“I submit for your inspection one John H. Watson: medical man, late British army surgeon, raconteur, journalist…. Knight of the Battered Tin Dispatch Box, valiant and loyal friend.”
One doctor created another. In 1887, around Christmas, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a doctor of small practice, published A Study in Scarlet. In it, Watson has just come back from the war, and has a wound. Living on army pay, he needs to find “comfortable rooms at a reasonable price.” A friend tells him he knows of someone who may wish to share a room, and takes the good doctor to meet him.
The man is highly eccentric (he comes into the story beating a dead body with a stick to calculate the effect of bruising after death), smokes, and plays the violin. His name is Sherlock Holmes, and the flat number is 221B, Baker Street.
The first book was not well received. It did not sell out, and got poor reviews. However, three later Doyle tried again, this time with greater success. Not long after, a series of twenty-four stories were ordered by Strand Magazine. (It was the Life of its time.) Soon, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson were rushing all over London and the English countryside, Watson with his revolver, Holmes with his pipe, Holmes shocking people by telling them a great deal about themselves through deduction, Watson writing everything down. Some people did, and some whom I have met still do, think Holmes to have been real.
After twenty-three stories, Moriarty, the great criminal mind, the second greatest in London, second only to Mycroft, Holmes brother, decides that Holmes has “inconvenienced” him once too often. It is the story of The Final Problem. When it appeared, ending in the seeming death of Sherlock Holmes, himself and Moriarty, in a death struggle, falling over the abyss and into Reichenbach falls, over twenty thousand readers of Strand canceled their subscriptions immediately.
Three years later, Watson is visited by a book seller, who asks him if he would like some rare books, to hide a bare spot on the shelf, Watson looks at the spot, turns around, and sees Holmes throwing away his disguise.
Holmes had returned, having survived by landing on a ledge and going into hiding to escape Moriarty’s men, to capture Colonel Sebastian Moran. And so the adventures continue, the deductions go on, until Holmes goes on to retire, just before coming out of retirement one last time to save Britain from the Germans in World War I, in His Last Bow.
Andrew C. Abbott