The Adventure of the Two Collaborators

by James M. Barrie

James M. Barrie
James M. Barrie
Arthur Conan Doyle
Arthur Conan Doyle

Often the story behind the creation of a work of fiction is just as fascinating as the fiction itself. Such is the case with "The Adventure of the Two Collaborators." By itself, the story is one of the best parodies of Sherlock Holmes ever written. Once the story behind the story is known, however, it also becomes a delightful allegory that documents the only collaboration between Arthur Conan Doyle and James Barrie (NOTE: Those who wish to be surprised by the allegorical elements of this story may wish to skip the rest of this introduction, read the story and then return here).

By 1890, James Barrie had established himself as a writer of prose and had set his sights on becoming a playwright (Peter Pan wasn't to appear until 1909). His early efforts were only semi-successful, but in 1892 his play, Walker, London, became a hit and allowed him to approach Richard D'oyly Carte of the D'oyly Carte Opera—the same organization that was famous for its productions of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas at the Savoy Theatre. Barrie presented D'oyle Carte with the idea for an opera (operetta) to be called Jane Annie or The Good Conduct Prize. D'oyly Carte liked the idea and even gave the work to Arthur Sullivan (the Sullivan of Gilbert and Sullivan) in the hopes that Sullivan would write the score. After reading though the material, Sullivan passed on the project and recommended Ernest Ford, one of his students, to write the music. With all things in place, Barrie set to work on the libretto, only to suffer a nervous breakdown. He turned to his friend Arthur Conan Doyle for help.

At the point he was approached by Barrie, Doyle was going through a number of changes. He had recently given up his medical career in favor of full-time writing. His son, Kingsley, had just been born. Most importantly, he had also decided to bring about the demise of Sherlock Holmes, in order to give himself time "for more serious literary work." Whether writing for the theater represented a more serious style of writing, or whether he was simply trying to help out a friend is not really clear, but Doyle visited with Barrie for a number of days. After discussing many issues, including Doyle's plans for Holmes, the two friends agreed to work together on bringing Jane Annie to the stage.

Great works can often come out of collaboration, but such was not the case with Jane Annie. Doyle attempted to work from Barrie's notes, but couldn't quite find the correct path the story should take. Later, when Barrie was recovered, he and Doyle found themselves at odds over the work causing the storyline and libretto to be in a constant state of flux nearly up to opening night. Most all of the principals involved in the production were worried about the final product. The public finally put their stamp on the work when, after the opening performance, they did not invite the authors onstage for a curtain call. Numerous fixes and changes were made, but Jane Annie was a rather huge flop and only ran from March to April of 1893 for a total of 50 performances.

Fortunately, both authors were able to recover from their team-up with their egos, and friendship, intact. Sometime after March of 1893, Barrie presented Doyle with a copy of his short story collection A Window in Thrums. On the flyleafs of the book, he had written "The Adventure of the Two Collaborators." The story, which remained unprinted until Doyle's autobiography Memories and Adventures was published in 1924, is, as mentioned above, an excellent parody of Holmes and is also an allegorical accounting of their joint foray into the theater. It also hints at the demise of Holmes, a secret that was not revealed to the world at large until "The Final Problem" was published in the December, 1893 issue of The Strand.

Bob Gay
March, 2015
Introduction © 2015 by Bob Gay

IN bringing to a close the adventures of my friend Sherlock Holmes I am perforce reminded that he never, save on the occasion which, as you will now hear, brought his singular career to an end, consented to act in any mystery which was concerned with persons who made a livelihood by their pen.

"I am not particular about the people I mix among for business purposes," he would say, "but at literary characters I draw the line."

We were in our rooms in Baker Street one evening. I was (I remember) by the centre table writing out "The Adventure of the Man without a Cork Leg" (which had so puzzled the Royal Society and all the other scientific bodies of Europe), and Holmes was amusing himself with a little revolver practice. It was his custom of a summer evening to fire round my head, just shaving my face, until he had made a photograph of me on the opposite wall, and it is a slight proof of his skill that many of these portraits in pistol shots are considered admirable likenesses.

