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A Study in Scarlet

Chapter II
The Science of Deduction

  We met next day as he had arranged, and inspected the rooms at
No. 22lB, Baker Street, of which he had spoken at our meeting.
They consisted of a couple of comfortable bedrooms and a single
large airy sitting-room, cheerfully furnished, and illuminated by
two broad windows. So desirable in every way were the apart-
ments, and so moderate did the terms seem when divided be-
tween us, that the bargain was concluded upon the spot, and we
at once entered into possession. That very evening I moved my
things round from the hotel, and on the following morning
Sherlock Holmes followed me with several boxes and portman-
teaus. For a day or two we were busily employed in unpacking
and laying out our property to the best advantage. That done, we
gradually began to settle down and to accommodate ourselves to
our new surroundings.
  Holmes was certainly not a difficult man to live with. He was
quiet in his ways, and his habits were regular. It was rare for him
to be up after ten at night, and he had invariably breakfasted and
gone out before I rose in the morning. Sometimes he spent his
day at the chemical laboratory, sometimes in the dissecting-
rooms, and occasionally in long walks, which appeared to take
him into the lowest portions of the city. Nothing could exceed
his energy when the working fit was upon him; but now and
again a reaction would seize him, and for days on end he would
lie upon the sofa in the sitting-room, hardly uttering a word or
moving a muscle from morning to night. On these occasions I
have noticed such a dreamy, vacant expression in his eyes, that I
might have suspected him of being addicted to the use of some
narcotic, had not the temperance and cleanliness of his whole life
forbidden such a notion.
  As the weeks went by, my interest in him and my curiosity as
to his aims in life gradually deepened and increased. His very
person and appearance were such as to strike the attention of the
most casual observer. In height he was rather over six feet, and
so excessively lean that he seemed to be considerably taller. His
eyes were sharp and piercing, save during those intervals of
torpor to which I have alluded; and his thin, hawk-like nose gave
his whole expression an air of alertness and decision. His chin,
too, had the prominence and squareness which mark the man of
determination. His hands were invariably blotted with ink and
stained with chemicals, yet he was possessed of extraordinary
delicacy of touch, as I frequently had occasion to observe when I
watched him manipulating his fragile philosophical instruments.
  The reader may set me down as a hopeless busybody, when I
confess how much this man stimulated my curiosity, and how
often I endeavoured to break through the reticence which he
showed on all that concerned himself. Before pronouncing judg-
ment, however, be it remembered how objectless was my life,
and how little there was to engage my attention. My health
forbade me from venturing out unless the weather was exception-
ally genial, and I had no friends who would call upon me and
break the monotony of my daily existence. Under these circum-
stances, I eagerly hailed the little mystery which hung around my
companion, and spent much of my time in endeavouring to
unravel it.
  He was not studying medicine. He had himself, in reply to a
question, confirmed Stamford's opinion upon that point. Neither
did he appear to have pursued any course of reading which might
fit him for a degree, in science or any other recognized portal
which would give him an entrance into the learned world. Yet
his zeal for certain studies was remarkable, and within eccentric
limits his knowledge was so extraordinarily ample and minute
that his observations have fairly astounded me. Surely no man
would work so hard or attain such precise information unless he
had some definite end in view. Desultory readers are seldom
remarkable for the exactness of their learning. No man burdens
his mind with small matters unless he has some very good reason
for doing so.
  His ignorance was as remarkable as his knowledge. Of con-
temporary literature, philosophy and politics he appeared to know
next to nothing. Upon my quoting Thomas Carlyle, he inquired
in the naivest way who he might be and what he had done. My
surprise reached a climax, however, when I found incidentally
that he was ignorant of the Copernican Theory and of the compo-
sition of the Solar System. That any civilized human being in
this nineteenth century should not be aware that the earth trav-
elled round the sun appeared to me to be such an extraordinary
fact that I could hardly realize it.
  "You appear to be astonished," he said, smiling at my ex-
pression of surprise. "Now that I do know it I shall do my best
to forget it."
  "To forget it!"
