One night—it was on the twentieth of March, 1888—I was returning from a journey to a patient (for I had now returned to civil practice), when my way led me through Baker Street.
In the year 1881, Holmes and Watson meet in A Study in Scarlet because they both need roommates. Holmes has already rented an apartment at 221B Baker Street, and Watson agrees to share it. Holmes's financial situation must have improved by the end of The Sign of Four, since he is able to go on renting the lodgings alone when Watson marries Miss Mary Morstan (an heiress) and goes off to live with her.

Although Watson is a doctor, he does not practice his profession in A Study in Scarlet or The Sign of Four because he is still recuperating from a war wound received in Afghanistan.

Éand indicated a spirit case and a gasogene in the corner.
Also called a "tantalus," a spirit case holds crystal decanters of spirits (whiskey, brandy, etc.) so that they are visible and yet inaccessible to the servants when the bar holding the stoppers is locked down. This puts the servants in the same position as Tantalus from Greek mythology, a son of Zeus who was tortured in the underworld with burning hunger and thirst that he could not assuage, despite the water and fruit that seemed almost within his reach.

A "gasogene," or "gazogene," is the Victorian equivalent of a seltzer bottle: it uses a canister of carbon dioxide under high pressure and forces the gas into plain water to make sparkling water for use in mixed drinks.

"I see it, I deduce it. How do I know that you have been getting yourself very wet lately, and that you have a most clumsy and careless servant girl?"
Here, Holmes spells out his method for Watson. From observation of small details, he builds a theory that fits the facts. Of course, Holmes also likes to begin with a startling pronouncement that makes him look prescient in the eyes of those not "in the know." As Watson says several times, it all seems simple when you know how it's done. Holmes often prefers to defer explanation, and thus to maintain an aura of mystery as long as possible.

"You would certainly have been burned, had you lived a few centuries ago."
As a witch, that is. Witch burnings in England took place mostly in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.

"Hence, you see, my double deduction that you had been out in vile weather, and that you had a particularly malignant boot-slitting specimen of the London slavey."
A "slavey" was a maidservant performing the most menial duties in a Victorian household.

"You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear."
Holmes's method depends upon enlightened observation: thinking about and remembering what he sees as he sees it.

"I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts."
This is one of Holmes's most famous pronouncements, and might explain why he is often unwilling to share a theory before he has the facts to prove it.

Copyright © 2006 Stanford University. All rights reserved. Stanford, CA 94305, (650)723-2300  l  Terms of Use