25. The Adventure of the Creeping Man (1923)

Hello and welcome to Episode 25. We’re back to Baker Street to drop in on Holmes and Watson for one of their more peculiar later cases, ‘The Adventure of the Creeping Man’ from March 1923.

You can read the story here: https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php?title=The_Adventure_of_the_Creeping_Man

Or listen to Greg Wagland’s reading here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctAFqZclNOQ

And listen to the podcast here:

A closed-caption version of the episode will appear two days after the episode date at our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSy23ujzPCKpttfaUwceFfA


Sherlock Holmes is in a laconic mood and has summoned Dr Watson peremptorily. “Come at once if convenient – if inconvenient come all the same.” He needs Watson’s help in the strange case of Professor Presbury, the eminent Camford physiologist. Events surrounding him have so worried his secretary and prospective son in law, Trevor Bennett, that he has sought Holmes’ advice.

Presbury’s faithful dog, Roy, has recently conceived a violent antipathy towards his master, who prowls at night. And then there are the mysterious packages from Mr Dorak of the Commercial Road which Bennett is forbidden to open.

Somehow it all seems to be connected to the ageing professor’s engagement to the young daughter of his colleague, Professor Morphy…

Writing and publication history

Believed to have been written in late 1922, shortly after Conan Doyle returned from a spiritualist lecture tour in America and after he had taken a five-year lease on 15 Buckingham Palace Mansions.

Conan Doyle may have started writing the Case-Book in 1921 to fund his spiritualist mission. Not unrelated may by the revived interest in Sherlock Holmes through the successful Stoll Picture series starring Eille Norwood.

The stories in the Case-Book appeared as and when Conan Doyle was inspired to write them. They appeared over the period 1921-1927.

First appeared in the Strand Magazine (UK) and Hearst’s International (USA) in March 1923 and was collected in The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes in 1927.

Magic, Gothic and the Occult

R. L. Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886).

H. G. Wells, The Island of Dr Moreau (1896).

Rudyard Kipling, The Mark of the Beast (1890).

F. Marion Crawford, The Witch of Prague (1890).

Bram Stoker, Dracula (1897).

Rudolph II (1552-1612), Holy Roman Emperor who made Prague the centre of European alchemy and the occult.

Monkey glands!

Charles-Edouard Brown-Sequard (1817-1894) conducted early hormone experiments in the second half of the nineteenth century.

Serge Voronoff (1886-1951) 

Eugen Steinach (1861-1944) 

Richard Brown, ‘Rejuvenation Therapy: Historical Background to The Creeping Man,’ Canadian Holmes (Vol 43, No. 4, Fall 2020).

The strange case of Mr Alfred Plaistow (Daily Herald, 14 May 1921).

October 1922 connections: Voronoff’s lectures (Westerham Herald, 14 October 1922); West Africa monkey farm (various, including Belfast News-Letter, 23 October 1922).

Sydney Lester’s musical comedy The Elixir (1920).

15-part movie serial The Screaming Shadow (US) (Iron Foot in the UK).

Dorothy L. Sayers, The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (1928).

William Rutherford (1839-99) and the vivisectionists

One inspiration for Professor Challenger, according to Conan Doyle. See Memories and Adventures (1924).

Rutherford’s clash with Ashdown is covered in Scotsman, 26 Jan 1887 which prints Rutherford’s apology.

Public demonstrations of vivisection by French physiologists Francois Magendie (1824) and Eugene Magnan (1874) both attracted controversy.


Max Nordau (1849-1923)

Degeneration, published in two volumes (1892-3).

Holmes and Watson – so very tired

“We can but try – the motto of the firm.”

Mercer – Holmes’s general utility man who looks up routine business (The Creeping Man).

Shinwell Johnson – Holmes’s valuable assistant in the first years of the twentieth century (The Illustrious Client).

Langdale Pike – “the receiving station, as well as the transmitter, for all the gossip of the Metropolis.” (The Three Gables).

Related stories

The Doings of Raffles Haw (1891) – https://www.doingsofdoyle.com/2019/10/1-doings-of-raffles-haw.html

‘A Physiologist’s Wife’ (1891)

‘A Sordid Affair’ (1891)

The Land of Mist (1926)

The Maracot Deep (1928)

Next time on Doings of Doyle…

We travel underwater to explore The Maracot Deep (1928) …

You can read the next story here: https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php?title=The_Maracot_Deep