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 Mendelssohns Lieder, and other favourites. When left to himself,
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 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 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 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 mans
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
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 inquirer 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
mans 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-cuffsby
each of these things a mans calling is plainly revealed. 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 dont 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 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, 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 practicalso practical that I depend upon them for my bread and
And how? I asked involuntarily.
Well, I have a trade of my own. I suppose I am the only
one in the world. Im 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 cant 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 Allan Poes 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 hours
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 Gaboriaus 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 textbook for detectives to teach them what to
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
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 salute, and