In "The Red-Headed League," Sherlock Holmes lists the "obvious facts" that he deduces from Mr.Wilson's appearance. What are they and how did Holmes know?

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At the beginning of the story Holmes tells Watson:

“Beyond the obvious facts that he has at some time done manual labour, that he takes snuff, that he is a Freemason, that he has been in China, and that he has done a considerable amount of writing lately, I can deduce nothing else.”

Jabez Wilson expresses considerable surprise because all of Holmes' deductions are correct. He wants to know how Holmes drew such accurate conclusions from his appearance.

Holmes explains that he knew Wilson had done manual labor because his right hand was noticeably larger than his left, showing that he had done considerable work with it. Wilson tells him he was ship's carpenter. Holmes could see that Wilson was wearing an arc-and-compass breastpin, showing he was a Freemason. The detective refused to explain how he knew Wilson used snuff because the signs of snuff on his waistcoat were too obvious. Wilson later takes a big pinch of snuff, showing he is a heavy user.

The fact that he has been in China is shown, according to Holmes, by the delicately colored tattoo on Wilson''s wrist which could only have been made in China. Wilson is also wearing a Chinese coin on his watch-chain as a souvenir.

The author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, does not use these particular deductions solely to show off his protagonist's powers of deduction. In the days of sailing vessels, Wilson must have been out of the country for many years working on ships and spending time in China. This would explain why he would not have heard about the formation of the fictitious Red-Headed League, which his assistant told him was big news at the time.

When Watson first sees the visitor he describes him as "a very stout, florid-faced elderly gentleman." This would explain why Wilson would have been extremely unlikely to venture down the steep steps of his own cellar to see what his new assistant, who calls himself Vincent Spaulding, was doing down there. Wilson is grossly overweight. The fact that he is "florid-faced" shows that he has high blood pressure. He is elderly and also a heavy user of snuff. Snuff is a finely ground tobacco, and it would have the same deleterious effect on his lungs as tobacco that was smoked.

Vincent Spaulding (John Clay) is digging a tunnel right under his employer's nose, but Wilson thinks his assistant is an amateur photographer developing films. Clay is a very dangerous man. If Wilson had ever ventured down there and seen the tunnel and piles of dirt, Clay would not have hesitated to murder him with his shovel and bury him in his own cellar.

So Holmes' deductions from Wilson's appearance serve a dual purpose. They display the great detective's analytical powers, and they explain how John Clay could have been digging a tunnel right under his boss's nose. Evidently the two thieves needed to hurry up the tunnel-digging because there was some danger of the French gold being moved; so they invented the Red-Headed League to get Jabez Wilson out of the shop six days a week for four hours a day plus travel time, thus making it possible for both men to work unimpeded. 

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