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Sherlock Holmes is a character of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries who first appeared in publication in 1887. He is the creation of Scottish author and physician Arthur Conan Doyle. A brilliant London-based "consulting detective", Holmes is famous for his intellectual prowess, and is renowned for his skillful use of astute observation, deductive reasoning and inference to solve difficult cases.


Early life

Explicit details about Sherlock Holmes' life outside of the Adventures recorded by Dr. Watson are few and far between in Conan Doyle's original stories. Nevertheless, incidental details about his early life and extended families do construct a loose biographical picture of the detective.

An estimate of Holmes' age in the story "His Last Bow" places his year of birth around 1854. Commonly, the detective's date of birth is cited as 6 January.
Holmes states that he first developed his methods of deduction as a university student. The author Dorothy L. Sayers suggested that given details in two of the Adventures, Holmes must have been at Cambridge rather than Oxford and that "of all the Cambridge colleges, Sidney Sussex [College] perhaps offered the greatest number of advantages to a man in Holmes's position and, in default of more exact information, we may tentatively place him there". His earliest cases, which he pursued as an amateur, came from fellow university students. According to Holmes, it was an encounter with the father of one of his classmates that led him to take detection up as a profession and he spent the six years following university working as a consulting detective, before financial difficulties led him to take Dr Watson as a roommate, at which point the narrative of the stories begins.

From 1881, Holmes is described as having lodgings at 221B Baker Street, London, from where he runs his private detective agency. 221B is a flat up seventeen steps, stated in an early manuscript to be at the 'Upper end' of the road. Until the arrival of Dr Watson, Holmes works alone, only occasionally employing agents from the city's underclasses, including a host of Informants and a group of street children he calls the Baker Street Irregulars.
Little is said of Holmes's family. His parents are unmentioned in the stories and he merely states that his ancestors were "country squires". In "The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter", Holmes claims that his great uncle was Vernet, the French artist. He has an older brother, Mycroft Holmes, a government official, who appears in three stories. He is also mentioned in a number of others. Mycroft has a unique civil service position as a kind of memory-man or walking database for all aspects of government policy. Mycroft is described as even more gifted than Sherlock in matters of observation and deduction. Mycroft, however, lacks Sherlock's drive and energy, preferring to spend his time at ease in the Diogenes Club, described as "a club for the most un-clubbable men in London."

It is unclear whether Holmes has any other siblings. In "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches", Holmes says, "I confess that it is not the situation which I should like to see a sister of mine apply for" leading some to suppose the existence of same. But he mentions this only to warn a woman in a case, taking her as his sister. Therefore, this may be a mere figure of speech.

Life with Dr Watson

Holmes shares the majority of his professional years with his good friend and chronicler Dr Watson. Watson lives with Holmes for some time before Watson's marriage in 1887 and again after Mrs Watson's death. The residence is maintained by his landlady, Mrs Hudson.

Watson has two roles in Holmes's life. First, he gives practical assistance in the conduct of his cases. He is the detective's right-hand man, acting variously as look-out, decoy, accomplice and messenger. Secondly, he is Holmes's chronicler (his "Boswell" as Holmes refers to him). Most of the Sherlock Holmes stories are frame narratives, written from Watson's point of view as summaries of the detective's most interesting cases.

Holmes is often described as criticising Watson's writings for being sensational and populist, suggesting that they neglect to accurately and objectively report of the pure calculating "science" of his craft.

Nevertheless, Holmes' friendship with Watson is undoubtedly his most significant relationship. In several stories, Holmes' affection for Watson - often hidden beneath his cold, intellectual exterior - is revealed. In "The Adventure of the Three Garridebs", Watson is wounded in a confrontation with a villain; while the bullet wound proves to be "quite superficial," Watson is moved by Holmes' reaction:

It was worth a wound; it was worth many wounds; to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind that cold mask. The clear, hard eyes were dimmed for a moment, and the firm lips were shaking. For the one and only time I caught a glimpse of a great heart as well as of a great brain. All my years of humble but single-minded service culminated in that moment of revelation.

In all, Holmes is described as being in active practice for twenty-three years, with Dr Watson documenting his cases for seventeen of them.

