Arthur Conan Doyle works hard, but not always consistently, to draw a portrait of Sherlock Holmes as a man with superb intellect who has turned himself into thinking machine to solve crimes. Part of Doyle's efforts go to portraying Holmes as interested only in such knowledge or experience that helps solve crimes. Most famously perhaps, Holmes supposedly has no interest in art, music, or literature, but Dr. Watson's contradicts himself, since Holmes clearly has a deep knowledge of both literature and art. Some of the attempts to depict Holmes as freakishly narrow come off as rather silly, as when Doyle has Holmes tell Watson he doesn't care if the earth rotates around the sun or vice versa because he doesn't wish to fill his mind with useless information — useless, that is, in solving crimes. Unless we believe Holmes is pulling Watson's leg (and there's no evidence that he does), the claim seems ridiculous: knowing a single, if fundamental, fact about earth and sun would take up no more room than a misconception, and anyway it seems clearly impossible that someone with expertise in natural science would not pick up basic facts.

It's also important to remember that Holmes, who is very much a product of English public schools and universities, acts and dresses like a well-to-do gentleman. Sidney Paget, who copiously illustrated the stories when they first appeared in The Strand, invented Sherlock Holmes's famous deerstalker, but most of the illustrations that show him with headgear have him wearing a silk top hat or a straw boater. And Doyle approved. — George P. Landow.

From ”The Musgrave Ritual“

An anomaly which often struck me in the character of my friend Sherlock Holmes was that, although in his methods of thought he was the neatest and most methodical of mankind, and although also he affected a certain quiet primness of dress, he was none the less in his personal habits one of the most untidy men that ever drove a fellow-lodger to distraction. Not that I am in the least conventional in that respect myself. The rough-and-tumble work in Afghanistan, coming on the top of a natural Bohemianism of disposition, has made me rather more lax than befits a medical man. But with me there is a limit, and when I find a man who keeps his cigars in the coal-scuttle, his tobacco in the toe end of a Persian slipper, and his unanswered correspondence transfixed by a jack-knife into the very centre of his wooden mantelpiece, then I begin to give myself virtuous airs. I have always held, too, that pistol practice should be distinctly an open-air pastime; and when Holmes, in one of his queer humors, would sit in an arm-chair with his hair-trigger and a hundred Boxer cartridges, and proceed to adorn the opposite wall with a patriotic V. R. done in bullet-pocks, I felt strongly that neither the atmosphere nor the appearance of our room was improved by it.

Sidney Paget's famous portrayals of Holmes — left to right: (a) He curled himself up in his chair. (b) I found Sherlock Holmes half asleep. (c) His eyes bent upon the glow of the fire [Click on these images for larger pictures.]

Our chambers were always full of chemicals and of criminal relics which had a way of wandering into unlikely positions, and of turning up in the butter-dish or in even less desirable places. But his papers were my great crux. He had a horror of destroying documents, especially those which were connected with his past cases, and yet it was only once in every year or two that he would muster energy to docket and arrange them; for, as I have mentioned somewhere in these incoherent memoirs, the outbursts of passionate energy when he performed the remarkable feats with which his name is associated were followed by reactions of lethargy during which he would lie about with his violin and his books, hardly moving save from the sofa to the table. Thus month after month his papers accumulated, until every corner of the room was stacked with bundles of manuscript which were on no account to be burned, and which could not be put away save by their owner.

Left to right: (a) He curled himself up in his chair. (b) For a long time he remained there. [Click on these images for larger pictures.]

From ”The Resident Patient“

He loved to lie in the very centre of five millions of people, with his filaments stretching out and running through them, responsive to every little rumor or suspicion of unsolved crime. Appreciation of Nature found no place among his many gifts, and his only change was when he turned his mind from the evil-doer of the town to track down his brother of the country.


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Last modified 13 December 2013