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Sherlock Holmes, the compassionate detective

Author: Revati

We were given the honour to have this article been published on the e-magazine of SHSI (Sherlock Holmes Society of India) in December 2013.

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Sherlock Holmes is the most well-known detective in the world, who had been already studied countless times from thousands of aspects. In this writing I would like to deal with one of his characteristics. My thoughts are based on the original stories and the Sherlock Holmes series of Granada Television – the reason for the latter is quite simple: it is my favourite adaptation and it is the most faithful to the Canon.

First of all the title of my article needs some explanation. Being compassionate means that one feels with those who suffer. „According to Buddhism for a man to be perfect there are two qualities that he should develop equally: compassion on one side and wisdom on the other. Here compassion represents love, charity, kindness, tolerance and such noble qualities on the emotional side, or qualities of the heart, while wisdom would stand for the intellectual side or the qualities of the mind.” (Walpola Rahula: What the Buddha taught)

Being compassionate

Sherlock is not that emotionless machine what some adaptations create from him. He is truly able to express his emotions and he is solicitous about the life of others. His selflessness is confirmed perfectly by the fact that on several occasions he does not want any payment for his services. The most important thing for him is the truth to be find out and criminals to be punished. And here comes compassion to the picture: who is deeply touched and moved by the suffering of the poor and the downtrodden, that must be a really soulful person. The very reason why I love the Granada series so much is that Jeremy Brett’s Holmes shows a wide variety of emotions, though the sleuth of the novels is even a little more humane. Although I like BBC’s Sherlock, my opinion is that its creators maltreat the character a little bit. The sleuth of modern times is slightly too negative for my taste: he is too arrogant, too condescending, sometimes too rude – though maybe these are for the sake of a future positive change. And of course he has many accomplishments. (It does not belong closely to my topic but I have to mention one thing, which is a direct hit in the series of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, namely the character of Watson. Martin Freeman is as great as the miracle had been who was called Edward Hardwicke. Because of him I excuse Sherlock many things.)

Sherlock’s sense of justice cannot bear the plight of the deprived. In the novels he often helps ladies who are in danger. He is always polite, respects them and acknowledges their merits. When Doyle wrote the adventures, the life of women, and especially of poor women was unenviable. Women had far less rights than men and many of them were trapped in their marriages. (The writer was the vanguard of the movement to change the laws of divorce, and from 1909 he became the president of the Divorce Law Reform Union for ten years. He makes Holmes to voice his views.)

The detective is solicitous about children and animals as well – and this again shows his compassion. He gives tasks to the wastrels, and this way he makes their life a little bit easier. He expresses his opinion in The Copper Beeches as follows: „The pressure of public opinion can do in the town what the law cannot accomplish. There is no lane so vile that the scream of a tortured child, or the thud of a drunkard’s blow, does not beget sympathy and indignation among the neighbours, and then the whole machinery of justice is ever so close that a word of complaint can set it going, and there is but a step between the crime and the dock.” Sometimes he gets the justice in his own hands and lets wrongdoers flee. But he does it only when he thinks the crime and its weight itself is enough punishment for the guilty.


Though my theme is the compassion of Holmes, I would also like to mention wisdom, what is a feature of his as well. He helps the work of the police with wise advices and he is always ready to give guidance to his clients. He contemplates a lot, which is a must for his profession. He is seen several times sitting in the classical meditation posture (lotus or half-lotus). Meditation has many benefits and it clears the mind – Holmes usually practices it for better concentration and analysis.

As to end my article I would like to quote something wise from the detective:

„To the logician all things should be seen exactly as they are, and to under-estimate oneself is as much a departure from truth as to exaggerate one’s own powers.” (The Greek Interpreter)

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