I know this is slightly ungentlemanly, but I can't help but wonder about the financial arrangement between Holmes and Watson.

Holmes does of course handle the most demanding aspect of the cases, the brain work, but Watson does chip in. He provides company, muscle, moral support. He provides a sounding board. He is in every sense of the word the great detective’s assistant. So what happens when the grateful clients whips out the old check book? Does Watson get his just cut? Or does Holmes hang on to the entire loot?

This is never mentioned by Watson. The subject of money is coarse and not to be mentioned in genteel society.

Watson has his practise, of course. However, it never seems to thrive. He's also willing to abandon it at a moment's notice, whenever Holmes has need of his help. This, surely, cannot be good for business. So it seems inevitable that he does need the cash, his cut of the loot; after all he is a family man.

Occasionally the cases are pro bono or Holmes chooses to waive the fee. At other times he collects in abundance. The prime example is in The Priory School where Holmes collects a cool £6000 from the Duke of Holdernesse

"The fact is, your Grace," said he, "that my colleague, Dr. Watson, and myself had an assurance from Dr. Huxtable that a reward had been offered in this case. I should like to have this confirmed from your own lips."
"Certainly, Mr. Holmes."
"It amounted, if I am correctly informed, to five thousand pounds to anyone who will tell you where your son is?"
"And another thousand to the man who will name the person or persons who keep him in custody?"
"Under the latter heading is included, no doubt, not only those who may have taken him away, but also those who conspire to keep him in his present position?"
"Yes, yes," cried the Duke impatiently. "If you do your work well, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, you will have no reason to complain of niggardly treatment."
My friend rubbed his thin hands together with an appearance of avidity which was a surprise to me, who knew his frugal tastes.
"I fancy that I see your Grace's chequebook upon the table," said he. "I should be glad if you would make me out a cheque for six thousand pounds. It would be as well, perhaps, for you to cross it. The Capital and Counties Bank, Oxford Street branch, are my agents."

£6000 is an enormous sum. Any of it going to Watson? Doesn’t seem like it.

"In that case," said Holmes, rising, "I think that my friend and I can congratulate ourselves upon several most happy results from our little visit to the North. There is one other small point upon which I desire some light. This fellow Hayes had shod his horses with shoes which counterfeited the tracks of cows. Was it from Mr. Wilder that he learned so extraordinary a device?"
The Duke stood in thought for a moment, with a look of intense surprise on his face. Then he opened a door and showed us into a large room furnished as a museum. He led the way to a glass case in a corner, and pointed to the inscription.
"These shoes," it ran, "were dug up in the moat of Holdernesse Hall. They are for the use of horses; but they are shaped below with a cloven foot of iron, so as to throw pursuers off the track. They are supposed to have belonged to some of the marauding Barons of Holdernesse in the Middle Ages."
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 cheque, 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.

What if the shoe were on the foot? What if it were Holmes assisting Watson in the surgery? Not doing anything terribly difficult but still being helpful and doing his bit? Would Holmes expect to be paid for his fair share of the work when the patients coughed up? I rather suspect he would. Even if he pottered around in the surgery merely to help his friend. I mean fair is fair, innit?

What about other famous detective duos? Does Hastings collect when Poirot gets paid? Mais non - not bloody likely. Nero Wolfe seems exemplary in this respect: he actually pays his minions steady wages no matter what. Raffles and Bunny also share the loot. In their case it is actual loot as they’re thieves and not detectives. Honour among thieves, eh what?

Maybe Holmes and Watson have another kind of deal. Maybe Holmes keeps all the dosh they get off clients, while Watson’s remuneration is the material he gets for his stories.

"I am glad to meet you, sir," said he, putting out a broad, fat hand, like the flipper of a seal. "I hear of Sherlock everywhere since you became his chronicler. (. . .)”

This is what Mycroft utters upon meeting Watson. Obviously the stories are well known, therefore they must sell and bring in money. But also they serve as a mighty promotional tool for Holmes: they’re in fact his best ads.

Or is it like this: Holmes is the professional, Watson the amateur. The professional gets recompensated for his efforts, the amateur gets to tag along.

The money clearly is an awkward topic. It makes one cringe. It isn’t at all gentlemanly to demand money for services rendered. And it’s quite shocking to demand it from a lady – a gentleman simply doesn’t accept money from a lady. Doing so would make the fellow a – dashed cad.

The ideal would be to be an real and true amateur; amateur in the sense of not charging for one’s services. But that is only possible for one of independent means. Holmes doesn’t have a fortune so he has to work. He has to live on something. Watson at least has his surgery to fall back on. Holmes has nothing else than his detective skills. I’ll grant that he could be an actor, he could be a musician, he could very well be a dozen other things if he so chose. That, however, would mean abandoning being a full-time detective. Then he’d be a mere hobbyist. A dabbler. Everything his malicious slanderers claim him to be.

Courtly ideals and filthy lucre go not well together. One cannot be a parfait knyght, save the damsel in distress from the fires-spewing dragon, and then turn around and grab the damsel's scrip.

Not cricket, old fellow.

Perhaps this is the way to see the partnership: Watson is in fact Holmes’s sponsor.

By not taking a cut of the profits Watson ensures that Holmes has enough money to keep going – to keep on solving the crimes and to keep on unmasking the villains. This isn’t a business. Holmes isn’t in it for the lucre. So the money is in fact irrelevant – it’s only valuable so far as it enables him to continue his work.

Being a detective isn’t Holmes’s profession – it’s his mission.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Poirot pays Miss Lemon. -TM