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Chapter 2 The Science of Deduction

  • We met next day as he had arranged, and inspected the rooms at No. 221B, Bake_treet, of which he had spoken at our meeting. They consisted of a couple o_omfortable bed-rooms and a single large airy sitting-room, cheerfull_urnished, and illuminated by two broad windows. So desirable in every wa_ere the apartments, and so moderate did the terms seem when divided betwee_s, that the bargain was concluded upon the spot, and we at once entered int_ossession. That very evening I moved my things round from the hotel, and o_he following morning Sherlock Holmes followed me with several boxes an_ortmanteaus. For a day or two we were busily employed in unpacking and layin_ut our property to the best advantage. That done, we gradually began t_ettle down and to accommodate ourselves to our new surroundings.
  • Holmes was certainly not a difficult man to live with. He was quiet in hi_ays, and his habits were regular. It was rare for him to be up after ten a_ight, and he had invariably breakfasted and gone out before I rose in th_orning. Sometimes he spent his day at the chemical laboratory, sometimes i_he dissecting-rooms, and occasionally in long walks, which appeared to tak_im into the lowest portions of the City. Nothing could exceed his energy whe_he 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, hardl_ttering a word or moving a muscle from morning to night. On these occasions _ave noticed such a dreamy, vacant expression in his eyes, that I might hav_uspected him of being addicted to the use of some narcotic, had not th_emperance 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 i_ife, gradually deepened and increased. His very person and appearance wer_uch as to strike the attention of the most casual observer. In height he wa_ather over six feet, and so excessively lean that he seemed to b_onsiderably taller. His eyes were sharp and piercing, save during thos_ntervals of torpor to which I have alluded; and his thin, hawk-like nose gav_is whole expression an air of alertness and decision. His chin, too, had th_rominence and squareness which mark the man of determination. His hands wer_nvariably blotted with ink and stained with chemicals, yet he was possesse_f extraordinary delicacy of touch, as I frequently had occasion to observ_hen I watched him manipulating his fragile philosophical instruments.
  • The reader may set me down as a hopeless busybody, when I confess how muc_his man stimulated my curiosity, and how often I endeavoured to break throug_he reticence which he showed on all that concerned himself. Befor_ronouncing judgment, however, be it remembered, how objectless was my life, and how little there was to engage my attention. My health forbade me fro_enturing out unless the weather was exceptionally genial, and I had n_riends who would call upon me and break the monotony of my daily existence.
  • Under these circumstances, I eagerly hailed the little mystery which hun_round 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 hav_ursued any course of reading which might fit him for a degree in science o_ny other recognized portal which would give him an entrance into the learne_orld. Yet his zeal for certain studies was remarkable, and within eccentri_imits his knowledge was so extraordinarily ample and minute that hi_bservations have fairly astounded me. Surely no man would work so hard o_ttain 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 reaso_or 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 quotin_homas Carlyle, he inquired in the naivest way who he might be and what he ha_one. My surprise reached a climax, however, when I found incidentally that h_as ignorant of the Copernican Theory and of the composition of the Sola_ystem. That any civilized human being in this nineteenth century should no_e aware that the earth travelled round the sun appeared to be to me such a_xtraordinary 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 _ittle empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as yo_hoose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, s_hat the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at bes_s jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in layin_is hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to wha_e takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which ma_elp him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all i_he most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room ha_lastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a tim_hen for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you kne_efore. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless fact_lbowing out the useful ones."
  • "But the Solar System!" I protested.
  • "What the deuce is it to me?" he interrupted impatiently; "you say that we g_ound the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth o_ifference to me or to my work."
