before we get totally carried away by this remarkable discovery, we must face
up to some serious problems. Unlike Marlowe, Holmes did not carry out the
deception for the remainder of his life. Indeed, he returned to London, alive
and well, a mere three years after his disappearance and openly pursued his
chosen profession just as vigorously as he had done before. Although erudite
enough, he was not really a writer, and indeed his knowledge of literature
has been described quite candidly as being nil.
Still, the parallel of Holmes and Shaw with Marlowe and
Shakespeare is far too explicit to be a coincidence. The man we seek must
have been someone who was very close to Holmes, but was more of a literary
man than a detective. Someone who during those years when Holmes was assumed
to be dead remained in London. Someone who suddenly had so much time on his
hands that he was able to direct his writing in an entirely new direction.
That someone—the real writer of Shaw—was none other than Dr. John H.
Actually, Watson’s dramatic activities had begun as early as
1885. It may be noted that the good doctor was not actively participating in
Holmes’s cases in the mid-1880’s because he was confined to his quarters by a
most singular physical affliction. It seems that a Jezail bullet which had
penetrated his shoulder during the Afghan campaign had begun the
unprecedented but nonetheless excruciating process of working its way
downwardly through his unfortunate body. As it slowly migrated through
his torso, he sought distraction in various ways, one of which was by
laboring over the script of an original play, which he later was to entitle Widowers’
He patterned the central character, Dr. Harry Trench, after
himself—the son of a second son, stoutly built and thick in the neck. Dr.
Trench’s ever-present companion and mentor was a highly convoluted
representation of Sherlock Holmes, whom Watson gave the remarkable and
appropriate name of William de Burgh Cokane. Dr. Trench’s problem was that he
could not bring himself to approve of the father of the girl he wished to
marry because that gentleman was a slum landlord. It finally turned out that
Dr. Trench, unknowingly, was himself a slum landlord and, indeed, was the
latest in a long line of slum landlords, so the play ended happily. Watson
was reasonably satisfied with the result, but having no contacts within the
theatre, he set the work aside.
He had found, however, that the writing process had taken his
mind off his physical agonies, so sometime in 1886, as the bullet was edging
its way through the soft tissue of his abdomen, he began transcribing his
account of the unraveling of the Lauriston Gardens mystery. Things went well
as long as he was recounting events he had actually seen and heard, but he
did not know how to handle those which had occurred outside of his presence.
He solicited the help of his friend A. Conan Doyle, who was not only a
medical colleague but also a published writer of fiction. The latter prepared
a third-person account of happenings in Utah as Watson believed they must
have taken place, and by sometime in 1887, the entire work was complete. The
collaborators published A Study in Scarlet under Doyle’s name, which
was already familiar to the reading public.
At long last the wandering bullet found its way into Watson’s
thigh, where the tough fibers of his leg muscles brought its progress to a
halt. The pain subsided, and he was able to return to a more active life. In
1887, he assisted Holmes in several cases, including The Five Orange Pips and
The Reigate Squires. The following year, he participated in such
adventures as The Valley of Fear, The Sign of the Four, and A
Scandal in Bohemia, and even found time to get married, move out of Baker
Street, and establish himself in a medical practice.
Although authorities have disagreed as to the dating of The
Red Circle, that brush with organized crime must have occurred in late
1890 or early 1891, for at the end of the adventure, Holmes and Watson rushed
off to Covent Garden to hear the last two acts of a Wagnerian opera. There
they encountered the eminent music critic, George Bernard Shaw, who, like
Holmes, was a great admirer of Wagner.
Holmes introduced Shaw to Watson, and
the critic and the doctor engaged in a spirited discussion of Watson’s play
at those times when they were able to make themselves heard over the din of
the music. In due course, Watson’s manuscript was placed in Shaw’s hands, and
he was so pleased with it that he bestowed upon it the greatest honor within
his power—he declared it to be his own work. Further, he used his influence
to have it performed. Watson by now was accustomed to a similar arrangement
with Doyle and so offered no objections.