Fellow Alliterate John Rateliff has been reading Watson is Not an Idiot, and emailed me on one of the essays in the book. Specifically, in the essay on “The Golden Pince-Nez,” i wrote:
At one point Professor Coram mentioned that he goes through a thousand cigarettes every fortnight. My wife used to work as a smoking cessation coach, so I asked her how much smoking that would be from a current perspective. Assuming twenty cigarettes in a modern pack of cigarettes, Coram would have to smoke just over three and a half packs a day, or nearly four cigarettes every waking hour! Granted, it seems that Mr. Smith was a smoker as well (and therefore may have smoked some of Coram’s cigarettes), but that’s still a hell of a lot of smoking.
John wrote me this in response (quoted with his kind permission):
Just wanted to let you know that I can confirm a point you raised in your book on the Holmes canon (which I’m currently reading and enjoying). At one point you talk about whether it’s even possible for a person to smoke 1,000 cigarettes in a fortnight. My own father smoked three and a half packs (Pall Mall) a day, which works out to about 70 cigarettes per day. Multiplied by 14 days, that makes about 980 — close enough. In Holmes’ day, these [would probably] have not been machine produced but made to order at a tobacconist (Holmes doesn’t strike me as the roll-your-own type).
The most extravagant smoking claim I’ve come across is the one that C. S. Lewis smoked 200 cigarettes a day. That’s clearly hyperbole.
In a follow-up email he mentions that cigarettes were also likely to have been shorter in Holmes’ day — the “king sized” cigarette is a modern invention. I thought it was great to have something I proposed in the book borne out with a personal anecdote like this.
Frankly, I love this kind of correspondence. One of the great things I’ve discovered since putting Watson is Not an Idiot out is hearing from people with their own opinions, perspectives, and research. I think it’s amazing that, over a hundred years later, there’s still energy and enthusiasm for discussing some of the finer points of the canon.
So thank you, John, for taking the time to carry on a long-held tradition.