A Lovely Thing


When you gain knowledge in one area, it almost always enriches other areas of your life.

Recently, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying Eric Metaxas’s Amazing Grace.  It’s a fascinating biography (and I’m not one who tends to relish biographies) about the life of William Wilberforce and his role in abolishing the slave trade in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century.  Wilberforce has quickly become my new favorite historical character.  As I was reading Amazing Grace today, I came upon a passage that made me do a double-take.

Months ago, when I first read The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, I discovered a unique scene in the short story “The Naval Treaty.”  I had to read it several times before I could truly believe that it was Sherlock who was speaking.  Until then, I’d seen Sherlock’s cold, logical side almost exclusively.  But in an instant, Holmes went from earnestly discussing a case with his clients, to exclaiming,


     “‘What a lovely thing a rose is!’

     “He walked past the couch to the open window, and held up the drooping stalk of a moss rose, looking down at the dainty blend of crimson and green.  It was a new phase of his character to me, for I have never before seen him show any keen interest in natural objects.

     “‘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.’

     “[The clients] looked at Holmes during this demonstration with surprise and a good deal of disappointment written upon their faces.  He had fallen into a reverie, with the moss rose between his fingers.  It lasted some minutes before the young lady broke in upon it….

     “‘Oh, the mystery!’ he answered, coming back with a start to the realities of life….”

I’m sure that my jaw must have dropped as far as Watson’s did when I read that.  Sherlock’s deduction about the goodness of God based on flowers became one of my favorite quotes.  I’ve read it so many times that I have it memorized.  So I’m sure that you can imagine the complete shock I felt when I came across almost the exact same scene in Amazing Grace when reading it this morning.

Wilberforce had been on a mission to persuade Queen Caroline to avoid a public scandal (it’s a long story…), and the Queen had all but kicked him out of the building.  According to Wilberforce’s friend Marianne Thornton,

   “Mr. Wilberforce came back very low and dispirited, thinking indeed that she [the Queen] would upset the monarchy; when stepping out of the library window before dinner he caught sight of a gorgeous moss-rose that grew up the wall, and seeing how it transfixed him I gathered it.  ‘Oh the beauty of it, Oh the goodness of God in giving us such alleviations in this hard world.’  The bell rang for dinner but there was no getting him to go in while he stood worshiping his flower…”

I couldn’t help but think of that favorite Sherlock passage of mine when I read Wilberforce’s moss-rose reverie.  Whether or not Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had heard of William Wilberforce’s rose, I don’t know.  But I think it very likely.  The similarities in both scenes are remarkable: both men are trying to avoid a national catastrophe.  Both are suddenly and inexplicably fascinated with a rose (both specify that it’s a moss-rose) beside a window.  Both are transfixed for several minutes, and are called back to reality by those near them.  Most convincing to me, though, is that both exclaim aloud about the goodness of God being connected to the beauty of flowers.  It’s a unique sentiment to make, and the fact that Sherlock Holmes made it is even more astounding.

I’m almost positive that Conan Doyle read about Wilberforce and his moss rose and decided to create his own version of the historical scene with his fictional detective.  Though we hear next to nothing about William Wilberforce in American schools, he is a huge part of the history of Great Britain.  In 1893 when Conan Doyle wrote “The Naval Treaty,” Wilberforce’s role in English history had only just ended 60 years before.  He was guaranteed to have read about Wilberforce.  And I think, after comparing the two scenes that it’s safe to assume that Wilberforce was the inspiration for that incredible glimpse into the heart – not just the head – of Sherlock Holmes.  I fully acknowledge that I could be wrong.  It could have just been an extremely lucky coincidence.  But I doubt it.

 I’ll never read of Sherlock’s reverie without thinking of another time at another window with another flower that really existed.  William Wilberforce inspiring a scene in Sherlock Holmes.  Who would have thought?

What a lovely thing, indeed!

17 thoughts on “A Lovely Thing

  1. Hello! Eric Metaxas sent me here.

    I absolutely love this. I read both passages this year, but failed to make the connection. I read Amazing Grace in the summer, after finishing Bonhoeffer, and loved both, but I didn’t remember the passage about the rose. While reading through The Naval Treaty this fall, my reaction was almost identical – I had to read and re-read it to convince myself it wasn’t all a ruse to fool the bad guy. And what a beautiful idea! I could hardly believe Arthur Conan Doyle – an obsessed spiritualist, in later years – could come up with something like that, and maybe this is part of it. I’ve been meaning ever since to go back and read it. I love the idea that it somehow connects to Wilberforce. 😉

  2. Hi! Thanks so much for commenting. For a novice blogger like me, every new comment is exciting! 😀

    Now, when you say that Eric Metaxas sent you to my blog, do you mean that you work for him or know him? If so, wow! How awesome!! [Note from the next morning: I just now found out about Eric Metaxas mentioning my blog on his Facebook page. I see now what you meant about him “sending” you here. :)]

