[Editor’s note: As is well known, Dr. John Hamish Watson kept a private memoir in which he recounted certain sensitive cases that, at the time he and Sherlock Holmes lived and worked together, would have been considered unfit for publication. Most of those were included in R. M. Busby’s 1975 edition of Dr. Watson’s papers; but Busby, for better or worse, omitted some especially intimate writings in which Dr. Watson described his romantic and sexual relationship with the detective. One of the more surprising and, perhaps, controversial passages is published here for the first time.]
It is not every invert who owes any portion of his domestic felicity to an item in The Times; but such is my case, and such is that of Sherlock Holmes, with whom I am so fortunate as to share my heart and my bed. Or perhaps it is he who shares his bed; such minor questions of title do seem to grow muddled over time.
[marginal notation: “Watson, are our relations then to be considered in the light of a mutual easement?” S. exclaimed upon reading this.
“Certainly we have eased each other often enough,” I told him, with as straight a face as I could manage. I believe he has gone to soothe his indignation in tending his bees.]
The year was 1899, the month September; the precise date escapes me, but I remember how I dawdled over my breakfast, luxuriating in the fact that on this, the first fine day after a week of unremitting rain, I had no patients to visit. Dawdling over my breakfast meant dawdling over the papers, as well; I liked, when I had time, to pore through the advertisements and trivial-seeming items, for I made something of a game of attempting to spot what might catch my friend’s interest. I flatter myself that over the years of our acquaintanceship my skills have improved, though in my mind’s ear I hear him tease me: “Indeed you do flatter yourself, my boy.”
In any case, the notice that caught my eye that happy morning proved to be of the greatest interest to both of us: it was an announcement that plans had been put in train for the rebuilding of the area around Holywell and Wych Streets, and that demolition of the existing structures was to begin the following spring.
The period of my connection with certain Holywell Street booksellers was not entirely a happy one, but it had in its way been adventurous, and I was sorry to think of the area, with all the memories it held for me, vanished from London’s map. And of course those memories were also memories of my youth, impecunious and sometimes desperate though it had been. I sighed, perhaps, or tutted — Holmes looked up from his own perusal of the Illustrated London News to say, “What is it, old man?”
The question put me in some difficulty.
Holmes and I
were at that time newly embarked on the relations which have continued to the present day —Really, it is absurd to find myself playing coy, considering the subject matter of this account, and considering that it will be seen by no one but Holmes during our lifetime! And when, after all, the day in question brought to an end certain reticences that had prevailed between us. Blast, I am doing it again. Very well: Holmes and I had, about a year prior to that memorable September day, become lovers — Labouchère Amendment and Society for the Suppression of Vice be damned.
Although I cannot regret my marriage — Mary was a glorious girl, spirited and clever, whom any man would be fortunate to call his wife — it is true that my heart was already not my own when she and I met. I strove to be a good husband in every way, but perhaps her short life would have been happier had she passed it with one who could love her not only truly but wholeheartedly. For Holmes and I had loved each other, had longed for each other, almost from our first meeting, though it was only after his return from the terrible years spent eradicating Professor Moriarty’s organization from this earth that our feelings prevailed over the constraints usual among men of our sort.
But old men digress, and the burden of this account is not a melancholy one — far from it, though it begins with some unease of spirit. So: Holmes and I were lovers, and still almost in the first new flush of ecstasy. Almost. For while I enjoyed our mutual caresses with my body as well as with my heart, there gnawed at me the awareness that another world of eroticism existed, that by nature I belonged to that world, and that I dared not express to the man I loved beyond all other persons — beyond even my life — my desire to engage in pleasures less commonplace than intercourse inter crures, fellatio, and sodomy. Commonplace! and, to most of my fellow Englishmen, beyond the pale. As for my own inclinations . . .
Holmes had, I feared, begun to suspect that something was amiss, though as yet he had not voiced any anxieties, and I did not know what I dreaded more: that he would come to the right conclusion; or that he would come to any of several plausible wrong conclusions. That I wearied of him. That I wished to indulge myself with others. That I had come to feel distaste for our shared pleasures — for I didn’t! But one may find a dish delicious and yet feel that it would be enhanced by a sprinkling from the salt cellar.
And this was why Holmes’s innocent question put me in some difficulty. For to answer it would be to divulge my connection with the booksellers of Holywell Street, and that line of conversation led, in turn, directly to the matter of my sexual tastes. Therefore, “It’s nothing, Holmes,” I said.
Of course it is useless to prevaricate with the man. “My dear,” he said lightly, “you forget, I think, that I saw this morning’s Times ahead of you, and also that you have folded the paper over, so that a person seated opposite you at table can easily work out what page you have been reading.”
