Sherlock Holmes

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This page is for quotations from the Sherlock Holmes series of stories, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Page numbers refer to The Penguin Complete Sherlock Holmes (1981) ISBN 0713914440



A Study in Scarlet (1888)

  • "London, that great cesspool into which all the loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly drained."
    • Part 1, chap. 1, p. 15
  • "His ignorance was as remarkable as his knowledge. Of contemporary literature, philosophy and politics he appeared to know nothing."
    • Part 1, chap. 2
  • I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it.
    • Part 1, chap. 2
  • "Before turning to those moral and mental aspects of the matter which present the greatest difficulties, let the inquirer begin by mastering more elementary problems."
    • Part 1, chap. 2, p. 23
  • "The theories which I have expressed there, and which appear to you to be so chimerical, are really extremely practical — so practical that I depend upon them for my bread and cheese."
    • Part 1, chap. 2, pp. 23-24
  • "It was easier to know it than to explain why I know it. If you were asked to prove that two and two made four, you might find some difficulty, and yet you are quite sure of the fact."
    • Part 1, chap. 3, p. 26
  • “It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence. It biases the judgment."
    • Part 1, chap. 3, p. 27
    • See also The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, "A Scandal in Bohemia", below.
  • "They say that genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains," he remarked with a smile. "It's a very bad definition, but it does apply to detective work."
    • Part 1, chap. 3, p. 31
  • "You know a conjurer gets no credit when once he has explained his trick; and if I show you too much of my method of working, you will come to the conclusion that I am a very ordinary individual after all."
    • Part 1, chap. 4, p. 33
  • "What you do in this world is a matter of no consequence,” returned my companion, bitterly. “The question is, what can you make people believe that you have done?"
    • Part 2, chap. 7, p. 83
  • "In solving a problem of this sort, the grand thing is to be able to reason backward. That is a very useful accomplishment, and a very easy one, but people do not practise it much. In the everyday affairs of life it is more useful to reason forward, and so the other comes to be neglected. There are fifty who can reason synthetically for one who can reason analytically."
    • Part 2, chap. 7, p. 83
  • "There is no branch of detective science which is so important and so much neglected as the art of tracing footsteps."
    • Part 2, chap. 7, p. 84
  • "I had no idea that such individuals exist outside of stories." ~ Dr. Watson about Sherlock Holmes, "A Study in Scarlet"

The Sign of the Four (1890)

  • "Which is it to-day," I asked, "morphine or cocaine?"
    He raised his eyes languidly from the old black-letter volume which he had opened.
    "It is cocaine," he said, "a seven-per-cent solution. Would you care to try it?"
    • Chap. 1, p. 89
  • "I have been guilty of several monographs. They are all upon technical subjects. Here, for example, is one 'Upon the Distinction between the Ashes of the Various Tobaccos'. In it I enumerate a hundred and forty forms of cigar, cigarette, and pipe tobacco, with coloured plates illustrating the difference in the ash."
    • Chap. 1, p. 91
  • "Eliminate all other factors, and the one which remains must be the truth."
    • Chap. 1, p. 92
    • For some similar formulations see The Sign of the Four, chap. 6; The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, "The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet"; The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, "Silver Blaze"; The Return of Sherlock Holmes, "The Adventure of the Priory School"; His Last Bow, "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans"; The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes, "The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier".
  • "I never guess. It is a shocking habit – destructive to the logical faculty."
    • Chap. 1, p. 93
  • "Hence the cocaine. I cannot live without brain-work. What else is there to live for? Stand at the window here. Was ever such a dreary, dismal, unprofitable world? See how the yellow fog swirls down the street and drifts across the dun-coloured houses. What could be more hopelessly prosaic and material? What is the use of having powers, Doctor, when one has no field upon which to exert them? Crime is commonplace, existence is commonplace, and no qualities save those which are commonplace have any function upon earth."
    • Chap. 1, p. 93
  • He smiled gently. "It is of the first importance," he cried, "not to allow your judgment to be biased by personal qualities. A client is to me a mere unit, a factor in a problem. The emotional qualities are antagonistic to clear reasoning. I assure you that the most winning woman I ever knew was hanged for poisoning three little children for their insurance-money, and the most repellent man of my acquaintance is a philanthropist who has spent nearly a quarter of a million upon the London poor."
    • Chap. 2, p. 96
  • “I never make exceptions. An exception disproves the rule.”
    • Chap. 2, p. 96
  • “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”
    • Chap. 6, p. 111
  • "You know my methods. Apply them".
    • Chap. 6, p. 112
  • "What do you think of this, Holmes? Sholto was, on his own confession, with his brother last night. The brother died in a fit, on which Sholto walked off with the treasure? How's that?”
    "On which the dead man very considerately got up and locked the door on the inside."
    • Chap. 6, p. 113
  • "It is the unofficial force – the Baker Street irregulars."
    • Chap. 8, p. 126
  • “Winwood Reade is good upon the subject,” said Holmes. “He remarks that, while the individual man is an insoluble puzzle, in the aggregate he becomes a mathematical certainty. You can, for example, never foretell what any one man will do, but you can say with precision what an average number will be up to. Individuals vary, but percentages remain constant. So says the statistician.
    • Chap. 10, p. 137
    • Holmes's memory slightly misleads him. In his The Martyrdom of Man (1872) Winwood Reade said that "As a single atom man is an enigma: as a whole he is a mathematical problem."

