fifteen minutes so that Sebastian Moran might be fooled into shooting it.* The only other thing we know about her is that she is a Scotswoman (“The Naval Treaty”). We don’t know how old she is, what she looks like, if she’s a widow; divorcée, or married, if she has ever had children, or what thoughts and concerns she might have that don’t relate to the men in 221B. We don’t even know her first name.

This gives actors, writers, and readers plenty of room to imagine Mrs. Hudson in so many ways. There may be more varied versions of her than there are of Professor Moriarty. She’s been old, young, dowdy, attractive, cis female, trans (“Elementary”), motherly, rather harsh (the Guy Ritchie version), a former exotic dancer once married to a Florida drug kingpin, and a plump mouse with a mob cap. One might think that Sherlock Holmes has turned his deductive skills her way at least once, but with the exception of BBC’s modern Sherlock, we never know what he sees. I am tempted to imagine that he sees her in a maternal role, to the point that–like a young adult son–he doesn’t quite see her as “real.” So, when he and Watson give her Christmas gifts, I figure they’re rather unimaginative. A new-fangled vacuum. Pretty tea towels. Fancy tea. Chocolates.

But what if Mycroft–who seems to know everything–knows Mrs. Hudson as well? What if there are times when she says she’s “visiting her sister,” that she’s really hanging out in Mycroft’s parlor, playing cards, drinking brandy, and discussing world affairs? What if her fur coat (Russian sable), Plato’s Republic in the original Greek, and Indian brass candlesticks aren’t necessarily left over from her marriage? Perhaps someone knows that, once in awhile, she likes to get out of the kitchen.

Now for today’s question:

Why do people tend to think Mrs. Hudson’s first name is Martha?

And the prize…..

I didn’t find a date on this Grossett and Dunlap printing of Tales of Sherlock Holmes, but I am guessing sometime in the 1940’s, going by the Basil Rathbone cover photo. Unfortunately, that’s the only illustration in the book. It’s a cheap edition; the pages have browned and there is some foxing (little brown spots) and a brown fade mark on the inside cover. But the binding is very tight, and the jacket has just some minimal small tears and shelf wear. It’s a marvel there’s still a jacket at all. For your chance to win, just send your answer in via blog comment or FB message.

I’d also like to offer my apologies for being behind. I worked this afternoon, and will do an 8-hour shift tomorrow. After that, God willing, I will be able to catch up on posts and winners. So–this gives everyone some extra time to squeeze in replies for drawings that haven’t happened yet! See you tomorrow!

Day 5 Winner!!!!

Congratulations to Rick Krisciunas. Holmes and Watson were served cocoa in the morning in “The Adventure of the Priory School.” Otherwise, they seem to prefer coffee in the morning.


*If you stop to think about it, every fifteen minutes is a bit mechanical; we should all be grateful that Moran didn’t think this through. Also, as a middle-aged woman who is maternal and (kind of) domestic, I am not saying these are bad things. They are not. But they are easy ways to handle a secondary character.

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9th Annual 12th Night Giveaway: Day 5

If you do a survey of Sherlock Holmes fans, no doubt you’ll find that quite a few have niches of the Canon that they find particularly fascinating. I know quite a few tobacco/pipe/cigar aficionados, for instance. Physicians and teachers each have their own BSI collections, and one can find books, articles and lectures on topics ranging from transportation to numismatics to chronology to probably anything.

One thing I myself have found interesting are the two mentions of asthma in the Canon. One, of course, is the “unhappy John Hector MacFarlane,” of “The Norwood Builder,” easily winded as he reaches the top of the seventeen steps. The other is, quite possibly, Susan, in “The Three Gables” whom Watson describes as wheezy, and whom Holmes treats rather rudely (“wheezy people don’t live long”), even if she is one of the group hired by villainess Isadora Klein.* “Paregoric” is the stuff, he tells her–and paregoric was first invented as an asthma remedy in at the beginning of the 18th century, although today it is actually contraindicated for those with asthma and other lung conditions.**

So, what other medications might Susan and John Hector have tried? What might well-meaning relatives have put in their Christmas stockings? For this article, I looked at newspapers of the time, which had no lack of ads for asthma relief:

Now, while I have been an asthmatic since at least high school, and probably before, I went quite a long time undiagnosed, and without good health care. So I can tell you that sucking on a cough drop or hard candy can help with asthma, simply because it’s a distraction and can help you control your breathing. I once spent the better part of a day lying still in bed, working my way through a bag of Hall’s. Was this a good idea? No. Did it keep me out of the ER? Possibly. BUT–Keating’s was not just a mentholled-up candy. It contained, according to the “Quack Doctor” website, licorice, sugar, tragacanth gum as a binding agent, ipecacuanha, and not opium, but morphine. Ipecac can work as an expectorant in small doses–and in large ones, it’s an emetic. It’s possible that someone experiencing some kind of bloating might interpret the shortness of breath due to that condition as an asthma flare-up, and find relief in, well, purging. And morphine might relax you–…but neither of those will actually alleviate an asthmatic bronchospasm–in fact, morphine and other opiates can actually aggravate an asthma attack. **, ****

I am thus far unable to find any information on what was in this “ozone paper.” It might have contained another common medication inhaled as smoke, potassium nitrate. Ozone itself has been tried as an air purifier since the late 1890’s (Nikola Tesla invented the first portable ozone generator), but unfortunately, as clean as ozone smells, it will make it hard for you to breathe, and can kill you.†

This nostrum also required that the patient burn it–every half hour during an asthma attack, and three times per day when not having asthma issues. It contained a preparation of Datura stramonium, also known as thorn apple or jimson weed, part of the nightshade family. It apparently can work as an antiparoxysm medication, and the 19th century asthma specialist, Dr. Henry Hyde Salter, thought it worked sometimes. But honestly, if the asthma sufferer had to burn some every half hour during an attack (a miserably long time) it seems very likely that the attack resolved itself, and Himrod’s Cure just happened to be in the room at the time. Given the poisonous effects of D. stramonium and its plant family in general, this is another patent medicine we are well rid of.††

Tobacco is another asthma remedy that shows up in 19th century medical publications. The key, apparently, going from Dr. Salter’s book, On Asthma: Its Pathology and Treatment (2nd edition, 1882), was not that an asthmatic become a seasoned smoker like, say, Sherlock Holmes, but that they use tobacco so little that it made them feel incredibly sick.