    I’m so glad you liked the post. I hesitated to post it at all, because I was afraid people would think I was crazy. 🙂 I know! It’s incredible that Conan Doyle would have written such incredible truth that he later wouldn’t believe. Sherlock Holmes often takes phrases or sayings from the Bible, or says things like, “by the blessing of God…” or “but for the grace of God…” Once he even warned a criminal that he was about to face “a higher court” when he died. Pretty amazing that Conan Doyle would have written that! But he didn’t become a spiritualist until after he had written almost all of the Sherlock stories, so I suppose that explains some of it. I’m just delighted to discover those little nuggets of truth in the Sherlock cases! And yes, it is so amazing to think that it might have been connected to Wilberforce, one of my heroes! Thank you again so much for taking the time to comment!

    • Glancing at the side of your blog, it seems like we have a lot in common. 😉 You’re not a homeschooler, are you? A Sonlighter? Just that you’re the first person I know who’s read The Westing Game – I love that book! And I’m a die-hard Lewis/Tolkien/N.D. Wilson/mystery/Wilberforce fan. I’ve been scrolling back through your posts with glee…I’ll have to find some free time to read a few. 🙂

      Anyway, yeah, Holmes generally invoked some sort of higher power, but it was the Victorian age, when it was the polite thing to be Christian. You know, God, Queen, and Country. I never believed Holmes meant anything beyond just conventions until that moment. It took my breath away.

      • If you love Lewis, Tolkien, N.D. Wilson, and Wilberforce, then we absolutely have a lot in common! And yes, I am a homeschooler! A graduated one, that is. 🙂 I’m so glad you like the rest of my blog! I hope you find more stuff to enjoy on here. If you like any of the authors mentioned above, you’re guaranteed to have your fill of them on my blog. 😀

        I’m not sure if Holmes was a Christian himself, but he definitely had a Christian worldview. I believe that that’s why he had such a passion for justice, honesty, and all-around goodness. It’s always made me smile to think that Watson – while being an extremely decent, normal, average sort of fellow – never says anything about God, and Sherlock – being the most un-average, un-normal sort of fellow – says stuff about God all the time! It’s not what you would expect, but that’s just what makes it so awesome. (As with anything Sherlock does….) 🙂

  3. LOVELY POST! I have read these passages before, and was quite intrigued by both. Being an avid fan of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes tales, I was struck by this half-scientific, half-spiritual, deeper glimpse into Holmes’ inner musings and beliefs. It caught me off guard. I, too, had noticed Conan Doyle having his Holmes character refer to the Bible and to God, so this reverie was especially intriguing. I’d read Metaxas’ Amazing Grace more recently than I had the Holmes tales, so I did not notice the connection that “both men [were] trying to avoid a national catastrophe” when each man fell into his ‘moss-rose reflection’. However, Wilberforce’s rose reverie was one of the most painfully poignant passages I’d ever read, in that it revealed both the deep injury Wilberforce felt at Queen Caroline’s contemptuous, degrading, thoughtless, self-absorbed reaction, as well as the Divine comfort he received when he observed, ’Oh the beauty of it, Oh the goodness of God in giving us such alleviations in this hard world.’ I’d already been planning to reread the Holmes stories this summer, so I look forward to re-encountering his passage, as well as rereading Wilberforce’s. Thanks so much for explicating such an intriguing set of parallels in these passages which give glory to God for His goodness–reflected in his lovely creation. ~Melody

    • I’m so happy to hear that you (a fellow Sherlockian) liked my post! Thanks so much for taking the time to let me know your thoughts. I know – I think that every reader (especially Christian readers) of “The Naval Treaty” were struck speechless when they first read that passage. I know I was! 🙂 It’s such a true, wonderful statement, and I love to think that it was spoken by a Christian who really lived! I’d always assumed that it was just created by Conan Doyle. It becomes much more powerful (at least to me) to think of Wilberforce being the first to make it! Every time I look at a rose now, I think of God’s goodness.

      You’re very welcome! It makes me so happy to think that I’ve given pleasure to a fellow fan of Wilberforce and Holmes! 😀

  4. Wow, cousin! Loved this post. It is wonderful that we can see our Creator and a bit of His glory in our every day lives.
    Just wanted to leave you a comment and tell you that I’ve enjoyed reading some of your blog posts! And I am now about to begin your short story 🙂 Hope all is well…and know that I will be reading your posts as they come! Praying for y’all!

    • Hey, Colbie!! It’s great to hear from you! I’m sorry I didn’t get to see you last time we were in town. I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed reading some of my posts!! Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. 😀 It makes me happy to know that family and friends are reading what I write!

      I hope that you’re having a great time with Grandma and Grandpa! Praying for you, too! 😉

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