Doyle’s Lost & Found Manuscripts

by Margie Deck & Nancy Holder

As our very fortunate commentator Bob Coghill notes, authors have employed the literary tradition of the “found manuscript” for a long time. Doyle used this convention in many of his tales including “The Terror of Blue John Gap.” And Dr. Watson’s delicious and mysterious abundance of notes on Holmes cases never revealed to the public reside in a tin box at Cox and Co. Bank in Charing Cross—waiting to be found, perhaps?

Doyleans can classify two of Doyle’s own works as “lost and found manuscripts.” In search of a stable writing career, 23-year-old Doyle decided to try his hand at novels. He wrote The Narrative of John Smith in 1882. It was lost in the mail, and never found. Doyle scholar and author Daniel Stashower reports that of it Doyle said, “Of course it was the best thing I ever wrote. Who ever lost a manuscript that wasn’t?” Stashower adds, “His early distress at the loss of the manuscript, he insisted, ‘would be as nothing to my horror if it were suddenly to appear again -- in print.’”

Happily for Doyle devotees, Doyle’s unfinished rewrite (sometime between 1884 and 1893) of John Smith was found among the family papers. It was later purchased and published by the British Museum. Although the book is no longer available for purchase via the Museum website, it can be found at Amazon and other sellers.

Roger Johnson of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London says of the novel, “As it stands, it's not a long book, and next to nothing happens. I doubt it would have seen print in the 1880s, but now we're familiar with the author's life and work, and we're interested to follow his development as a writer, a thinker and a person.”

Doyle’s second lost and found manuscript was also never published in his lifetime. He sent “The Haunted Grange of Goresthorpe—A True Ghost Story” off to Blackwood’s Magazine in the late 1870’s, probably when he was 18. The magazine kept hold of it, and it now resides in the National Library of Scotland. Christopher Roden, secretary of a previous Arthur Conan Doyle Society, published it in a limited edition. Owen Dudley Edwards, whose Doylean credentials include his editorship of the Oxford Sherlock Holmes series, said that it “falls perfectly into the category of promising but unformed beginner's work.”

Imagine the thrill of holding the pages of a manuscript written by Doyle himself. Thanks to the generosity of Dartmouth College, we can come in a close second with a digitized version display of each page of “The Terror.” We can linger over his careful script and take stock of the changes he made even at the eleventh hour. Manuscript facsimile editions of some of the Holmes stories are available from the Baker Street Press. SP Publishing has created a handsome “graphically restored version” of The Lost World.

But what of the output of new writers working exclusively in the digital age? The University of Pittsburgh recently asked writer and paranormal historian Lisa Morton for her papers. (She wrote the Sherlockian pastiche “The Case of the Hallowe’en Dumb Cakes” for Sherlock Holmes of Baking Street.) She has written exclusively on computers since the 1990s. At their direction, she uploaded 1500 files onto a flash drive for the forthcoming Lisa Morton Archives at the university. Will scholars still feel that sense of wonder at stumbling upon the “original” manuscript of a beloved author if it resides in clouds and databanks? Fortunately, this is not a question that Team Terror has to answer.

Copyright 2022 Margie Deck & Nancy Holder


Arthur Conan Doyle & The Tradition of the Lost & Found Manuscript

by Bob Coghill

Although I had been asked quite a while ago if I would consider writing a response to this page of manuscript, I put it off and put it off, thinking that inspiration might come to me before long. It didn’t come. But while I was waiting, I stumbled across this entry in a handwritten diary I was working on for an archival preservation class. I couldn’t believe my luck.

continued . . .

Imagination in the Infirmary

by Robert S. Katz

Doctor Arthur Conan Doyle was prone to making the occasional outlandish statement about medicine, his initial profession, not out of truthfulness but in order to be dramatic. In “The Dying Detective”, Sherlock Holmes tells Watson that he is a mediocrity of limited experience. Subsequently, he admits to making that up in order to keep Watson away from his body while he was feigning an illness. He knew that Watson was, in fact, too competent to be fooled once he got close to Holmes. Elsewhere in the Sherlockian Canon, Holmes comments that physicians who go wrong would be the first of criminals, as they possessed both nerve and knowledge. While this sounds a bit extreme, the successful criminal is often quite imaginative.

continued . . .

Māoriland Blue

by Lee Murray

The bearer of the letter, a fellow named Arnold, preferred not to sit. Instead, he hovered by the fireplace, clasping his hat in red, wind-chapped hands.

continued . . .

Victorian Mutton

by Steve Mason

At the beginning of Dr. Hardcastle’s account of his harrowing experience, he mentions, “Beyond the usual morning cough I have very little discomfort, and, what with the fresh milk and the home-grown mutton, I have every chance of putting on weight.”

continued . . .


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page 1 of the manuscript of "The Terror of Blue John Gap"

The autograph manuscript of “The Terror of Blue John Gap” reproduced above is courtesy of Dartmouth College Library, Rauner Special Collections, MS-93: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.


The Terror of Blue John Gap.

7300 wds [in blue pencil, underlined]

The following narrative was found among the papers of Dr. James

Hardcastle who died of phthiasis upon the 4th of February 1908 at 36

Upper Coventry Flats, South Kensington. Those who knew him best, while

refusing to an express an opinion upon this particular statement, are

unanimous in asserting that he was a man of a sober & scientific turn

of mind, absolutely devoid of imagination, and most unlikely to invent

any abnormal [deleted: course / inserted: series] of [deleted: circumstances / inserted: events]. The paper was contained in

an envelope which was docketted 'a short account of the circumstances

which occurred [deleted: at / inserted: near] Miss Allerton's Farm [deleted: and created general excitement]

in north west Derbyshire in the spring of last year'. The envelope was

sealed, and on the other side was written in pencil 'Dear Seaton.

It may interest and perhaps pain you to know that the incredulity

with which you met my story has prevented me from ever opening

my mouth upon the subject again. I leave this record after my

death, and perhaps strangers may be found to have more confidence

in me than my friend.' Inquiry has failed to elicit who this

Seaton may have been. I may add that the visit of the deceased to

Allertons Farm, and the general nature of the alarm there, apart

from his particular explanation, [deleted: has / inserted: have] been absolutely established.

With this foreword I append his account exactly as he left it. It is in

the form of a diary, some entries in which have been expanded while

[deleted: some / inserted: a few] have been erased.

April 17th. Already I feel the benefit of this wonderful upland air. The

Farm of the Allertons [deleted: apostrophe] lies fourteen hundred and twenty feet above sea

level so it may well be a bracing climate. Beyond the usual morning

cough I have very little discomfort, and what with the fresh milk & the

home grown mutton I have every chance of putting on weight. I think

Saunderon will be pleased.

The two Miss Athertons are charmingly quaint and

kind, two dear little hard working old maids who are ready to lavish all

the heart which might have gone out to husband and to children, upon

The full story as it was printed in The Strand is available at
The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia.