I am afraid, my dear Watson, that most of your conclusions were erroneous. When I said you stimulated me I meant, to be frank, that in noting your fallacies I was occasionally guided towards the truth.
After appearing as though he was agreeing with Watson, Sherlock Holmes quickly contradicts Watson and informs him that his theories were actually wrong. Holmes gives Watson this backhanded compliment, saying that Watson’s incorrect theories were not altogether useless since they led Holmes to the right answers. Watson’s character gives Holmes an opportunity to show off and demonstrate his superiority, a dynamic that plays out over the novella.
Then had you not better consult him?
After Dr. Mortimer makes the mistake of naming Sherlock Holmes as the “second best” crime solver in Europe, Holmes snidely advises Dr. Mortimer that he better consult the better detective instead. In a rare instance of vulnerability, readers can see that Holmes might have a more fragile ego than what is perceived.
“Well?” said he. “Do you not find it interesting?” “To a collector of fairy-tales.”
Here, Dr. Mortimer asks Holmes what he thinks of the eighteenth-century account of the curse of the Baskervilles, which he just recited to him, and Holmes replies. Holmes’s quick, wry response serves as the first indication of Holmes’s scientific bent and the fact that he will not resort to easy explanations for the case. Holmes’s response also reveals his confidence and indifference to offending others who might not share his ideas.
My dear Watson, clumsy as I have been, you surely do not seriously imagine that I neglected to get the number? 2704 is our man. But that is no use to us for the moment.
Holmes patronizes Watson for assuming he wasn’t fastidious enough to catch the taxi number carrying their suspect as the taxi drove away. Holmes goes a step further to say the number isn’t even that important a detail at the moment, further diminishing Watson’s observations. As shown here, Holmes’s self-importance drives his dynamic with Watson—Holmes continuously ensures that Watson never forgets his superiority.
“It is a lovely evening, my dear Watson,” said a well-known voice. “I really think that you will be more comfortable outside than in.”
When Holmes greets Watson outside the door of the stone hut on the moor, he catches Watson off guard and knows he has surprised his partner. Watson feels extremely tense investigating a potentially dangerous site and has no idea Holmes is even on the moor since he believes Holmes is in London. Holmes’s understated greeting demonstrates his steely composure and his psychological mastery of those around him.
My dear fellow, you have been invaluable to me in this as in many other cases, and I beg that you will forgive me if I have seemed to play a trick on you. In truth, it was partly for your own sake that I did it, and it was my appreciation of the danger which you ran which led me to come down and examine the matter for myself.
When he finds out Holmes has tricked him, Watson feels deeply hurt and offended. Watson interprets Holmes’s behavior as a lack of trust in his abilities and even suspects that Holmes is mocking him. Here, Holmes reassures Watson that he didn’t notify Watson that he was on the moor for Watson’s safety—even though readers may note that this explanation is not entirely true. Holmes used Watson to observe the case at safe distance.
As it is, I have been able to get about as I could not possibly have done had I been living at the Hall, and I remain an unknown factor in the business, ready to throw in all my weight at a critical moment.
Here, Holmes continues to try to reassure Watson, who has been deeply shaken by Holmes’s deception, that he tricked him for a good cause when he came to the moor to investigate the case behind his back in secret. Holmes explains that he’s been able to get more information this way and that his method is working.
“Where is it?” Holmes whispered; and I knew from the thrill of his voice that he, the man of iron, was shaken to the soul. “Where is it, Watson?”
For a brief moment, readers may wonder if Holmes’s ironclad faith in the rational is actually being tested. Just before Holmes utters these words, out on the moor, in an intense scene at the climax of the novella, he and Watson hear the sound of a hound. Readers wouldn’t have been given this window into Holmes’s thoughts if it weren’t for Watson, whose intimate knowledge of Holmes’s psychology allows the reader important insights into Holmes’s character.
It was a cunning device, for, apart from the chance of driving your victim to his death, what peasant would venture to inquire too closely into such a creature should he get sight of it, as many have done, upon the moor?
In addition to his ego, Holmes carries a degree of classism that he reveals throughout the novella in comments such as this one. Here, Holmes admires Stapleton’s ruse and makes a comment on how easy it is to dupe the uneducated peasants who live on the moor. Holmes belongs to the intellectual class of London and functions as a mouthpiece for the prevailing views of his class.
The past and the present are within the field of inquiry, but what a man may do in the future is a hard question to answer.
Holmes responds after Watson poses one final question that Holmes can’t answer: How could Stapleton lay claim to the Baskerville Manor if he had been living under an assumed name? Holmes’s response that the answer lies beyond his purview since it concerns the “future” closes the argument and also protects Holmes’s ego.