Professor Moriarty Quotes

Professor Moriarty Quotes

Professor James Moriarty by Sidney Paget

Professor Moriarty is only mentioned in a handful of Sherlock Holmes stories, and yet he remains one of most memorable characters in all of fiction. Professor Moriarty is the very model of the supervillain. Moriarty only appears or is mentioned in the following Sherlock Holmes’ stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:

The Final Problem – Short Story – 1893

The Empty House – Short Story – 1903

The Missing Three-Quarter – Short Story – 1904

The Valley of Fear – Novel – 1914/1915

His Last Bow – Short Story – 1917

sherlock holmes and professor moriarty

Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty at

Reichenbach Falls by Sidney Paget 1893

Professor Moriarty Quotes

‘Sometime when you have a year or two to spare I commend to you the study of Professor Moriarty.’

-The Valley of Fear

PART ONE – The Tragedy of Birlstone

Chapter 2 – Sherlock Holmes Discourses


‘He [Moriarty] is the Napoleon of crime, Watson. He is the organizer of half that is evil and nearly all that is undetected in this great city.  He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker.  He has a brain of the first order.’

Sherlock Holmes Quote

-The Final Problem

‘He [Moriarty] sits motionless, like a spider in the centre of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them. He does little himself. He only plans. But his agents are numerous and splendidly organised. Is there a crime to be done, a paper to be abstracted, we will say, a house to be rifled, a man to be removed – the word is passed to the Professor, the matter is organised and carried out. The agent may be caught. In that case money is found for his bail or his defence. But the central power which uses the agent is never caught – never so much as suspected. This was the organization which I deduced, Watson, and which I devoted my whole energy to exposing and breaking up.’

Sherlock Holmes Quote

-The Final Problem


‘You know my powers, my dear Watson, and yet at the end of three months I was forced to confess that I had at last met an antagonist who was my intellectual equal.’

Sherlock Holmes Quote

-The Final Problem

“That is not danger,” said he [Moriarty]. “It is inevitable destruction.  You stand in the way not merely of an individual, but of a mighty organisation, the full extent of which you, with all your cleverness, have been unable to realise.  You must stand clear, Mr. Holmes, or be trodden underfoot.”

Professor Moriarty Quote

-The Final Problem

‘If I were assured of your eventual destruction I would, in the interests of the public, cheerfully accept my own.’

Sherlock Holmes to Professor Moriarty

-The Final Problem

‘When you have one of the first brains of Europe up against you, and all the powers of darkness at his back, there are infinite possibilities’

Sherlock Holmes Quote

-The Valley of Fear

PART ONE – The Tragedy of Birlstone

Chapter 1 – The Warning

‘His career has been an extraordinary one. He is a man of good birth and excellent education, endowed by nature with a phenomenal mathematical faculty…But the man had hereditary tendencies of the most diabolical kind. A criminal strain ran in his blood, which instead of being modified, was increased and rendered infinitely more dangerous by his extraordinary mental powers.’

Sherlock Holmes Quote

-The Final Problem

 ‘Are you aware, Watson, there is no one who knows the higher criminal world of London so well as I do.  For years past I have continually been conscious of some power behind the malefactor, some deep organising power which forever stands in the way of the law, and throws its shield over the wrongdoer.  Again and again in cases of the most varying sorts – forgery cases, robberies, murders – I have felt the presence of this force, and I have deduced its action in many of those undiscovered crimes in which I have not been personally consulted.  For years I have endeavored to break through the veil which shrouded it, and at last the time came when I seized my thread and followed it, until it led me, after a thousand cunning windings, to ex-Professor Moriarty of mathematical celebrity.’

Sherlock Holmes Quote

-The Final Problem

‘Aye, there’s the genius and the wonder of the thing!’ he cried. ‘The man pervades London, and no one has heard of him. That’s what puts him on a pinnacle in the records of crime.  I tell you, Watson, in all seriousness, that if I could beat that man, if I could free society of him, I should feel that my own career had reached its summit, and I should be prepared to turn to some more placid line of life. 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. But I could not rest, Watson, I could not sit quiet in my chair, if I thought that such a man as Professor Moriarty were walking the streets of London unchallenged.’

Sherlock Holmes Quote

-The Final Problem

The Final Problem

Holmes and Moriarty fight to the death along the narrow path above Reichenbach Falls.

McClure’s Magazine, Volume II,  No. 1, December, 1893, Page 111, “The Adventure of The Final Problem”

 From The Valley of Fear

“Who then is Porlock?” I asked.

“Porlock, Watson, is a nom-de-plume, a mere identification mark; but behind it lies a shifty and evasive personality. In a former letter he frankly informed me that the name was not his own, and defied me ever to trace him among the teeming millions of this great city. Porlock is important, not for himself, but for the great man with whom he is in touch. Picture to yourself the pilot fish with the shark, the jackal with the lion—anything that is insignificant in companionship with what is formidable: not only formidable, Watson, but sinister—in the highest degree sinister. That is where he comes within my purview. ‘You have heard me speak of Professor Moriarty?’