The effect of tobacco is exactly the same, only the depression that it produces is more profound, amounting to actual collapse, and the relief, therefore, more speedy and complete. In those who have not established a tolerance of tobacco its use is soon followed by a well-known condition of collapse, much resembling sea-sickness–vertigo, loss of power in the limbs, a sense of deadly faintness, cold sweat, inability to speak or think, nausea, vomiting. The moment this condition can be induced the asthma ceases, as if stopped by a charm.

Henry Hyde Salter, MD FRS, On Asthma, Its Pathology and Treatment, p.99

That sounds just marvelous.

And just in case you were wondering, people did also try cannabis (also called “Indian hemp”). Of this treatment, Salter wrote:

The Indian hemp, Cannabis sativa, is much given in India as an anti-asthmatic, and among the natives has a great reputation. I can easily imagine from its physiological action that its reputation is well deserved. It is at once a stimulant and a sedative. I should be inclined to think it would act best in small stimulant doses. Given in this way it produces the same effects as coffee, only in a more marked degree–it exhilarates, imparts great activity and intensity to the intellectual faculties, and exalts the functions of animal life. In any case in which coffee is useful I should expect that Indian hemp would be so in a greater degree. I think in large doses it might even do harm, from its hypnotic tendency. In this respect there is the same objection to it as to opium. I can say but little of it from my own personal experience. I have not often prescribed it, and in the great majority of the cases in which I have it has been a complete failure.

Henry Hyde Salter, MD FRS, On Asthma, Its Pathology and Treatment, p.128

And what of Dr. Watson’s favorite prescription, brandy? Unlike our Baker street friend, Dr. Salter, even in 1882, was not a fan of medicinal alcohol, at least for asthma. He relates two cases: one of a woman who used whisky, and another of a man who chose brandy–both mixed with very hot or boiling water, who swore that these were the only things that relieved what seems to have been absolutely horrific attacks. Salter believed that alcohol should be a last-resort prescription; those who used it tended to become habituated to it, requiring more and more to get the same relief. Granted, this was the golden age of the temperance movement, but I don’t think we can disagree with the doctor when he writes that “Alcohol is a thing the use of which is much more easily begun than left off.” (Salter, p.128) And while Salter doesn’t mention it, we now know that alcohol can actually cause asthmatic reactions in sensitive people, due to sulfites and/or histamines in the drink. ††† Accidentally aspirating alcohol can, in some cases, trigger a sudden, strong asthma attack that, if help is not immediate, may prove fatal.

That brings us to one final remedy: coffee. Strong, hot, black coffee has long been recommended for asthma sufferers–as has tea and, in a pinch, caffeinated cola. The caffeine can help to improve airway function to a slight degree, and the effect can last as long as four hours. Dark chocolate, which contains theobromine, can also be useful; theophylline, like caffeine and theobromine a xanthine, was once commonly given to asthmatics in pill form. But let’s be honest–these are no competition for albuterol, corticosteroids, and other medications we have available today. ‡

So perhaps the best gifts for John Hector McFarlane and Susan would be ten pounds of the best coffee beans, chocolates, or…..

Well, I’m pretty sure I’ve asked the most obvious Holmesian question about Cadbury’s before. So let’s do something simple:

Do Holmes and Watson drink cocoa in the Canon? If so, where?

And the prize? Perfect for any of you who actually read this blog entry.

My phone is dead, so this is a screenshot of another copy, but the one on offer has a library jacket and is in excellent condition–tight binding, clean pages, etc. I have this “theory” that Sherlockians buy books constantly, but never, ever get around to reading them, which is why they stay so nice.

As always, to win this prize, send in your answer to the above question via blog comment or FB message. And, if you are asthmatic–take your meds as prescribed!!!!!!!

Day 4 Winner!

To be honest, I wondered about the Day 4 prize. I know I’ve offered an identical volume in a different year, so I wasn’t sure people would be interested in this one. But you were! Tonight’s winner is Jim Bennett, who answered that James Ryder learned about fencing from a friend named Maudsley, who had just got out of Pentonville. Ryder has Holmes to thank that he didn’t get a turn in that prison himself.


*This is also the story which features Holmes’ disappointingly racist reaction to Steve Dixie. And yes, I know it’s the 19th century, etc. etc., but 3GAB is still not one of my favorite stories.


***https://www.aaaai.org/about-aaaai/newsroom/news-releases/opioid; ether and chloroform were also used as asthma treatments, but physicians agreed they should only be administered by a professional, and never by oneself, as if one passed out while inhaling it, leaving the cloth or cone over their nose and mouth, chances were excellent that they would never wake up.


††https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2844275/; D. stramonium also appeared in medications as one of its variants, D. tatula.



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9th Annual 12th Night Giveaway: Day 4

How in the world is it already Day 4? But the 27th of December is a important day in the Sherlockian calendar, being as it is the date that the Commisionaire found something–not in a stocking, but in the crop of a lost-and-found goose. A “bonny thing,” Holmes called it, but it was also “a nucleus and focus of crime,” with “two murders, a vitriol-throwing, a suicide, and several robberies” to its credit. Hopefully the Countess of Morcar’s husband simply bought it from a jeweler’s. I assume she was happy to get it back.

