Study Guide

The Hound of the Baskervilles Respect

By Arthur Conan Doyle


"Really, Watson, you excel yourself," said Holmes, pushing back his chair and lighting a cigarette. "I am bound to say that in all the accounts which you have been so good as to give of my own small achievements you have habitually underrated your own abilities. It may be that you are not yourself luminous, but you are a conductor of light. Some people without possessing genius have a remarkable power of stimulating it. I confess, my dear fellow, that I am very much in your debt."

He had never said as much before, and I must admit that his words gave me keen pleasure, for I had often been piqued by his indifference to my admiration and to the attempts which I had made to give publicity to his methods. (1.13-4)

Poor Watson. He's happy for even that grudging respect from Holmes. He's happy when his friend gives him any kind of compliment at all—even a backhanded one. This scene immediately sets up the dynamic between Watson (the faithful and admiring writer who "[gives] publicity" to Holmes' cases) and Holmes (the rude genius who enjoys Watson's attention).

"Glad to meet you, sir. I have heard your name mentioned in connection with that of your friend. You interest me very much, Mr. Holmes. I had hardly expected so dolichocephalic a skull or such well-marked supra-orbital development. Would you have any objection to my running my finger along your parietal fissure? A cast of your skull, sir, until the original is available, would be an ornament to any anthropological museum. It is not my intention to be fulsome, but I confess that I covet your skull."

Sherlock Holmes waved our strange visitor into a chair. "You are an enthusiast in your line of thought, I perceive, sir, as I am in mine," said he. "I observe from your forefinger that you make your own cigarettes. Have no hesitation in lighting one." (1.56-7)

Dr. Mortimer is interested in the "science" of phrenology (which was popular in Victorian times but which was pretty much debunked). Phrenologists thought you could tell a lot about a person's character by looking at the bulges and bumps on their skulls, since skull shape would indicate which parts of their brains were most developed. The author is making a point that these two recognize each other as men of science. And as a man of science, he's worthy of Holmes' respect.

"It was all very confused. Sir Charles had evidently stood there for five or ten minutes."

"How do you know that?"

"Because the ash had twice dropped from his cigar."

"Excellent! This is a colleague, Watson, after our own heart. But the marks?"

"He had left his own marks all over that small patch of gravel. I could discern no others." (3.43-7)

This bit of sleuthing by Dr. Mortimer's really catches Holmes' attention. Watson probably wishes he could get that kind of unqualified admiration from Holmes. Once again, it's the scientific deductions that get respect. Watson's lifetime of loyalty and affection—well, that's just not as exciting.

"I presume, Doctor, that you could tell the skull of a n**** from that of an Esquimau?"

"Most certainly."

"But how?"

"Because that is my special hobby. The differences are obvious. The supra-orbital crest, the facial angle, the maxillary curve, the—"

"But this is my special hobby, and the differences are equally obvious." (4.27-32)

Holmes continues to give Dr. Mortimer his props as a fellow scientist. He even downplays his own deductions about the newspaper as not all that "remarkable"—it just happens to be his specialty. He's just another specialist, like Dr. Mortimer. Do you think Holmes has that much humility? Could it be just a way to show respect for Dr. M.?

Baskerville sat for a long time, his eyes fixed upon it, and I read upon his eager face how much it meant to him, this first sight of that strange spot where the men of his blood had held sway so long and left their mark so deep. There he sat, with his tweed suit and his American accent, in the corner of a prosaic railway-carriage, and yet as I looked at his dark and expressive face I felt more than ever how true a descendant he was of that long line of high-blooded, fiery, and masterful men. There were pride, valour, and strength in his thick brows, his sensitive nostrils, and his large hazel eyes. (6.26)

Watson seems to have a man-crush on Sir Henry. Even in a plain old railway car, he immediately stands out. True, he seems like a looker—those "dark hazel eyes"!—but what really seems to impress Watson's is Sir Henry's lineage. His distinguished, "masterful" ancestry seems to command immediate respect, even before Watson knows anything else about Sir Henry. He just knows him to be a worthy guy because he's a descendant of worthy men. It's a good thing Watson feels this way. If he's such an exceptional person, then we'll be intrigued by his storyline and hope Stapleton fails in harming him.

I am certainly developing the wisdom of the serpent, for when Mortimer pressed his questions to an inconvenient extent I asked him casually to what type Frankland's skull belonged, and so heard nothing but craniology for the rest of our drive. I have not lived for years with Sherlock Holmes for nothing. (10.64)

Here, Watson pats himself on the back for figuring out how to distract Dr. Mortimer, One of the things we really like about The Hound of the Baskervilles is that Watson gets to show off his own smarts and knowledge of people without Holmes around to coach him. Having a friend like Holmes can sure wear down a person's self-respect. Watson may not have Holmes' genius, but he's plenty smart in this novel and we're glad he knows it.

"We're at close grips at last," said Holmes as we walked together across the moor. "What a nerve the fellow has! How he pulled himself together in the face of what must have been a paralyzing shock when he found that the wrong man had fallen a victim to his plot. I told you in London, Watson, and I tell you now again, that we have never had a foeman more worthy of our steel." (13.1)

Holmes' superpower is detection. Q: How can Conan Doyle keep up the suspense of these mysteries when it seems so clear that Holmes can and will always find all the pieces of the puzzle? A: Give him an equally clever (well, maybe not equally…) opponent. Holmes respects Stapleton's nerve and cunning even if he loathes his motives. This convinces us readers that Stapleton is worth taking seriously as a threat, even if we're pretty sure that Holmes will prevail. At least Stapleton is smart enough not to make it challenging.

The London express came roaring into the station, and a small, wiry bulldog of a man had sprung from a first-class carriage. We all three shook hands, and I saw at once from the reverential way in which Lestrade gazed at my companion that he had learned a good deal since the days when they had first worked together. I could well remember the scorn which the theories of the reasoner used then to excite in the practical man. (13.138)

Lestrade, Scotland Yard policeman, has learned to respect Holmes over the course of their work together. He's apparently one of the rare few who wasn't always impressed with Holmes. Lestrade first appears in A Study in Scarlet, which was published fourteen years before The Hound of the Baskervilles in 1887. By the time of this story, he's a fan.

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