   ‘The famous scientific criminal, as famous among crooks -‘

   ‘My blushes, Watson!’ Holmes murmured in a deprecating voice.

   ‘I was about to say, “as he is unknown to the public”.’

   ‘A touch! A distinct touch!’ cried Holmes. ‘You are developing a certain unexpected vein of pawky humour, Watson, against which I must learn to guard myself. But in calling Moriarty a criminal you are uttering libel in the eyes of the law – and there lies the glory and the wonder of it! The greatest schemer of all time, the organiser of every devilry, the controlling brain of the underworld, a brain which might have made or marred the destiny of nations – that’s the man! But so aloof is he from general suspicion, so immune from criticism, so admirable in his management and self-effacement, that for those very words that you have uttered he could hale you to a court and emerge with your year’s pension as a solatium for his wounded character. Is he not the celebrated author of The Dynamics of an Asteroid, a book which ascends to such rarified heights of pure mathematics that it is said that there was no man in the scientific press capable of criticising it?  Is this a man to traduce?  foul-mouthed doctor and slandered professor – such would be your respective roles! That’s the genius, Watson.  But if I am spared by lesser men, our day will surely come.’

   ‘May I be there to see!’ I exclaimed devoutly…

Exchange between Holmes and Watson

-The Valley of Fear

PART ONE – The Tragedy of Birlstone

Chapter 2 – The Warning

From The Valley of Fear

Sherlock Holmes Expounds on Professor Moriarty

   “You think there is someone behind him?”

“I know there is.”

“This professor that I’ve heard you mention?”


Inspector MacDonald smiled, and his eyelid quivered as he glanced towards me. “I won’t conceal from you, Mr. Holmes, that we think in the C. I. D. that you have a wee bit of a bee in your bonnet over this professor. I made some inquiries myself about the matter. He seems to be a very respectable, learned, and talented sort of man.”

“I’m glad you’ve got so far as to recognize the talent.”

“Man, you can’t but recognize it! After I heard your view I made it my business to see him. I had a chat with him on eclipses. How the talk got that way I canna think; but he had out a reflector lantern and a globe, and made it all clear in a minute. He lent me a book; but I don’t mind saying that it was a bit above my head, though I had a good Aberdeen upbringing. He’d have made a grand meenister with his thin face and gray hair and solemn-like way of talking. When he put his hand on my shoulder as we were parting, it was like a father’s blessing before you go out into the cold, cruel world.”

Holmes chuckled and rubbed his hands. “Great!” he said. “Great! Tell me, Friend MacDonald, this pleasing and touching interview was, I suppose, in the professor’s study?”

“That’s so.”

“A fine room, is it not?”

“Very fine—very handsome indeed, Mr. Holmes.”

“You sat in front of his writing desk?”

“Just so.”

“Sun in your eyes and his face in the shadow?”

“Well, it was evening; but I mind that the lamp was turned on my face.”

“It would be. Did you happen to observe a picture over the professor’s head?”

“I don’t miss much, Mr. Holmes. Maybe I learned that from you. Yes, I saw the picture—a young woman with her head on her hands, peeping at you sideways.”

“That painting was by Jean Baptiste Greuze.”

The inspector endeavoured to look interested.

“Jean Baptiste Greuze,” Holmes continued, joining his finger tips and leaning well back in his chair, “was a French artist who flourished between the years 1750 and 1800. I allude, of course to his working career. Modern criticism has more than indorsed the high opinion formed of him by his contemporaries.”

The inspector’s eyes grew abstracted. “Hadn’t we better—” he said.

“We are doing so,” Holmes interrupted. “All that I am saying has a very direct and vital bearing upon what you have called the Birlstone Mystery. In fact, it may in a sense be called the very centre of it.”

MacDonald smiled feebly, and looked appealingly to me. “Your thoughts move a bit too quick for me, Mr. Holmes. You leave out a link or two, and I can’t get over the gap. What in the whole wide world can be the connection between this dead painting man and the affair at Birlstone?”

“All knowledge comes useful to the detective,” remarked Holmes. “Even the trivial fact that in the year 1865 a picture by Greuze entitled La Jeune Fille a l’Agneau fetched one million two hundred thousand francs—more than forty thousand pounds—at the Portalis sale may start a train of reflection in your mind.”

It was clear that it did. The inspector looked honestly interested.

“I may remind you,” Holmes continued, “that the professor’s salary can be ascertained in several trustworthy books of reference. It is seven hundred a year.”

“Then how could he buy—”

“Quite so! How could he?”

“Ay, that’s remarkable,” said the inspector thoughtfully. “Talk away, Mr. Holmes. I’m just loving it. It’s fine!”

Holmes smiled. He was always warmed by genuine admiration—the characteristic of the real artist. “What about Birlstone?” he asked.

“We’ve time yet,” said the inspector, glancing at his watch. “I’ve a cab at the door, and it won’t take us twenty minutes to Victoria. But about this picture: I thought you told me once, Mr. Holmes, that you had never met Professor Moriarty.”

“No, I never have.”

“Then how do you know about his rooms?”

