The Dissecting Room . . . June 1994
The Doyle/Watson Scheme
"The friends of Mr. Sherlock Holmes will be glad to learn that he is still alive and well, though somewhat crippled by occasional attacks of rheumatism. He has, for many years, lived in a small farm upon the downs five miles from Eastbourne, where his time is divided between philosophy and agriculture. During
John H. Watson, M. D.
"I fear that Mr. Sherlock Holmes may become like one of those popular tenors who, having outlived their time, are still tempted to make repeated farewell bows to their indulgent audiences. This must cease and he must go the way of all flesh, material or imaginary, One likes to think that there is some fantastic limbo
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Notice a slight difference?
These lengthy pieces of evidence may at first appear to be a lazy columnist's way of filling up space for this month. They are from the part of the Sherlockian Canon we hardly ever read, and even less often pay scholarly attention to, the prefaces. I place them both before you this month to point out an interesting contrast:
In 1917, when His Last Bow was published, we find Dr. Watson telling us that Sherlock Holmes is alive and well. Ten years later, in 1927, we find Conan Doyle telling us it is time for these "children of the imagination" to go away. Reading the two prefaces back to back makes for a striking, possibly even frightening, contrast.
What happened in the ten years between? Did Watson even see the latter preface? Which brings on further questions:
Does this mean Professor Moriarty, the Napoleon of Crime, returned from the dead and killed Watson as part of his vengeance upon Holmes? Did Moriarty then pay off Conan Doyle, or threaten his loved ones, forcing him to betray his friend Watson's memory?
One could think so. Moriarty and his plots being the first resort of the paranoid or simple-minded, however, I would like to suggest something a little less down-to-earth.
In 1917, Watson was somewhere between sixty and sixty- five years of age. Ten years later, he would have been between seventy and seventy-five. The average lifespan of that time wasn't even close to what it is now, and I'm not even about to bring up the effects of second-hand smoke, war wounds, or London pollution. Sad as it is to consider, John H. Watson could have died during that ten years.
And in his last days, Watson undoubtedly had contact with his literary agent. By that time, Doyle was very heavily into spiritualism, and it is easy to see the two men hatching a plot. Watson's friend Holmes had never cared for the limelight that the stories brought him or his career. Watson had well established his own name in the annals of fiction. And Doyle was looking for proof of life after death ....
What better way was there for Doyle to prove a medium was authentic than to have her contact someone she didn't even know was a real person? The literary agent could go in, looking to contact a dead but unnamed friend, and no matter
For Watson, the game was afoot until the very end ... and possibly beyond.