  "You see," he explained, "I consider that a man's brain
originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it
with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber
of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which
might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up
with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his
hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as
to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the
tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has
a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a
mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can
distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when
for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you
knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to
have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones."
  "But the Solar System!" I protested.
  "What the deuce is it to me?" he interrupted impatiently:
"you say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it
would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my
  I was on the point of asking him what that work might be, but
something in his manner showed me that the question would be
an unwelcome one. I pondered over our short conversation
however, and endeavoured to draw my deductions from it. He
said that he would acquire no knowledge which did not bear
upon his object. Therefore all the knowledge which he possessed
was such as would be useful to him. I enumerated in my own
mind all the various points upon which he had shown me that he
was exceptionally well informed. I even took a pencil and jotted
them down. I could not help smiling at the document when I had
completed it. It ran in this way:

           Sherlock Holmes -- his limits
     1. Knowledge of Literature. -- Nil.
     2.   "    "     Philosophy. -- Nil.
     3.   "    "     Astronomy. -- Nil.
     4.   "    "     Politics. -- Feeble.
     5.   "    "     Botany. -- Variable.
          Well up in belladonna, opium, and poisons generally.
          Knows nothing of practical gardening.
     6. Knowledge of Geology. -- Practical, but limited.
          Tells at a glance different soils from each other.
          After walks has shown me splashes upon his trou-
          sers, and told me by their colour and consistence in
          what part of London he had received them.
     7. Knowledge of Chemistry. -- Profound.
     8.    "    "    Anatomy. -- Accurate, but unsystematic
     9.    "    "    Sensational Literature. -- Immense.
          He appears to know every detail of every horror
          perpetrated in the century.
    10. Plays the violin well.
    11. Is an expert singlestick player, boxer, and swordsman.
    12. Has a good practical knowledge of British law.

  When I had got so far in my list I threw it into the fire in
despair. "If I can only find what the fellow is driving at by
reconciling all these accomplishments, and discovering a calling
which needs them all," I said to myself, "I may as well give up
the attempt at once."
  I see that I have alluded above to his powers upon the violin.
These were very remarkable, but as eccentric as all his other
accomplishments. That he could play pieces, and difficult pieces,
I knew well, because at my request he has played me some of
Mendelssohn's Lieder, and other favourites. When left to him-
self, however, he would seldom produce any music or attempt
any recognized air. Leaning back in his armchair of an evening,
he would close his eyes and scrape carelessly at the fiddle which
was thrown across his knee. Sometimes the chords were sono-
rous and melancholy. Occasionally they were fantastic and cheer-
ful. Clearly they reflected the thoughts which possessed him, but
whether the music aided those thoughts, or whether the playing
was simply the result of a whim or fancy, was more than I could
determine. I might have rebelled against these exasperating solos
had it not been that he usually terminated them by playing in
quick succession a whole series of my favourite airs as a slight
compensation for the trial upon my patience.
  During the first week or so we had no callers, and I had begun
to think that my companion was as friendless a man as I was
myself. Presently, however, I found that he had many acquaint-
ances, and those in the most different classes of society. There
was one little sallow, rat-faced, dark-eyed fellow, who was
introduced to me as Mr. Lestrade, and who came three or four
times in a single week. One morning a young girl called, fash-
ionably dressed, and stayed for half an hour or more. The same
afternoon brought a gray-headed, seedy visitor, looking like a
Jew peddler, who appeared to me to be much excited, and who
was closely followed by a slipshod elderly woman. On another
occasion an old white-haired gentleman had an interview with
my companion; and on another, a railway porter in his velveteen
uniform. When any of these nondescript individuals put in an
appearance, Sherlock Holmes used to beg for the use of the
sitting-room, and I would retire to my bedroom. He always
apologized to me for putting me to this inconvenience. "I have
to use this room as a place of business," he said, "and these
people are my clients." Again I had an opportunity of asking
him a point-blank question, and again my delicacy prevented me
from forcing another man to confide in me. I imagined at the
time that he had some strong reason for not alluding to it, but he
soon dispelled the idea by coming round to the subject of his
own accord.
