The Apocryphal Candidates in Chronological Order
The Mystery of Sasassa Valley
(Chambers’s Journal, Sep 6, 1879)
This was Doyle’s first published story and it is a tale tinged with the supernatural. Peter Haining claims this tale has characters and situations which are archetypes of those in the Canon. Haining is the only person to propose this story for inclusion.
The Mystery of Uncle Jeremy’s Household
(Boy’s Own Paper, 1887)
“Uncle Jeremy’s Household” appeared in Boy’s Own Journal in early 1887, almost twelve months prior to A Study in Scarlet. There are a number of Holmesian overtones in the tale, and several Sherlockian commentators have asserted that this story contains prototypes of Holmes and Watson. As Peter Haining states, “Holmes and Watson did not spring fully finished into [Conan Doyle’s] mind, but rather developed from his musing on his university Professor, Dr. Joseph Bell, and the detective story genre as a whole.”
The concept is that “Uncle Jeremy’s Household” is an early trial-run of an intelligent detective with a partner solving a mystery, similar to the Holmes/Watson duo. They are not named Holmes and Watson, and they aren’t Holmes and Watson. But, there are undeniable elements in this tale that do turn up in the Sherlockian Canon. The well-known Sherlockian scholar James Holroyd points out, in the Spring, 1967 issue of The Sherlock Holmes Journal the following points:
- The narrator, named Hugh Lawrence, lives in Baker Street
- His friend is named John H. Thurston
- Lawrence studied medicine, was devoted to medicine, and had an “acid-stained finger
But the question remains (and it is a big question): even if “Uncle Jeremy’s Household” is a precursor to Sherlock Holmes, does this qualify it as not only legitimate apocrypha, but as part of the Canon?
Angels of Darkness
(c. 1887) Unpublished until 2000, when it was brought out in The Baker Street Irregulars’ Manuscript Series, this play was written while Conan Doyle was still a young man in his early twenties. It is believed that this play was probably the last piece of Holmes related-literature to be suppressed by Doyle’s estate. Angels of Darkness was started, then abandoned, before A Study in Scarlet was published in 1887. It is essentially a rewrite of the American chapters of A Study in Scarlet, with the London action moved to San Francisco. It definitely is not a Sherlock Holmes story. Sherlock Holmes is in Angels of Darkness. But, it is a John H. Watson story. Strangely, however, it is not quite the Watson that we know through Watson’s own first-person accounts. Here he acts disreputably, and even ends up marrying a woman other than Mary Morstan. It is of course “apocryphal,”…or is it… and it contradicts A Study in Scarlet in many other details. And yet, it is a different account of major events told in A Study in Scarlet, with one of Study’s major characters involved.
The Field Bazaar (1896)
“The Field Bazaar” is a genuine Sherlock Holmes story. Commentators characterize it as a parody, perhaps even the first. Written as a fundraiser for Edinburgh University’s effort to enlarge the university Cricket grounds. “The Field Bazaar” was originally published in the November 20, 1896 issue of The Student, a university magazine. But does this motivation for it being written really a parody? In the story, Holmes and Watson are at breakfast, and as he does on several occasions in the Canon, Holmes correctly reads Watson’s thoughts. In addition, it is told from Watson’s first person perspective, as are most tales in the Canon. While it may be humorous, it is very much in the spirit of similar episodes found in the sixty tales, and is thus a legitimate Sherlock Holmes story, and the first of the four unanimously agreed-upon apocryphal tales.
The Lost Special (1898)
The Man with the Watches (1898)
These two stories that were originally published in 1898, but not collected into a book — Arthur Conan Doyle’s Tales of Terror and Mystery — until 1923. This undoubtedly accounts in part for their relative obscurity. Hopefully you have taken time to read them, as they are the second and third unanimously agreed-upon apocryphal tales. The Lost Special features the appearance of “an amateur reasoner of some celebrity” who suggests a solution to the case of a missing train. This “amateur reasoner” has written a letter to the London Times, and to read it is to know this is Sherlock Holmes. Holmes’s first law of logic “once one has eliminated the impossible, etc” is even here.
