How Old Is Sherlock Holmes

He was devised by British author and physician Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A brilliant London-based detective, Holmes is famous for his prowess at using logic and astute observation to solve cases. He is perhaps the most famous fictional detective, and indeed one of the best known and most universally recognizable literary characters. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote four novels and fifty-six short-stories featuring his creation. Almost all were narrated by Holmes' friend and biographer, Dr John H. Watson, with the exception of two narrated by Holmes himself and two more written in the third person. The stories first appeared in magazine serialization, notably in The Strand Magazine, over a period of forty years. This was a common form of publication at the time: Charles Dickens' works were issued in a similar fashion. The stories cover a period from around 1878 up to 1903, with a final case in 1914. They are read as much for their characterization and the stylized late-Victorian era in which they take place as for the mysteries themselves. More actors have portrayed Sherlock Holmes than any other character, and by 1964, according to a report in The Times, the worldwide sales of the stories were running second only to the Bible.

Little is known of Holmes' early life or his family background, save that his grandmother was a sister of the French artist Vernet. An estimate of Holmes's age in "His Last Bow" places his year of birth at 1854; the story, set in August 1914, describes him as 60 years of age. Oxford, Cambridge, or both. Sherlock has an older brother, Mycroft, whom the younger Holmes considered to be more intellectually gifted than himself. Mycroft spent much of his life in Her Majesty's Secret Service. At the age of 20, Holmes was to find his life's calling. Dr John Watson would come to title, in his chronicles of Holmes' endeavors, "The Adventure of the Gloria Scott". His study of science at university having informed his already keen mind and powers of observation, Holmes employed a process of deductive reasoning in his work, with great success. In early 1881 he is presented as an independent student of chemistry with a variety of very curious side-interests, almost all of which turn out to be single-mindedly bent towards making him superior at solving crimes.

Well up in belladonna, opium, and poisons generally.

In another early story, "The Adventure of the Gloria Scott", more background on what caused Holmes to become a detective is presented: a college friend's father complimented him very highly on his deductive skills. In "The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter", Holmes states that his grandmother was the sister of the French painter "Vernet" (presumably Horace Vernet). Knowledge of Literature - Nile. Knowledge of Astronomy - Nile. Knowledge of Politics - Feeble. Knowledge of Botany - Variable. Well up in belladonna, opium, and poisons generally. Knows nothing of practical gardening. Knowledge of Geology - Practical, but limited. Tells at a glance different soils from each other. After walks, has shown me splashes upon his trousers, and told me by their color and consistency in what part of London he had received them. Knowledge of Chemistry - Profound. Knowledge of Anatomy - Accurate, but unsystematic. Knowledge of Sensationalism - Immense. He appears to know every detail of every horror perpetrated in the century. Plays the violin well. Later stories make clear, however, that the above list is misleading, and that Holmes, who has just met Watson, is pulling Watson's leg. Two examples: despite Holmes' supposed ignorance of politics, in "A Scandal in Bohemia" he immediately recognizes the true identity of the supposed Count von Kramm as Wilhelm Gottsreich Sigismond von Ormstein, Grand Duke of Cassel-Feldstein and hereditary King of Bohemia. Regarding non-sensational literature, his speech is replete with references to the Bible, Shakespeare, and even Goethe.

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This is somewhat inconsistent with his scolding Watson for telling him about how the Earth revolved around the Sun, instead of the other way around, given that Holmes tried to avoid having his memory cluttered with information that is of no use to him in detective work. Holmes is also a competent cryptanalyst. He relates to Watson, "I am fairly familiar with all forms of secret writing, and am myself the author of a trifling monograph upon the subject, in which I analyze one hundred and sixty separate ciphers". One such scheme solved in "The Adventure of the Dancing Men", uses a series of stick figures. In A Study in Scarlet, Conan Doyle presents a comparison between his sleuth and two earlier, more established fictional detectives: Edgar Allan Poe's C. Auguste Dupin and Emile Gaboriau's Monsieur Lecoq. Holmes seems convinced that he is superior to both of them, while Watson expresses his admiration of the two characters. It has been suggested that this was a way for Conan Doyle to pay some respect to characters by writers who had influenced him, while insisting that his is an improvement over them. However, Holmes pulls a very Dupin-esque mind reading trick on Watson in "The Adventure of the Cardboard Box" (repeated word for word in the story, "The Adventure of the Resident Patient", when "The Cardboard Box" was removed from the Memoirs), and, to a lesser extent, in "The Adventure of the Dancing Men".

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Although Holmes looks upon himself as a disembodied brain, there are times when he can become very emotional in a righteous cause, as when he disapproves of the banker Holder as to how the man treated his son, in "The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet". At the end of "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons", he is touched by Lestrade's deep gratitude for assisting Scotland Yard. Watson says, "he was more nearly moved by the softer human emotions than I had ever seen him". And, in "The Adventure of the Three Garridebs", Watson is wounded by a forger he and Holmes are pursuing. In "The Adventure of the Second Stain", Dr Watson says that after his long career, Holmes moved to the Sussex Downs and took up beekeeping. But even in "retirement" Holmes would again come to the aid of his country as the First World War approached. In 1914, at the age of 60, he was instrumental in the capture and arrest of a Prussian spy known as Von Bork. The Von Bork case seems to have been Sherlock Holmes' last bow. Following the arrest, Holmes returned to his life of seclusion in Sussex to live out his life in peace and solitude, keeping bees and eventually publishing a manual on the subject.