We don’t see the Countess of Morcar in the canonical version of “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle,” but we do get a glimpse of her in the Granada episode. There, she was played by Rosalind Knight, a multi-faceted actress with seventy years of theatre, television, and film credits. She passed away earlier this month, and was remembered by her family as a woman with “‘immense spirit and sense of fun,'” although her Countess of Morcar seems to have been anything but. Indeed, she comes across as a woman who is thoroughly tired of Christmas–the shopping, hotel living, and probably all of the family she is buying for. So, let’s put on our deerstalkers and deduce: what would the Countess of Morcar like for Christmas?

She obviously has funds–it’s expensive to live in a hotel–but although she has bought quite a lot of gifts, she doesn’t seem to have family with her–and she certainly didn’t choose to stay with them. So….she might have difficulties with her children; or she is a woman who needs her space. But at one time, she was able to inspire such devotion in someone that he gave her the precious stone; and she loved him (let’s be generous and not think it was just the carbuncle) that she carried it with her to London and sneaks a peek at it when she is tired and stressed. If we really want to let our imaginations fly, we could infer that the fact that the stone remains unset indicates that the Countess is not supposed to have it–that she (or the person who gave it to her) came by it through less than honest means. Perhaps it came from someone other than her husband. Perhaps the Countess of Morcar has….secrets…….

So–a solitary person, who at the same time enjoys close companionship–and time alone. I would imagine she has a country house, with plenty of room to run, so what she truly needs for Christmas is–


MORE DOGS!!!!!!!!!


I expect that even just one dog would make her next Christmas far more merry.

We actually did get a new dog for Christmas–so now we have two. His name is Benny and he is loudly snoring on my lap right now. I won’t offer a dog as a prize, however. Instead, tonight’s offering is:

A Hound….

It’s a used, illustrated copy, in good condition. The spine has faded, and the corners are worn, but it’s a nice curiosity for your book cabinet. If you’d like a chance to win it, then all you need to do is answer this question:

Who did James Ryder think would help him fence the Blue Carbuncle; why did he choose that person?

Day 3 Winner!!!

There were many responses, but T. Rick Jones won the drawing–and is our first two-time winner. As everyone knew, Conan Doyle’s sisters Annette, Connie, and Lottie all worked as governesses in Portugal; the money they sent home helped support the family, and provided funds for Arthur in medical school. Also, as Jim Bennett pointed out, ACD’s grandmother, Catherine Pack Foley, ran a placement service for governesses in Edinburgh.

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9th Annual 12th Night Giveaway: Day 3

You know Mary was prettier than this. Honestly!

Not two weeks after her wedding, Mary Morstan Watson had admitted to herself that she had married a difficult man. Not that John Watson himself was difficult. He wasn’t. He was a lovely man and she knew she was lucky to have made such a match. They had not even had their first spat. She did not think they would ever have one.

Because he was never home.

This was, she realized now, the lot of most physician’s wives, particularly if their husbands were not consultants. There was no end of people needing a doctor in London. If it wasn’t catarrh, it was the measles. If not the measles, then lumbago. Or gout. Or brain fever. Or malaria, brought back from some faraway army post. Or a baby. Heavens, always the babies! If she had a baby, she would at least have something to occupy herself.

And if it wasn’t any of those, it was Sherlock Holmes

Not that she didn’t like Mr. Holmes. She did. He was always courteous to her; he appreciated her mind and capabilities in ways that she was not sure her own husband did. He even occasionally asked if it would be a hardship to her if he “borrowed” her husband for one of his cases. It was thoughtful of him to be sure, but what was she going to say? “No?” She did, one time, protest that it was her birthday, but having a husband slouching about with the eyes of a wounded puppy was not exactly conducive to celebration.

So she did charitable work. She made friends. She went visiting. Aunts, friends, the Forresters. Once, as a bit of a test, she told John she was going to visit her mother, just to see what he would say (she was, of course, an orphan). He bade her have a good journey, and went off on another jaunt with Holmes, staying over in Baker street. She went to Brighton with Dr. Anstruther’s wife; they had drunk too much sherry and flirted outrageously with strange men in the hotel. Holmes gave her an odd look when he visited the next time. He had obviously never said a word to Watson about her “mother.” She wondered what he thought she had been doing.

Some doctors played golf. Hers solved crimes. Ah, well.

And there he was, tromping up the stairs. He’d closed up his consulting room early. Holmes must need him for something. Well, she had a new novel. Margaret Anstruther had loaned it to her; supposedly the hero, James, was a man to dream of.

“Are you done so early, John?” she said as he came into the parlor and collapsed into his chair by the fire.

“Yes, for once! It will be nice to have some quiet before the fire after all of the coughing and complaining today!”

“Have you heard anything from Mr. Holmes?”

“No. Why? Has he called? Sent a telegram?” His eyes were suddenly bright.

“No. Nothing. Perhaps he has gone to visit his family.” She brought him a tumbler of whisky with a little soda, which he accepted with a smile.

“I can’t imagine that.”

“Well, it is Christmas Eve, John.” She reached into her writing desk, pulling out a prettily-wrapped box. She’d gone to Gamadge’s last week.

“Chris–” He looked down at the box, up at her, down again, up…. “Oh, my darling, I completely–how–how could I forget Christmas, of all things?”

She laughed. She was, after all, a doctor’s wife. Eventually, it all became funny, if you let it.

“That’s all right, John.” She put the present down, went to sit on his lap. He put his arm around her, brought her in for a whisky-soaked kiss.

“It’s quite all right, my love,” she said again. “All I want for Christmas is you.”

I know! I’m sorry!!!!!!!!!!!!

