No one who had ever seen Sherlock Holmes in his infancy would have supposed him born to be a hero. His situation in life, the character of his father and mother, his own person and disposition, were all equally against him.
His father was a very respectable man, though not particularly gifted, and he was not in the least addicted to locking up his sons. His mother was a woman of uncommon mathematical genius, with a good temper, and, what is more remarkable, with a good constitution. She had one son before Sherlock was born; and instead of dying in bringing the latter into the world, as anybody might expect, she still lived on to see both boys grow up, and to enjoy excellent health herself.
Sherlock, for many years of his life, had an unfortunate look: a thin, awkward figure, pale skin, dark, unruly hair, and sharp cheekbones. So much for his person; and not less unpropitious for heroism seemed his mind. He showed a disturbing interest in the gruesome, the mysterious, and the bizarre. Such were his propensities; his abilities were quite as extraordinary. Instead of excelling at cricket or shooting, Sherlock preferred to spend his time reading, or playing the violin.
What a strange, unaccountable character! Yet with all these symptoms of profligacy at ten years old, he had neither a bad heart nor a bad temper, though he was noisy and wild, hated confinement and cleanliness, and loved nothing so well in the world as conducting experiments. Such was Sherlock Holmes at ten.
At fifteen, appearances were mending: his hair began to curl becomingly, his complexion improved, he grew into his strong features, his eyes gained more animation, and his figure more consequence. His love of dirt gave way to an inclination for finery, and he grew clean as he grew smart; he had now the pleasure of sometimes hearing his father and mother remark on his personal improvement.
"Sherlock grows quite a good-looking lad — he is almost handsome today," were words which caught his ears now and then; and how welcome were the sounds! To look almost handsome is an acquisition of higher delight to a boy who has been looking rather odd the first fifteen years of his life than a beauty from his cradle can ever receive.
From fifteen to seventeen, Sherlock was in training for a hero. He read all such works as heroes must read to supply their memories with those quotations which are so serviceable and so soothing in the vicissitudes of their eventful lives. So far, his improvement was sufficient, and in many other points he came on exceedingly well.
His greatest deficiency was in the pencil. He had no notion of drawing — not enough even to attempt a sketch of his lover's profile, that he might be detected in the design. There he fell miserably short of the true heroic height.
At present, Sherlock did not know his own poverty, for he had no lover to portray. He had reached the age of seventeen without having seen one amiable youth who could call forth his sensibility, without having inspired one real passion, and without having excited even any admiration but what was very moderate and very transient.
This was strange indeed! But strange things may be generally accounted for if their cause be fairly searched out. There was not one lord in the neighbourhood; no — not even a baronet. There was not one family among their acquaintance who had reared and supported a child accidentally found at their door — not one young person whose origin was unknown. Sherlock’s father had no ward, and the squire of the parish no children.
But when a young man is to be a hero, the perverseness of forty surrounding families cannot prevent him. Something must and will happen to throw a love interest in his way.
Mrs. Hudson, who owned the chief of the property about Fullerton, the village in Wiltshire where the Holmes family lived, was ordered to Bath for the benefit of her hip. This lady, a good-humoured woman, fond of Sherlock, and probably aware that if adventures will not befall a young man in his own village, he must seek them abroad, invited him to go with her. Mr. and Mrs. Holmes were all compliance, and Sherlock all happiness.