In The Man with the Watches, the “well-known criminal investigator” of the story is again clearly Sherlock Holmes. As Lord Donegall puts it, “the cold, systematic logif of the synthetic reasoning employed, and the condescending didacticism which marks the style and method of expression throughout, attest unerringly to the Master’s hand.”
What is interesting is that, in both tales, the detective fails to solve the mystery. Perhaps this is why Holmes’s name is not mentioned, perhaps Holmes’s vanity kept these failures from being associated with his name. It is important also to remember that both these tales fell into what is know as Holmes’s “hiatus,” the post-Reichenbach Falls/pre-Empty House period. In fact, these stories are much closer in time to the Memoirs than the Return, or even The Hound of the Baskervilles, for that matter, and is perhaps evidence that, shortly after tossing Holmes over the falls, Conan Doyle was already feeling the urge to bring him back.
In 1936, just six years after Doyle’s death, Christopher Morley and Edgar Smith were advocating their inclusion into the Canon. As an aside, these two tales have been included
in all French editions of The Complete Sherlock Holmes.
Sherlock Holmes: A Drama in Four Acts (a.k.a. Sherlock Holmes) (1899)
Most Sherlockian scholars do not consider this legendary play to either part of the apocrypha or the Canon. A few do. This is the Gillette play, officially written by Arthur Conan Doyle and William Gillette, which had a successful run of over thirty years. The case for its inclusion is based primarily on this alleged co-authorship. In 1897, Conan Doyle wrote a five-act Sherlock Holmes play, which was sold to American theatrical agent Harold Frohman. One of Frohman’s clients was William Gillette. Frohman, who felt the play needed work, secured Doyle’s approval to have Gillette both rewrite and star in the play. Gillette dove in and made extensive changes. Then, in November of 1898, the manuscript was lost in a fire, but the industrious Gillette quickly rewrote the play from memory.
Despite the play having elements from several Canonical tales, including “A Scandal in Bohemia,” “The Final Problem,” A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four, “The Boscombe Valley Mystery” and “The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter,” the play is almost certainly more Gillette than Doyle.
The Adventure of the Tall Man (c. 1900)
When searching through Conan Doyle’s papers, one a Doyle biographer name Hesketh Pearson discovered an astonishing find —the outline/summary of an unwritten Sherlock Holmes story. This treasure-trove even included some dialogue. As Pearson described it in the August, 1943 issue of The Strand Magazine:
Among Doyle’s papers I discovered the scenario for an unwritten Sherlock Holmes story, in which the detective, baffled by the criminal’s cunning, is reduced to the stratagem of frightening the villain into a confession of guilt. This is done with the help of an actor, who makes himself up to resemble the murdered man, pokes his ghost-like head into the bedroom window of the murderer and cries out his name in “a ghastly sepulchral voice.” The criminal gibbers with fright and gives the game away.
Well, perhaps we can see why Doyle never finished the tale! Several Various authors have attempted to complete the story, the best known being by Robert A. Cutter, BSI in 1947.
The Man who was Wanted (c. 1900)
And then there is this, yet another unpublished Sherlock Holmes story, (this one complete) and also found by biographer, Hesketh Pearson. The story of this tale is a saga in itself. When Pearson revealed that there was an unpublished tale in 1942, the Baker Street Irregulars began lobbying for its publication. The Doyle estate, then run by Doyle’s sons, stalled, dithered, and then ultimately negotiated for its publication in Cosmopolitan magazine in 1948. Then, to everyone’s embarrassment, it is revealed that The Case of the Man Who Was Wanted was actually authored by a man named Arthur Whitaker, who had written the story and sent it to Conan Doyle hoping for a collaboration. Doyle turned him down, purchased the story for £10, and never used it.
So, how can a story known to be written by someone else be considered Canonical, or at least apocryphal? While scholars Green and Tracy agree that Whitaker wrote the story, Peter Haining asserts that “The opening scene between Holmes and Watson betrays the hand of the master,” and that the story must be partly written by Conan Doyle. While his critique of the writing is correct, there is, however, zero evidence to support co-authorship.