  It was upon the 4th of March, as I have good reason to
remember, that I rose somewhat earlier than usual, and found
that Sherlock Holmes had not yet finished his breakfast. The
landlady had become so accustomed to my late habits that my
place had not been laid nor my coffee prepared. With the unrea-
sonable petulance of mankind I rang the bell and gave a curt
intimation that I was ready. Then I picked up a magazine from
the table and attempted to while away the time with it, while my
companion munched silently at his toast. One of the articles had
a pencil mark at the heading, and I naturally began to run my eye
through it.
  Its somewhat ambitious title was "The Book of Life," and it
attempted to show how much an observant man might learn by
an accurate and systematic examination of all that came in his
way. It struck me as being a remarkable mixture of shrewdness
and of absurdity. The reasoning was close and intense, but the
deductions appeared to me to be far fetched and exaggerated.
The writer claimed by a momentary expression, a twitch of a
muscle or a glance of an eye, to fathom a man's inmost thoughts.
Deceit, according to him, was an impossibility in the case of one
trained to observation and analysis. His conclusions were as
infallible as so many propositions of Euclid. So startling would
his results appear to the uninitiated that until they learned the
processes by which he had arrived at them they might well
consider him as a necromancer.
  "From a drop of water," said the writer, "a logician could
infer the possibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara without having
seen or heard of one or the other. So all life is a great chain, the
nature of which is known whenever we are shown a single link
of it. Like all other arts, the Science of Deduction and Analysis
is one which can only be acquired by long and patient study, nor
is life long enough to allow any mortal to attain the highest
possible perfection in it. Before turning to those moral and
mental aspects of the matter which present the greatest difficul-
ties, let the inquirer begin by mastering more elementary prob-
lems. Let him, on meeting a fellow-mortal, learn at a glance to
distinguish the history of the man, and the trade or profession to
which he belongs. Puerile as such an exercise may seem, it
sharpens the faculties of observation, and teaches one where to
look and what to look for. By a man's finger-nails, by his
coat-sleeve, by his boots, by his trouser-knees, by the callosities
of his forefinger and thumb, by his expression, by his shirt-
cuffs -- by each of these things a man's calling is plainly re-
vealed. That all united should fail to enlighten the competent
inquirer in any case is almost inconceivable."
  "What ineffable twaddle!" I cried, slapping the magazine
down on the table; "I never read such rubbish in my life."
  "What is it?" asked Sherlock Holmes.
  "Why, this article," I said, pointing at it with my eggspoon as
I sat down to my breakfast. "I see that you have read it since
you have marked it. I don't deny that it is smartly written. It
irritates me, though. It is evidently the theory of some armchair
lounger who evolves all these neat little paradoxes in the seclu-
sion of his own study. It is not practical. I should like to see him
clapped down in a third-class carriage on the Underground, and
asked to give the trades of all his fellow-travellers. I would lay a
thousand to one against him."
  "You would lose your money," Holmes remarked calmly.
"As for the article, I wrote it myself."
  "Yes; I have a turn both for observation and for deduction.
The theories which I have expressed there, and which appear to
you to be so chimerical, are really extremely practical -- so prac-
tical that I depend upon them for my bread and cheese."
  "And how?" I asked involuntarily.
  "Well, I have a trade of my own. I suppose I am the only one
in the world. I'm a consulting detective, if you can understand
what that is. Here in London we have lots of government detec-
tives and lots of private ones. When these fellows are at fault,
they come to me, and I manage to put them on the right scent.
They lay all the evidence before me, and I am generally able, by
the help of my knowledge of the history of crime, to set them
straight. There is a strong family resemblance about misdeeds,
and if you have all the details of a thousand at your finger ends,
it is odd if you can't unravel the thousand and first. Lestrade is a
well-known detective. He got himself into a fog recently over a
forgery case, and that was what brought him here."
  "And these other people?"
  "They are mostly sent on by private inquiry agencies. They
are all people who are in trouble about something and want a
little enlightening. I listen to their story, they listen to my
comments, and then I pocket my fee."
  "But do you mean to say," I said, "that without leaving your
room you can unravel some knot which other men can make
nothing of, although they have seen every detail for themselves?"
