In “The Adventure of the Creeping Man,” Holmes encounters one Professor Presbury, who has begun to revert, biologically and evolutionarily, becoming more simian. It turns out that Presbury had come under the influence of an Austrian doctor, one “H. Lowenstein,” who had sent Presbury a formula meant ostensibly to leave Professor Presbury younger. The formula, unfortunately, had another effect on Presbury, and left him a changed man.
Interesting, so far as it goes, but I think there is more here that to date has been unrevealed. As Holmes notes, Watson is “the very soul of discretion,” and there is reason to suspect that more lies beneath this story than its words.
Consider: “Professor Presbury” is referred to as a “great scientist,” a man of “European reputation” without so much as a “breath of scandal.” And yet this story reveals a deeply embarrassing incident in the Professor’s life, showing him capable of and willing to carry out horrible experiments on himself as well as possessing a personal staff willing to reveal his secrets to outsiders. Watson, the “very soul of discretion,” blithely publishes this incident, seemingly with no fear of a lawsuit by the Professor and his family–or Lowenstein himself, for that matter. Admittedly, this story, which is supposed to have occurred in 1903, was not published until 1923, but that is hardly enough time for the Professor, much less his younger wife or daughter Edith, to have passed away. No, if we are to take this story as written, then we can only conclude that Watson is anything but the “soul of discretion” and that he is wealthy enough to not care about a libel suit.
Neither of those were ever true. Which leaves us to investigate the truths beneath this story. I cannot determine who “Professor Presbury” might have been, so I will pass over any attempt at guessing his true identity, and will instead move on to the other interesting part of this story.
Consider the following:
“H. Lowenstein” is described as being from (“of”) Prague (still part of Austria-Hungary when the story is set), and is described as an obscure scientist who was
striving in some unknown way for the secret of rejuvenescence and the elixir of life. Lowenstein of Prague! Lowenstein with the wondrous strength-giving serum, tabooed by the profession because he refused to reveal its source.This, at some time before 1923 and purportedly in 1903.
Those who have read the Dogs of the Wold Newton Universe (http://www.geocities.com/jjnevins/wold1.html) article will be aware that there was another European scientist working on animal-based experiments. Edgar Fawcett, in Solarion: A Romance (1889), described the experiments of Conrad Klotz, a German professor, whose work was appropriated by the American Kenneth Stafford, who in turn used Klotz’s work to enhance the intelligence of Solarion, a dog.
Solarion is reported to have taken place in 1888. Klotz is described as having written a “revolutionary” book on his work, and reportedly a short time before the Stafford’s work on Solarion.
Those who have studied the fantastic in European history are aware that there is a third figure whose work focuses on evolution and makes use of animals. This man had come to public attention in England some time during the 1860s. He had gained fame for his work with the “transfusion of blood,” but a journalist had revealed the scientist’s horrifying vivisections, and the Englishman was “simply howled out of the country.” He had then disappeared, to reappear in the reports of the survivor of an 1887 collision and shipwreck in the Pacific. An 1891 effort to confirm this story revealed nothing.
What if the individual in every case was the same man? What if “H. Lowenstein” had sent “Professor Presbury” the reversion formula not in 1903, but 15 years earlier? A rough reconstruction of events might be this:
1860s. “Lowenstein” becomes famous in England for his experiments. The public becomes aware of his cruel experiments on animals, and Lowenstein is forced to flee to the Continent and the abroad.
1887. “Lowenstein” is found in the Pacific by the survivor of a shipwreck. “Lowenstein” is found to have continued his experiments on animals, with greater success. An unfortunate series of events follows, and “Lowenstein” is forced to leave again. He returns to the Continent under an assumed name and publishes bits of his work in a modified form. When pressed for the source of his discoveries, he refuses to comment.
1888. “Lowenstein” is contacted by “Professor Presbury,” who asks for and is given a reversion formula. “Lowenstein” meanwhile continues his experiments on animals. He is found by Kenneth Stafford and passes some of his work on to Stafford before dying.
This leaves the question as to why Watson might fudge the facts so much in “The Adventure of the Creeping Man.” The answers to this question is obvious. Watson, the “soul of discretion,” did not wish to bring shame to “Professor Presbury,” and so not only changed the name of the Professor but placed the events of the story much further in the future than they actually occurred. Watson likewise did not wish to panic or outrage the public, and so changed the name of the professor in question to “Lowenstein.” The public was well aware of the man’s reputation, after all, and would have reacted very badly to the news that he was still alive and still practicing his horrible craft.
And that is how Sherlock Holmes encountered, at some remove, Dr. Moreau.
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