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The Principles of Sherlock Holmes

The Principles of Sherlock Holmes



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Published by Jock McTavish
Quotations on the theme of solving problems.from the collected work of Conan Doyle's fictions on Sherlock Holmes.
Quotations on the theme of solving problems.from the collected work of Conan Doyle's fictions on Sherlock Holmes.

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Published by: Jock McTavish on Jan 29, 2008
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Excerpts from
The Complete Sherlock Holmes
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to establish the
Sherlock Method 
....courtesy Jock F. McTavish, 275 9853, Calgary. 14 October 1992. PAGE 1
In the fictional character Sherlock Holmes, wehave the master of deduction. Sir Arthur him-self was a physician trained in diagnosticswhose hobbies included investigation of theparanormal. Sherlock offers not merelyexquisite entertainment, but also lessons inproblem solving. To discover Sherlock's"Method", let us gather his advice on the sub-ject.
"They say genius is an infinite capacity for takingpains," he remarked with a smile. "It's a very baddefinition, but it does apply to detective work." 8."I never make exceptions. An exception disprovesthe rule." 16."But why not eat?""Because the faculties become refined when youstarve them. Why, surely, as a doctor, my dear Watson,you must admit that what your digestion gains in theway of blood supply is so much lost to the brain. I ama brain, Watson. The rest of me is a mere appendix.Therefore, it is the brain I must consider." 88."We all need help sometimes," said I. 22.One of Sherlock Holmes's defects - if, indeed, onemay call it a defect - was that he was exceedinglyloath to communicate his full plans to any other personuntil the instant of their fulfilment. Partly it cameno doubt from his own masterful nature, which loved todominate and surprise those who were around him. Partlyalso from his professional caution, which urged himnever to take any chances. The result, however, wasvery trying for those who were acting as his agents andassistants." 67."Yes," he said in answer to my remark, "you haveseen me miss my mark before, Watson. I have an instinctfor such things, and yet it has sometimes played mefalse. It seemed a certainty when first it flashedacross my mind in the cell at Winchester, but onedrawback of an active mind is that one can alwaysconceive alternative explanations which would make ourscent a false one. And yet - and yet - Well, Watson, wecan but try." 92."I can afford to talk of my blunders, for you knowmy work well enough to be aware of my successes." 86."I have been beaten four times - three times bymen, and once by a woman." 31."I said that he was my superior in observation anddeduction. If the art of the detective began and endedin reasoning from an armchair, my brother would be thegreatest criminal agent that ever lived. But he has noambition and no energy. ... he was absolutelyincapable of working out the practical points whichmust be gone into before a case could be laid before ajudge or jury." 43. (In reference to his brotherMycroft Holmes.)"He has two out of the three qualities necessaryfor the ideal detective. He has the power of observa-tion and that of deduction. He is only wanting inknowledge, and that may come in time." 13.
"I will not bias your mind by suggesting theoriesor suspicions, Watson," said he; "I wish you simply toreport facts in the fullest possible manner to me, andyou can leave me to do the theorizing." 63."By George!" cried the inspector. "How ever did yousee that?""Because I looked for it." 48."Sherlock Holmes had listened with the utmostintentness to the statement ... He now drew out hisnotebook and jotted down one or two memoranda." 50.He held his open notebook upon his knee, and fromtime to time he jotted down figures and memoranda inthe light of his pocket-lantern. 18."This case is quite sufficiently complicated tostart with without the further difficulty of falseinformation." 89."It is just these very simple things which areextremely liable to be overlooked." 24."The world is full of obvious things which nobodyby any chance ever observes." 58."On the contrary, to my mind nothing could be moreclear. Let me run over the principal steps. Weapproached the case, you remember, with an absolutelyblank mind, which is always an advantage. We had formedno theories. We were simply there to observe and todraw inferences from our observations." 77."... (the old home was) surrounded by a high sun-baked wall mottled with lichens and topped with moss,the sort of wall - ""Cut out the poetry, Watson," said Holmes severely."I note that it was a high brick wall." 93.I had imagined that Sherlock Holmes would at oncehave hurried into the house and plunged into a study ofthe mystery. Nothing appeared to be further from hisintention. With an air of nonchalance which, under thecircumstances, seemed to me to border upon affectation,he lounged up and down the pavement, and gazed vacantlyat the ground, the sky, the opposite houses and theline of railings. ... I had no doubt that he could seea great deal which was hidden from me. 5."I can see nothing," said I, handing it back to myfriend."On the contrary, Watson, you can see everything.You fail, however, to reason from what you see. You aretoo timid in drawing your inferences." 34.