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)

A Scandal in Bohemia

For Watson's extended quote on Holmes's attitude towards Irene Adler, please see the main Wikipedia article Sherlock Holmes [1] under the section "Holmes and women"

  • "You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear."
    • Page 162
  • "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."
    • Page 163
    • See also ‘’A Study in Scarlet’’, Part 1, chap. 3, above.

The Red-Headed League

  • "I know, my dear Watson, that you share my love of all that is bizarre and outside the conventions and humdrum routine of everyday life."
    • Page 176
  • “It is quite a three pipe problem, and I beg that you won’t speak to me for fifty minutes.”
    • Page 184

A Case of Identity

  • "Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent."
    • Page 190
  • "There is nothing so unnatural as the commonplace."
    • Page 191
  • "The little things are infinitely the most important."
    • Page 194

The Boscombe Valley Mystery

  • "Singularity is almost invariably a clue. The more featureless and commonplace a crime is, the more difficult it is to bring it home."
    • Page 202
  • “Circumstantial evidence is a very tricky thing," answered Holmes thoughtfully. "It may seem to point very straight to one thing, but if you shift your own point of view a little, you may find it pointing in an equally uncompromising manner to something entirely different.”
    • Page 204
  • "You know my method. It is founded upon the observation of trifles."
    • Page 214

The Five Orange Pips

  • "The observer who has thoroughly understood one link in a series of incidents should be able to accurately state all the other ones, both before and after."
    • Page 225
  • “It is not so impossible, however, that a man should possess all knowledge which is likely to be useful to him in his work, and this, I have endeavoured in my case to do.”
    • Page 225
  • "A man should keep his little brain attic stocked with all the furniture that he is likely to use, and the rest he can put away in the lumber-room of his library, where he can get it if he wants it."
    • Page 225

The Man with the Twisted Lip

  • "It is, of course, a trifle, but there is nothing so important as trifles."
    • Page 238

The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle

  • "On the contrary, Watson, you can see everything. You fail, however, to reason from what you see. You are too timid in drawing your inferences."
    • Page 246
  • "My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other people don't know."
    • Page 254

The Adventure of the Speckled Band

  • "You are Holmes, the meddler.”
    My friend smiled.
    ”Holmes, the busybody!”
    His smile broadened.
    ”Holmes, the Scotland Yard Jack-in-office!”
    Holmes chuckled heartily.
    • Pages 264-265
  • Violence does, in truth, recoil upon the violent, and the schemer falls into the pit which he digs for another.
    • Page 272

The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet

  • “It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
    • Page 315

The Adventure of the Copper Beeches

  • "Data! Data! Data!" he cried impatiently. "I can't make bricks without clay."
    • Page 322
  • “The lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.”
    • Page 323
  • "I am glad of all details," remarked my friend, "whether they seem to you to be relevant or not."
    • Page 324

