Ring Lardner’s Sherlock Holmes Parody

sherlock holmes legal system

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This Ring Lardner Sherlock Holmes parody appeared in the Chicago Tribune’s “In the Wake of the News” column. Although primarily devoted to sports, the column allows writers to ruminate on anything, as Lardner (1885-1933) did in the March 19, 1915, issue. Perhaps inspired by an actual letter, Ring used this opportunity to poke a little fun at his own expense. Quin Hall (1884-1968) had a long career as a newspaper illustrator and cartoonist (Punkin’ Head Pete and The Doolittles).

This parody appears in “Sherlock Holmes Great War Parodies and Pastiches II: 1914-1919.” More parodies and pastiches can be found here.

Ring Lardner

Ring Lardner

A Study in Handwriting

Ring Lardner

Illustrations by Quin Hall

“I cannot rejoice over the ever-increasing popularity of the typewriter,” said Sherlock Holmes, as he lounged in the most comfortable chair provided by our Baker Street landlady, and refilled, for the sixth time within an hour, a particularly malodorous pipe. “It is spoiling one of the most absorbing ways of studying the human race. One can judge from a typewritten letter very little concerning its author; merely whether or not he is an expert with the machine. But a man’s handwriting will tell the careful student the writer’s likes and dislikes as plainly as he could state them himself, to say nothing of his occupation, his characteristics, his immense thoughts, his—”

“Do you mean to state,” I interrupted, “that you can accurately describe a man’s vocation, his traits, his opinions, by a study of his handwriting?”

“Just so,” returned my companion with a smile, “and if you would look into it, I am sure you would find it as interesting a study as your medicine and surgery.”

ring lardner sherlock holmes parody

“I am sure I would find it all bosh,” I returned shortly.

“Try it and see,” said Holmes, and thrusting his long, tapering fingers into the inside pocket of his lounging coat, he drew forth a letter. “Glance at this,” handing it to me, “and tell me what you learn of the writer.”

I spread the missive on my knee and looked at it for perhaps five minutes. It was written on hotel stationery in a graceful, legible hand, and read:

“EDITOR CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Of all the silly tommy rot and cheap Barrel House wit ever seen or heard that contained under the heading ‘In the Wake of the News’ has them all beaten to a frazzle.

“It appears to me that R.W. L———would make a good wit at a real wake and were he the corpse I’d say thank God.

“I’ve decided to switch to another paper, and talking the matter over with other fellow drummers the general opinion seems to be the same. Namely L———is a ‘dead one.’

“Yours very truly,———.”

“Well,” said Holmes at length, “what do you make of him?”

“Nothing,” I returned, “except that he writes clearly and legibly.”

“O, Watson, Watson!” exclaimed my companion, and threw up his hands in mock horror. “Where are your brains?”

“In my head, I hope,” I said with asperity. “But I did not make any ridiculous assertion as to my clairvoyant powers. It was you, I believe, who started the discussion. And it is surely your duty to make good your claim or admit that you were talking nonsense, as I believe to be the case.”

Holmes smiled quietly and, reaching over, took back the letter he had given me. He pondered it in silence for some moments before he spoke.

“Watson,” he said, “it is as far from nonsense as anything could be. This power or knack or whatever you choose to call it has served me in good stead in some of my most important cases. But I see that you are still a skeptic and it is therefore my part to convert you. I have already made my study of this particular letter and will state my conclusions to you as briefly as I can.

ring lardner sherlock holmes parody

“To begin with, I see that the writer is or recently has been in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. He has a bit of spare time on his hands, either while stopping at the Grand hotel, which is centrally located and homelike, owned by R.J. Warner and protected by the electric fire alarm system, or right afterwards. He is not a personal friend of the editor of The Tribune called ‘In the Wake of the News.’ He is hard-hearted. He is religious. He makes his decisions only after careful thought and discussion. He is democratic. He is interested in the opinion of his fellows and not above talking with them. He is a salesman who travels. He is inconsiderate. I think that is about all. Do you follow me?”

“Holmes, you are wonderful!” I exclaimed. “But surely you will tell me how you reached some of your conclusions. For instance, how do you deduce that the writer is inconsiderate?”

“From his handwriting, of course,” returned my companion. “Study the formation of the letters in this sentence: ‘I’ve decided to switch to another paper.’ If he were considerate of the feelings of others, would he be so blunt with the person addressed? Wouldn’t he rather allow the editor to find out gradually that he was no longer a subscriber?”

“It is as clear as day,” I admitted. “And how long did it take you to master this trick?”

“Trick!” said Holmes, disgustedly scratching the bridge of his aquiline nose with a gold-handled toothpick.

[Return] Barrel House wit: In Chicago, a barrelhouse or juke joint was a neighborhood corner bar that primarily catered to blacks. In the South, they were buildings outside of town (where blacks were not welcome, particularly in the bars) and the owner would operate it as a combination bar, grocery store, and nightclub where musicians would perform on a cramped stage.

[Return] Drummers: Travelling salesmen, nicknamed drummers for their ability to “drum up” business.