"We are coming now rather into the region ofguesswork," said Dr. Mortimer."Say, rather, into the region where we balanceprobabilities and choose the most likely. It is thescientific use of the imagination, but we have alwayssome material basis on which to start our speculation."59."Ah, that is good luck. I could only say what wasthe balance of probability. I did not at all expect tobe so accurate."But it was not mere guesswork?""No, no: I never guess. It is a shocking habit -destructive to the logical faculty. What seems strangeto you is only so because you do not follow my train ofthought or observe the small facts upon which largeinferences may depend." 15."If I take it up I must understand every detail,"
Excerpts from
The Complete Sherlock Holmes
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to establish the
Sherlock Method 
....courtesy Jock F. McTavish, 275 9853, Calgary. 14 October 1992. PAGE 2said he. "Take time to consider. The smallest point maybe the most essential." 78."From a drop of water ... a logician could inferthe possibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara withouthaving seen or heard of one or the other. So all lifeis a great chain, the nature of which is known wheneverwe are shown a single link of it. Like all other arts,the Science of Deduction and Analysis is one which canonly be acquired by long and patient study, nor is lifelong enough to allow any mortal to attain the highestpossible perfection in it." 2."Elementary," said he. "It is one of thoseinstances where the reasoner can produce an effectwhich seems remarkable to his neighbour, because thelatter has missed the one little point which is thebasis of the deduction. ... I hold in this hand severalthreads of one of the strangest cases which everperplexed a man's brain, and yet I lack the one or twowhich are needful to complete my theory. But I'll havethem, Watson, I'll have them!" 42."You said you had a clue?""Well, we have several, but we can only test theirvalue by further inquiry. The most difficult crime totrack is the one which is purposeless. Now this is notpurposeless. Who is it who profits by it?" 44."You see, my dear Watson" - he propped his test-tube in the rack, and began to lecture with the air ofa professor addressing his class - "it is not reallydifficult to construct a series of inferences, eachdependent upon its predecessor and each simple initself. If, after doing so, one simply knocks out allthe central inferences and presents one's audience withthe starting-point and the conclusion, one may producea startling, though possibly a meretricious, effect."47."Let us take it link by link." 74.Holmes shook his head gravely. "It would cease tobe a danger if we could define it," said he." 38."You have a theory?""Yes, a provisional one." 40."Ah! there lies our problem. There is one ratherobvious line of investigation." 79."I thought over every possible course, and this isthe best." 25."Circumstantial evidence is a very tricky thing,"answered Holmes thoughtfully. "It may seem to pointvery straight to one thing, but if you shift your ownpoint of view a little, you may find it pointing in anequally uncompromising manner to something entirelydifferent." 28."You are right," said Holmes demurely; "you do findit very hard to tackle the facts." 29.
"Education never ends, Watson. It is a series oflessons with the greatest for the last." 80."Read it up - you really should. There is nothingnew under the sun. It has all been done before." 6."Never mind," said Holmes, laughing; "it is mybusiness to know things. Perhaps I have trained myselfto see what others overlook." 27."There is a strong family resemblance about mis-deeds, and if you have all the details of a thousand atyour finger ends, it is odd if you can't unravel thethousand and first." 3.His ignorance was as remarkable as his knowledge.... My surprise reached a climax;, however, when Ifound incidentally that he was ignorant of the Coper-nican Theory and of the composition of the Solar Sys-tem. That any civilized human being in this nineteenthcentury should not be aware that the earth travelledround the sun appeared to me to be such an extraordi-nary fact that I could hardly realize it."You appear to be astonished," he said, smiling atmy expression of surprise. "Now that I do know it Ishall do my best to forget it.""To forget it!""You see," he explained, "I consider that a man'sbrain originally is like a little empty attic, and youhave to stock it with such furniture as you choose. Afool takes in all the lumber of every sort that hecomes across, so that the knowledge which might beuseful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbledup with a lot of other things, so that he has a diffi-culty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilfulworkman is very careful indeed as to what he takes intohis brain-attic. He will have nothing but the toolswhich may help him in doing his work, but of these hehas a large assortment, and all in the most perfectorder. It is a mistake to think that that little roomhas elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Dependupon it there comes a time when for every addition ofknowledge you forget something that you knew before. Itis of the highest importance, therefore, not to haveuseless facts elbowing out the useful ones.""But the Solar System!" I protested."What the deuce is it to me?" he interrupted impa-tiently: "you say that we go round the sun. If we wentround the moon it would not make a pennyworth of dif-ference to me or to my work." 1.Holmes grinned at the last item. "Well," he said,"I say now, as I said then, that a man should keep hislittle brain-attic stocked with all the furniture thathe is likely to use, and the rest he can put away inthe lumber-room of his library, where he can get it ifhe wants it." 33."... I cannot guarantee that I carry all the factsin my mind. Intense mental concentration has a curiousway of blotting out what has passed. The barrister whohas his case at his fingers' ends and is able to arguewith an expert upon his own subject finds that a weekor two of the courts will drive it all out of his headonce more. So each of my cases displaces the last..."69."I propose to devote my declining years to thecomposition of a textbook, which shall focus the wholeart of detection into one volume." 54.