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1893)

Silver Blaze

  • “Nothing clears up a case so much as stating it to another person.”
    • Page 336
  • “It is more than possible; it is probable.”
    • Page 339
  • “That is the case as it appears to the police, and improbable as it is, all other explanations are more improbable still.”
    • Page 339
  • "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
    "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
    "The dog did nothing in the night-time."
    "That was the curious incident," remarked Sherlock Holmes.
    • Page 347

The Yellow Face

  • “Any truth is better than indefinite doubt.”
    • Page 360

The Stockbroker’s Clerk

  • "Results without causes are much more impressive."
    • Page 363

The Reigate Puzzle

  • "It is of the highest importance in the art of detection to be able to recognize, out of a number of facts, which are incidental and which vital. Otherwise your energy and attention must be dissipated instead of being concentrated."
    • Page 407

The Naval Treaty

  • "Watson here will tell you that I never can resist a touch of the dramatic."
    • Page 466

  • "Out of my last 53 cases 49 have been given full credit to the police and the rest to me"
    • Page 456

The Final Problem

  • "If I were assured of your eventual destruction I would, in the interests of the public, cheerfully accept my own."
    • Holmes to Moriarty
    • Page 5(of the just that story)
  • “He is the Napoleon of crime”.
    • Page 471

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902)

  • “Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!”
    • Chap. 2, p. 679
  • "We balance probabilities and choose the most likely. It is the scientific use of the imagination."
    • Chap. 4, p. 687
  • "There is nothing more stimulating than a case where everything goes against you."
    • Chap. 5, p. 696
  • "Bear in mind, Sir Henry, one of the phrases in that queer old legend which Dr. Mortimer has read to us, and avoid the moor in those hours of darkness when the powers of evil are exalted."
    • Chap. 6, p. 699
  • "You never tire of the moor. You cannot think the wonderful secrets which it contains. It is so vast, and so barren, and so mysterious."
    • Chap. 7

The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1905)

The Adventure of the Norwood Builder

  • "There is no prospect of danger, or I should not dream of stirring out without you."
    • Page 502

The Adventure of the Dancing Men

  • "What one man can invent another can discover."
    • Page 525

The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist

  • "We had got as far as this, when who should walk in but the gentleman himself, who had been drinking his beer in the tap-room and had heard the whole conversation. Who was I? What did I want? What did I mean by asking questions? He had a fine flow of language, and his adjectives were very vigorous. He ended a string of abuse by a vicious back-hander, which I failed to entirely avoid. The next few minutes were delicious. It was a straight left against a slogging ruffian. I emerged as you see me. Mr. Woodley went home in a cart. So ended my country trip, and it must be confessed that, however enjoyable, my day on the Surrey border has not been much more profitable than your own."
    • Pages 532-533
  • "So you can put that in your pipe and smoke it, Mr. Busybody Holmes!"
    • Page 537

The Adventure of the Priory School

  • “It is impossible as I state it, and therefore I must in some respect have stated it wrong.”
    • Page 550

The Adventure of Black Peter

  • "There can be no question, my dear Watson, of the value of exercise before breakfast."
    • Page 559
  • "One should always look for a possible alternative, and provide against it. It is the first rule of criminal investigation."
    • Page 567

The Adventure of the Three Students

  • "Let us hear the suspicions. I will look after the proofs."
    • Page 600

The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter

  • "There is so much red tape in these matters."
    • Page 626
  • Dr Leslie Armstrong "I have heard your name, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, and I am aware of your profession – one of which I by no means approve."
    Holmes "In that, Doctor, you will find yourself in agreement with every criminal in the country."
    • Page 629
  • "A draghound will follow aniseed from here to John o’ Groat’s, and our friend, Armstrong, would have to drive through the Cam before he would shake Pompey off his trail."
    • Page 633

The Adventure of the Abbey Grange

  • "Come, Watson, come!" he cried. "The game is afoot. Not a word! Into your clothes and come!"
    • Page 636
  • "Perhaps, when a man has special knowledge and special powers like my own, it rather encourages him to seek a complex explanation when a simpler one is at hand."
    • Page 642
  • "What I know is unofficial; what he knows is official."
    • Page 647

