Punch’s Short Shots at Sherlock

When I was compiling “The Early Punch Parodies of Sherlock Holmes,” I ran into a slight problem that I didn’t realize until after I had finished the book.

While there are parodies in the book, the book isn’t entirely made up of parodies.

223B-Punch-Cover-smallYou see, I had started the project to bring together all of the “Picklock Holes” stories by R.C. Lehmann. That resulted in a manuscript of about 20,000 words. Seventeen stories didn’t take up a lot of room.

That wasn’t a problem. Self-publishing gives you a wide leeway in the size of the product. I could have published these stories and moved on.

But as I was searching through the publicly available PDFs of Punch magazine, I realized that there was more material about Sherlock Holmes and Conan Doyle than I had realized. There were more parodies, but also briefs in which Holmes or Conan Doyle were the punchline. Holmes also cropped up in book reviews; not just in ACD’s stories, but as a point of comparison with another writer’s detective (nearly always to their detriment).

In all, twenty short articles qualified for publication (in addition to the 17 Lehmann stories, five cartoons, six more parodies, plus a few articles involving Conan Doyle). As humor, they’re of their time. A bit too dry and understated for our taste. Sometimes, the pressure of publishing every week became too much, and it was better to have anything but a blank space in place.

So these items were historical curiosities; a reflection of the culture that created them, and a way of showing ACD’s place in the Victorian world at that moment.

Here are a few, drawn from the book, with the introductions I wrote for them.

When reading the first item, remember that “A Study in Scarlet” had appeared in 1887 and “The Sign of Four” in 1890, and later this year Punch would review the collected “Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.” This was only his second appearance in Punch, the first a brief mention of his short story “A Physiologist’s Wife” that had appeared in Blackwood magazine.

The last item, “The De Keyser Case,” makes fun of ACD’s advocacy of spiritualism.

The Fighting ‘Foudroyant’ (1892)

ACD joined in the indignation at the news that one of Admiral Horatio Nelson’s flagships, H.M.S. Foudroyant, was going to be scrapped. Worse, it was going to be sold to a German businessman! The wooden sailing ship was outdated and falling apart, but patriotic Britons considered the sale to a foreigner to be a national insult. On Sept. 12, The Daily Chronicle published a poem from ACD, “For Nelson’s Sake, H.M.S. Foudroyant,” that began:

Who says the Nation’s purse is lean,
Who fears for claim or bond or debt,
When all the glories that have been
Are scheduled as a cash asset?
If times are bleak and trade is slack,
If coal and cotton fail at last,
We’ve something left to barter yet—
Our glorious past.

Punch took up the cause with a poem of its own that was equally full of fire and fervor. It followed ACD’s line of a nation selling off its history and references J.M.W. Turner’s painting of the Temeraire being pulled to the ship-breaker’s yard:

“Great Turner has pictured the old Temeraire
Tugged to her last berth. Why the sun and the air
In that soul-stirring canvas, seem fired with the glory
Of such a brave ship, with so splendid a story!
Well, look on that picture, my lads, and on this!
And — no, do not crack out a curse like a hiss,
But with stout Conan Doyle — he has passion and grip!—
Demand that they give us back Nelson’s old Ship!”

In the end, the anonymous Punch scribe pleaded that the Foudroyant be preserved alongside Nelson’s other flagship Victory:

“While a rag, or a timber, or spar, she can boast,
A place of prime honour on Albion’s coast
Should be hers and the Victory’s! Let us not say,
Like the fish-hucksters, “Memories are cheap, Sir, to-day!”

The campaign succeeded when a British businessman bought the Foudroyant. It was used as a training ship for boys until 1897, when a storm drove it onto the beach at Blackpool. The Foudroyant was broken apart and its wood used for, among other things, furniture, souvenirs, and the wall paneling for the Blackpool football club’s boardroom.

punch sherlock

Wreckage of the H.M.S. Foudroyant on Blackpool beach.

The Sign of Faure (1897)

The shifts and intrigues in European politics made for an excit-ing and sometimes frightening spectator sport before World War I. In this item, Punch plays off the name of French President Felix Faure (1841-1899), who had released anarchists from exile under a general amnesty and recently concluded a pact with Tsarist Russia to counter Germany’s alliance with Austria-Hungary and Italy. Faure is more notoriously famous for dying in office during a tryst with his mistress.

With Apologies to Mr. Conan Doyle. — The G-rm-n Emp-r-r’s latest romance is said to be a startling Nihilist romance entitled “The Sign of Faure.” Orders from Siberia are rushing to Berlin. The Retreat from Moscow is treated with considerable humour, and the Fall of Sevastopol is described as an interesting episode leading up to the liberation of the Sultan of Turkey from the pressure of the Powers and the installation of Count Tolstoi as First President of the Muscovite Republic. But we have no Imperial authorization for making this statement, either from the Neva or the Spree.

Sherlock Punch

Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany.

Great Discoverers (1906)

F. Edmonds

As Sherlockians know, ACD appreciated Holmes for bringing him money and popularity, but resented how the stories distracted from what he considered his more lasting work. “Great Discoverers” listed “George Edwardes, the Discoverer of Musical Comedy” and “Alfred Harmsworth, the Discoverer of ‘The Daily Mail’” and this dart.

Sherlock Holmes, the Discoverer of Sir A. Conan Doyle

But for this distinguished detective, Sir A. Conan Doyle might never have been discovered. As it was, he was pottering about in comparative literary obscurity when the great detective, like a sleuth-hound, tracked him down, and revealed him to the admiration of the world. This was probably the greatest feat on the part of the renowned Sherlock Holmes.

The De Keyser Case (1920)

In May 1916, the Crown took over De Keyser’s Royal Hotel in London under the Defense of the Realm Act and converted it into the headquarters of the Royal Flying Corps. When the government claimed it had a royal prerogative not to pay compensation, the owner sued under an 1842 statue. The case was appealed to the House of Lords where it ruled against the government.

Á propos of the De Keyser case: —

“Unfortunately, the Dora regulations against free speech and printing were never taken before the High Court, and our ancestors will wonder at our timidity.”— Daily Herald.

We understand that Sir A. Conan Doyle has already received several urgent messages on the subject.


[BACK] The Defense of the Realm Act 1914 gave the government wide-ranging powers to prosecute the war, including requisitioning buildings for military use, to censor news and commentary, and arrest and imprison anti-war activists.