  • I was on the point of asking him what that work might be, but something in hi_anner showed me that the question would be an unwelcome one. I pondered ove_ur short conversation, however, and endeavoured to draw my deductions fro_t. He said that he would acquire no knowledge which did not bear upon hi_bject. Therefore all the knowledge which he possessed was such as would b_seful to him. I enumerated in my own mind all the various points upon whic_e had shown me that he was exceptionally well-informed. I even took a penci_nd jotted them down. I could not help smiling at the document when I ha_ompleted 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 fro_ach other. After walks has shown me splashes upon his trousers, and told m_y 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 o_very 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 _an only find what the fellow is driving at by reconciling all thes_ccomplishments, and discovering a calling which needs them all," I said t_yself, "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 ver_emarkable, but as eccentric as all his other accomplishments. That he coul_lay pieces, and difficult pieces, I knew well, because at my request he ha_layed me some of Mendelssohn's Lieder, and other favourites. When left t_imself, however, he would seldom produce any music or attempt any recognize_ir. Leaning back in his arm-chair of an evening, he would close his eyes an_crape carelessly at the fiddle which was thrown across his knee. Sometime_he chords were sonorous and melancholy. Occasionally they were fantastic an_heerful. Clearly they reflected the thoughts which possessed him, but whethe_he music aided those thoughts, or whether the playing was simply the resul_f a whim or fancy was more than I could determine. I might have rebelle_gainst these exasperating solos had it not been that he usually terminate_hem by playing in quick succession a whole series of my favourite airs as _light compensation for the trial upon my patience.
  • During the first week or so we had no callers, and I had begun to think tha_y companion was as friendless a man as I was myself. Presently, however, _ound that he had many acquaintances, and those in the most different classe_f society. There was one little sallow rat-faced, dark-eyed fellow who wa_ntroduced to me as Mr. Lestrade, and who came three or four times in a singl_eek. One morning a young girl called, fashionably dressed, and stayed fo_alf 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 wa_losely followed by a slip-shod elderly woman. On another occasion an ol_hite-haired gentleman had an interview with my companion; and on another _ailway porter in his velveteen uniform. When any of these nondescrip_ndividuals put in an appearance, Sherlock Holmes used to beg for the use o_he sitting-room, and I would retire to my bed-room. He always apologized t_e for putting me to this inconvenience. "I have to use this room as a plac_f business," he said, "and these people are my clients." Again I had a_pportunity of asking him a point blank question, and again my delicac_revented me from forcing another man to confide in me. I imagined at the tim_hat he had some strong reason for not alluding to it, but he soon dispelle_he 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 ros_omewhat earlier than usual, and found that Sherlock Holmes had not ye_inished his breakfast. The landlady had become so accustomed to my lat_abits that my place had not been laid nor my coffee prepared. With th_nreasonable petulance of mankind I rang the bell and gave a curt intimatio_hat I was ready. Then I picked up a magazine from the table and attempted t_hile 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 t_un my eye through it.
  • Its somewhat ambitious title was "The Book of Life," and it attempted to sho_ow much an observant man might learn by an accurate and systemati_xamination of all that came in his way. It struck me as being a remarkabl_ixture of shrewdness and of absurdity. The reasoning was close and intense, but the deductions appeared to me to be far-fetched and exaggerated. Th_riter claimed by a momentary expression, a twitch of a muscle or a glance o_n eye, to fathom a man's inmost thoughts. Deceit, according to him, was a_mpossibility in the case of one trained to observation and analysis. Hi_onclusions were as infallible as so many propositions of Euclid. So startlin_ould his results appear to the uninitiated that until they learned th_rocesses by which he had arrived at them they might well consider him as _ecromancer.
  • "From a drop of water," said the writer, "a logician could infer th_ossibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara without having seen or heard of one o_he other. So all life is a great chain, the nature of which is known wheneve_e are shown a single link of it. Like all other arts, the Science o_eduction and Analysis is one which can only be acquired by long and patien_tudy nor is life long enough to allow any mortal to attain the highes_ossible perfection in it. Before turning to those moral and mental aspects o_he matter which present the greatest difficulties, let the enquirer begin b_astering more elementary problems. Let him, on meeting a fellow-mortal, lear_t a glance to distinguish the history of the man, and the trade or professio_o which he belongs. Puerile as such an exercise may seem, it sharpens th_aculties 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 trouse_nees, by the callosities of his forefinger and thumb, by his expression, b_is 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 i_lmost inconceivable."
  • "What ineffable twaddle!" I cried, slapping the magazine down on the table, "_ever 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 t_y breakfast. "I see that you have read it since you have marked it. I don'_eny that it is smartly written. It irritates me though. It is evidently th_heory of some arm-chair lounger who evolves all these neat little paradoxe_n the seclusion of his own study. It is not practical. I should like to se_im clapped down in a third class carriage on the Underground, and asked t_ive the trades of all his fellow-travellers. I would lay a thousand to on_gainst him."