  "Quite so. l have a kind of intuition that way. Now and again
a case turns up which is a little more complex. Then I have to
bustle about and see things with my own eyes. You see I have a
lot of special knowledge which I apply to the problem, and
which facilitates matters wonderfully. Those rules of deduction
laid down in that article which aroused your scorn are invaluable
to me in practical work. Observation with me is second nature.
You appeared to be surprised when I told you, on our first
meeting, that you had come from Afghanistan."
  "You were told, no doubt."
  "Nothing of the sort. I knew you came from Afghanistan.
From long habit the train of thoughts ran so swiftly through my
mind that I arrived at the conclusion without being conscious of
intermediate steps. There were such steps, however. The train of
reasoning ran, 'Here is a gentleman of a medical type, but with
the air of a military man. Clearly an army doctor, then. He has
just come from the tropics, for his face is dark, and that is not
the natural tint of his skin, for his wrists are fair. He has
undergone hardship and sickness, as his haggard face says clearly.
His left arm has been injured. He holds it in a stiff and unnatural
manner. Where in the tropics could an English army doctor have
seen much hardship and got his arm wounded? Clearly in Af-
ghanistan.' The whole train of thought did not occupy a second.
I then remarked that you came from Afghanistan, and you were
  "It is simple enough as you explain it," I said, smiling. "You
remind me of Edgar Allan Poe's Dupin. I had no idea that such
individuals did exist outside of stories."
  Sherlock Holmes rose and lit his pipe. "No doubt you think
that you are complimenting me in comparing me to Dupin," he
observed. "Now, in my opinion, Dupin was a very inferior
fellow. That trick of his of breaking in on his friends' thoughts
with an apropos remark after a quarter of an hour's silence is
really very showy and superficial. He had some analytical ge-
nius, no doubt; but he was by no means such a phenomenon as
Poe appeared to imagine."
  "Have you read Gaboriau's works?" I asked. "Does Lecoq
come up to your idea of a detective?"
  Sherlock Holmes sniffed sardonically. "Lecoq was a misera-
ble bungler," he said, in an angry voice; "he had only one thing
to recommend him, and that was his energy. That book made me
positively ill. The question was how to identify an unknown
prisoner. I could have done it in twenty-four hours. Lecoq took
six months or so. It might be made a textbook for detectives to
teach them what to avoid."
  I felt rather indignant at having two characters whom I had
admired treated in this cavalier style. I walked over to the
window and stood looking out into the busy street. "This fellow
may be very clever," I said to myself, "but he is certainly very
  "There are no crimes and no criminals in these days," he
said, querulously. "What is the use of having brains in our
profession? I know well that I have it in me to make my name
famous. No man lives or has ever lived who has brought the
same amount of study and of natural talent to the detection of
crime which I have done. And what is the result? There is no
crime to detect, or, at most, some bungling villainy with a
motive so transparent that even a Scotland Yard official can see
through it."
  I was still annoyed at his bumptious style of conversation. I
thought it best to change the topic.
  "I wonder what that fellow is looking for?" I asked, pointing
to a stalwart, plainly dressed individual who was walking slowly
down the other side of the street, looking anxiously at the
numbers. He had a large blue envelope in his hand, and was
evidently the bearer of a message.
  "You mean the retired sergeant of Marines," said Sherlock
  "Brag and bounce!" thought I to myself. "He knows that I
cannot verify his guess."
  The thought had hardly passed through my mind when the
man whom we were watching caught sight of the number on our
door, and ran rapidly across the roadway. We heard a loud
knock, a deep voice below, and heavy steps ascending the stair.
  "For Mr. Sherlock Holmes," he said, stepping into the room
and handing my friend the letter.
  Here was an opportunity of taking the conceit out of him. He
little thought of this when he made that random shot. "May I
ask, my lad," I said, in the blandest voice, "what your trade
may be?"
  "Commissionaire, sir," he said, gruffly. "Uniform away for
  "And you were?" I asked, with a slightly malicious glance at
my companion.
  "A sergeant, sir, Royal Marine Light Infantry, sir. No an-
swer? Right, sir."
  He clicked his heels together, raised his hand in salute, and
was gone.

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