By 1893, Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories about Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson, were proving hugely popular and had achieved a level of success that Conan Doyle could only have dreamed about a few years earlier. But, as you will see in this instalment of our Sherlock Holmes Video, Conan Doyle was far from satisfied with the fame that Holmes had achieved.
REQUESTS FOR AUTOGRAPHS
Each post bag brought requests for an autograph, the majority of them, it must be said, asking for the autograph of Sherlock Holmes.
As far as these latter requests were concerned Conan Doyle, by his own admission, would sometimes find himself possessed of a “pawky strain of humour” and would reply with a postcard expressing his deepest regrets that Holmes himself was indisposed.
One cannot help but wonder what the recipients thought when they noticed that the signature on these postcards was that of “Dr John Watson.”
HOLMES HAD ECLIPSED DOYLE
But, what was becoming quickly apparent, was that Holmes was beginning to eclipse his author, a situation that Conan Doyle found more and more intolerable.
Doyle wanted to be known and respected for his historical novels, which he felt were vastly superior to the Sherlock Holmes stories – which he regarded as being “a lower stratum of literary achievement.”
Unfortunately, as he himself was forced to reluctantly admit, “it was still the Sherlock Holmes stories for which the public clamoured.”
DOYLE RESOLVES TO KILL HOLMES OFF
With his second series of stories drawing to a close, he resolved on a course of action that had been brewing in his mind for some time and, as he put it, “I determined to end the life of my hero.” As he told his mother “I am weary of his name.”
Having resolved that Holmes was to die, Conan Doyle then began looking for a suitable end to his meal ticket detective. “A man like that mustn’t die of a pin prick or influenza,” he told the journalist Frederic Villiers. “His end must be violent and intensely dramatic.”
As he pondered ways that he might kill off Holmes, Doyle was ever willing to discuss his dilemma with friends and strangers alike, most of whom tried to talk him out of such a drastic course of action.
A FATEFUL TRIP TO SWITZERLAND
On a trip to Switzerland, he met with two English clerics, Silas K. Hocking and Edward F. Benson and set off to climb the Findelen glacier with them. As they climbed, the conversation turned to Sherlock Holmes. The clerics listened, dumbfounded, as Doyle told them of his plans to “make an end of him,” adding that, “If I don’t, he’ll make an end of me.” They tried to talk him out of such a rash course of action.
Hocking wondered if Doyle wasn’t being “rather rough on an old friend?” But it was evident to both of them that the author was set on Holmes’s destruction and nothing would sway him. So they pressed him about how he intended to do the deed? Conan Doyle admitted that he hadn’t yet resolved on a suitably dramatic demise for Holmes.
THE MEANS OF MURDER
By this point the trio had reached a wide crevasse where, according to Hocking, they “stood for some time on the brink looking down into the bluey-green depths.”
Looking up from the fearful abyss, Hocking turned to Doyle. “If you are determined on making an end of Holmes,” he observed, “why not bring him out to Switzerland and drop him down a crevasse. It would save on funeral expenses.”
Either intentionally, or unintentionally, Hocking had provided Conan Doyle with just the ammunition he was looking for. All Conan Doyle now had to do was pull the trigger – or, in this case, put pen to paper – and end Holmes’s life once and for all.