  • "You would lose your money," Sherlock Holmes remarked calmly. "As for th_rticle I wrote it myself."
  • "You!"
  • "Yes, I have a turn both for observation and for deduction. The theories whic_ have expressed there, and which appear to you to be so chimerical are reall_xtremely practical — so practical that I depend upon them for my bread an_heese."
  • "And how?" I asked involuntarily.
  • "Well, I have a trade of my own. I suppose I am the only one in the world. I'_ consulting detective, if you can understand what that is. Here in London w_ave lots of Government detectives and lots of private ones. When thes_ellows are at fault they come to me, and I manage to put them on the righ_cent. They lay all the evidence before me, and I am generally able, by th_elp of my knowledge of the history of crime, to set them straight. There is _trong family resemblance about misdeeds, and if you have all the details of _housand at your finger ends, it is odd if you can't unravel the thousand an_irst. Lestrade is a well-known detective. He got himself into a fog recentl_ver 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 wh_re in trouble about something, and want a little enlightening. I listen t_heir 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 ca_nravel some knot which other men can make nothing of, although they have see_very detail for themselves?"
  • "Quite so. I have a kind of intuition that way. Now and again a case turns u_hich is a little more complex. Then I have to bustle about and see thing_ith my own eyes. You see I have a lot of special knowledge which I apply t_he problem, and which facilitates matters wonderfully. Those rules o_eduction laid down in that article which aroused your scorn, are invaluabl_o me in practical work. Observation with me is second nature. You appeared t_e surprised when I told you, on our first meeting, that you had come fro_fghanistan."
  • "You were told, no doubt."
  • "Nothing of the sort. I knew you came from Afghanistan. From long habit th_rain of thoughts ran so swiftly through my mind, that I arrived at th_onclusion without being conscious of intermediate steps. There were suc_teps, however. The train of reasoning ran, 'Here is a gentleman of a medica_ype, but with the air of a military man. Clearly an army doctor, then. He ha_ust come from the tropics, for his face is dark, and that is not the natura_int of his skin, for his wrists are fair. He has undergone hardship an_ickness, as his haggard face says clearly. His left arm has been injured. H_olds it in a stiff and unnatural manner. Where in the tropics could a_nglish army doctor have seen much hardship and got his arm wounded? Clearl_n Afghanistan.' The whole train of thought did not occupy a second. I the_emarked that you came from Afghanistan, and you were astonished."
  • "It is simple enough as you explain it," I said, smiling. "You remind me o_dgar Allen Poe's Dupin. I had no idea that such individuals did exist outsid_f stories."
  • Sherlock Holmes rose and lit his pipe. "No doubt you think that you ar_omplimenting 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 hi_riends' thoughts with an apropos remark after a quarter of an hour's silenc_s 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 o_ detective?"
  • Sherlock Holmes sniffed sardonically. "Lecoq was a miserable bungler," h_aid, in an angry voice; "he had only one thing to recommend him, and that wa_is energy. That book made me positively ill. The question was how to identif_n unknown prisoner. I could have done it in twenty-four hours. Lecoq took si_onths or so. It might be made a text-book for detectives to teach them wha_o avoid."
  • I felt rather indignant at having two characters whom I had admired treated i_his cavalier style. I walked over to the window, and stood looking out int_he busy street. "This fellow may be very clever," I said to myself, "but h_s 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 hav_t in me to make my name famous. No man lives or has ever lived who ha_rought the same amount of study and of natural talent to the detection o_rime which I have done. And what is the result? There is no crime to detect, or, at most, some bungling villany with a motive so transparent that even _cotland Yard official can see through it."
  • I was still annoyed at his bumptious style of conversation. I thought it bes_o 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 th_treet, looking anxiously at the numbers. He had a large blue envelope in hi_and, 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 hi_uess."
  • The thought had hardly passed through my mind when the man whom we wer_atching caught sight of the number on our door, and ran rapidly across th_oadway. We heard a loud knock, a deep voice below, and heavy steps ascendin_he stair.
  • "For Mr. Sherlock Holmes," he said, stepping into the room and handing m_riend the letter.
  • Here was an opportunity of taking the conceit out of him. He little thought o_his when he made that random shot. "May I ask, my lad," I said, in th_landest 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.