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His Last Bow

Data! Data! Data! – Hist Last Bow

Data! Data! Data! – Hist Last Bow

“‘Data! Data! Data!‘ he cried impatiently. ‘I can’t make bricks without clay.’”

– The Adventures of The Copper Beeches (COPP)

This column is composed of material (Data!) developed for a short course called Appreciating Sherlock Holmes that I teach twice a year in the Community Education Life Enrichment Program for a local community college. It is composed of “points of information” that are common to many / most / all of the 60 Canonical stories.
The information here has been researched by me or borrowed / stolen from many efforts of other Sherlockians.

Probably the only Sherlock Holmes adventure that could be considered “current events” at the time it was published.

HERE GOES . . . this month’s story His Last Bow.

This story produces a curious effect because it is not told as usual by the faithful Watson, but by some unidentified narrator who had evidently had access to official records – perhaps Mycroft Holmes. The date is just before the outbreak of the war in August 1914, and we learn how Sherlock prepared himself by two years of impersonation (as “Mr. Altamont, of Chicago,” who looked like a caricature of Uncle Sam) to come to his country’s aid in the hour of crisis.

DUMMIES SHORT SUMMARY (From Sherlock Holmes for Dummies by Steven Doyle & David Crowder)
Set in 1914 on the eve of World War I, this case of espionage and spying is, chronologically, the very last adventure that Holmes and Watson work on together. (Stories that Doyle wrote after His Last Bow were set in a time period before it.)

This was the 48th story to be published.
In England, it was published in The Strand Magazine – it was published with the subtitle “The War Service of Sherlock Holmes.”
It was published in the U.S. in Colliers Weekly on September 22, 1917.
The English illustrator was A. Gilbert and the American Illustrator was Richard Gutschmidt.

According to C. E. Lauderback, 1960 — found on SHERLOCKIAN.NET website of Chris Redmond —
at 6,126 words LAST has the 7th most words (#1 is VEIL – 4,499, #56 if NAVL – 12,701)

THE BEST OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (How do Sherlockians rate this story?)
1999 – The Baker Street Irregulars voted it 23rd of the 56 short stories
1999 – Sherlock Holmes Society of London voted it 21st of the 56 sort stories

CLASSIFYING THE CASE (From the Wandering Gipsies of Grimpen Mire of Decatur, Alabama)
This case is one of 4 classified as a theft of classified documents. The others were BRUC, NAVA, and SECO.

Doyle was often very vague about stating WHEN the tale took place and included few contemporary references to help. Whether this was done intentionally or unthinkingly, the dating of events in the Canon is a very popular pastime pursued by several of our “scholars” researching and justifying their results to no end. We will again default to William Baring-Gould’s dating of August 1, 1914 making it 60th of the 60 stories. This means that Holmes was 60 and Watson 62.

It is always interesting to see what else in happening at the same time as the stories. Thought to try a day-by-day organization. Note: World War I events totally dominate the second half of the year.
• January 7 – 1st steamboat passes through the Panama Canal
• January 14 – Henry Ford introduces the assembly line for the Model-T Fords
• April 8 – U.S. and Colombia sign treaty concerning the Panama Canal
• April 9 – 1st full color film shown “World, Flesh, and Devil” in London
• April 28 – W. H. Carrier patents air conditioner
• May 6 – British House of Lords rejects women suffrage
• May 25 – British House of Commons passes Irish Home Rule
• June 6 – 1st air flight out of sight of land, Scotland to Norway
• June 28 – Austria invades Serbia
• July 20 – Armed resistance against British Home Rule begins in Ulster
• July 23 – World War I began when Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia

