As when you find a trout in the milk

From The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes:

…..“I think that I shall have a whisky and soda and a cigar after all this cross-questioning. I had formed my conclusions as to the case before our client came into the room.”

“My dear Holmes!”

“I have notes of several similar cases, though none, as I remarked before, which were quite as prompt. My whole examination served to turn my conjecture into a certainty. Circumstantial evidence is occasionally very convincing, as when you find a trout in the milk, to quote Thoreau’s example.”

The Thoreau reference is to an entry from his Journals dated Nov. 11 of 1850:

Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk.

In its original context the comment is a complete non-sequitur – sandwiched between remarks on his evening walk and an observation on appreciating the land – but the reference seems to be to the practice of watering down milk to squeeze out some extra profit. This would be hard to prove generally but if the farmer was so unobservant as to let a fish slip in – presumably while using water drawn from a stream – then you’d of course have a stronger case.

You may remember the old Persian saying

From the conclusion to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Case of Identity:

“And Miss Sutherland?”

“If I tell her she will not believe me. You may remember the old Persian saying, ‘There is danger for him who taketh the tiger cub, and danger also for whoso snatches a delusion from a woman.’ There is as much sense in Hafiz as in Horace, and as much knowledge of the world.”

I tried tracing the exact citation for this line but could find nothing online. The footnote in the New Annotated Sherlock Holmes surrenders as well:

“Hafiz” is also spelled “Hafez.” His more complete name is Mohammed Shams Od-Dīān Haāfez (b. 1325/26, Shīāraāz, Iran–d. 1389/90, Shīāraāz), and he was one of the finest lyric poets of Persia. The Diwan (Collected Poems) of the poet was not translated in its entirety into English prose until 1891. However, scholars have been unable to trace the proverb to any published works of Hafiz.

“Horace” is Quintus Horatius Flaccus (65–8 B.C.), the greatest of the Latin lyric poets.

This was still unsatisfying so I went digging further and found what at first appeared a real suggestion in a book by John Yohannan called Persian Poetry in England and America: A 200 Year History

When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle put into the mouth of his famous sleuth Sherlock Holmes the observation that “there is as much sense in Hafiz as in Horace and as much knowledge of the world,” he was probably chiefly inspired by the advantage of alliteration in the poets’ names. the sentiment he attributed to Hafiz in “A Case of Identity” … was more likely an adaptation of the fifty-third Maxim in Sadi’s Gulistan in Eastwick’s translation.

That passage in the translation referenced reads:

Maxim LIII
To consult with women is ruin, and to be liberal to the mischievous is a crime.

Couplet
To sharp-toothed tigers kind to be
To harmless flocks is tyranny.

Aside from the convenient collocation of women and tigers, I don’t find the proposed source at all convincing.

Overall I’m rather inclined to lean on this being an invented source, inspired only by Conan Doyle’s taste for giving Holmes occasional outbursts hinting at deep knowledge in out-of-the-way fields – something like the intellectual equivalent of his eccentricity in keeping ‘his tobacco in the toe end of a Persian slipper’ (per The Musgrave Ritual).

Omne ignotum pro magnifico

From Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Red-Headed League in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.  This story was a favorite as a kid, partly because it’s the first Jeremy Brett episode I remember watching.

Sherlock Holmes’ quick eye took in my occupation, and he shook his head with a smile as he noticed my questioning glances. “Beyond the obvious facts that he has at some time done manual labour, that he takes snuff, that he is a Freemason, that he has been in China, and that he has done a considerable amount of writing lately, I can deduce nothing else.”

Mr. Jabez Wilson started up in his chair, with his forefinger upon the paper, but his eyes upon my companion.

“How, in the name of good-fortune, did you know all that, Mr. Holmes?” he asked. “How did you know, for example, that I did manual labour. It’s as true as gospel, for I began as a ship’s carpenter.”

“Your hands, my dear sir. Your right hand is quite a size larger than your left. You have worked with it, and the muscles are more developed.”

“Well, the snuff, then, and the Freemasonry?”

“I won’t insult your intelligence by telling you how I read that, especially as, rather against the strict rules of your order, you use an arc-and-compass breastpin.”

“Ah, of course, I forgot that. But the writing?”

“What else can be indicated by that right cuff so very shiny for five inches, and the left one with the smooth patch near the elbow where you rest it upon the desk?”

“Well, but China?”

“The fish that you have tattooed immediately above your right wrist could only have been done in China. I have made a small study of tattoo marks and have even contributed to the literature of the subject. That trick of staining the fishes’ scales of a delicate pink is quite peculiar to China. When, in addition, I see a Chinese coin hanging from your watch-chain, the matter becomes even more simple.”

Mr. Jabez Wilson laughed heavily. “Well, I never!” said he. “I thought at first that you had done something clever, but I see that there was nothing in it after all.”

“I begin to think, Watson,” said Holmes, “that I make a mistake in explaining. ‘Omne ignotum pro magnifico,’ you know, and my poor little reputation, such as it is, will suffer shipwreck if I am so candid.