The Adventure of the Second Stain

  • "Now, Watson, the fair sex is your department".
    • Page 657
  • "Only one important thing has happened in the last three days, and that is that nothing has happened."
    • Page 659

The Valley of Fear (1915)

  • “What do you make of it, Holmes?” “It is obviously an attempt to convey secret information.” “But what is the use of a cipher message without the cipher?”
    • The Strand Magazine from Sept 1914 the first two chapters of the novel. Chapter 1 The Warning
  • "The vocabulary of Bradshaw is nervous and terse, but limited."
    • Part 1, chap. 1, p. 712
  • Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself; but talent instantly recognizes genius.
    • Part 1, chap. 1, p. 773
  • "Should I ever marry, Watson, I should hope to inspire my wife with some feeling which would prevent her from being walked off by a housekeeper when my corpse was lying within a few yards of her."
    • Part 1, Chap. 6, p. 801
  • "There should be no combination of events for which the wit of man cannot conceive an explanation."
    • Part 1, chap. 6, p. 802

His Last Bow (1917)

The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge

  • "There is but one step from the grotesque to the horrible."
    • Part 2, p. 888

The Cardboard Box

  • "There is no part of the body which varies so much as the human ear."
    • Page 896

The Red Circle

  • "Education never ends Watson. It is a series of lessons with the greatest for the last."
    • Page 907

The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans

  • “Am dining at Goldini's Restaurant, Gloucester Road, Kensington. Please come at once and join me there. Bring with you a jemmy, a dark lantern, a chisel, and a revolver. S. H.”
    It was a nice equipment for a respectable citizen to carry through the dim, fog-draped streets.
    • Page 925
  • “We must fall back upon the old axiom that when all other contingencies fail, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
    • Page 926
  • "Think of Mycroft's note, of the Admiralty, the Cabinet, the exalted person who waits for news. We are bound to go."
    My answer was to rise from the table.
    "You are right, Holmes. We are bound to go."
    • Page 926

The Dying Detective

  • "Everything in this world is relative, my dear Watson"
    • Page 633
  • "Holmes, you are not yourself. A sick man is but a child"
    • Page 933
  • "You fidget me beyond endurance. You, a doctor–you are enough to drive a patient into an asylum."
    • Page 935
  • "Indeed, I cannot think why the whole bed of the ocean is not one solid mass of oysters, so prolific the creatures seem."
    • Page 936
  • "You and I, Watson, we have done our part. Shall the world, then, be overrun by oysters? No, no; horrible!"
    • Page 936
  • "But I have reasons to suppose that this opinion would be very much more frank and valuable if he imagines that we are alone"
    • Page 938
  • "I give you my word that for three days I have tasted neither food nor drink until you were good enough to pour me out that glass of water. But it is the tobacco which I find most irksome."
    • Page 940
  • "Three days of absolute fast does not improve one’s beauty, Watson."
    • Page 941
  • "Malingering is a subject upon which I have sometimes thought of writing a monograph."
    • Page 941

The Adventure of the Devil's Foot

  • “I fear that if the matter is beyond humanity it is certainly beyond me. Yet we must exhaust all natural explanations before we fall back upon such a theory as this."
    • Page 958
  • “I think, Watson, that I shall resume that course of tobacco-poisoning which you have so often and so justly condemned”
    • Page 960
  • "To let the brain work without sufficient material is like racing an engine. It racks itself to pieces."
    • Page 960
  • "We are devil-ridden, Mr. Holmes! My poor parish is devil-ridden! Satan himself is loose in it! We are given over into his hands!"
    • Page 963
  • "It is not for me, my dear Watson, to stand in the way of the official police force."
    • Page 965
    • "I owe you both my thanks and an apology. It was an unjustifiable experiment even for one’s self, and doubly so for a friend. I am really very sorry."
    • Page 965
  • "Surely the clearest proof of it is that, knowing what I know, I have sent for you and not for the police.”
    • Page 967
  • "I have heard your reasons and regard them as unconvincing and inadequate. We will pass that."
    • Page 967
  • Sterndale “How do you know that?”
    Holmes “I followed you.”
    Sterndale “I saw no one.”
    Holmes “That is what you may expect to see when I follow you."
    • Page 967
  • "Some fumes which are not poisonous would be a welcome change."
    • Page 970