It has been suggested that he also wrote his magnum opus concerning his deductive method: "The Whole Art of Detection," during his retirement. Aside from these, the details of his later life and death are not well known, but he lives on to this day through the records of his thrilling cases, and will always be remembered and regarded as the "World's Only Consulting Detective". Watson describes Holmes as "bohemian" in habits and lifestyle. Although Holmes is described in The Hound of the Baskervilles as having a "cat-like" love of personal cleanliness, Watson also describes Holmes as an eccentric, with no regard for contemporary standards of tidiness or good order. Nevertheless, Watson was very typical of his time in not considering a vice Holmes' habit of smoking (usually a pipe) heavily, nor his willingness to bend the truth and break the law (eg, lie to the police, conceal evidence, burgle and housebreak) when it suits his purposes. In Victorian England, such actions were not necessarily considered vices as long as they were done by a gentleman for noble purposes, such as preserving a woman's honor or a family's reputation (this argument is discussed by Holmes and Watson in "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton"). Since many of the stories revolve around Holmes (and Watson) doing such things, a modern reader must accept actions which would be out of character for a "law-abiding" detective living by the standards of a later time. Holmes has a strong sense of honor and "doing the right thing". Holmes can often be quite dispassionate and cold; however, when hot on the trail of a mystery, he can display a remarkable passion given his usual languor.

He has a flair for showmanship, and often, he prepares dramatic traps to capture the culprit of a crime which are staged to impress Watson or one of the Scotland Yard inspectors (as at the end of "The Adventure of the Norwood Builder"). He also holds back on his chain of reasoning, not revealing it or only giving cryptic hints and surprising results, until the very end, when he can explain all of his deductions at once. Holmes does have an ego that sometimes seems to border on arrogance; however, his arrogance is usually deserved. He seems to enjoy baffling the police inspectors with his superior deductions. Holmes is usually quite content to allow the police to take the credit for his work, with Watson being the only one to broadcast his own roles in the case (in "The Adventure of the Naval Treaty", he remarks that of his last fifty- three cases, the police have had all the credit in forty-nine), although he enjoys receiving praise from personal friends and those who take a serious interest in his work. Although he initially needed Watson to share the rent of his comfortable residence at 221B Baker Street we are told in "The Adventure of the Dying Detective" (when he was living alone) "I have no doubt that the house might have been purchased at the price which Holmes paid for his rooms" suggesting he had developed a good income from his practice, although it is never revealed exactly how much he charges for his services.

Holmes is generally quite fearless.

It is possible, however, that he charges based on the client's ability to pay in "The Adventure of the Final Problem", Holmes states that his services to the government of France and the royal house of Scandinavia had left him with enough money to retire comfortably, while in "The Adventure of Black Peter" Watson notes that Holmes would refuse to help the wealthy and powerful if their cases did not interest him, while he could devote weeks at a time to the cases of the most humble clients. Certainly, in the course of his career Holmes had worked for both the most powerful monarchs and governments of Europe (including his own) and various wealthy aristocrats and industrialists, and also been consulted by impoverished pawnbrokers and humble governesses on the lower rungs of society. Holmes is generally quite fearless. He dispassionately surveys horrific, brutal crime scenes; he does not allow superstition (as in The Hound of the Baskervilles) or grotesque situations to make him afraid; and he intrepidly confronts violent murderers. He is generally unfazed by threats from his criminal enemies, and indeed Holmes himself remarks that it is the danger of his profession that has attracted him to it. Finally, Holmes does have capacities for human emotion and friendship. He has a remarkable capacity to gently soothe and reassure people suffering from extreme distress, a talent which comes in handy when dealing with both male and female clients who arrive at Baker Street suffering from extreme fear or nervousness.

He also has a close personal friendship with Watson, whose near-death at the hands of a counterfeiter in "The Adventure of the Three Garridebs" elicits grief and anger from Holmes. Over time, Holmes' relations with the official Scotland Yard detectives goes from cold disdain to a strong respect. Holmes occasionally uses addictive drugs, especially when lacking stimulating cases. Modern readers of the Holmes stories are apt to be surprised by this, though Watson describes this as Holmes' "only vice". Holmes believes the use of cocaine stimulates his brain when it is not in use. He is a habitual user of cocaine, which he injects in a seven-per-cent solution using a personal syringe that he keeps in a Morocco leather case. Holmes is also an occasional user of morphine but expressed strong disapproval on visiting an opium den. These drugs were legal in late 19th-century England. Both Watson and Holmes are continual tobacco users, including cigarettes, cigars, and pipes, though this was not an uncommon habit during this era. Holmes is an expert at identifying tobacco-ash residues, having penned a monograph on the subject. Dr Watson strongly disapproves of his friend's cocaine habit, describing it as the detective's "only vice" and expressing concern over its possible effect on Holmes' mental health and superior intellect. In "The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter", Watson claims to have "weaned" Holmes off drugs. Even so, according to his doctor friend, Holmes remains an addict whose habit is "not dead, but merely sleeping". The most characteristic feature of Holmes' attire is introduced in "The Boscombe Valley Mystery" where he is described as wearing a "cloth cap" which in Sidney Paget's illustration appears as a deerstalker.


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