“Ah, that’s another matter. I have been three times in his rooms, twice waiting for him under different pretexts and leaving before he came. Once—well, I can hardly tell about the once to an official detective. It was on the last occasion that I took the liberty of running over his papers—with the most unexpected results.”

“You found something compromising?”

“Absolutely nothing. That was what amazed me. However, you have now seen the point of the picture. It shows him to be a very wealthy man. How did he acquire wealth? He is unmarried. His younger brother is a station master in the west of England. His chair is worth seven hundred a year. And he owns a Greuze.”


“Surely the inference is plain.”

“You mean that he has a great income and that he must earn it in an illegal fashion?”

“Exactly. Of course I have other reasons for thinking so—dozens of exiguous threads which lead vaguely up towards the centre of the web where the poisonous, motionless creature is lurking. I only mention the Greuze because it brings the matter within the range of your own observation.”

“Well, Mr. Holmes, I admit that what you say is interesting: it’s more than interesting—it’s just wonderful. But let us have it a little clearer if you can. Is it forgery, coining, burglary—where does the money come from?”

“Have you ever read of Jonathan Wild?”

“Well, the name has a familiar sound. Someone in a novel, was he not? I don’t take much stock of detectives in novels—chaps that do things and never let you see how they do them. That’s just inspiration: not business.”

“Jonathan Wild wasn’t a detective, and he wasn’t in a novel. He was a master criminal, and he lived last century—1750 or thereabouts.”

“Then he’s no use to me. I’m a practical man.”

“Mr. Mac, the most practical thing that you ever did in your life would be to shut yourself up for three months and read twelve hours a day at the annals of crime. Everything comes in circles—even Professor Moriarty. Jonathan Wild was the hidden force of the London criminals, to whom he sold his brains and his organization on a fifteen per cent commission. The old wheel turns, and the same spoke comes up. It’s all been done before, and will be again. I’ll tell you one or two things about Moriarty which may interest you.”

“You’ll interest me, right enough.”

“I happen to know who is the first link in his chain—a chain with this Napoleon-gone-wrong at one end, and a hundred broken fighting men, pickpockets, blackmailers, and card sharpers at the other, with every sort of crime in between. His chief of staff is Colonel Sebastian Moran, as aloof and guarded and inaccessible to the law as himself. What do you think he pays him?”

“I’d like to hear.”

“Six thousand a year. That’s paying for brains, you see—the American business principle. I learned that detail quite by chance. It’s more than the Prime Minister gets. That gives you an idea of Moriarty’s gains and of the scale on which he works. Another point: I made it my business to hunt down some of Moriarty’s checks lately—just common innocent checks that he pays his household bills with. They were drawn on six different banks. Does that make any impression on your mind?”

“Queer, certainly! But what do you gather from it?”

“That he wanted no gossip about his wealth. No single man should know what he had. I have no doubt that he has twenty banking accounts; the bulk of his fortune abroad in the Deutsche Bank or the Credit Lyonnais as likely as not. Sometime when you have a year or two to spare I commend to you the study of Professor Moriarty.”

Inspector MacDonald had grown steadily more impressed as the conversation proceeded. He had lost himself in his interest. Now his practical Scotch intelligence brought him back with a snap to the matter in hand.

“He can keep, anyhow,” said he. “You’ve got us side-tracked with your interesting anecdotes, Mr. Holmes. What really counts is your remark that there is some connection between the professor and the crime. That you get from the warning received through the man Porlock. Can we for our present practical needs get any further than that?”

“We may form some conception as to the motives of the crime. It is, as I gather from your original remarks, an inexplicable, or at least an unexplained, murder. Now, presuming that the source of the crime is as we suspect it to be, there might be two different motives. In the first place, I may tell you that Moriarty rules with a rod of iron over his people. His discipline is tremendous. There is only one punishment in his code. It is death. Now we might suppose that this murdered man—this Douglas whose approaching fate was known by one of the arch-criminal’s subordinates—had in some way betrayed the chief. His punishment followed, and would be known to all—if only to put the fear of death into them.”

“Well, that is one suggestion, Mr. Holmes.”

“The other is that it has been engineered by Moriarty in the ordinary course of business. Was there any robbery?”

“I have not heard.”

“If so, it would, of course, be against the first hypothesis and in favour of the second. Moriarty may have been engaged to engineer it on a promise of part spoils, or he may have been paid so much down to manage it. Either is possible. But whichever it may be, or if it is some third combination, it is down at Birlstone that we must seek the solution. I know our man too well to suppose that he has left anything up here which may lead us to him.”

Exchange between Inspector MacDonald and Sherlock Holmes

-The Valley of Fear

PART ONE – The Tragedy of Birlstone

Chapter 2 – Sherlock Holmes Discourses

Readers of the Sherlock Holmes stories were led to believe that Sherlock Holmes had died in The Final Problem. However, in The Empty House, we learn that Sherlock Holmes is in fact still alive. Holmes advises Dr. Watson that Professor Moriarty was killed in The Final Problem, but that Holmes managed to survive. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle never wrote another story in which he describes how Sherlock Holmes actually died. From Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, we know nothing of the death of either Sherlock Holmes or Dr. John Watson.

All quotes on this web site were written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle unless otherwise stated.