DID HE REALLY EXIST?
"Dear me, Mr. Holmes! Dear me."
Let me take you down the by lanes of London to the street immortalized by the famous duo of the world's greatest detective Mr. Sherlock Holmes and his friend and companion Dr. John Watson, M.D.
Holmes and Watson are as usual sitting by the fireplace on this chilly winter morning, with Watson reading the Times, while Holmes is at the table organizing his 'Encyclopedia of Criminals'. As Holmes puts it, it is perhaps the most complete record of criminals in the world...
The most interesting entries are to be found perhaps under the letter 'M'. Here we find the names of the master criminals like Merridew, Morgan, Mathews, Col. Sebastian Moran, and erstwhile Prof. of Mathematics, Moriarty. It is with the latter that this discussion is concerned.
I don't know whether this question ever arose in your minds while reading the exploits of the great detective, but it certainly did in mine...
Did Prof. Moriarty really exist? Or was he just a figment of Holmes' imagination? No doubt some of you may be revolted at the merest suggestion, but before we jump to a conclusion, let us analyze this problem dispassionately.
If we consent to the fact that he existed, all is well. Then we have a man whose 'face protrudes forward' and who sits 'motionless as a spider' in his web waiting for the prey. He is an intelligent man with an uncanny ability for analysis, reasoning and planning. Holmes mentions a central power which is feeding the crimes in the country and it is due to him that Holmes has to suffer defeat no less than three times. (Once it is at the hands of Irene Adler). But there can be adduced cogent reasons to doubt that he ever existed...
Doubting Watson of course would be sacrilegious. he couldn't have created him to add to his literary skills. The reason why the character of Moriarty appears in his writings is simply that Holmes has told him!
Now suddenly we find ourselves in very deep waters.
Could Sherlock Holmes have lied?
And if he did so, why?
We may examine the facts:
Vanity is a human weakness. It wouldn't be wrong to state that Holmes was vain and flattery appealed to him. He was a dramatist at heart. He rather fancied himself to be a magician pulling a rabbit out of his hat. It is evident in the "Adventure of the Mazarin Stone". He almost got Sir Baskerville killed and scared poor Watson out of his skin by suddenly coming back to life in "The Empty House".
He was definitely pleased when his brother Mycroft remarked that he had been hearing of Holmes everywhere since Watson had become his chronicler.
Vanity is a vice. we cannot expect a man of Holmes's stature and fame to be free of it, but to put the blame of his failure on someone else is something for which he can never be forgiven. This has to be proved and this is what I aim to do. Prof. Moriarty did not exist. Holmes created him to take the rap of his failures.
Let us take now take a look at Holmes's career around the time of that fatal scuffle between him and Moriarty to determine why the need arose in the first place!
As per Watson's record "The year 1887 furnished us with a long series of cases of greater or less interest", yet only three of them are chronicled. These include The Reigate Squires, The Noble Bachelor and the Five Orange Pips.
During this year Holmes was "seriously ill and had been working fifteen hours a day for over two months and on one occasion had worked five days at a stretch". As he recalls he was working for the affairs of the Netherlands Sumatra Co. and colossal schemes of Baron Maupertuis and on April 14th Watson was summoned to Lyons by a telegram where he found Holmes seriously ill.
Out of these three cases Holmes failed miserably in the case of the "Five Orange Pips" and conceded that everything had been done except arresting the criminals which was prevented by nature taking its own course.
Of the year 1888, Watson holds the record of only one case, that of Holmes's defeat by none other than Irene Adler (A Scandal in Bohemia).
In 1889, there is again only one case that is brought to notice ... The Case of the Twisted Lip, which Holmes nearly lost if it were not for a flash of brilliance towards the end!
In 1890, Watson's chronicles give an insight into three of his companions cases, viz. The Red Headed League, The Engineer's Thumb and The Greek Interpreter. Of these three only the first one was successfully solved by the master detective. The case of "The Engineer's Thumb" was the second case which brought defeat. The criminals had had only a few hours head start, yet "all the ingenuity of Holmes failed to detect the whereabouts of those three men and the woman". The excuse of not having formally arrested the criminals had worked once, so why not again? Hence we see the three murderers were drowned again in the sea on board the 'Norah Creina' in "The Resident Patient". Another defeat follows soon in "The Greek Interpreter". He made a series of mistakes in this case and let the criminals slip out of his hand and he is also to be blamed for the death of the brother though he later justifies himself by calling it the justice of the nature when the two criminals are found stabbed (Thought to be done by the sister.)
There we have a pattern... It was the third case where Holmes blames nature for his failure. Holmes and Watson came together in the early 80's. Since then his popularity and fame had been steadily growing. If nothing else, he was called upon by the Scotland Yard to solve cases for them. So how is it that where he was working for 5 days at a stretch in 1887, only a handful of cases are worth recording in the years o come. So we have 3 cases in 1887, only 1 in 1888 and 3 in 1890 before that scuffle in the Swiss Alps in May 1891.
If Holmes had been so busy in the early 1887, why did the number of cases dwindle towards the end of the 80's. In fact the no. of cases had dwindled to a trickle as mentioned above. As Watson records: "He still came to see me from time to time when he desired a companion in his investigations, but these occasions grew more and more seldom until I find that in the year 1890 there were only three cases of which I retain record". Even Holmes realized that where he was the best in the mid eighties, his reputation was declining due to the failures in the later years and he had to fish out some reason for that. The alibi of nature taking its own course would not have worked for the fourth time.
