Sherlock Holmes was, as I expected, lounging about his sitting-room in his dressing-gown, reading the agony column of The Times and smoking his before-breakfast pipe, which was composed of all the plugs and dottles left from his smokes of the day before, all carefully dried and collected on the corner of the mantelpiece.
--- "The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb"
The agony column (not to be confused with agony aunts, a related but separate phenomenon) was a place where readers of The Times could submit messages for publication. It was where you went if you needed to get a message to the spouse who abandoned you, or the child who ran away from home, or the accomplice who couldn't be contacted directly, or the person you'd met in passing and couldn't seem to forget.
If the Lady who a Gentleman handed into her carriage from Covent Garden Theatre, on the third of this month, will oblige the advertiser with a line to Z, saying if married or single, she will quiet the mind of a young Nobleman, who has tried, but in vain, to find the Lady. The Lady was in mourning, and sufficiently cloathed to distinguish her for possessing every virtue and charm that a man could desire in a female that he would make choice of for a Wife.
I can easily see why it was the first thing Sherlock Holmes read; it almost seems like Sherlock Holmes sprang
from the agony column.
FRANGIPANI -- Do not doubt me. Numbers 67, 412, 87. You will now comprehend the delay.
Well: Alice Clay collected the entire column from 1800 to 1870, and published it in a book, and the California Digital Library has it available for download or online viewing in a variety of formats: The agony column of the "Times" 1800-1870 : Clay, Alice.
MY FRIEND. -- Should you receive a letter posted possibly to-morrow, it is important that you should read it. I shall, in that case, be awaiting your answer, no, not at . . . . . , but within a very short distance. Suspend your judgment until you receive it, and then let this act speak that regard which the expression of irrepressible feelings has hitherto apparently failed to convey. I ask for nothing but confidence, faith in me. Oh, drive me not to yet more utter affliction. Why leave me to the limited resource of A's to know you are even alive, but still not to know how you are?
Surely there are a thousand stories here. I dare you to write some of them! And link me to them!