• August 1 – Emperor Wilhelm II declares war on his nephew Tsar Nicolas II (WWI)
• August 2 – Great Britain mobilizes
• August 2 – Sherlock Holmes adventure “His Last Bow” takes place
• August 3 – 1st seaworthy ship through Panama Canal
• August 3 – Great Britain declares war on Germany
• August 3 – Turkey signs military pact with Germany
• August 3 – U.S. declares neutrality in WW I
• August 5 – 1st traffic light installed, Euclid Ave and E 105th St, Cleveland
• August 6 – Austria-Hungary declares war on Russia and Serbia
• August 7 – Lord Kitchner says “Your country needs you,” poster spreads over UK
• August 9 – German submarine U-15 sinks British cruiser
• August 11 – France declares war on Austria-Hungary
• August 11 – John Wray patents animation
• August 12 – Great Britain declares war on Austria-Hungary
• August 13 – Carl Wickman begins Greyhound, the 1st U.S. bus line, in Minnesota
• August 13 – France declares war on Austria-Hungary, leading to WW I
• August 16 – Zapata and Pancho Villa over run Mexico
• August 18 – President Wilson issues “Proclamation of Neutrality”
• August 19 – German fleet bombs English coast
• August 22 – 1st encounter between British and German troops (in Belgium)
• August 25 – German troops march into France pushes French army to the Sedan
• September 22 – 1 German submarine sinks 3 British ironclads, 1,459 die
• October 15 – ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) founded
• October 13 – Clayton Anti-trust Act passed (union and strike rights)
• October 19 – U.S. Post Office 1st used an automobile to collect and deliver mail
• November 16 – Federal Reserve System formally opens
• November 20 – U.S. State Department starts requiring photographs for passports
• December 21 – 1st feature-length silent film comedy, “Tillie’s Punctured Romance” released. (Marie Dressler, Mabel Normand and Charles Chaplin) “Tillie’s Punctured Romance,” 1st six-reel feature comedy debuts
• December 24 – German plane drops bombs on Dover England
• December 25 – Legendary/unofficial “Christmas Truce” takes place (Brits and Germans)

Not stated. Holmes is 60 years old and came out of retirement to become a double agent for Britain. He had been keeping bees, presumably upon the Sussex Downs which was a plan he stated earlier. Nothing on Watson either.

One of the smallest cast of characters
• VON BORK, a top level German secret agent, posing as a sportsman visiting in Britain.
• BARON VON HURLING, another top German agent.
• ALTAMONT, Von Bork’s right-hand man.
• MARTHA, Von Bork’s housekeeper.
• JACK JAMES, captured agent of Von Bork.
• HOLLIS, ibid.
• STEINER, ibid.

“QUOTABLE SHERLOCK” (all from Holmes)
• “Might I trouble you to open the window, for chloroform vapour does not help the palate.”
• “Though unmusical, German is the most expressive of all languages.”
• “The Englishman is a patient creature, but at present his temper is a little inflamed, and it would be as well not to try him to far.”
• “Stand with me here upon the terrace, for it may be the last quiet talk we shall ever have.”
• “It would brighten by declining years to see a German cruiser navigating the Solent according to the minefield plans which I have furnished.”
• “Here is the fruit of my leisured ease, the magnum opus of my latter years!”
• I have check for five hundred pounds which should be cashed early, for the drawer is quite capable of stopping it, if he can.”
• “Good old Watson! You are the one fixed point in a changing age. There’s an east wind coming all the same, such a wind as never blew on England yet. It will be cold and bitter, Watson, and a good many of us may wither before its blast. But it’s God’s own wind none the less, and a cleaner, better, stronger land will lie in the sunshine when the storm has cleared.”

No fee is mentioned. Surely the British government paid Holmes. Holmes as Altamont also got a final payment of £500 from Von Bork for the “sparking-plugs”.

Not being a story line easily adaptable to the screen, it has only been adapted twice.
• 1923 His Last Bow with Eille Norwood. The National Film and Television Archive at the BFI has viewing copies of this film. but it has not been released
• 2001 The Secret Safe in the Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century (Animated TV series)

The Master of disguise used the deception of being disguised 14 times in 11 of the 60 stories. In our story Holmes poses as an Irish American spy.

UNRECORDED CASES (That involved Holmes)
Watson would tease / torture his readers with “I know something you don’t.” Oh my, how Sherlockians love this category. I have in excess of over 150 examples in my collection.
• Holmes life was saved by Count Von und Zu Grafenstein (who was Von Bork’s uncle) when the Nihlist Klopman tried to murder him.

FAINTING IN THE CANON (courtesy of Sherlockian Karen Murdock)
Fainting is extremely common in the Canon, appearing, in some form, in 37 of the 60 tales. In 21 cases someone actually faints. In 22 cases someone almost faints. And in 5 cases someone pretends to faint. In this month’s story there was no doctor involved or mentioned.

Sherlockians love this topic and are regularly searching for these items. Holmes mentions published or projected works in 11 of the stories. In this story Holmes has finally published Practical Handbook of Bee Culture, with Some Observations upon the Segregation of the Queen.

