Letters from Reichenbach (Sherlock Holmes Harper’s Weekly parody)

James MacArthur Sherlock Holmes Harper's Weekly parody

James MacArthur, Harper’s Weekly columnist.

The same month that The Hound of the Baskervilles began running in The Strand, the return of Holmes was celebrated in James MacArthur’s “Notes of a Bookman” column in the Aug. 31, 1901, issue of Harper’s Weekly. MacArthur (1866-1909) also worked as a playwright and consulting editor for several publishing houses. In his introduction to the Harper editions of A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of the Four, he predicted that “it is doubtful whether Dr. Doyle will ever surpass himself in the stories which are gathered in these three volumes. They represent not only the best of his work but the most masterly detective stories which have ever been written.”

Notes of a Bookman

James MacArthur

The resuscitation of Sherlock Holmes is an accomplished fact — vide the August Strand. In view of the reappearance of this distinguished character I submit the following documents and correspondence in the case:

From the London Daily Mail, 19th July

ZERMATT, FRIDAY.

Sherlock Holmes Harper's Weekly parody edwardian

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An extraordinary rumor is circulating here that Mr. Sherlock Holmes, the eminent criminal investigator, whose tragic death in a crevasse was reported circumstantially several years ago, creating a great sensation all over the world, has recently been seen in Zermatt. A well-known guide, Andrew Breen, has made an affidavit before a notary that on Thursday last he saw Mr. Holmes in a café. [text is unclear] maintains that there could be no mistake about his identity, though he was obviously taking every precaution to keep himself as much out of the public gaze as possible. It may be remembered that when Mr. Holmes and Professor Moriarty were first reported to have fallen into the crevasse, the story was received with incredulity, and the suggestion made that it was merely a ruse on Mr. Holmes’s part with some ulterior object. This was denied at the time, but Breen’s story now justifies the scepticism of several years ago.

From the London Daily Express, 20th July.

As our Mr. Hesketh Pritchard has just returned from his search for the Giant Sloth, which he was unfortunately unable to discover, though he met with indubitable traces of its existence, we have determined, regardless of expense, to despatch him forthwith to Switzerland, where the reappearance of Sherlock Holmes is reported. Holmes is said to have been seen as late as last week at Zermatt. We always suspected that he was not really dead, and venture an hypothesis that he did not fall to the bottom of the precipice when he fell over the ledge with Professor Moriarty. He was doubtless caught by a clump of trees twenty or thirty feet below, and, fearing pursuit from some other members of the Moriarty gang, he allowed the report of his death to go unchallenged, hiding himself for that time under another name in one of the Cantons. If our Mr. Pritchard is as successful as he hopes to be, he will bring the Great Investigator back to London to score greater triumphs than ever in the interest of truth and justice.

From Le Journal de Geneve, 19th July.

What we maintained in face of the whole world’s press some years ago has at last been proved correct, and the notorious Sherlock Holmes is proved a greater liar and fraud than even we ventured to suggest he was. It will be remembered by our readers that Holmes, while on a wild-goose chase over the Continent, found his way to Switzerland, and was stated (with many plausible details) to have fallen from the ledge of an Alpine pass, along with a scoundrel of the Dynamite English party named Moriarty. The story was circulated everywhere, and the result was that Alpine-climbing was rendered very unpopular for two seasons.

From the very first we disbelieved the story, which had many suspicious elements in it. The only witness of the extraordinary and inexplicable accident whereby the two men were said to have lost their lives was one Watson, a friend of Holmes, who, so far as we have been able to ascertain, earned his living by narrating the exploits of Holmes. That Watson was in a state of intoxication when he returned from the mountain to ask for a search expedition was well known at the time, though delicacy prevented us from mentioning the fact. The search party, consisting of nineteen guides, went all over the pass, and left not a yard of it unexplored, but they failed to find a scrap of evidence in support of Watson’s story.

This of itself would have been sufficient to throw grave doubts upon the story, but two days later, Watson, pretending to go out for a toothbrush, eluded the vigilance of the genial proprietor of The Bear of Berne Hotel (whose advertisement will be found on page 4), and decamped from the district, leaving his bill unpaid. Influenced by the serious injury which was done to the popularity of mountaineering by the narratives of Holmes’s death, we boldly expressed a doubt of the whole affair, and were threatened with an action for damages by the English canon named Doyle, who appeared to be a relative either of Watson or Holmes.

At the time we apologized to Canon Doyle for suggesting that the story was false, but now we withdraw our apology, and brand Holmes and Watson as unprincipled ruffians. We hope soon to be able to lay bare the plot whereof this cock-and-bull story was an essential part.

Letter from Holmes to Watson.

ZERMATT, 5TH MAY.
Don’t you think it is about time I was permitted to leave this confounded place? I’m sick of it. It is all very well to maintain that the longer I stay away the keener will be the interest in my return to active work again; but I am not blind to the possibilities of a generation rising “who know not Joseph.” I hear about a new fellow called Captain Kettle, who seems to be a little in our line. I hope you are not ass enough to let him get a position we cannot easily bounce him out of. But, first and last, I’m sick of this d — place. And the fleas!