And to show how very sorry I am, here’s today’s prize–the latest pastiche from Bonnie MacBird, due out in March, 2021.

Obviously this book will be a pre-order, which you should receive on its publication date, depending upon where you live (later, if not in the US or Canada). To enter the drawing for this prize, please send in your answer to this question–

Mary Morstan was a governess before her marriage, and there are several governess characters in the Canon. What real-life connections in Conan Doyle’s life might explain this?

As always, send in your answer via blog comment, or message me on the Well-Read Sherlockian FB page.

Happy boxing day!

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9th Annual 12th Night Giveaway: Day 2

“Well, that was a wondrous Christmas dinner, Holmes, was it not?” Dr Watson stretched out in his chair, patted his stomach, and considered indulging in a post-prandial cigar.

“Not a patch on a medieval Christmas feast, Watson. Had we been part of the court of King John, we would have had our boards sagging with 400 boars, 3,000 fowl, 100 pounds of almonds, 10,000 eels and washed it all down with 27 hogsheads of wine. Shared with hundreds of others, of course.”

“Oh, really?” This was, Watson soon realized, the absolute wrong thing to say.

“Yes.” Holmes leaned forward in his chair, warming to his subject. “And the Salter’s Company in the City once served a Christmas banquet with buttered eggs, peacock, pheasants with ambergris–that’s whale bile secretions, you know, excreted via the intestines–and pies made of carp’s tongues.”

Watson put his cigar back into its humidor. He wondered if his face were as green as it felt. “Do tell,” he said weakly.

“I should write a monograph on Christmas and its customs, Watson! So many misconceptions about it these days.”

“Well, I wouldn’t call it a misconception where our souls are concerned, Holmes.”

Watson’s little joke blew past Holmes like smoke from a Christmas tree candle (which Mrs. Hudson had forbidden, due to the fire risk. The doctor had been a bit disappointed by that).

“There is no mention of the date of Christ’s birth in the Bible, Watson,” Holmes pontificated. “And, unlike the crucifixion, no hint as to even the time of year it occurred. Perhaps some astronomical data would reveal when the magi arrived, but even that was a year later, and not on the natal day, despite what nativity scenes would lead us–or, rather, many–to believe.”

Watson got up and went to the liquor cabinet. Pouring himself a two fingers of very fine scotch, he gave the gasogene a good squeeze. “Want a glass, Holmes?”

“No, thank you. December 25th was first settled upon as Christ’s birthdate in 221 by Sextus Julius Africanus–upon what merits, I must investigate. Julius I, Bishop of Rome was decreed that it be observed on that date in the middle of the 4th century.”

The scotch was lovely, Watson thought to himself. Just the faintest hint of peat.

“Scholars believe, however, that December 25th may have been chosen simply because it fell within a period of traditional Roman celebrations: Saturnalia, Sol Invictus, and the Kalends, or New Year.”

“Oh, come now, Holmes, why would anyone place a significant birthdate upon an existing holiday with such slim evidence? That would be like choosing a date based on one’s own birthdate, or one of a relative.”

“Perhaps my monograph researches shall uncover the reason, Watson. I must apply to the British Museum for a reading room pass after the new year.”

“Speaking of which, your birthday is nearly upon us, Holmes. Soon I won’t be just calling you ‘old man.'”

“May I remind you that you are, in fact, the elder of us,” the detective said, with some acerbity.

“So I am, so I am,” Watson agreed amiably.

They sat silently for a moment, Then Watson reached over to stoke the fire, and remembered something.

“Did I ever tell you about my Christmas in Wales, Holmes?”

“I thought your people were Scots, Watson.”

“Well, that’s my father, but my mother was a Davies. We went down to Aberavon, in Glamorganshire, once, to see my gran when I was about eight. It was Christmastime, and that was where I saw the Mari Lwyd.”

“Is that something to do with the Virgin Mary, Watson? Were your family Catholic?”

“Methodist, that side. At least by then. But the Mari Lwyd is a horse skull, Holmes.”

“A horse skull?” Holmes was immediately fascinated.

“A horse skull on a stick. Decorated with ribbons and carried around by a man covered with a sheet. It’s quite fearsome, Holmes.”

“Oh, I am sure.”

Watson didn’t think he sounded all that sincere. “At any rate,” he continued, The Mari Lwyd is accompanied by a group of men dressed in costume, and they go from door to door, reciting poetry and singing songs. The family of each house is supposed to do it back to them, and once they run out of responses, they serve the men cider, or ale, or whatever is on hand.”

“So, like wassailing, then.”

“Wassailing with a horse skull.” Watson said. Inside him, the eight year-old boy shuddered.

“I imagine I should win that battle of verse and song, my friend. The Mari Lwyd would pass us by, unfed.”

Watson felt a warm glow spread inside him that had nothing to do with whisky. “And so it would. Merry Christmas, Holmes.”

Sherlock Holmes smiled. “Merry Christmas, my friend.”

Well! That got fluffier than expected! Sometimes, characters take over, and you just have to let them. The Mari Lwyd is a real thing, by the way. Here’s a photo from the early 1900’s. It’s amazing, in that creepy way of ancient things.*

However, I do think that Holmes would be one of those people who loved to expound on the history of Christmas and its rituals, and I would not be surprised at all if he wrote a monograph upon the holiday, and its influence on crime through the ages. It might, therefore, be in Watson’s best interests to give him a gift that would, well, keep him quiet. A book for instance. Or an entire set of books, as you know the detective is a fast reader. Something like this beautiful set of Alexandre Dumas’ Celebrated Crimes, printed by H.S. Nichols in 1895.

This set is actually for sale for $3800. It is not the prize.