Even so I might have put him off, only that I had seen pass across his face a shadow of hurt. Holmes may pretend to court a housemaid, in the service of a greater good; he may, again in the service of good, resort to any number of trifling stratagems; but I have never known him to attempt to manipulate my feelings, for any reason. If I saw him look hurt, and saw him swiftly conceal the hurt, that is because he was hurt, and sought to conceal it. Of course I surrendered — though with the greatest trepidation, and not without mounting a rearguard action.
[marginal notation, apparently in Holmes' s hand: Your puns are as depraved as . . .]
Like many who have faced one of Holmes’s courteous interrogations, I imagined that by revealing a portion of the truth I might be able to conceal the rest. I said, therefore:
“You know, of course, that during my medical studies I was always short of money.” For all the inheritance I had was my father’s fine watch, with its fob containing a lock of my mother’s hair, and these I would not sell.
Holmes inclined his head. My family’s ill fortune, my brother’s profligacy — these were painful matters, of which we rarely spoke.
“I used to ramble about London, being unable to afford most other entertainments, and naturally I soon discovered the booksellers of Holywell Street.”
“Ah!” said Holmes, with his characteristic look of eager inquiry — mixed, just now, with amusement.
I reflected that it would be impossible to deflect his train of thought from its destination; but, despite the anxieties I felt on that score, I could not help but smile at him.
[marginal notation: Yes, the delight you express whenever you make some new discovery concerning me is endearing. There, I have admitted it and I hope you are satisfied.]
[marginal notation, apparently in Holmes's hand: Always, John. Always.]
Perhaps, too, I did have some faint hope of — in both senses — diverting him, for I said: “Not to put too fine a point upon it, I grew rather desperate for ready cash, and as I was not a Guardsman — ”
“ — as I was not a Guardsman, I thought I might turn my hand — ”
“Really, this is too much.” He was now laughing into the sleeve of his dressing gown.
“ — to . . . well, to producing works of the imagination.”
“And hence your interest in the Times’s report of the planned widening of the Strand.”
I had opened my hands in assent — assent also to the revelations now inevitable — when, to my vast relief, Holmes raised a finger admonishing me to silence: he had heard Lestrade’s foot upon the stair.
There is no limit to the human capacity for self-delusion! I shake my head at myself: at that time I had already known Sherlock Holmes for eighteen years, during nearly thirteen of which I had lived with him. The preceding year’s even closer intimacy had no bearing on my knowledge of his intellectual skills, strictly speaking; but surely it should have been predictable to me that no interruption in his line of questioning would prevent him from picking up its thread again as soon as opportunity arose. And yet I persuaded myself that the two days spent in working out Lestrade’s case would put paid to the matter of my connection with the Holywell Street trade.
“John,” said Holmes the night after Lestrade’s case had concluded, “I can’t help but wonder about — well, your early writings, let’s call them.” He was, at that moment, resting his head against my breast, and he must have heard my heart quicken, for he raised himself up and turned his face toward me, looking troubled.
Interested, inquisitive even, though Holmes is about everything, and cunning questioner though he was, when a case called for it, it has never been his way to push or pry at me. I could have said nothing; I could have hummed, and turned my gaze aside; in a moment, he would have apologized, and the subject would never have been mentioned between us again.
I could have allowed that to happen; and, oh, how the prospect of that safety, so cheaply acquired, tempted me. Yet, as the trace of hurt on his face before had urged me toward honesty, so now there crowded in upon me the knowledge of what would follow if I did not respond. Holmes — Sherlock — must have perceived that my reticence concerning the works I sold on Holywell Street had to do with their particular — perhaps elaborations is the mot juste; he would put this understanding together with the sense that something was, from my point of view, amiss in our intimate relations; and so a distance would grow, made of my silence, his hurt, the loss of ease between us here, in our bed, where (law or no law, church or no church) we sanctified our love.
So there was nothing for it. Perhaps the imaginings I had written down and put into print would appall him; he might even leave me. But that was a risk, set against the certainty of slow erosion. A surgeon will embark upon a swift and painful surgery that may kill the patient at once, if the operation offers the sole hope of saving him from a lingering death. “Wait here a moment,” I said, and pressed Holmes to me with a kiss; I hoped it was not a valediction.
It took me but a few moments to pull the locked strongbox from under my bed — my former bed — and to return to Holmes’s side with the book I had secreted there.
I blush still to recall its title: The Sweet Sting of Eros.
Holmes opened the volume and at once was convulsed with laughter. “ ‘By Dr. G.M.A. Huche, of Paris’! Had you indeed ever so much as visited that city, Dr. Huche? For otherwise I must condemn you as a fraud.”
