The next day, Holmes and Watson inspect the apartment at No. 221B, Baker Street, and are so pleased with the rooms that they decide to move in immediately. Watson finds Holmes easy to live with, as he is “quiet” and follows routine habits. Holmes is usually out of the house before Watson gets up in the mornings and spends his days working in the laboratory or in dissecting rooms, or taking long walks throughout London. Watson observes that Holmes can be extremely energetic during his work but at times falls into periods of addiction-like lethargy for days. Watson, however, dismisses the possibility that Holmes could be an addict because of how orderly his life is.
Holmes and Watson become easy roommates, despite or perhaps because of their differences. In contrast to Holmes’ industriousness at the lab, Watson spends his days doing little at home. Holmes’ long periods of silent lethargy could indicate depression, though Watson initially suspects (and soon dismisses) drug addiction. Though later Holmes stories confirm the detective’s cocaine usage, Holmes’ depressed mood could also be due to his lack of interesting murder cases over which to obsess.
Watson’s curiosity about Holmes deepens the longer they live together. He describes Holmes’ appearance as striking, as he is over six feet tall, very thin, with sharp eyes, a “hawk-like” nose, and ink-stained fingers with an “extraordinary delicacy of touch.” Watson then breaks from the narrative in order to justify his intense interest in Holmes — he reminds the reader that his life was “objectless,” that his health prevented him going out, and that he had no friends who would visit him. The mystery of who Holmes is constitutes Watson’s only form of entertainment.
Watson reveals his intense, almost homoerotic interest in Holmes, as well as his loneliness. Watson’s wartime experiences seemingly push him to become obsessed with his roommate, especially as Holmes is the only person that Watson has in his life. The mystery of Holmes’ work serves to abate Watson’s previous sense of his own “meaningless” existence.
Watson begins to spend his time trying to determine what Holmes does. He determines that his roommate is not studying medicine or any particular area for a degree, and that while he has extraordinary mastery over certain areas of knowledge, he is also ignorant of many other areas, such as astronomy and literature. Reacting to Watson’s surprise about his ignorance, Holmes explains his theory that the human mind is like an attic — that it must store only useful information in an organized manner, so that useless facts don’t crowd out facts that may be of use in his work.
Watson is further introduced to Holmes’ eccentricities and eclectic range of knowledge. Holmes here introduces his famous brain attic theory, hinting that he only takes in the knowledge necessary for him to do his work. Clearly many fields of interest give him no pleasure simply because they seem “useless.”
Believing Holmes would be unwilling to discuss his profession yet still curious about the nature of his work, Watson draws up a list of Holmes’ areas of knowledge, mastery, and ignorance. He determines that Holmes is knowledgeable about chemistry, British law, human anatomy, sensational literature, and some areas of geology and botany, and is an excellent athlete and violinist, but that he has little knowledge of literature, politics, philosophy, and astronomy. Unable to determine what Holmes needs these particular skills for, Watson soon gives up his quest to discover what Holmes does.
As Watson observes Holmes, he systematically records Holmes’ areas of knowledge and strengths, hoping to discover Holmes’ profession. However, unlike Holmes, who was able to deduce Watson’s recent return from Afghanistan from little more than a glance, Watson quickly resigns from his quest, demonstrating his inferior analysis skills despite his careful observation, as well as his self-described laziness.
In their first few weeks on Baker Street, Holmes and Watson have no visitors, leading Watson to conclude that Holmes was “as friendless a man as I was myself.” Soon, however, Holmes begins to receive many visitors of varying social classes and ages, including a Mr. Lestrade, a “little sallow, rat-faced, dark-eyed fellow” who comes several times a week. Watson learns that these visitors are Holmes’ clients, but he still does not feel able to ask his roommate about his work. Soon, however, Holmes reveals the nature of his work on his own.
Doyle further contrasts Watson and Holmes. While Watson is completely alone, Holmes regularly talks with clients from all walks of life. And whereas Holmes will do nearly anything to find something out (such as beating corpses to study postmortem bruising patterns), Watson will not do something as basic as ask his roommate’s profession for the sake of propriety.
One day, Watson gets up earlier than usual and sits down at the breakfast table with Holmes. On the table is a magazine article, “The Book of Life,” which proposes that through careful observation and the “science of Deduction and Analysis” one can learn a stranger’s history and profession. Watson finds the article to be “a remarkable mixture of shrewdness and absurdity,” with sharp reasoning but “far fetched and exaggerated” deductions. Skeptical about the author’s claims, Watson dismisses the article as “rubbish” only to discover that Holmes himself wrote it.
Watson’s characterization of the article’s ideas closely matches the character of Holmes himself, who is both a shrewd and absurdly larger-than-life figure.
Holmes explains that he uses his theories in the article on a regular basis for his work as a consulting detective. He takes on private and government detectives like Lestrade as clients, setting them on the right path toward solving their cases while helping to “enlighten” others in trouble. For the most part, Holmes is able to solve cases merely by listening to the evidence presented by his clients, but occasionally goes out to observe evidence first-hand for more complex cases. To prove to Watson the utility and veracity of the science of deduction, Holmes explains how he knew that Watson had come from Afghanistan without being told. Based on his observations of Watson’s partially tanned skin, military manner, and shoulder injury, Holmes concluded that Watson was an army doctor wounded in the tropics and that the most likely place this could have occurred was Afghanistan.
Introducing Watson into his thought processes, Holmes establishes his superiority to police and private detectives. Demonstrating his deductive skills, he also solves for Watson the small mystery of how he knew Watson had come from Afghanistan.
Now that Holmes has explained his reasoning, Watson finds his claims “simple enough” and compares him to Edgar Allen Poe’s and Gaboriau’s literary detectives Dupin and Lecoq, both of whom Watson admires. Holmes, however, dismisses Dupin and Lecoq as inferior detectives to himself. While Watson is thinking to himself that Holmes, however intelligent he may be, is “certainly very conceited,” Holmes complains that his talents are wasted on the lack of true criminals and more difficult cases. Watson then sees a man outside the apartment and tries to change the subject by asking what he might be looking for, but is further annoyed when Holmes deduces that the man is a retired marine sergeant. When the man, a commissionaire (or messenger), knocks on their door to leave Holmes a letter, Watson seizes the opportunity to prove Holmes wrong by asking the man his profession, to which the man replies that he was once a sergeant with the Royal Marine Light Infantry.
The earliest literary detectives, Dupin and Lecoq, created by Edgar Allen Poe and Gaboriau respectively, were part of the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes. Ironically, however, Holmes criticizes them as inferior to himself, demonstrating his arrogance and perhaps also Doyle’s claim to Holmes’ literary (as well as sleuthing) superiority. This causes Watson to be annoyed and to pettily attempt to disprove one of Holmes’ casual deductions, but Holmes again proves to be right. Gregson and Lestrade will echo this behavior, repeatedly doubting Holmes’ deductions only to be astonished when Holmes is right. Unlike the Scotland Yard detectives, however, Watson soon recognizes Holmes’ brilliance without resentment.