If you are the sort who would rather immerse yourself in facts, rather than legend, then today’s prize is right up your street. And, like Holmes’s favorite gifts, it involves crime:

Yeah, I know. It’s beautiful.

For a chance to win this lovely book, just answer this question:

It is often assumed that Watson is from Scotland, but is he? How might one deduce this? And are there clues that point elsewhere?

Once you have an answer, submit it to me via the blog comments, or PM me via the Well-Read Sherlockian Facebook page. Now I’ve got to finish the Christmas dinner. Just a crock pot roast–no funky tongues or eels here! Happy Christmas!


Congratulations to T. Rick Jones, winner of Day 1’s prize, the W. Clark Russell novel. As you all know, Watson was reading “one of Clark Russell’s fine sea stories” as a storm raged outside 221B in “The Adventure of the Five Orange Pips” (FIVE). Up until about two minutes ago, I always wondered if there was a bit of an error in calling the author Clark Russell, instead of adding the first name or initial, or just calling him “Russell,” until I realized that we call the author of FIVE “Conan Doyle”–not a hyphenated name–without a thought. *smacks forehead*

*Follow this link for information on the Mari Lwyd: https://www.vintag.es/2019/12/mari-lwyd.html

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9th Annual Twelfth Night Giveaway: Day 1

By H. J. Overbeek – from Wikimedia Commons

It’s Christmas Eve, 1881, on Baker Street. Night has fallen, bringing with it a gentle snowfall, muffling the sounds of carriages below.* As Mrs. Hudson is preoccupied with preparations for tomorrow’s lavish dinner, our flatmates have made do with a hastily prepared cold supper and are now sitting before the fire in their favorite chairs, nursing glasses of port while Holmes’s pipe scents the air with–not shag, thank heaven, but a nice cherry-scented tobacco, courtesy of Dr. Watson, who presented it to him in a prettily-wrapped gift box. Holmes deduced it was wrapped by the tobacconist’s shop girl because, while Watson can stitch up anything (including human flesh, as the detective has good reason to know), he is rather hopeless with paper and ribbon.

And now it’s Watson’s turn to open his gift. What, might we deduce, could it be?

At first, I thought that perhaps Holmes would splurge on his friend. After all, we do get subtle hints in the Canon that, “country squires” notwithstanding, the Holmes family is not hurting for funds. Either that or, despite the fact that A Study in Scarlet is 1881’s only recorded case, and Watson does not seem to be practicing medicine that year, Holmes is taking on plenty of bread-and-butter PI work that we know nothing about. So, given that we know Watson has an eye for clothing, and Holmes is very neat and dresses well, I imagined the latter might treat his friend to a session at the tailor’s for a new suit of clothes. Like this one:

Uncoloured lithograph fashion plate entitled ‘Illustrations of British costume for Winter 1881-2’ by The Tailor & Cutter, London. Great Britain, 1881-2. Downloaded from the V&A website.

Or perhaps he would buy Dr. Watson a subscription the The Lancet. The January 14, 1882 issue would feature articles on such fascinating topics as a “Lecture on Lithotrity at a Single Sitting with Additions, and an Analysis of 101 Cases”; “Abstracts of the Lettsomian Lectures on Diseases of the Testicles and Their Coverings”; “A New Form of Guide Catheter”; and, one Holmes might go for, “The ‘Strange Confession’ in Staffordshire.”

I realized, however, that Sherlock Holmes is nothing if not observant and, while he may choose to ignore social niceties when it suits his cause (and, even in the Canon, has said some rude things), he is fairly sensitive to the needs of others. So he would realize that an extravagant gift, such as a suit, when his flatmate is making do on a pension, might be embarrassing, and that a medical journal could serve as a reminder of dreams denied or at least deferred. What Watson really needed, he might have decided, watching his flatmate rubbing his shoulder/favoring his leg whilst staring out at a dreary December day, is escape.

Hence, his gift:

Oh, wait. Let’s look inside….

Holmes obviously bought all three volumes.

This leads us to today’s question—

What canonical evidence do we have that Watson would find this a good gift? And, for brownie points (but not actual brownies), what error accompanies this reference?

Unfortunately, I was unable to find the London, 1881 imprint of An Ocean Free-Lance, but given the dubious attractiveness of the cover, that’s probably not a bad thing. Instead, I offer the winner this lovely edition—

One is reminded a bit of Black Peter…..

I have never read this–or any of Russell’s work–but going from the cover, Watson was in for some rousing adventures that might ease some of his winter gloom.

As always, to win the prize, be sure and submit your answer to today’s question to me via blog comment, or FB message. I will draw the winner tomorrow evening, to give everyone time to respond. And now, I have one more Christmas gift to finish, if the dogs and kids will let me! Happy Christmas, all!!

* I know. It’s London. It’s more likely to be rain, but work with me here, ok?

**If you wish to read A Ocean Free-Lance for, well,free, follow this link:


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9th Annual Twelfth Night Giveaway: The Rules

I realized I couldn’t say this was Dr. Watson and Mary, and felt sad.

Oh my word, guys, I can’t believe it’s that time again.

I can’t believe I’m doing this again.

I need to start blogging again, because when I wait (almost) a year, WordPress changes everything.

I’m sorry to have been absent for so long. I can’t really blame it on Covid. I can blame it on work (new position, more hours), a book contract (February deadline, I’m dying here), getting my oldest off for college, and laundry.

This really doesn’t look “labour-free” to me.

To be honest, there were a few times this year that I seriously considered closing down this blog and its Facebook page. There are only so many hours in the day, and so many things I would like to fill them with. And sometimes, it’s very easy to get caught up in, and exhausted by, the whole “Sherlockian” part of being a Sherlockian, so much so that you forget that you’re supposed to be having fun. But when it came to actually sending The Well-Read Sherlockian to its Reichenbach, I could never quite do it. Because I know I would miss it very much, and come to regret letting it go. Hopefully, this coming year will see more posting activity, on topics and books you’ll find interesting.