The Latin phrase literally means ‘everything unknown [is regarded as] great/distinguished/splendid.’  The quote is from a speech in Tactitus’ Agricola delivered by the British chieftain Calgacus before the battle of Mons Graupius (though, as always with ancient historians, the whole thing is likelier of the author’s own making.  And, by some opinions, Calgacus himself is an invention as well.)  Below is the Loeb translation and text:

“As often as I survey the causes of this war and our present straits, my heart beats high that this very day and this unity of ours will be the beginning of liberty for all Britain. For you are all here, united, as yet untouched by slavery: there is no other land behind us, and the very sea even is no longer free from alarms, now that the fleet of Rome threatens us. Battle therefore and arms, the strong man’s pride, are also the coward’s best safety. Former battles, which were fought with varying success against Rome, left behind them hopes of help in us, because we, the noblest souls in all Britain, the dwellers in its inner shrine, had never seen any shores of slavery and had preserved our very eyes from the desecration and the contamination of tyranny: here at the world’s end, on its last inch of liberty, we have lived unmolested to this day, defended by our remoteness and obscurity. Now the uttermost parts of Britain lie exposed, and the unknown is ever magnified. But there are no other tribes to come; nothing but sea and cliffs and these more deadly Romans, whose arrogance you cannot escape by obedience and self-restraint. Robbers of the world, now that earth fails their all-devastating hands, they probe even the sea: if their enemy have wealth, they have greed; if he be poor, they are ambitious; East nor West has glutted them; alone of mankind they covet with the same passion want as much as wealth. To plunder, butcher, steal, these things they misname empire: they make a desolation and they call it peace.

“Quotiens causas belli et necessitatem nostram intueor, magnus mihi animus est hodiernum diem consensumque vestrum initium libertatis toti Britanniae fore; nam et universi coistis et servitutis expertes, et nullae ultra terrae ac ne mare quidem securum inminente nobis classe Romana. ita proelium atque arma, quae fortibus honesta, eadem etiam ignavis tutissima sunt. priores pugnae, quibus adversus Romanos varia fortuna certatum est, spem ac subsidium in nostris manibus habebant, quia nobilissimi totius Britanniae eoque in ipsis penetralibus siti nec ulla servientium litora aspicientes, oculos quoque a contactu dominationis inviolatos habebamus. nos terrarum ac libertatis extremos recessus ipse ac sinus famae in hunc diem defendit; nunc terminus Britanniae patet, atque omne ignotum pro magnifico est: sed nulla iam ultra gens, nihil nisi fluctus ac saxa, et infestiores Romani, quorum superbiam frustra per obsequium ac modestiam effugias. raptores orbis, postquam cuncta vastantibus defuere terrae, iam mare scrutantur: si locuples hostis est, avari, si pauper, ambitiosi, quos non Oriens, non Occidens satiaverit: soli omnium opes atque inopiam pari adfectu concupiscunt. auferre trucidare rapere falsis nominibus imperium, atque ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.


The speech is more famous, especially nowadays, for its early commentary on Roman imperialism – “they make a desolation and they call it peace” (atque ubi solitudinem faciunt, pace appellant).

If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work

From Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet.  I’ve used this since childhood to further needle family and friends who show themselves repulsed by my ignorance of current affairs.

[Holmes’] ignorance was as remarkable as his knowledge. Of contemporary literature, philosophy and politics he appeared to know next to nothing. Upon my quoting Thomas Carlyle, he inquired in the naivest way who he might be and what he had done. My surprise reached a climax, however, when I found incidentally that he was ignorant of the Copernican Theory and of the composition of the Solar System. That any civilized human being in this nineteenth century should not be aware that the earth travelled round the sun appeared to be to me such an extraordinary fact that I could hardly realize it.

“You appear to be astonished,” he said, smiling at my expression of surprise. “Now that I do know it I shall do my best to forget it.”

“To forget it!”

“You see,” he explained, “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”

“But the Solar System!” I protested.

“What the deuce is it to me?” he interrupted impatiently; “you say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.”

Goethe is always pithy

From Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Sign of the Four (and, in what I’m calling a minor Mandela Effect, there is apparently a definite article in front of ‘Four’ that I never before noticed):

“And I,” said Holmes, “shall see what I can learn from Mrs. Bernstone, and from the Indian servant, who, Mr. Thaddeus tell me, sleeps in the next garret. Then I shall study the great Jones’s methods and listen to his not too delicate sarcasms. ‘Wir sind gewohnt dass die Menschen verhoehnen was sie nicht verstehen.‘ Goethe is always pithy.”

The quote is from Faust part 1, scene 3 (around line 1200).  In (poorly rendered) fuller form it goes:

Wir sind gewohnt, daß die Menschen verhöhnen,
Was sie nicht verstehn,
Daß sie vor dem Guten und Schönen,
Das ihnen oft beschwerlich ist, murren;

We are used to seeing that men scorn
what they do not understand,
that before the good and the beautiful
that to them often seems wearisome, they grumble;