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Doctor Watson Knows Noses
About the Author: Bruce Harris is the author of SHERLOCK HOLMES AND DOCTOR WATSON: ABOUT TYPE. His Sherlockian articles have appeared in The Baker Street Journal, The Sherlock Holmes Journal, Mystery Magazine, and Canadian Holmes among others.


Among Sherlock Holmes’s characteristic deerstalker hat, curved pipe, and hawk-like nose, only the latter is specifically mentioned by Dr. Watson. It is mentioned in STUD and REDH. The physical characteristics of a hawk-like nose are quite specific. According to Eden Warwick, “[the] Hawk Nose is very convex, and preserves its convexity, like a bow, throughout the whole length from the eyes to the tip. It is thin and sharp.”[1] A hooked type of nose shape usually has sharp contours with a prominent bend in the middle making it look like the beak of a hawk.

Nasology is the scientific study of noses. So, what do hawk-like shaped noses reveal about their owners? And does Holmes accurately reflect these suppositions? The answers to the former question vary, depending upon which source is consulted. Natalia Kollmann believes the typical hawk-like nose person is independent. “They are their own bosses and usually like to go off the beaten path. You will find them doing odd things at times because they don’t need people’s approval for anything they do.”[2] The profile certainly fits our Mr. Holmes. In ENGR, Watson mentions Holmes’s Bohemian habits and in SCAN, we learn, “Holmes … loathed every form of society with his whole Bohemian soul.” As the world’s first, and at the time only, consulting detective, Holmes is clearly his own boss. Odd behaviors and Sherlock Holmes are synonymous. For example, his habit of keeping cigars in a coal scuttle, pipe tobacco in the toe-end of a Persian Slipper, or engaging in indoor target practice. Holmes adorned a wall in 221B Baker Street with bullet holes, leaving the initials, VR (Victoria Regina) for all to see. While on the subject of peculiar, Holmes once used a harpoon to repeatedly stab a dead pig swinging from a ceiling hook in the back of a butcher shop (BLAC).

Eden Warwick posits a hawk-like nose, “… indicates considerable shrewdness in worldly matters; and deep insight into character and facility of turning that insight to profitable account.”[3] Again, these characteristics are consistent with Holmes. In LION, Holmes says, “I am an omnivorous reader with a strangely retentive memory for trifles.” And, in VALL, “All knowledge comes useful to the detective.” He was passionate about knowledge. “Education never ends,” he tells Watson. “It is a series of lessons with the greatest for the last (REDC).” There is no paucity of evidence regarding Holmes’s deep insight into others’ character. Holmes himself writes in a magazine article, “By a man’s finger nails, by his coat-sleeve, by his boot, 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 (STUD).” This unique talent is the backbone for the worldwide success of his career. Jack Tracy points out, “He [Holmes] demonstrated himself to be a keen judge of human character (BERY, BOSC, CARD, COPP, ILLU, THOR).”[4] Tracy is adept at putting things succinctly. He continues, “[Holmes] was quick to admit that his ‘curious gifts of instinct and observation’ (VEIL) were based upon ‘a kind of intuition’ (STUD, SIGN, THOR), and that even in college he had already formed into a system those habits of observation and inference which were to play so important a part in his life (GLOR).”[5] The question remains, was Holmes and his hawk-like nose, as Warwick theorizes, able to earn a living applying his unique and specialized talent? The answer is a resounding, yes! A mere decade after his first recorded case (STUD) in ١٨٨١, Holmes informs Watson, “Between ourselves, the recent cases in which I have been of assistance to the royal family of Scandinavia, and to the French republic, have left me in such a position that I could continue to live in the quiet fashion which is most congenial to me, and to concentrate my attention upon my chemical researches (FINA).”

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