But enough of that. I know what you’re really here for!


  • The quiz and giveaway will be conducted via this blog and FaceBook.
  • The contest will begin on December 24th, 2020 and continue until January 6th, 2021. The last winner will be announced on January 7th. And yes, this is more than twelve nights. I am bad at math.
  • In order to encourage people to answer more questions, people will be allowed to win TWICE during the regular phase of the give-away, and all will be eligible to try for the grand prize offered on January 6th, no matter how many times he or she has won previously. I have not been all that active this year, so if it turns out that only a few people are playing, then you will be able to win more than twice.
  • I will post the questions every morning. The time will vary, but I will try to do so by 8 am, EST. Sometime during the day, as life permits, I will gather the names of those who answered the previous day’s question and place them in a box. One of my children will then draw from the correct answers to determine the day’s winner, and I will announce it on the blog and FaceBook sometime during that day. I am now working more hours than last year, and that makes consistency difficult.
  • If I receive only one answer for a question and it’s wrong…ok, that person wins. But next time, do your research. If I am wrong–and this has happened–well, I will be very happy to have it pointed out!
  • To answer a question, please leave a comment here on the blog or PM me on FaceBook,  either on the WRS FaceBook page, or on my personal FB page, if we are friends “in real life.”  I am no longer on Twitter. Blog comment answers will be kept private. In this way, I hope to avoid concerns some might have with others simply “copying” answers. 
  • For questions with more than one prize, you must specify which prize you want when you submit your answer. This keeps me from having two winners who want the same prize. If you do not specify a prize on your entry, I cannot place you in the drawing. I know that might be harsh, but hunting everyone down to see which prize they want before the drawing would be time-consuming, and allow for a greater chance of error.
  • The daily prize will be announced, so that you can decide if it’s something that appeals to you.
  • If a prize has no takers, I will use it for a future giveaway.
  • If you win, I will ask you to give me your address privately in order to send you your prize. All addresses will be deleted once the Giveaway is over, and I know the prize has been received.
  • I will do my best to contact winners. If, however, I do not hear from a winner, that prize will be used for a future giveaway or awarded to someone else if unclaimed by February 12, 2017 (Mycroft’s birthday). I cannot tag some of you on Facebook, so PLEASE check back to see if you have won. I CANNOT EMPHASIZE ENOUGH HOW IMPORTANT THIS IS!!!
  • I can’t see that geography will be a factor in anyone’s ability to participate. However, unless otherwise specified, videos are all Region 1 only, so please make sure your DVD player is either Region 1, or an All Region model.
  • Due to the absolute mess that is our postal system right now, I will ship prizes starting January 16th.  Be patient, because shipping might still be difficult, depending multiple factors. Sometimes it also depends on payday, but all prizes (excluding “book clubs” in which the book has yet to be published, or is specified as being delivered on a future date) should be shipped by mid-February. I will let you know when your prize is shipped, and supply a tracking number, if applicable. Please be aware that international shipments typically won’t have a tracking number.
  • We’re not talking blue carbuncles, here, just small tokens. All decisions are final. If your prize is damaged in shipping, contact me privately, as most prizes are replaceable.
  • If you’ve already won twice, you can, of course, continue to answer questions. You can also answer questions and specify that you don’t want the prize on offer, or that you never want a prize. This happened a lot last year, and it was fun!
  • Brett and Mom–sorry, immediately family are not eligible. Also, as always, no Napoleons of Crime.
Let’s goooooooooooo!!!!!!!!


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8th Annual 12th Night Giveaway: The Finale

And here we are at the end. Or, rather, the beginning, because, while it’s the end of this year’s 12th Night Giveaway, it’s the beginning of the 167th year for Mr. Sherlock Holmes, wherever he might be celebrating his 166th birthday this year–London, the Sussex Downs–or in the hearts of those who love him.

And how will the Great Detective be marking the occasion this year? Possibly at Simpson’s.  A good seat at the opera. Maybe with a quiet day on the Downs. Hopefully with a magnificently outré murder. Always with Watson.

As for me, I am going to post this entry, do a bunch of drawings, get dinner ready, and go to work. I’ll be taking birthday cake to work, and bringing one home to the family.

It doesn’t seem like “birthday cake” was a thing in Britain until the latter part of the 19th century, and even then, Mrs. Beeton, while she has a zillion mentions of “cake,” doesn’t have even one for “birthday”–and that’s as late as 1891. While I am sure that Mrs. Hudson made Holmes his favorite meals for his birthday (assuming he wasn’t forgoing food for the benefit of a case), I am guessing that, for tea or dessert, she just made something simple, like one of these:

Pound Cake.–Ingredients for large cake.–1 lb of butter, 1 1/4 lb of flour, 1 lb of pounded loaf sugar, 1 lb of currants, 9 eggs, 2 oz of candied peel, 1/2 oz of citron, 1/2 oz of sweet almonds; when liked, a little pounded mace. Average Cost, 3s 6d.

Work the butter to a cream; dredge in the flour; add the sugar, currants, candied peel, which should be cut into neat slices, and the almonds, which should be blanched and chopped, and mix all these well together; whisk the eggs, and let them be thoroughly blende with the dry ingredients. Beat the cake well for 20 minutes, and put it into a round tin, lined at the bottom and sides with a strip of white buttered paper. Bake it from 1 1/2 to 2 hours and let the oven be well heated when the cake is first put in, as, if this is not the case, the currants will all sink to the bottom of it. To make this preparation light, the yolks and whites of the eggs should be beaten separately, and added separately to the other ingredients. A glass of wine is sometimes added to the mixture; but this is scarcely necessary, as the cake will be found quite rich enough without it.

