05MAY2018 – Quote of the Day

A Study in Scarlet is where we first meet Mr. Sherlock Holmes.  And Watson is hardly a fan at first.


A Study in Scarlet

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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.


“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

  1. 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.”




“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.”