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.
A Study in Scarlet (1887), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
The most famous detective in the world, he's one of literature's most popular characters. He is most often pictured in a deerstalker hat and checked cape, despite the fact that he was more often depicted as wearing a smart suit and a top hat in the original stories. He was also an excellent violinist and there was more than a suggestion that he used opium, making him possibly the most widely-respected and best-loved drug-addict in British fiction. It is for his clinical, analytical mind that he is most famous however, with his uncanny ability to detect a person's previous whereabouts or general situation by the smallest clues and seemingly insignificant evidence.
According to the stories, Sherlock Holmes was born on 6 January, 1854. He was the son of a country squire and grandson of the sister of the artist Vernet.
Physically, Holmes is tall - over 6ft - and thin. He has black hair and grey eyes, thin lips and a 'hawk-like' nose. Holmes is always extremely clean and dressed neatly. Although he has never exercised regularly, he is always fit and ready for action. Adept at boxing and the martial art Baritsu, he is also proficient at single-stick and fencing. Another of Holmes's specialities is his wonderful disguises: from groom to priest, clergyman to opium smoker, all of which have been much needed to gain information or as a way to escape from the criminals. He is a music-lover who attends concerts and operas, and is also a violinist, preferring German music.
Holmes is also clearly an avid reader and learner throughout his life. For example, in A Study in Scarlet, Holmes appears to be ignorant of the Solar System, but by the time of 'The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter' he has a very good astronomical knowledge. Like many highly intelligent people, however, Holmes can be a little absent minded and lacking in common sense. Holmes stays up late and gets up just as late. He is a smoker, and when a great depression sweeps over him, usually when he is not involved in a case, he has been known to indulge in drugs. As related in 'The Reigate Squires', he suffers a nervous breakdown, and possibly a second breakdown some time later ('The Devil's Foot).
Holmes seems to be an unemotional person at first glance, but he is not. He cares deeply about his friends and is often concerned for his great friend and biographer Watson.
His reward for his brilliant detective work is generally a simple fee, although he has been known on occasion to waive the charge for his services. Sometimes the rewards were very large: £1000 for a missing item to £12,000 in another case. Holmes has also received a gold snuffbox, a ring and was rewarded by Queen Victoria herself with an Emerald tie-pin in 'The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans'.
Holmes lives at 221b Baker Street with Dr Watson and his housekeeper Mrs Hudson. In 'The Adventure of Black Peter' we learn that he keeps five other locations in London aside from 221b, in case he needs to disguise himself.
The 'Holmes' image
The famous image of Sherlock Holmes was created by artist Sydney Paget, who illustrated the original stories in Strand magazine. Paget's version of Holmes, in particular the legendary deerstalker hat, which is never mentioned by name in the stories, was sufficiently strong that it has survived over 100 years.
In the stories, Holmes is described as wearing various different outfits:
Holmes's other 'trademark' is his curved or 'calabash' pipe. Like the deerstalker, this is not mentioned specifically in the stories. The addition of this particular type of pipe is thought to be by actor William Gillette, who wanted a pipe that would not hinder his pronunciation of the lines.
Sherlock Holmes, created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, first appeared in the novel A Study in Scarlet in 1887. This was followed three years later by The Sign of Four. Two further Homes novels were later written by Conan Doyle: The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902) and The Valley of Fear (1915).
In 1891, the first of Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes short stories - 'A Scandal in Bohemia' - was published in Strand magazine. Between 1891 and 1927, Conan Doyle wrote 56 short stories, which are collected into five volumes:
" The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1891 - 1892)
" The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1892 - 1893)
" The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1903 - 1904)
" His Last Bow (1908 - 1917)
" The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes (1921 - 1927)
The ten-year gap between The Memoirs... and The Return... is explained by Conan Doyle's decision to kill Holmes at the end of 'The Final Problem' so that he could concentrate on writing other things. The outcry from fans of the detective was so great that Conan Doyle eventually relented and wrote 'The Adventure of the Empty House', in which it is explained how Holmes cheated death and returned to detective work in London.
And here it is that I miss my Watson. By cunning questions and ejaculations of wonder he could elevate my simple art, which is but systematized common sense, into a prodigy.
'The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier' (1926), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
John H Watson is a few years younger than Holmes. When he first meets Holmes he has left the army after a wound received while serving as a doctor in Afghanistan. He's looking for affordable lodgings, and a mutual acquaintance of the pair introduces them to each other, as Holmes needs to find someone to share rooms with him in 221b Baker Street. They develop a friendship and Watson becomes interested in Holmes's work, first observing him in action in A Study in Scarlet.
Many of the portrayals of Watson show him as a bit of a fool on television and film, but he is intelligent (even if this is sometimes overlooked because of Holmes's superior intellect). He's a good doctor, which comes in very useful for patching up Holmes and others after the events in some of the stories, and a good shot with a revolver.
often proves himself invaluable to Holmes. Sometimes, however, he is an
unwitting assistant, as Holmes sends him in as a distraction so that the
real detective work can be done unnoticed, as in The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Holmes fully appreciates Watson's contribution and has a genuine affection
for his friend. Nowhere is this more apparent than in 'The Three Garridebs',
when Watson is shot in the thigh by 'Killer' Evans. Holmes helps Watson
to a chair, crying, 'You're not hurt, Watson? For God's sake, say that
you are not hurt!' As soon as he is reassured that the wound is superficial,
he turns to Evans with a face 'set like flint' and growls, 'By the Lord,
it is as well for you. If you had killed Watson, you would not have got
out of this room alive.' For Watson, this is the proudest moment of his
long association with the detective.
Eventually, Watson marries and moves out of Baker Street. His first wife, Mary Morston, dies in the period between Holmes's 'death' and his return. Watson later marries again, but will still drop everything to go on the chase with Holmes.
He is the Napoleon of crime, Watson. He is the organizer of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected in this great city. He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker. He has a brain of the first order. He sits motionless, like a spider in the centre of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them.
The Final Problem' (1893), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Professor James Moriarty was Sherlock Holmes's greatest enemy, despite only appearing in one short story - 'The Final Problem' - and the novel 'The Valley of Fear'. As well as being a criminal genius, Moriarty was also a professor of mathematics who spent some time as a coach in the army. He does not get involved directly in crime himself, but is a master planner who allows nothing to be traced back to him. In The Valley of Fear, however, it is revealed that he has a small leak in his organisation, which is how Holmes becomes aware of a murder.
Holmes considered Moriarty him such a dangerous individual that he was willing to sacrifice himself - over the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland - to take Moriarty with him. Even though the professor died at the hands of Homes, his character lives on in popular culture as the quintessential 'criminal mastermind'.