From Watson to Holmes.

LONDON, 8TH MAY.
On no account venture into the open for a while yet. Doyle’s far too busy to have anything to do with us at the moment, for he’s over head and ears in the war movement. There’s nothing at all in the Kettle story. Kettle is simply a low, maritime bully, who could not maintain the regard and affection of the British for more than six months. Besides, he’s given up that business and has been cavorting in The Messenger Boy at the Gaiety for a year back. I believe he has started a farm somewhere about Hythe lately. There was never the slightest danger that Kettle would interfere seriously with your position. Why — you are unique, my boy, unique! There has been nothing like you since old Lecoq, and if you stayed away ten years you would be hailed like an emperor on your return. But make no mistake; if it is “oof” that is wanted I will send it. I can’t see that the work of waiter at a Swiss hotel is any harder work for you than investigating, and if you continue to wear the false whiskers you’ll never be discovered. In any case, it’s not the time to come back here. We’re all in a mess over the war; money is tight, and our particular form of entertainment would scarcely go, I fear.

From Holmes to Watson.

ZERMATT, 3D JUNE.
False whiskers! That’s the confounded thing. The boss of this place insists on my shaving, and if my hirsute adornment goes it’s all up with us, for I’ll be spotted, sure. And you say I’ll “never be discovered.” I begin to fear that is what you want. Why, man, I long to be discovered. Discovery, let me remind you, Watson, was my business. It is all very well for you and Doyle to live like lords on the strength of my alleged reputation, but I’ll be hanged if I stay here any longer waiting on Cook trippers and hunting Swiss fleas. Unless you send me enough money to get back to London comfortably, I shall blow the gaff. That’s flat!

Telegram — Watson to Holmes.

5TH JUNE.
For Heaven’s sake don’t! Will see what Doyle says. Newnes encourages the idea, but I think it suicide.

Telegram — Holmes to Watson.

5TH JUNE.
I’m off. Will be in London this week.

Extract from Letter by Lord Rosebery to the London City Liberal Club.

The paralysis of Liberalism is due to a fundamental and incurable antagonism of principle with regard to the Empire at large and our consequent policy. More vital than that is the fact that we want a Man — a Mind sufficiently strong to influence the warring elements of party; to placate the Opposition, now howling like wolves out of all harmony. In the great crises of history the hour has almost invariably brought such a Man, and I need scarcely recall to you the case of Napoleon, who took the scraps of Empire and welded them to his mighty purpose.

But where are we to look for such a Man? I have in my mind at the moment the name of one who, it seems to me, is alone able to save the party, whose name some years ago was on every lip, though since then there has been an interregnum of mysterious silence. Need I say that I allude to Mr. Sherlock Holmes? If there is one in Europe to-day who could discover the mind of Liberalism, who could see what lies at our hearts as a party, it is this great and world-eminent investigator.

It could not fail to gratify many of you to learn that Mr. Holmes, whose death in Switzerland some years ago we were led by some as yet inexplicable events to deplore, has within the past fortnight been reported alive and well. If that is so — and there is every reason to believe it is so — we have in Mr. Sherlock Holmes the Man and the Mind. I myself shall never, voluntarily, return to public life associated with the party; but I have the utmost confidence in recommending Mr. Holmes to your notice.

From the Agony Column, London Times.

20TH JULY.
Sh-rl-ck H-lm-s. — If you are in town, come to us at once. All will be forgotten and forgiven. — W-ts-n.

30TH JULY.
W-ts-n. — Rats! Simply Rats! It’s all over between us. Have seen Sir George and C.D., and we propose to leave you out of the show altogether. — The Ex-Waiter, Soho.

From the London Star, 1st August.

Sherlock Holmes is said to be back in London again, and residing in Soho. He is described as looking younger than ever, and we see, indeed, little reason why the suggestion of Lord Rosebery should not be followed, and Mr. Holmes be intrusted with the discovery of the Liberal party.

Dr. Doyle Interviewed. From Literature, 2d August.

“So it really is the case that Mr. Sherlock Holmes has been discovered alive?”

“I do not commit myself in any way upon that point,” said the distinguished author. “You have seen, doubtless, as much of the evidence as I have. I know that my friend Mr. Watson is a most trustworthy man, and I gave the utmost credit to his story of the dreadful affair in Switzerland. He may have been mistaken, of course. It may not have been Mr. Holmes who fell from the ledge at all, or the whole thing might be the result of hallucination. I confess the stories now being published seem circumstantial enough, and that Holmes may be alive. But I have not seen him. There has been an advertisement in the Times suggesting that I have, but it is not true; I have never seen Holmes. Watson, however, lately came on certain old documents dealing with a part of the career of Holmes early in life, and I propose to publish these. They may be interesting; they may, indeed, induce Holmes, if he is really alive, to manifest himself again.”