Methods of detection

Holmesian deduction

Holmes' primary intellectual method of detection is deductive reasoning of the solution to a crime. "From a drop of water," he writes, "a logician could infer the possibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara without having seen or heard of one or the other."Holmes stories often begin with a bravura display of his talent for "deduction". It is of some interest to logicians and those interested in logic to try to analyse just what Holmes is doing when he performs his deduction. Holmesian deduction appears to consist primarily of drawing inferences based on either straightforward practical principles - which are the result of careful inductive study, such as Holmes's study of different kinds of cigar ashes - or inference to the best explanation.

Holmes's straightforward practical principles are generally of the form, "If 'p', then 'q'," where 'p' is observed evidence and 'q' is what the evidence indicates. But there are also, as one may observe in the following example, often some intermediate principles. In "A Scandal in Bohemia" Holmes deduces that Watson had got very wet lately and that he had "a most clumsy and careless servant girl." When Watson, in amazement, asks how Holmes knows this, Holmes answers:

"It is simplicity itself... My eyes tell me that on the inside of your left shoe, just where the firelight strikes it, the leather is scored by six almost parallel cuts. Obviously they have been caused by someone who has very carelessly scraped round the edges of the sole in order to remove crusted mud from it. Hence, you see, my double deduction that you had been out in vile weather, and that you had a particularly malignant boot-slitting specimen of the London slavey."

In this case, Holmes employed several connected principles:

* If leather on the side of a shoe is scored by several parallel cuts, it was caused by someone who scraped around the edges of the sole in order to remove crusted mud.

* If a London doctor's shoes are scraped to remove crusted mud, the person who so scraped them is the doctor's servant girl.

* If someone cuts a shoe while scraping it to remove encrusted mud, that person is clumsy and careless.

* If someone's shoes had encrusted mud on them, that person has been very wet lately and has been out in vile weather.

By applying such principles in an obvious way (using repeated applications of modus ponens), Holmes is able to infer that:

"The sides of Watson's shoes are scored by several parallel cuts"; to "Watson's servant girl is clumsy and careless"; and "Watson has been very wet lately and has been out in vile weather."

Deductive reasoning allows Holmes to impressively reveal a stranger's occupation, such as a Retired Sergeant of Marines in A Study in Scarlet; a former ship's carpenter turned pawnbroker in "The Red-Headed League"); and a billiard-marker and a retired artillery NCO in "The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter". Similarly, by studying inanimate objects, Holmes is able to make astonishingly detailed deductions about their owners, including Watson's pocket Watch in "The Sign of Four," as well as a hat, a pipe, and a walking stick in other stories.

Once he has amassed a large body of evidence and deduced a number of possible explanations, Holmes proceeds to find the one explanation that fits all the facts of the case to produce a solution. As Holmes explains to Watson, says, "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."


Holmes is described as a talented actor. In several stories, he adopts disguises to gather evidence while 'under cover' so convincing that even Watson fails to penetrate them, such as in "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton", "The Man with the Twisted Lip" and "A Scandal in Bohemia" In other adventures, Holmes feigns being wounded or ill to give effect to his case, or to incriminate the people involved, as in "The Adventure of the Dying Detective."

Weapons and martial arts

Pistols On occasion Holmes and Watson carry pistols with them, in the case of Watson often his old service revolver. However, Watson only describes these weapons as being used on seven occasions.

Cane Holmes, as a gentleman, often carries a stick or cane. He is described by Watson as an expert at singlestick and twice uses his cane as a weapon.

Sword In "A Study in Scarlet" Watson describes Holmes as an expert with a sword - although in none of the stories is Holmes mentioned as using a sword. It is mentioned in "Gloria Scott" that Holmes practiced fencing.

Riding crop In several stories, Holmes appears equipped with a riding crop. In "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" he uses it to lash out at a venomous snake and in "A Case of Identity", he comes close to thrashing a swindler with it. Using a "hunting crop," Holmes knocks a pistol from John Clay's hand in "The Red-Headed League."
Fist-fighting Holmes is described as a formidable fist-fighter. In The Sign of the Four, Holmes introduces himself to a prize-fighter as:

Holmes engages in hand to hand combat with his adversaries on several occasions throughout the stories, inevitably emerging as the victor. It is also, once again, mentioned in "Gloria Scott" that Holmes trained as a boxer.

Martial arts "The Adventure of the Empty House", Holmes recounts to Watson how he used martial arts to overcome Professor Moriarty and fling his adversary to his death at the Reichenbach Falls. He states that "I have some knowledge, however, of baritsu, or the Japanese system of wrestling, which has more than once been very useful to me." The name "baritsu" appears to be a reference to the real-life martial art of bartitsu.

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