I’ve often expressed on this blog my special fondness for the Sherlock Holmes short story called “His Last Bow,” relating how Holmes became a spy on on the eve of World War I. It’s only natural, then, that during the Baker Street Irregulars & Friends Weekend in New York earlier this month I snapped up a chance to buy a copy of Trenches: The War Service of Sherlock Holmes.
This latest in the wonderful Baker Street Irregulars Manuscript Service, edited by Robert Katz and Andrew Solberg like four of the previous volumes, makes available a facsimile of the existing pages of the hand-written manuscript of the story, which are in the hands of a private collector who wishes to remain anonymous.
As a writer and as a reader, it’s very special to me to see my favorite passage in the entire Canon in Arthur Conan Doyle’s own handwriting, the closing paragraph of the story. It begins: “Good old Watson! You are the one fixed point in a changing age.” I memorized that paragraph in 1964 or 1965 and have never forgotten them.
The handwriting is neat, readable, and contains only one correction. This may be a revised version of that MS page, not his first attempt, but we know that ACD often wrote stories straight off with very few changes. Either way, it’s very special for me to see that beloved paragraph in the author’s own hand.
But this book is more than the facsimile (and the annotated transcription). Like all the volumes in the Manuscript Series, it is packed with fascinating essays – in this case, about Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle, and World War I. There is even an essay about the war service of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, still one of the most beloved Holmes-Watson screen duos.
I particularly enjoyed reading Catherine Cooke on ACD as a prophet of the First World War, Glen Miranker on Holmes parodies in trench magazines during that war, Burt Wolder on “Altamont” and Irish secret socities, Maria Fleischhack on Germans and Germany in the Canon, and Clifford S. Goldfarb on ACD’s war service as a propagandist.
The book is, of course, available from the Baker Street Irregulars website.