Time.– 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Seasonable  at any time.

Mrs. Beeton’s  Every-day Cookery and Housekeeping Book. London: Ward, Lock, 1891

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Hopefully, yours won’t look exactly like the picture.

Or, perhaps, given the time of year and her own Scots heritage, she made something like this:

Snow Cake:(a genuine Scotch Recipe.)Ingredients for a cake of moderate size.–1 lb of arrowroot, 1/3 lb of pounded white sugar, 1/2 lb of butter, the whites of 6 eggs; flavouring to taste of almonds, or vanilla or lemon. Average Cost, 2s 3d.

Beat the butter to a cream; stir in the sugar and arrowroot gradually, at the same time beating the mixture. Whisk the whites of the eggs to a stiff froth, add them to the other ingredients, and beat well for 20 minutes. Put in whichever of the above flavourings may be preferred; pour the cake into a buttered mould or tin, and bake it in a moderate oven from 1 to 1 1/2 hour.

Time.–1 to 1 1/2 hour.

Seasonable at any time.

And now for the final Giveaway question…..

Watson seems like a person who likes to give gifts. What do you think he might give Holmes for his birthday, and why?

And his love of betting notwithstanding, Watson could likely afford to give Holmes some nice presents, particularly once he inked the publishing deal which got him this:


The only collecting I do anymore is for the Giveaway, but I did go through the requisite Sherlockian collecting mania at first. I don’t have deep pockets, so I learned very quickly that, if you are patient, you can find lovely things just a tad cheaper, simply due to condition. As you can see, this Collier’s has a stain on the bottom, which took it out of the three-figure price-range, into this Giveaway, and possibly into your house. I will be sending it in its original packaging, but if you are the winner, please consider storing it in a flat archival box, which you can find for very reasonable prices online.

And, as always….send in your answers via blog comment or FB message (the Well-Read Sherlockian page, or my own). Happy Epiphany, Merry Christmas (for you who celebrate today), and Happy Returns of the Day to Sherlock Holmes!

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8th Annual 12th Night Giveaway: Day 13

Tomorrow, the kids start back to school. Christmas Break is over. One kid thinks it went too fast; another thinks it went way too slow. And one doesn’t really care, ’cause she’s a senior.

Now that all three are out of elementary school, they have a later start time. I was really looking forward to that. I had great plans for our “easy morning” before the buses came. Instead of dragging sleepy kids out of bed at 6 o’something and putting them on the bus in the dark for months, I envisioned getting up at a decent hour, making them a lovely breakfast, and everything basically looking like this:

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I’m sorry, but this much joy in the morning is indecent.


Of course, no one wants to get up, even at the new and improved time, and two of them have inherited their father’s aversion to food in the morning. Unless it’s doughnuts. So much for dreams….

Mrs. Hudson didn’t have that problem. Mrs. Hudson’s lodgers evidently adored the breakfasts she brought up to them. We find Holmes and Watson at breakfast quite a few times in the Canon, and they are never grouchy, picky (except that time Holmes griped about his eggs), or leave most of it sitting there because THERE’S THE BUS!!!!!!!!! Unlike the “full English” we often hear about, breakfast at 221B seems to have been a relatively simple affair. Eggs are mentioned most, followed by toast. They are accompanied by rashers of bacon once, and by ham twice–one occasion of which includes curried fowl. They are scrambled at least once, and soft-boiled (requiring an eggs-spoon) another time. Then there was the morning I alluded to above, in which Holmes deduced that their new cook had been distracted by the latest issue of the Family Herald, and thus kept them in the water overlong, making the hard-boiled instead.

Mrs. Beeton’s  1891 edition contains 21 egg recipes, as well as advice on choosing eggs, handling them, and their nutritional value. There are egg balls, egg sauce, Alpine eggs (eggs baked over cheese), egg wine (egg with sherry, sugar and nutmeg, heated (never boiled) and stirred until thick; scotch eggs, savoury eggs (featuring anchovies and cayenne pepper), the fancy-sounding “eggs à la maître d’hotel” and  “eggs au miroir,” and the not-so-fancy sounding “eggs à la tripe”–which, I was relieved to learn, does not actually contain tripe, but is something with hardboiled eggs, béchamel sauce, and croutons.

Mrs. Hudson’s scrambled eggs–which, unfortunately for Stanley Hopkins, were cold by the time “The Adventure of Black Peter” was concluded–may have been made like this:

Eggs, Scrambled.–Ingredients for dish for 4 persons.–6 eggs, 1 oz. of butter, pepper, salt, 4 slices of buttered toast. Average cost, 9d.

Put the butter in a saucepan, and break into it the eggs, and season well with pepper and salt. Beat the mixture while cooking with a fork, but do not thoroughly amalgamate the yolks and whites. After about 2 minutes, remove the pan to the side of the  fire to finish cooking. The eggs should be set. Have ready some slices of toast hot and buttered, spread on them the egg and serve immediately,

Time.— 5 minutes.

Seasonable at any time.

Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Every-day Cookery and Housekeeping. London: Ward, Lock, 1891.

I was actually pretty amazed when I saw how simple this was. I am not a fan of eggs at all, but everyone else in my family likes them, so I make scrambled eggs a lot–mixed with milk or cream, shredded cheese, salt, pepper (occasionally chorizo), and definitely “amalgamating” the whites and the yolk.

The WRS nerdy part of me wants to go on and tell you about the ham and poached eggs recipe, as well as the one for “curried fowl.” The responsible adult in me says that I have messed up the posting timeline quite enough already, and it’s time to get this post out of the way before tomorrow’s Birthday Post and Grand Prize. So….