"Surely we have a case.""Not a shadow of one - only surmise and conjecture.We should be laughed out of court if we came with sucha story and such evidence." 66."I think that I have seen now all that there is tosee," said he. 36."Data! data! data!" he cried impatiently. "I can'tmake bricks without clay." 39."No data yet," he answered. "It is a capital mis-take to theorize before you have all the evidence. Itbiases the judgment." 4.
Excerpts from
The Complete Sherlock Holmes
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to establish the
Sherlock Method 
....courtesy Jock F. McTavish, 275 9853, Calgary. 14 October 1992. PAGE 3"I should like a few more facts before I get so faras a theory ..." 72."I had," said he, "come to an entirely erroneousconclusion which shows, my dear Watson, how dangerousit always is to reason from insufficient data." 35."I simply can't leave that case in this condition.Every instinct that I possess cries out against it.It's wrong - it's all wrong - I'll swear that it'swrong. ... Sit down on this bench, Watson, ... andallow me to lay the evidence before you ..." 55."I'm afraid," said Holmes, smiling, "that all thequeen's horses and all the queen's men cannot avail inthis matter." 81."All is well that ends well," said Holmes. 26.
"The more
and grotesque an incident is themore carefully it deserves to be examined, and the verypoint which appears to complicate a case is, when dulyconsidered and scientifically handled, the one which ismost likely to elucidate it." 70."This complicates matters," said Gregson. "Heavenknows, they were complicated enough before.""You're sure it doesn't simplify them?" observedHolmes. 7."This is all an insoluble mystery to me," said I."It grows darker instead of clearer.""On the contrary," he answered, "it clears everyinstant. I only require a few missing links to have anentirely connected case." 19."I should have more faith," he said; "I ought toknow by this time that when a fact appears to beopposed to a long train of deductions, it invariablyproves to be capable of bearing some other interpreta-tion." 9."These strange details, far from making the casemore difficult, have really had the effect of making itless so." 10.
"I think I should like to sit quietly for a fewminutes and think it out." 90."Well now Watson, let us judge the situation bythis new information." 75."Let us see then if we can narrow it down. As Ifocus my mind upon it, it seems rather less impen-etrable." 71."I knew that seclusion and solitude were verynecessary for my friend in those hours of intensemental concentration during which he weighed everyparticle of evidence, constructed alternative theories,balanced one against the other, and made up his mind asto which points were essential and which immaterial."57."All day I turned these facts over in my mind,endeavouring to hit upon some theory which could rec-oncile them all, and to find that line of least resis-tance which my poor friend had declared to be thestarting-point of every investigation. 46."I begin to suspect that this matter may turn outto be much deeper and more subtle than I at firstsupposed. I must reconsider my ideas." 17."Look here Watson," he said when the cloth wascleared; "just sit down in this chair and let me preachto you for a little. I don't know quite what to do, andI should value your advice. Light a cigar and let meexpound." 30."Now Watson," said Holmes, rubbing his hands, "wehave half an hour to ourselves. Let us make good use ofit. My case is, as I have told you, almost complete;but we must not err on the side of overconfidence.Simple as the case seems now, there may be somethingdeeper underlying it.""Simple!" I ejaculated."Surely," said he with something of the air of aclinical professor expounding to his class. 20."Come, come, sir," said Holmes, laughing. "You arelike my friend, Dr. Watson, who has a bad habit oftelling his stories wrong end foremost. Please arrangeyour thoughts and let me know, in their due sequenceexactly what those events are ..." 73."At least we may accept it as a working hypoth-esis." 85.
"By the method of exclusion, I had arrived at thisresult, for no other hypothesis would meet thefacts."12."Eliminate all other factors, and the one whichremains must be the truth." 14."You will not apply my precept," he said, shakinghis head. "How often have I said to you that when youhave eliminated the impossible, whatever remains,
however improbable
must be the truth?" 21."It is an old maxim of mine that when you haveexcluded the impossible, whatever remains, howeverimprobable, must be the truth." 37."We must fall back upon the old axiom that when allother contingencies fail, whatever remains, howeverimprobable, must be the truth." 82.
"I have already explained to you that what is outof the common is usually a guide rather than a hin-drance. In solving a problem of this sort, the grandthing is to be able to reason backward. That is a veryuseful accomplishment, and a very easy one, but peopledo not practise it much. In the everyday affairs oflife it is more useful to reason forward, and so theother comes to be neglected. There are fifty who canreason synthetically for one who can reason analyti-cally.""I confess," said I, "that I do not quite followyou.""I hardly expected that you would. Let me see if Ican make it clearer. Most people, if you describe atrain of events to them, will tell you what the resultwould be. They can put those events together in theirminds, and argue from them that something will come topass. There are few people, however, who, if you toldthem a result, would be able to evolve from their owninner consciousness what the steps were which led up tothat result. This power is what I mean when I talk ofreasoning backward, or analytically." 11."... we have been compelled to reason backward from

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