Victorian London, in the Holmes’ time, had approximately 1 doctor for every 100 people. 31 of the 60 tales have a doctor in them. This, of course, does not count Holmes’ Boswell. This listing is by Leslie Klinger in the Winter, 2015 edition of the Baker Street Journal. In this story there was no doctor involved or mentioned.

NEWSPAPERS (Real and Fictional)
Though included in only 20 tales some of our more obsessed Sherlockians love this one but there is no mention of the press by name in this tale.

The 60 Sherlock Holmes stories used English as spoken in England from the 1880’s until the 1910’s. Some words are foreign to us today and need a “contemporary translation.”. The only example in our story is: (which is exactly what my maternal Grandfather did in WWI)
• “your four-in-hand” A four horse team driven by one person.

WEAPONS (from A Compendium of Canonical Weaponry by Dettman and Bedford)
So many things can be considered “weapons” that only 2 or 3 tales fail to have at least one. Being a “war story,” this tale is replete with them.
• Chloroform – Which Holmes (alias Altamont) used to subdue Van Bork, the German spymaster.
• Hands – Of Sherlock Holmes used on Von Bork, in grasping him around the neck in order to administer the chloroform.
• Activities – Of the German spy-ring headed by Van Bork.
• Government Papers – Stolen by Van Bork and his fellow spies.
• Naval Signals – British, which Altamont (Holmes) was supposedly bringing to Van Bork. But he was brought something infinitely more valuable – a copy of Holmes’ book on beekeeping.
• Military Weapons – Of the Germans, mentioned by Von Bork
• Military Weapons – Of the British, mentioned by Holmes.


Famous scientist Isaac Asimov was a devout Sherlockian. From Asimov’s Sherlockian Limericks (1978), published by the Mysterious Press.

And the web that Von Bork has been spinning
Leaves one item still sought,
Which, now, Altamont’s brought —
Despite Holmes, can the Germans be winning?

Frank Mentzel, aka Merridew of Abominable Memory, is has wrapped up his fall classes of Appreciating Sherlock Holmes and his already planning for the Spring 2019 semester. In the meantime, he soon will be baking Christmas cookies that he hasn’t shared with his editor…..

From Watson’s Tin Box: His Last Bow

From Watson’s Tin Box: His Last Bow

“Somewhere in the vaults of the bank of Cox and Co., at Charing Cross, there is a travel-worn and battered tin dispatch-box with my name, John H. Watson, MD, Late Indian Army, painted upon the lid.” – The Problem of Thor Bridge (THOR) Watson’s Tin Box, a BSI scion that meets in Columbia, Maryland, shares a few… Continue Reading

The 17 Steps: His Last Bow

The 17 Steps: His Last Bow

Seventeen thoughts for further ponderance of the case at hand – His Last Bow (LAST) THE RECORD HOLDER FOR TERRIBLE Watson begins this tale, published in 1917 with: “It was nine o’clock at night upon the second of August–the most terrible August in the history of the world.” And indeed it was — at that time.… Continue Reading

Altamont’s Agents of Albany’s Lapel Pin

Altamont’s Agents of Albany’s Lapel Pin

“I grudge Altamont nothing.” – His Last Bow (LAST)       On October 23, 1978, the group Altamont’s Agents was formed in Albany, New York, meeting at a pub that was named Holmes and Watson, Ltd. This group would go on to be recognized as a scion of the Baker Street Irregulars. In 1989,… Continue Reading

United Kingdom issues 2014 World War I Commemorative Coins

United Kingdom issues 2014 World War I Commemorative Coins

“It was nine o’clock at night upon the second of August – the most terrible August in the history of the world.” – His Last Bow (LAST) Published in September 1917 in Strand Magazine, LAST is unusual in the 60 stories of the Canon – the narration is in the third person, not, as usual, by Dr.… Continue Reading

Cook Islands Issues 2014 Shades of Nature – Bees Coin

Cook Islands Issues 2014 Shades of Nature – Bees Coin

“… he has definitely retired from London and betaken himself to study and bee-farming on the Sussex Downs.” – The Adventure of The Second Stain (SECO) The Cook Islands have partnered with CIT – Coin Investment Trust to issue a 2014 five dollar coin featuring the honey bee.  We know that Holmes retired to a life… Continue Reading