The Best of Sherlock Holmes
Ellery Queen, the famous mystery author and noted authority on detective fiction, claimed that "The Unique Hamlet" was one of the best Sherlock Holmes pastiches ever written. Since then many other authors have produced Sherlock Holmes stories, but this tale, with it's mix of Sherlockian and book-collecting satire, remains an all-time favorite.
The first edition, published in 1920, is almost certainly the most valuable Holmes story not written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. See this census of the first edition of The Unique Hamlet for bibliographical details and a list of existing copies of that rarity.
This website includes the full text of the original story, so sit back and enjoy reading the classic Sherlock Holmes story below.
"Holmes," said I, one morning as I stood in our bay window, looking idly into the street, "surely here comes a madman. Someone has incautiously left the door open and the poor fellow has slipped out. What a pity!"
It was a glorious morning in the spring, with a fresh breeze and inviting sunlight, but as it was rather early few persons were astir. Birds twittered under the neighboring eaves, and from the far end of the thoroughfare came faintly the droning cry of an umbrella repair man; a lean cat slunk across the cobbles and disappeared into a courtway; but for the most part the street was deserted save for the eccentric individual who had called forth my exclamation.
My friend rose lazily from the wicker rocker, in which he had been lounging, and came to my side, standing with long legs spread and hands in the pockets of his dressing gown. He smiled as he saw the singular personage coming along. A personage indeed he seemed to be, despite his odd actions, for he was tall and portly, with elderly whiskers of the brand known as mutton-chop, and he seemed eminently respectable. He was loping curiously, like a tired hound, lifting his knees high as he ran, and a heavy double watch chain of gold bounced against and rebounded from the plump line of his figured waistcoat. With one hand he clutched despairingly at his silk, two-gallon hat, while with the other he essayed weird gestures in the air in an emotion bordering upon distraction. We could almost see the spasmodic workings of his countenance.
"What under heaven can ail him?" I cried. "See how he glances at the houses as he passes."
"He is looking at the numbers," responded Sherlock Holmes, with dancing eyes, "and I fancy it is ours that will bring him the greatest happiness. His profession, of course, is obvious."
"A banker, I imagine, or at least a person of affluence," I hazarded, wondering what curious bit of minutiae had betrayed the man's business to my remarkable companion, in a single glance.
"Affluent, yes," said Holmes, with a mischievous grin, "but not exactly a banker, Watson. Notice the sagging pockets, despite the excellence of his clothing, and the rather exaggerated madness of his eye. He is a collector, or I am very much mistaken."
"My dear fellow!" I exclaimed. "At his age and in his station! And why should he be seeking us? When we settled that last bill—"
"Of books," said my friend, severely. "He is a professional book collector. His line is Caxtons, Elzevirs, Gutenberg Bibles, folios; not the sordid reminders of unpaid grocery accounts and tobacconists' debits. See, he is turning in here, as I expected, and in a moment he will stand upon our hearthrug and tell us the harrowing tale of an unique volume and its extraordinary disappearance."
His eyes gleamed and he rubbed his hands together in profound satisfaction. I could not but hope that Holmes's conjecture was correct, for he had had little to occupy his mind for some weeks, and I lived in constant fear that he would seek that stimulation his active brain required in the long-tabooed cocaine bottle.
As Holmes finished speaking the man's ring at the doorbell echoed through the apartment; hurried feet sounded upon the stairs, while the wailing voice of Mrs. Hudson, raised in agonized protest, could only have been occasioned by frustration of her coveted privilege of bearing his card to us. Then the door burst violently inward and the object of our analysis staggered to the center of the room and, without announcing his intention by word or sign, pitched head-foremost onto our center rug. There he lay, a magnificent ruin, with his head on the fringed border and his feet in the coal scuttle; and sealed within his lifeless lips the amazing story he had come to tell—for that it was amazing we could not doubt, in the light of our client's extraordinary behavior.
Holmes quickly ran for the brandy bottle, while I knelt beside the stricken mountain of flesh and loosened the wilted neckband. He was not dead, and, when we had forced the nozzle of the flask between his teeth, he sat up in groggy fashion, passing a dazed hand across his eyes. Then he scrambled to his feet with an embarrassed apology for his weakness, and fell into the chair which Holmes held invitingly toward him.
"That is right, Mr. Harrington Edwards," said my companion, soothingly. "Be quite calm, my dear Sir, and when you have recovered your composure you will find us ready to listen to your story."
"You know me then?" cried our sudden visitor, with pride in his voice and surprised eyebrows lifted.
"I had never heard of you until this moment, but if you wish to conceal your identity it would be well for you to leave your bookplates at home." As Holmes spoke he handed the other a little package of folded paper slips, which he had picked from the floor. "They fell from your hat when you had the misfortune to tumble," he added, with a whimsical smile.
"Yes, yes," cried the collector, a deep blush spreading over his features. "I remember now; my hat was a little large and I folded a number of them and placed them beneath the sweatband. I had forgotten."
"Rather shabby usage for a handsome etched plate," smiled my companion, "but that is your affair. And now, Sir, if you are quite at ease, let us hear what it is that has brought you, a collector of books, from Poke Stogis Manor—the name is on the plate—to the office of Mr. Sherlock Holmes, consulting expert in crime. Surely nothing but the theft of Mahomet's own copy of the Koran can have affected you so amazingly."
Mr. Harrington Edwards smiled feebly at the jest, then sighed. "Alas," he murmured, "if that were all it were! But I shall begin at the beginning.