The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual: Watson Quotes

Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy Roberts is an adjunct instructor in English, film/media studies and interdisciplinary studies.

This lesson focuses on Watson's part in 'The Musgrave Ritual,' a Sherlock Holmes story that took place before the doctor became the detective's companion. We will learn about the Holmes-Watson relationship, and Holmes' curious method of remembering.

A Trip Down Memory Lane

The Sherlock Holmes adventure 'The Musgrave Ritual' pulls back the curtain on one of the great detective's earlier cases. Watson has always been intrigued by the cases that Holmes solved before he came to work with him. In this trip down memory lane, Holmes invites Watson into his past.

'The Musgrave Ritual' is chapter 5 in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, and, curiously enough, Watson refers to the book as his 'incoherent memoirs.' Here, Watson reminds readers that, although the stories all star the great detective Holmes, they're equally Watson's memoirs. He's the one remembering and setting down word on paper. But unlike most of the other Sherlock Holmes tales, this story is narrated mostly by Holmes himself. Watson takes a back seat, mainly listening as Holmes recounts the story of Musgrave, using his papers and artifacts like a show and tell.

221B Baker Street, Bachelor Pad

The opening interaction between Watson and Holmes provides unique insight into their characters.

Watson complains about the messiness of Holmes' apartment. More importantly, he needs a method of filing his papers. Watson worries that important notes will make their way into the fire. It's the classic roommate dilemma:

'An anomaly which often struck me in the character of my friend Sherlock Holmes was that, although in his methods of thought he was the neatest and most methodical of mankind, and although also he affected a certain quiet primness of dress, he was none the less in his personal habits one of the most untidy men that ever drove a fellow-lodger to distraction.'

221B Baker Street living room, preserved in London

General slovenliness was one thing, according to Watson, but haphazardly destroying important documents is quite another. Finally, Watson snaps, insisting that Holmes brings order to this chaos once and for all.


Holmes kept a scrapbook, in earlier times known as common-place books, in which he compiled his notes, newspaper clippings, and other ephemera. Every so often he would gather together the papers and add a new entry into the book.

'One winter's night, as we sat together by the fire, I (Watson) ventured to suggest to him that, as he had finished pasting extracts into his common-place book, he might employ the next two hours in making our room a little more habitable.'

In response to Watson's request, Holmes produces a large tin box. In here he had stowed away the reports of his most important cases, along with artifacts associated with each.

Watson is more than a bit intrigued. 'It is a curious collection,' he says.


From the box, Holmes procures a collection of relics. Some relics belong in museums, but when they have personal significance they might end up in a box under the bed. This was certainly the case with Holmes. He collected artifacts from every case.

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