It’s vintage Canon this time. Return (1895, McClure, Phillips, New York) and Memoirs (1893, Harper & Brothers, New York) are both illustrated and in decent shape. The Valley of Fear is somewhat fragile; it’s undated (the flyleaf is missing) and unillustrated, but it is a Newnes printing from London, which is pretty cool. To enter the drawing for this trio, just answer the following question:

What research detail did Holmes tell Hopkins that he had missed in his pursuit of Black Peter’s murderer? 

As always, send your answer via blog comment, or FB message at the Well-read Sherlockian FB page.

I think the kids are getting cereal tomorrow.

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Annnnd, Jim Bennett is another double winner. Percy Phelps was the poor, sleepy guy whose need for caffeine and impatience for his coffee led him to leave classified documents unattended in “The Adventure of the Naval Treaty”


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8th Annual 12th Night Giveaway: Day 12

Ok, here, for a few more hours, it really is Day 12 (Saturday). Real life makes its demands. I really need to write these up months in advance, and I will, this year, I swear.

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“It’s July! I have plenty of time!”

As I promised, today is about coffee. Again, I don’t like coffee, and apparently I cannot make it without the help of the Keurig. I tried. When Brett and I first started dating, and I realized that he didn’t get his morning caffeine from Diet Coke (or regular Coke. Or Pepsi. Or Mountain Dew. Or Dr. Pepper. Or…you get the picture), I went out and bought a coffee maker and some kind of fancy-sounding coffee (because I knew he was a coffee snob). Hazelnut-vanilla-dark french roast-whatever. Pre-ground. And then I made it. He liked it, and I was proud and it was so romantic. I continued to make his coffee for all the time we dated, and after we got married (only then, I ground the beans, because he had a coffee grinder. Snob, remember?)

It wasn’t until a few years into our marriage that he let me know that my coffee was so strong it could grow chest hair–that it was actually pretty terrible. He just didn’t want to hurt my feelings. That’s love, right there. After that, I let him make his own coffee–and now we have a Keurig.

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“Darling, I can’t play while you’re kissing me! I thought you loved my playing!”

I am sure that Mrs. Hudson made wonderful coffee. And while she didn’t have a Keurig, I have to think that her chemist lodger may have ensured that she had the most sophisticated coffee-making equipment–which in the 1890’s was the Loysel Hydrostatic Urn. Of course, she could have made it in a simple pot, much the way she made tea (only with the grounds in a muslin bag)–but where would be the fun in that?

To Make Coffee:

Ingredients:–Allow 1/2 oz., or 1 tablespoonful, or ground coffee to each person; to ever  oz. of coffee allow 1/2 pint of water.

To make coffee good, it should never be boiled, but the boiling water merely poured on it, the same as for tea. The coffee should always be purchased in the berry–if possible, freshly roasted [Mrs. Beeton believed that the French made much better coffee, and discusses how to roast it the French way in the next section]; and it should never be ground long before it is wanted for use. There are many very new kinds of coffee-pots, but the method of making the coffee is nearly always the same, namely, pouring the boiling water on the powder, and allowing it to filter through. Our illustration shows one of Loysel’s Hydrostatic Urns, which are admirably adapted for making good and clear coffee, which should be made in the following manner:–Warm the urn with boiling water, remove the lid and movable filter, and place the ground coffee at the bottom of the urn. Put the movable filter over this, and screw the lid, inverted, tightly on the end of the centre pipe. Pour into the inverted lid the above proportion of boiling water, and when all the water so poured has disappeared from the funnel, and made its way down the centre pipe and up again through the ground coffee by hydrostatic pressure, unscrew the lid and cover the urn. Pour back direct into the urn, not through the funnel, one, two or three cups according to the size of the percolator, in order to make the infusion of uniform strength; the contents will then be ready for use, and should run from the tap strong, hot and clear. The coffee made in these urns generally turns out very good, and there is but one objection to them–the coffee runs rather slowly from the tap; this is of no consequence where there is a small party, but tedious where there are many persons to provide for. A remedy for this objection may be suggested, namely, to make the coffee very strong, so that not more than one third of a cup would be required, as the rest would be filed up with milk. Making coffee in filters or percolaters does away with the necessity of using isinglass, white of egg, and various other preparations, to clear it. Coffee should always be served very hot, and if possible, in the same vessel in which it is made, as pouring it from one pot to another cools, and consequently spoils it. Many persons may think that the proportion of water we have given for each ounce of coffee is rather small; it is so, and the coffee produced from it will be very strong; one third of a cup will be found quite sufficient, which should be filled with nice hot milk, or milk and cream mixed. This is the café au lait for which our neighbours over the Channel are so justly celebrated. Should the ordinary method of making coffee be preferred, use double the quantity of water, and, in pouring it into the cups, put in more coffee and less milk.–Mrs. Beeton’s Every-day Cookery and Housekeeping Book. London: Ward, Lock, 1891.



This is just a magazine ad, but it’s been professionally framed–and features Basil Rathbone in his greatest role. I have to wonder if the combination of tobaccos celebrated in the ad copy were included in Holmes’s monograph.

If you would like to hang this, in its lovely color-coordinated frame, next to your portrait of General Gordon, just send in your answer to this question:

In which story did the need for caffeine leave a young man open to a dreadful crime?

As always, send your answers via blog comment, or message the Well-read Sherlockian FB page.

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Congratulations to Jim Bennett, winner of the trio of books by Bonnie McBird! When I wrote the question, the answer I had in mind was that Amontillado sherry would remind Holmes and Watson of Poe’s story, “The Cask of Amontillado.” However, several of you, including Mr. Bennett, also pointed out that they would have appreciated its notes of tobacco-like flavor as well. Given Holmes’s feelings regarding Dupin, whom he considered “a very inferior fellow,” I think the latter answer is in fact the best one!

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