A Gaudy Death (1901)
With the subtitle “Conan Doyle Tells The True Story of Sherlock Holmes’s End’” this interview appeared in the December 15, 1900 issue of Tit-bits, a weekly magazine published by the same publishers who put out The Strand Magazine. Doyle gave this interview after Holmes had supposedly died at the Reichenbach falls. What is really interesting is he does mention that he has the occasional urges to write more Holmes adventures, further adding credence to The Man with the Watches and The Lost Special. He also discusses how he came up with the idea for Holmes, switching from novels to serial adventures, and how he had to kill Holmes because he was “lower work that was obscuring my higher.”
The Speckled Band (aka The Stonor Case) (1902)
This classic story was adapted into a play by Conan Doyle himself out of dire financial necessity. When his play entitled The House of Temperley (based on his reworked his prizefighting novel, Rodney Stone) bombed, Doyle found himself holding a six-month lease on an empty theater. So, he turned to Sherlock Holmes to rescue him. He wrote The Speckled Band in less than a week. It was a smash hit, and the day was saved.
The Painful Predicament of Mr. Sherlock Holmes (1905)
When William Gillette decided he needed a curtain raiser for one of his non-Sherlockian plays, the came up with this short comedy sketch, The plot involves Sherlock Holmes, and a very talkative client who monopolizes the dialogue, not allowing Holmes to get a word in edgewise. There is speculation that this play was written by Arthur Conan Doyle, and Gillette would certainly have needed Doyle’s consent to write an original work involving Sherlock Holmes. But co-authorship is almost certainly not the case, and there is no evidence at all that Doyle had a hand in its writing.
Some Personalia about Sherlock Holmes (1917)
This essay was featured in The Strand Magazine as a Christmas treat to its readers. It talks of the way Holmes had caught the public imagination, and Conan Doyle’s view on his character. Some Personalia About Sherlock Holmes was written by Doyle and appeared in a 1917 edition of The Strand. Doyle discusses receiving letters written to Holmes and ruminates on true life crimes that the author had some involvement in investigating.
The Crown Diamond: An Evening With Mr Sherlock Holmes (1921?)
This is yet another Sherlockian play by Arthur Conan Doyle. The general presumption of most scholars is that it was written sometime in either 1920 or 1921, shortly before it was mounted on the stage. However, his son Adrian Conan Doyle has stated that it was written in the early 1900’s, and this author believes he is correct. It is my contention that, following the collapse of The House of Temperly, Doyle’s first stab at drafting a life-saving Sherlock Holmes play wasn’t The Speckled Band, but rather The Crown Diamond. There is internal evidence within the play itself to support the claim, and if you want a full discussion of the argument, see the March 2005 issue of The Illustrious Clients News. Whenever it was written, it wasn’t produced until 1921.
The Truth About Sherlock Holmes (1923)
This was an essay published in Collier’s magazine, in which Doyle again explains where the idea for Sherlock Holmes came from.
How Watson Learned the Trick (1924)
Now we come to the fourth, and final item that is unanimously accepted into the apocrypha. This story, written specifically for publication as a miniature book in library of The Queen’s Dolls House. It was later published in The Book of the Queen’s Dolls’ House Library. It is very similar to The Field Bazaar — the familiar breakfast scene, but instead we find Watson taking a shot at deducing Holmes’s thoughts. Of course, he fails miserably. It is short (503 words) and has a peculiar motivation for being authored, and yet, once again, it is an authentic episode in the life of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.
My Favourite Sherlock Holmes Adventures (1927)
This is a short piece Doyle wrote for The Strand in 1927. It is a listing of Doyle’s own
dozen favorite Holmes tales. It is interesting to read the list, which was compiled before Case-Book was published.
And that’s it…everything that has been proffered as possible candidates for being considered Sherlockian apocrypha and/or Canonicity.
What do you think? What do you make of this large deposit of non-Canonical writing? Should the Canon be formally expanded? There is one thing Sherlockians agree on — The Apocrypha of Sherlock Holmes makes fascinating reading.
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