"You know my methods. Apply them."

-Sherlock Holmes, The Sign of Four, chapter 6

Is that really all there is to it, though? Again and again, Holmes states that his ability as a detective is simply down to a set of methods, which can be learnt and applied, that there is nothing more to it than extensive training in how to observe, and in deduction. (Or induction. Or abduction. We can argue about that later.) That anyone could do what he does. The point is, I’m not convinced that it’s this simple, and I believe Watson isn’t convinced either. To a lesser degree? Sure, anyone given the time and commitment could probably achieve some of Holmes’ skills. But to his level? I don’t know.

I think there’s something else: something Holmesian, something particular to him, that allows Sherlock to do what he does. I’m not sure what it is, but I truly believe there is something that takes him from being a smart and observant guy with a lot of specialized knowledge to being Sherlock Holmes

Or maybe these are just the jaded grumblings of someone who is really bad at applying the methods. Or it’s just fiction, and a fantasy that this could ever be achievable, so I should stop thinking about fictional characters as if they were real people, and recognize that things are possible in stories that aren’t possible in real life. I don’t know.

It’s also interesting to note, I think, that for a man who can be so… um, well let’s be honest, intensely vain, ultimately Holmes thinks his abilities are nothing unusual, that they are a product training rather than something personal. It’s curious that he is both self important and self deprecating.

So: is Holmes right? Are there a set of methods that one could apply to be able to do what he does? Or is there something more that takes him from observant to genius? 

nympheline:

every now and then, holmes’s hypocrisy makes me want to shake him. in a study in scarlet, sherlock says:

Dupin was a very inferior fellow. That trick of his of breaking in on his friends’ thoughts with an apropos remark after a quarter of an hour’s silence is really very showy and superficial. 

but then in “the adventure of the dancing men,” what does our show-off do? in short, he does a dupin.

Holmes had been seated for some hours in silence with his long, thin back curved over a chemical vessel in which he was brewing a particularly malodorous product. His head was sunk upon his breast, and he looked from my point of view like a strange, lank bird, with dull gray plumage and a black top-knot.
“So, Watson,” said he, suddenly, “you do not propose to invest in South African securities?”
I gave a start of astonishment. Accustomed as I was to Holmes’s curious faculties, this sudden intrusion into my most intimate thoughts was utterly inexplicable.
“How on earth do you know that?” I asked.
He wheeled round upon his stool, with a steaming test-tube in his hand, and a gleam of amusement in his deep-set eyes.
“Now, Watson, confess yourself utterly taken aback,” said he.
“I am.”
“I ought to make you sign a paper to that effect.”
“Why?”
“Because in five minutes you will say that it is all so absurdly simple.”
“I am sure that I shall say nothing of the kind.”
“You see, my dear Watson,”—he propped his test-tube in the rack, and began to lecture with the air of a professor addressing his class—”it is not really difficult to construct a series of inferences, each dependent upon its predecessor and each simple in itself. If, after doing so, one simply knocks out all the central inferences and presents one’s audience with the starting-point and the conclusion, one may produce a startling, though possibly a meretricious, effect. Now, it was not really difficult, by an inspection of the groove between your left forefinger and thumb, to feel sure that you did NOT propose to invest your small capital in the gold fields.”
“I see no connection.”
“Very likely not; but I can quickly show you a close connection. Here are the missing links of the very simple chain: 1. You had chalk between your left finger and thumb when you returned from the club last night. 2. You put chalk there when you play billiards, to steady the cue. 3. You never play billiards except with Thurston. 4. You told me, four weeks ago, that Thurston had an option on some South African property which would expire in a month, and which he desired you to share with him. 5. Your check book is locked in my drawer, and you have not asked for the key. 6. You do not propose to invest your money in this manner.”
“How absurdly simple!” I cried.

i have no analysis to accompany this point. just wanted to share my frustration with this paragon who supposedly “play[s] the game for the game’s own sake,” but is additionally as “vain as a girl about his gifts” and wants to “make [his] name famous.”

nympheline:

every now and then, holmes’s hypocrisy makes me want to shake him. in a study in scarlet, sherlock says:

Dupin was a very inferior fellow. That trick of his of breaking in on his friends’ thoughts with an apropos remark after a quarter of an hour’s silence is really very showy and superficial. 

but then in “the adventure of the dancing men,” what does our show-off do? in short, he does a dupin.

Holmes had been seated for some hours in silence with his long, thin back curved over a chemical vessel in which he was brewing a particularly malodorous product. His head was sunk upon his breast, and he looked from my point of view like a strange, lank bird, with dull gray plumage and a black top-knot.

“So, Watson,” said he, suddenly, “you do not propose to invest in South African securities?”

I gave a start of astonishment. Accustomed as I was to Holmes’s curious faculties, this sudden intrusion into my most intimate thoughts was utterly inexplicable.

“How on earth do you know that?” I asked.

He wheeled round upon his stool, with a steaming test-tube in his hand, and a gleam of amusement in his deep-set eyes.

“Now, Watson, confess yourself utterly taken aback,” said he.

“I am.”

“I ought to make you sign a paper to that effect.”

“Why?”

“Because in five minutes you will say that it is all so absurdly simple.”

“I am sure that I shall say nothing of the kind.”

“You see, my dear Watson,”—he propped his test-tube in the rack, and began to lecture with the air of a professor addressing his class—”it is not really difficult to construct a series of inferences, each dependent upon its predecessor and each simple in itself. If, after doing so, one simply knocks out all the central inferences and presents one’s audience with the starting-point and the conclusion, one may produce a startling, though possibly a meretricious, effect. Now, it was not really difficult, by an inspection of the groove between your left forefinger and thumb, to feel sure that you did NOT propose to invest your small capital in the gold fields.”

“I see no connection.”

“Very likely not; but I can quickly show you a close connection. Here are the missing links of the very simple chain: 1. You had chalk between your left finger and thumb when you returned from the club last night. 2. You put chalk there when you play billiards, to steady the cue. 3. You never play billiards except with Thurston. 4. You told me, four weeks ago, that Thurston had an option on some South African property which would expire in a month, and which he desired you to share with him. 5. Your check book is locked in my drawer, and you have not asked for the key. 6. You do not propose to invest your money in this manner.”

“How absurdly simple!” I cried.

i have no analysis to accompany this point. just wanted to share my frustration with this paragon who supposedly “play[s] the game for the game’s own sake,” but is additionally as “vain as a girl about his gifts” and wants to “make [his] name famous.”

This is last minute but…

If anyone still wants to join in with us to read all Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories in 84 days, we don’t start till tomorrow! 

Please take a look at this blog for more information if you’re interested!