Professor Moriarty, illustration by Sidney Paget from
The Final Problem.
Professor James Moriarty
The character of Professor James Moriarty makes quite an impression.
For all his notoriety he appears in surprisingly few Sherlock Holmes stories.
Moriarty only directly appears in two stories, The
Final Problem and The
Valley of Fear. He's mentioned in five other stories, The Empty House, The
Norwood Builder, The Missing
Three-Quarter, The Illustrious Client, and
His Last Bow.
According to Sherlock Holmes in The
Final Problem Moriarty is rather like a Victorian mafia leader.
Holmes says Moriarty,
"is the Napoleon of crime, Watson. He is the organizer of half that is evil and of 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. He sits 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."
According to Sherlock Holmes in The Final Problem Moriarty
had a promising future ahead of him but then he went astray.
"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. At the age of twenty-one he wrote a treatise
upon the Binomial Theorem, which has had a European vogue. On the
strength of it he won the Mathematical Chair at one of our smaller
universities, and had, to all appearances, a most brilliant career
before him. 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. Dark rumors gathered
round him in the university town, and eventually he was compelled to
resign his chair and to come down to London, where he set up as an
army coach. So much is known to the world, but what I am telling you
now is what I have myself discovered."
Adam Worth, the Real Moriarty?
A Scotland Yard detective called Worth, "the Napoleon of the
Adam Worth was born in Germany in 1844. When he was five his
family moved to the United States. During the American Civil War Worth
fought for the Union army.
He was wounded and erroneously declared deceased. After he
recovered from his injuries Worth made a living by reenlisting
in military service under assumed names. He'd draw his sign-up pay,
desert and repeat the process. After the war he became a pickpocket.
Later his criminal career advanced to include bank and store robberies.
At some point Worth and his associate Charley Bullard, a safecracker,
migrated to Europe. Worth began to find an appreciation for the
"good life". He enjoyed appearing to be a respectable businessman
with refined tastes. No one need know how his lifestyle was
Eventually Worth made his way to London. He purchased a large
estate outside of the city as well as leasing an apartment in the
fashionable Mayfair district. Worth enjoyed his lifestyle
and his position in society.
Late in 1892 Worth, upset by the death of Bullard, planned and
participated in a robbery that seemed doomed to fail from the start. His
accomplices were new, he was in an unfamiliar place (Belgium) and he
used a plan that had not worked in the past. The results were
predictable. He was arrested, tried, found guilty and sentenced
to seven years in a Belgian prison.
Other Role Models for Moriarty
While it seems that Adam Worth was the main inspiration for Moriarty
some aspects of Moriarty's character may have come from other people.
- Simon Newcomb was a brilliant astronomer and
mathematician. He also has been accused of maliciously
destroying the career of a rival mathematician.
- George Boole, the inventor of Boolean algebra, might have
been an inspiration for Moriarty's mathematical genius.
- Jonathan Wild was one of the most famous criminals in
Great Britain during the 18th century. At one point Wild's gang
had almost a monopoly on crime in the London area. At the same time
Wild was serving as a "thief-taker" or policeman.