I happened to look out of the window, and, perceiving two gentlemen advancing rapidly along Baker Street, asked him who they were. He immediately lit his pipe, and, twisting himself on a chair into the figure 8, replied:

"They are two collaborators in comic opera, and their play has not been a triumph."

I sprang from my chair to the ceiling in amazement, and he then explained:

"My dear Watson, they are obviously men who follow some low calling. That much even you should be able to read in their faces. Those little pieces of blue paper which they fling angrily from them are Durrant's Press Notices. Of these they have obviously hundreds about their person (see how their pockets bulge). They would not dance on them if they were pleasant reading."

I again sprang to the ceiling (which is much dented), and shouted: "Amazing! but they may be mere authors."

"No," said Holmes, "for mere authors only get one press notice a week. Only criminals, dramatists and actors get them by the hundred."

"Then they may be actors."

"No, actors would come in a carriage."

"Can you tell me anything else about them?"

"A great deal. From the mud on the boots of the tall one I perceive that he comes from South Norwood. The other is as obviously a Scotch author."

"How can you tell that?"

"He is carrying in his pocket a book called (I clearly see) Auld Licht Something. Would any one but the author be likely to carry about a book with such a title?"

I had to confess that this was improbable.

It was now evident that the two men (if such they can be called) were seeking our lodgings. I have said (often) that my friend Holmes seldom gave way to emotion of any kind, but he now turned livid with passion. Presently this gave place to a strange look of triumph.

"Watson," he said, "that big fellow has for years taken the credit for my most remarkable doings, but at last I have him—at last!"

Up I went to the ceiling, and when I returned the strangers were in the room.

"I perceive, gentlemen," said Mr Sherlock Holmes, "that you are at present afflicted by an extraordinary novelty."

The handsomer of our visitors asked in amazement how he knew this, but the big one only scowled.

"You forget that you wear a ring on your fourth finger," replied Mr Holmes calmly.

I was about to jump to the ceiling when the big brute interposed.

"That Tommy-rot is all very well for the public, Holmes," said he, "but you can drop it before me. And, Watson, if you go up to the ceiling again I shall make you stay there."

Here I observed a curious phenomenon. My friend Sherlock Holmes shrank. He became small before my eyes. I looked longingly at the ceiling, but dared not.

"Let us cut the first four pages," said the big man, "and proceed to business. I want to know why——"

"Allow me," said Mr Holmes, with some of his old courage. "You want to know why the public does not go to your opera."

"Exactly," said the other ironically, "as you perceive by my shirt stud." He added more gravely, "And as you can only find out in one way I must insist on your witnessing an entire performance of the piece."

It was an anxious moment for me. I shuddered, for I knew that if Holmes went I should have to go with him. But my friend had a heart of gold.

"Never," he cried fiercely, "I will do anything for you save that."

"Your continued existence depends on it," said the big man menacingly.

"I would rather melt into air," replied Holmes, proudly taking another chair. "But I can tell you why the public don't go to your piece without sitting the thing out myself."


"Because," replied Holmes calmly, "they prefer to stay away."

A dead silence followed that extraordinary remark. For a moment the two intruders gazed with awe upon the man who had unravelled their mystery so wonderfully. Then drawing their knives——

Holmes grew less and less, until nothing was left save a ring of smoke which slowly circled to the ceiling.

The last words of great men are often noteworthy. These were the last words of Sherlock Holmes: "Fool, fool! I have kept you in luxury for years. By my help you have ridden extensively in cabs, where no author was ever seen before. Henceforth you will ride in buses!"

The brute sunk into a chair aghast.

The other author did not turn a hair.

To A. Conan Doyle,
from his friend
J. M. Barrie