His Last Bow

  • “Good old Watson! You are the one fixed point in a changing age. There’s an east wind coming all the same, such a wind as never blew on England yet. It will be cold and bitter, Watson, and a good many of us may wither before its blast. But it’s God’s own wind none the less, and a cleaner, better, stronger land will lie in the sunshine when the storm has cleared.”
    • Page 980

The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (1927)

The Adventure of the Illustrious Client

  • “It may be some fussy, self-important fool; it may be a matter of life or death”
    • Page 984
  • The client "I should say that there is no more dangerous man in Europe."
    Holmes "I have had several opponents to whom that flattering term has been applied."
    • Page 985
  • “I am sorry. I am accustomed to have mystery at one end of my cases, but to have it at both ends is too confusing. I fear, Sir James, that I must decline to act.”
    • Page 985
  • “A complex mind. All great criminals have that.”
    • Page 987
  • "I have my plans. The first thing is to exaggerate my injuries. They’ll come to you for news. Put it on thick, Watson. Lucky if I live the week out–concussion–delirium–what you like! You can’t overdo it."
    • Page 994
  • “I have found out who our client is,” I cried, bursting with my great news. “Why, Holmes, it is– –”
    “It is a loyal friend and a chivalrous gentleman,” said Holmes, holding up a restraining hand. “Let that now and forever be enough for us.”
    • Page 999

The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier

  • “When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
    • Page 1011

The Adventure of the Three Gables

  • "I am not the law, but I represent justice so far as my feeble powers go."
    • Page 1032

The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire

  • “Matilda Briggs was not the name of a young woman, Watson,” said Holmes in a reminiscent voice. “It was a ship which is associated with the giant rat of Sumatra, a story for which the world is not yet prepared.”
    • Page 1034
  • "We must not let him think that this agency is a home for the weak-minded."
    • Page 1036
  • "It is simpler to deal direct."
    • Page 1037

The Adventure of the Three Garridebs

  • "In my profession all sorts of odd knowledge comes useful, and this room of yours is a storehouse of it."
    • Page 1050
  • "Well, Watson, we can but possess our souls in patience and see what the hour may bring."
    • Page 1053

The Problem of Thor Bridge

  • "We must look for consistency. Where there is a want of it we must suspect deception."
    • Page 1065
  • “We can but try.”
    • Page 1069

The Adventure of the Creeping Man

  • "Come at once if convenient - if inconvenient come all the same."
    • Page 1071
  • "When one tries to rise above Nature one is liable to fall below it."
    • Page 1082
  • "The highest type of man may revert to the animal if he leaves the straight road of destiny."
    • Page 1082

The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane

  • That the dog should die was after the beautiful, faithful nature of dogs.
    • Page 1089
  • "I am an omnivorous reader with a strangely retentive memory for trifles."
    • Page 1094

The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place

  • "Dogs don't make mistakes."
    • Page 1109

The Adventure of the Retired Colourman

  • "Cut out the poetry, Watson."
    • Page 1114
  • "Things must be done decently and in order."
    • Page 1119


  • “Elementary, my dear Watson.”
    • In the stories by Conan Doyle, Holmes often remarked that his logical conclusions were "elementary", in that he considered them to be simple and obvious. However, the complete phrase "Elementary, my dear Watson" does not appear in any of the 60 Holmes stories written by Doyle. The beginning of The Crooked Man (1893) is the closest that "Elementary" and "my dear Watson" ever appear in the text, but the two phrases are separated by a paragraph — and are in the wrong order.
    • It does appear in chapter 19 of P. G. Wodehouse's Psmith, Journalist (1915), and at the very end of the 1929 film, The Return of Sherlock Holmes, the first Sherlock Holmes sound film.
    • The phrase is also brought up in the 1935 film,The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes, an adaptation of the story,The Valley of Fear.

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