Imagine uncovering a previously unknown play by Shakespeare, or finding the sheet music to a long lost composition by Mozart. That might give you an idea of the reaction of ardent Sherlock Holmes fans, like me, to the discovery of a forgotten story about the great consulting detective of Baker Street by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Sherlock Holmes is one of the greatest and most enduring literary characters ever created — the fact that he continues to be featured in films, television shows, and books written by authors who find him irresistible tells you all you need to know — and the novels and short stories penned by Doyle are a magical read. The depiction of foggy, class-conscious Victorian England, the warm, humorous friendship between the stiff-necked but loyal Dr. Watson and the brilliant Holmes, and the insights into the art of deduction make the stories a delight, worth reading again and again. If you haven’t read them you really should.
The new piece, which can be read in its entirety through the link above, was written by Doyle in 1904 as part of an effort to fund a bridge in a Scottish town. It’s something of a lampoon of the Holmes stories, with references to tantalizing unknown adventures and Holmes’ explanation of his absurd deductions about Watson’s trip to Scotland.
Doyle’s relationship with his most famous creation was complicated. He felt the insistent demand for more Holmes stories was interfering with his other writings, and he notoriously killed off the detective in a story published in 1893. The demand for more stories never ended, however, and Doyle resurrected the character in 1903 — shortly before the new piece was written. He went on to write many more Holmes stories.
By 1904, Doyle was reconciled to the fact that he would always be known primarily as the man who created Sherlock Holmes, and I think his recognition of that reality comes through in the introduction and humor of the newly found tale. There are worse things, he realized, than inventing an immortal detective and his equally immortal sidekick.