Margie Deck – Doting on Doyle


‘There is nothing in which deduction is so necessary as in religion,’ said he, leaning with his back against the shutters. ‘It can be built up as an exact science by the reasoner. Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its colour are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.’

–Sherlock Holmes, “The Adventure of the Naval Treaty”

Arthur Conan Doyle died 92 years ago today. Every year on July 7, I drink a silent toast to him and I hope he found after his death what he believed he would find.

We know from his voluminous writings what his early and later opinions were on the subjects of religion, the existence of God, and the continuation of life after physical death. My first exposure to his thoughts on the subject of religion are the words noted above that he put in the mouth of Sherlock Holmes in “The Adventure of the Naval Treaty.” I heard these words before I read them because my first introduction to the story came via the Granada episode. (Like many in the Sherlockian world, I came to Holmes via Granada and Jeremy Brett.)

When I first watched Brett portray Holmes in the scene with “rest in the flowers” speech, I was puzzled. Why did it appear in the story? What did it have to do with the plot? Would Sherlock Holmes (with what I knew about him at the time) really say such a thing? Later, when I read “The Adventure of the Naval Treaty” for the first time, I was equally puzzled and left with the same questions.

Over time I came to understand more about Holmes’s nature and to see him as a complicated man with many differing (and sometimes competing) kinds of knowledge, beliefs, actions and experiences. The description certainly fits Doyle as well. However, Doyle finally came to an absolute certainty in his beliefs about man, nature and the spiritual. What kind of certainty Holmes came to accept is not so clearly known.

As serendipity would have it on this July 7, I happened to read an analysis of Holmes from the brilliant David Stuart Davies titled “That Great Heart: Considering Holmes as a Metaphysical Detective” published in the current issue of the Sherlock Holmes magazine. Davies’s thoughtful and thorough look at Holmes as a metaphysical detective gives me a good understanding of why the “rest in the flowers” speech fits Holmes. Finally! I’m only twenty-five years on from my first questioning read.

I wanted to quote parts of the analysis here to explain why it seems to perfectly answer my questions about the “rest in the flowers” speech but I kept adding and adding to the point I almost had the entire article reproduced here, which is hardly the right thing to do. Do yourself a favor and go read it.

Davies ends his article with “Sherlock Holmes was the best and wisest of men…” and that is true but I think Mr. Davies is among the wise as well.

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