“No,” I said. “But, Sherlock — ”
“All right, my dear,” he replied, growing serious again. “There’s something here you’re worried about — of course I see that. No more teasing, then,” and he commenced to read.
This memoir being for my eyes only, and for Sherlock’s, I need not supply extracts from the passages he read that night.
[Fortunately, a few copies of Dr. “Huche”’s works have survived, among them The Sweet Sting of Eros. Some passages are quoted below; the full text of the book may be downloaded from the Internet Archive. The original is in the Watson Collection at the British Library. — ed.
33–34: “Though Basingstoke was a scholar, he had not neglected to strengthen his body along with his mind. At my curt command, he now removed his clothing — every inch — and then turned slowly, for inspection, raising his arms and clasping his hands behind his neck, the better to reveal his flesh to my appraising eye and hand. His plump hindquarters seemed to invite such rough caresses as would leave them heated and red; his lips had parted involuntarily, as if to receive my stiff prick. I took hold of his member and stroked it, pinching up the foreskin and tickling the slit, whence drops of pearl had already begun to escape.
“He groaned and sank to his knees before me. . . .”
48–49: “How I enjoyed Basingstoke’s pliancy, his gratitude for the sweet pains I could inflict! I bade him draw down his trousers and smalls and bend himself over the drawing-room table — it was low, so that in resting his head and arms upon it he perforce thrust his bare arse high into the air and, stretching his legs and thighs, made taut the skin. My breath quickened at the thought of how much more the blows of the crop would sting with my beloved victim in this pose. . . .”
83: “Days had passed since I last allowed Basingstoke any release. He trembled as I drew his fattened cock between my lips, and a short cry escaped him. I withdrew, wiping my mouth, and reminded him sternly that if he should spend, I would first deliver such a birching as would prevent his sitting for a week, and furthermore during that same space he would be forbidden to so much as hold his own prick to make water, but would be required to seek my permission and my aid.
“ ‘Yes, James,” he replied, chastened. ‘You know that I strive always to obey you.’
“I then commenced to bring him to the very verge of ecstasy — thrice! — while he pleaded and shook. He clutched at the sheets, at his own hair, at every thing within reach, and each time I sensed his crisis approach, I drew away, and set my thumb and forefinger at the base of his stand to prevent the emission. How beautiful his helpless, yet willing surrender was to me! I resolved to torment him only twice more, before allowing him to reach the apex of his pleasure. . . .”]
Holmes read for some time, half reclined in the bed, while I sat beside him, forcing myself to remain quiet — not to explain, not to excuse, not to snatch the book from his hands and implore him to expunge every word from his mind; not to flee. Surely, I thought, he would never understand how I could love him and yet wish to inflict such perversions upon him. He would recoil from me — from the thought that he had risked the sanction of society and the law for me; had slept beside me; had spoken words of love to me. Bad enough to be a sodomite or a flagellant, but to be both!
I will tell him so, I thought — will promise him faithfully that I shall never seek to engage him in such depravities, nor will I seek them elsewhere. Perhaps that would be enough to persuade him to remain with me; a man cannot help his nature, perhaps, but he may choose not to act on its urgings — and Holmes deserved to know to what sort of man he had bound his life —
He closed the book, laid it on the table beside the bed, and turned toward me. He took my hand — the hand closer to him; it was the right hand, which I had pressed into a fist — and touched his lips to each knuckle from thumb to smallest finger.
Slowly, slowly, he unfolded that hand. He kissed my palm.
I hardly dared draw breath. Hope had begun to beat wild in me.
With his free hand he drew aside the covers.
I gazed into his face; I could not look away. I would not. His lips had parted and even by the candle’s light I could see that his color was high.
He pulled my unfolded hand down, down toward the join of his body, and laid it upon himself. His prick was firm beneath my touch. I could not help myself: I pressed the heel of my hand against him there.
He gasped and closed his eyes; opened them and met my gaze again. Do you understand? he said, wordless. He rested his hands beside himself; the blue-veined crooks of his elbows seemed to glow in the flickering light. His breath shuddered. His prick grew hard and his legs opened to me.
I found my voice.
“Be still,” I said, and bent to kiss him.
He offered me everything I wished for. I took all of it; I rendered it back to him; and in the years since, years of gift and return and gift again, have found myself in possession of such wealth as I could not dream of in the poor hungry days of Dr. G.M.A. Huche and Basingstoke.
Sherlock Holmes is mine, and I am his.
[marginal notation, apparently in Holmes’s hand: You need never have doubted the outcome of that night: you are, and have always been, the delight of my heart. And, for which much gratitude is due, a far better lover than you were a pornographer.]