THE SCIENCE OF DEDUCTION

WE met next day as he had arranged, and inspected the rooms at No. 221B,
Baker Street, of which he had spoken at our meeting. They
consisted of a couple of comfortable bed-rooms and a single large
airy sitting-room, cheerfully furnished, and illuminated by two broad
windows. So desirable in every way were the apartments, and so moderate
did the terms seem when divided between 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
portmanteaus. 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 judgment, 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
exceptionally genial, and I had no friends who would call upon me and
break the monotony of my daily existence. Under these circumstances, 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 contemporary
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 composition of the Solar System. That any civilized human
being in this nineteenth century should not be aware that the earth
travelled round the sun appeared to be to me such an extraordinary fact
that I could hardly realize it.
“You appear to be astonished,” he said, smiling at my expression 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 work.”
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. Geology.–Practical, but limited.
Tells at a glance different soils
from each other. After walks has
shown me splashes upon his trousers,
and told me by their colour and
consistence in what part of London
he had received them.
7. 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 himself, however, he would seldom produce any
music or attempt any recognized air. Leaning back in his arm-chair of
an evening, he would close his eyes and scrape carelessly at the fiddle
which was thrown across his knee. Sometimes the chords were sonorous and
melancholy. Occasionally they were fantastic and cheerful. 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 acquaintances, 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,
fashionably dressed, and stayed for half an hour or more. The same
afternoon brought a grey-headed, seedy visitor, looking like a Jew
pedlar, who appeared to me to be much excited, and who was closely
followed by a slip-shod 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 bed-room.
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 unreasonable 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.


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“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
difficulties, let the enquirer begin by mastering more elementary
problems. 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 boot, 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 revealed. That all united should fail to enlighten the
competent enquirer 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 egg spoon 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 arm-chair lounger who evolves all these
neat little paradoxes in the seclusion 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,” Sherlock Holmes remarked calmly. “As for
the article I wrote it myself.”
“You!”
“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 practical 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 detectives 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. I 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 Afghanistan.’ The
whole train of thought did not occupy a second. I then remarked that you
came from Afghanistan, and you were astonished.”
“It is simple enough as you explain it,” I said, smiling. “You remind
me of Edgar Allen 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 genius, 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 miserable 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 text-book 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 conceited.”
“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 Holmes.
“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 repairs.”
“And you were?” I asked, with a slightly malicious glance at my
companion.
“A sergeant, sir, Royal Marine Light Infantry, sir. No answer? Right,
sir.”
He clicked his heels together, raised his hand in a salute, and was
gone.