This year marks the anniversary of the beginning of the end of the Canon. In 1914, the last of the long stories, The Valley of Fear, began its serialization. This is also the centenary of Sherlock Holmes's final recorded adventure, "His Last Bow." The exhibitions, documentaries, and commentaries commemorating the First World War will swell over the next four years, while the number of people who remember "the most terrible August in the history of the world" diminishes daily.
There is so much leave-taking in "His Last Bow" that it is hard to read with a dry eye. Before the reader even begins, she is informed that this story is the coda to Holmes's long career, "An Epilogue of Sherlock Holmes." The second half has Holmes reconnecting with Watson after a long absence. "How have the years used you?" Holmes greets Watson, implying the pair had not even been in communication for far longer than the two years Holmes spent as Altamont. Though their conversation is cordial, one wonders how such close friends drifted apart. Watson makes it clear—"We heard of you living the life a hermit"—that his most recent news of Holmes, over two years old, was secondhand. But the third-person narration assures us at the very end that "[t]he two friends chatted in intimate converse," so Holmes must have been able to repair the rift when he asked Watson to assist him on one final adventure.
Holmes, ever the actor, takes his final curtain here, but he makes sure that Watson is—as he always is in our minds—by his side. Once again, Holmes and Watson offer us a guide on how to behave by showing that, though friends can lose contact, it is rewarding to mend such unraveling.
The Editor's Gas-Lamp, Spring 2014, Vol. 64, No. 1.