And the reason it did the first three times just goes on to tell you the hold he had on others to make them believe whatever he said.
In early 1891, Holmes was in France working for the Government. He returned on 23rd of April and had an interview for the first time in his Baker Street residence. Watson at that time had been living separately with his wife. Holmes visited Watson on the night of 24th and told him about the interview which had terminated in a challenge to the end of either of them. He further stated how on his return from an errand he had found their quarters at Baker Street afire and how he had been assaulted on the way. He then tells Watson in detail about the erstwhile Professor of Mathematics, Mr. James Moriarty.
He goes on to explain that the series of his failures was not due to his nervous breakdown but to the existence of a super criminal, a brain of the first order sitting " motionless, like a spider in the center of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them". Holmes believed in the story. But he didn't pause to think how "the tall man whose face protrudes forward, and is for ever slowly oscillating from side to side in a curiously reptilian fashion" could have passed the scrutiny of Mrs. Hudson and the army of urchins.
Holmes added the master touch on the journey to Switzerland. At Victoria Station, he saw a tall man pushing his way furiously through the crowd just as the train had begun to move and he said, "Ah, there is Moriarty himself". The good doctor accepted it as he had accepted other things. If you recall the story, the cab which drove Watson to the station was driven by none other than Mycroft, Holmes' brother. He plays an instrumental role in this deceit carried out by Holmes. He knew that Moriarty didn't exist, and he knew later that Holmes was alive and well. Holmes disposes of the matter saying that he had to have someone to rely upon for money and maintain contact with the world. Yet he didn't choose Watson because he wanted his words to carry conviction that he was actually dead.
But why should Mycroft lie for Holmes? Just because he was his brother? Holmes had never mentioned his brother until the episode of "The Greek Interpreter". We can assume that Mycroft had a past, and not a good one, and Holmes had bailed him out of trouble and had perhaps got him the position in the Government. Since Holmes had helped out Mycroft, he was willing to carry out the bluff pulled by Holmes and keep it buried in his chest for three years till he reappeared!
Now we come to our deductions....
Holmes was in France for most part of the year 1891. Yet he found it possible to ring his net around Prof. Moriarty though he himself claims him to be "a man of great intellect gone awry". The Doctor failed to question this.
Another master touch brought about by Holmes, which unfortunately strengthens our argument regarding the reality of Moriarty's existence is that no one has never seen Moriarty. The Scotland Yard, which maintains a file on all the criminals of the world has no ink link regarding the master criminal. The two ablest men on the force, Lestrade and Gregson, have never heard of him and as usual they believe what Holmes tells them.
Thus it was easy for Holmes to point to any person and claim him to be Prof. Moriarty who had snatched away his victories. But he doesnt do that. Indeed, he is much too clever for that. He takes Watson to Switzerland on the pretext of running away from Moriarty and let the force pull in the fish he had netted. But Moriarty and Moran escape and follow him to the Swiss Alps where there is a showdown and Holmes and Moriarty are killed in the Reichenbach Falls. The letter that is found by Watson is no doubt written by Holmes. He knew that if he could make Watson believe his death, no one could refute it.
The reason for such an unprecedented thing is simple. Since he was going through a bad phase, he simply killed himself to take a break from the detective life and traveled to India, Tibet and Egypt as a Norwegian named Seigrson. He conveniently returned to his quarters and practice those three years later in 1894 when he knew that everybody would have forgotten him and his failures.
There are certain other facts to be accounted for. Holmes certainly did not lie about the Baker Street quarters being set at fire. Was it really Moriarty who set it afire? I do not think so. Holmes was a cocaine addict. Although Watson had tried to wean him off, but it was still an old habit. As a cocaine addict, a person is bound to be depressed at times, at times his mood is elevated and at times he is delirious. He is bound to have hallucinations and no doubt this led to the creation of Prof. Moriarty. Another interesting feature is that the person is able to recollect his thoughts after the effects of the drugs have worn off. This leads to the conclusion that Prof. Moriarty was an illusion that Holmes found it useful to convert into reality. It is during these mood swings that the Baker Street quarters were set afire by his own pipe!
Then there is the matter of Col. Sebastian Moran. He did exist. As is evident from his arrest in "The Empty Room". Holmes calls him an aide of Moriarty. He claims that it was he who threw stones at Holmes at the Reichenbach Falls and made it difficult for him to climb the cliff. But it is his word for that. There was no one else present and Holmes knew of Moran's existence and his criminal activities so he brought him as an aide of Moriarty to make his story sound plausible. Even Moran was ignorant of Moriarty and indeed had been so because he did not exist!
Thus, we have the best detective in the world a prey to his own vanity. And a great criminal mind who is nothing but a figment of imagination! Some fault lies with his chronicler Watson too, since he hung onto every word uttered by Holmes without verifying it or applying thought because he could not doubt what Holmes had said.
But after all, does not that great mind deserve a little vanity?
And if you want to crush me with the argument that it did not behoove Holmes to indulge in such palpable falsehood, my devastating reply will be: Why could he not have been endowed with the rich faculty of his own creator and go one step forward in the same direction!
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References: The Complete Sherlock Holmes By: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Penguin)
Baker Street Studies Edited by: H.W. Bell (Otto Penzler)
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