My name is Holmes, Sherlock Holmes

Fikcyjna postać tak trwale przeniknęła do rzeczywistoci, że stateczni londyńscy biznesmeni nosili czarne opaski na znak żałoby po detektywie. Do dziś na Baker Street – fikcyjny adres Sherlocka – przychodzą listy z prośbą o rozwiązanie zagadek kryminalnych.

The exact date of his birth has never been given. But it is believed that on January 6th, 1854 (or 1856 according to others) Violet Sherrinford gave birth to a child known as William Sherlock Scott Holmes. In fact the name Sherlock came from a cricketer against whom Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator, had once played and Holmes was derived from the American jurist Olivier Wendell Holmes.

As Sherlock’s mother was of French origin he travelled with her throughout Western Europe, especially France in his youth. One of their companions was Sherlock’s brother Mycroft, seven years his senior. As an adult Mycroft held a very important position in the British government. Some even say that he became an early member of the British intelligence establishment.

Sherlock Holmes first appeared in a novel entitled ‚A Study in Scarlet’. It was first published in ‚Beetons Christmas Annual’ for 1887. In this story we became acquainted with a young doctor, John Hamish Watson, who later becomes Sherlock’s dearest friend.

Watson, of Scottish roots, also had an older brother, who loved whisky so much that he had drunk the family fortune away. After receiving a degree of doctor of medicine at London University and attending a surgeon’s course for the Army, Watson sailed to India. He then served in the Army in Afghanistan. Unfortunately a bullet wound to one of his limbs (shoulder or leg, as there are two different locations for his injury) at the battle of Maiwand ended his military career. Dismissed from the Army he returned to London where, thanks to a medical colleague named Stamford, he found someone to share rooms with. His roommate was of course Holmes.

They took up residence on the first floor 221B Baker Street, the best-recognized address ever (except 10 Downing Street maybe). In Holmes’ time there was no such address but if you try to write a postcard or letter to Mr. Holmes or Dr Watson, a secretary of the public relations department at Abbey National Building Society (a trust company) may send you a reply nowadays.

‚In height he was rather over six feet and so excessively lean he seemed to be considerably taller. His eyes were sharp and piercing 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. His hands were invariably blotted with ink and stained with chemicals, yet he was possessed of extraordinary delicacy of touch’. This is how Watson describes Holmes. He seems to be a rather handsome man, don’t you agree?

Holmes had many hobbies as well as habits, some of them very benign. He liked sport and was an excellent boxer, singlestick player and swordsman. He kept his pipe tobacco in the toe of a Persian slipper, attached his current correspondence to the mantelpiece with a knife and often viewed his sitting room as a chemical laboratory. He also played his violin at all hours, which must have been a great trial for his landlady Mrs Hudson, pageboy Billy and the rest of the tenants (if there were any). Although we might consider Holmes well educated the most unexpected thing about him is the fact that he was not familiar with the ideas of Copernicus i.e that the Earth goes round the Sun. Isn’t that queer?

In a world without fast sports cars, hi-tech equipment, satellite links, GPS or DNA tests the only way to solve a crime and bring the villain to the court of justice was to use the mind. And Holmes proved to be a real wizard in this area. He used logical thinking, basing his knowledge of a person or place on observation.

‚By a man’s finger-nails, by his coat-sleeve, by his boots, by his trouser-knees, by the callosities of his forefinger and thumb, by his expression, by his shirt-cuffs – by each of these things a man’s calling is plainly revealed. That all united should fail to enlighten the competent inquirer in any case is almost inconceivable.’

He was more like today’s psychologists than a crime scene investigator. ‚When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth’ – he used to say. Maybe if policemen (not only Inspector Lestrade whom Sherlock described ‚the best of the bad lot’) followed his rules more felonies would be solved.

However, sometimes when the crime started to beset Holmes he turned to drugs: morphine and cocaine. Don’t be surprised as times were different then. Both drugs were legal in Sherlock’s times, were ingredients in patients’ medicines and could be easily bought at the drugstore. Besides, a sweet lollypop called Kojak had not been invented then.

After an exhausting or successful day it’s always nice to see your loved one. For Sherlock Holmes it was Irene Adler, an opera singer born in New Jersey, who was always The Woman for him. On the other hand Holmes wedded Mary Morstan, who was originally his client.

It is said that we should judge people not by the type of friends they have but by who their enemy is. The chief villains in Sherlock’s world were Colonel Moran, the second most dangerous man in London, Stapleton and above all Professor James Moriarty, the Napoleon of crime as we can without any doubt call him. He was a brilliant mathematician,a spiderlike person with bushy eyebrows in control of London’s underworld.

As the first two stories of Holmes’s adventures became so popular Conan Doyle wrote a series of short stories for The Strand magazine and gathered them as ‚The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ (published 1892). He didn’t intended to prolong his character’s life. So when asked by the same magazine for a price for the new series, he named it so high that no one would be able to afford it. But, amazingly, The Strand agreed to pay this fee and that is how the second series ‚The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes’ came into being. However, to avoid this situation happening again, Conan Doyle almost put our hero to death in a fierce struggle with Moriarty at Switzerland’s Reichenbach Falls. Overall there are 60 short stories and 4 novels about the most popular consulting detective in history. In UK and Canada most of them are no longer under copyright so you can easily download them to your computer from the Internet.

No wonder that when the time came Sherlock was also in demand for TV, radio and cinema. The first movie, the silent, ‚Sherlock Holmes Baffled’ was screened in 1901. And it is mostly TV which can be blamed for the most common misconception. The phrase ‚Elementary, my dear Watson’, easily recognized by fans, never appeared in the original stories but was first heard in a movie from 1929 ‚The Return of Sherlock Holmes’. Also the deerstalker cap was never mentioned but was first drawn by the original illustrator, Sidney Paget. Nor was the curved pipe mentioned. It was the actor William Gillette who persuaded the filmmakers that he should have a pipe that would not interfere with his profile or with clear articulation.

As the date of Holmes’s death has never been mentioned let us believe that he lives somewhere in Sussex, enjoying his retirement by keeping bees.

A lot of people seem to talk as if Holmes really lived. Although in fact he is a purely fictional character, brought to this world by his creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, many assume that he actually existed and all the stories and novels describing his adventures must be based on real events. One thing is certain: he will remain in our memory as long as there are people who love detective stories.

Monika Szczepaniak


to be acquainted (with) poznać
limb kończyna
to dismiss zwalniać
lean szczupły
piercing przeszywajcy
alertness stan gotowości
benign dobroduszny
swordsman florecista
tenant lokator
queer dziwne
callosity odcisk, nagniotek
wizard czarodziej
inquirer detektyw
felony zbrodnia
to beset dręczyć
ingredient składnik
lollypop lizak
villain łajdak
underworld półświatek
to prolong przedłużać
to be in demand mieć powodzenie
deerstalker kapelusz myśliwski