Monday, January 11, 2016

Joseph Bell - The Original Sherlock Holmes 1894

Joseph Bell - The Original Sherlock Holmes 1894

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It cannot be said that the detective plays a very important part in modern fiction of the first class. Occasionally his services are required, but one is rarely initiated into the mysterious processes by which he fastens the crime upon the supposed culprit or tracks a rascal to his hiding place. More often the villain is foiled in the good old-fashioned way by a chance discovery, by the betrayal of his secret by some confederate or by a mutual friend who has come into possession of certain information regarding his crime or rascality and who has no opportunity, or who is not free, to divulge it until the time is ripe for the fall of the curtain upon a pair of reunited lovers. When a detective is necessary, the merest outline of his work is given, the reader presumably being acquainted with the facts as they have developed in the course of the tale; and all that is necessary is to give the result of his investigations - namely, the fastening of the guilt upon the bad man or the bad woman, as the case may be, of the story.

Dr. Conan Doyle, however, has made the detective a personage. His Sherlock Holmes is both a unique creation and a very entertaining fellow. He treats a "case" in much the same scientific way that Agassiz would the bone of a fish or quadruped, observing keenly and drawing his inferences and constructing his theory with mathematical nicety. The fact has recently come to light that in his unusual intellectual qualities this clever detective is drawn from real life - the original of Sherlock Holmes being Dr. Joseph Bell, of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, where he was a professor when Conan Doyle was a medical student in the same institution. Dr. Bell was graduated at the age of twenty-two from the University of Edinburgh, taught there for two years as assistant demonstrator of anatomy, and then became House Surgeon at the Royal Infirmary, where he has since remained, having been senior surgeon for many years and lately consulting surgeon.

Dr. Bell endeavored always to impress upon his pupils the value in diagnosis of observing and making a note of trifles. With him the habit of minute and rapid observation had become a sixth sense; and coupled with this was the equally important faculty, which also came with practice to be highly cultivated, of deducing correct and important conclusions from what to the careless or superficial observer would seem to be insignificant trifles. The application of these methods to the affairs of every-day life produced some curious and interesting results, and made a deep impression upon the imaginations of his pupils. Of these young Doyle was one of the aptest, and here is an illustration of the manner in which Dr. Bell gave him a lesson in observation, told in the Professor's own words :

I recollect he was amused once when a walked in and sat down. "Good-morning, Pat," I said, for it was impossible not to see that he was an Irishman. “Good-morning, Your Honor." replied the patient. "Did you like your walk over the links to-day, as you came in from the south side of the town?” I asked. “Yes." said Pat, “did Your Honor see me?” Well, Conan Doyle could not see how I knew that, absurdly simple as it was. On a showery day, such as that had been. the reddish clay at bare parts of the links adheres to the boot, and a tiny part is bound to remain. There is no such clay anywhere else round the town for miles. Well, that and one or two similar instances excited Doyle's keenest interest, and set him experimenting himself in the same direction, which, of course, was just what I wanted with him and all my other scholars.

Another instance of Dr. Bell's keen eye for details and of his capacity to read their meaning may be given in his own words:

This one struck me as funny at the time. A man walked into the room where I was instructing the students, and his case seemed to be a very simple one. I was talking about what was wrong with him. “Of course, gentlemen,” I happened to say, “he has been a soldier in a Highland regiment, and probably a bandsman." I pointed out the swagger in his walk, suggestive of the piper; while his shortness told me that if he had been a soldier, it was probably as a bandsman. In fact, he had the whole appearance of a man in one of the Highland regiments. The man turned out to be nothing but a shoemaker, and said he had never been in the army in his life. This was rather a floorer; but being absolutely certain I was right, and seeing that something was up, I did a pretty cool thing. I told two of the strongest clerks, or dressers, to remove the man to a side room, and to detain him till I came. I went and had him stripped. Under the left breast I instantly detected a little blue "D" branded on his skin. He was a deserter. That was how they used to mark them in the Crimean days and later, although it is not permitted now. Of course the reason of his evasion was at once clear.

Dr. Bell has made use of his extraordinary faculty not only in his own profession and for the entertainment of his friends, to whom he often seems to have the power of clairvoyance, but in actual detective work in the service of the authorities.

The reader may turn with profit to Dr. Doyle's new book, "Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes," if he has not already read the "Adventures" of that genius of Scotland Yard, to learn the ingenious ways in which the detective applied these simple methods to the solving of numerous extraordinary mysteries. Meanwhile we will quote in illustration of his cleverness a page of Holmes's comments upon a briar-wood pipe which a "client," who had called in his absence, had accidentally left upon his table while he went out to walk off his agitation and pass the time until the return of the detective:

"Well," said Holmes, "he must have been disturbed in his mind to leave a pipe behind him which he evidently values highly."

“How do you know that he values it highly?” I asked.

"Well, I should put the original cost of the pipe at seven and sixpence. Now it has. you see, been twice mended, once in the wooden stem and once in the amber. Each of these mends, done, as you observe, with silver bands, must have cost more than the pipe did originally. The man must value the pipe highly when he prefers to patch it up rather than buy a new one with the same money."

“Anything else?” I asked, for Holmes was turning the pipe about in his hand, and staring at it in his peculiar pensive way. He held it up and tapped on it with his long, thin fore-finger, as a professor might who was lecturing on a bone.

“Pipes are occasionally of extraordinary interest." said he. “Nothing has more individuality, save perhaps watches and bootlaces. The indications here, however, are neither very marked nor very important. The owner is obviously a muscular man, left-handed, with an excellent set of teeth. careless in his habits, and with no need to practise economy."

My friend threw out the information in a very off-hand way, but I saw that he cocked his eye at me to see if I had followed his reasoning.

“You think a man must be well-to-do if he smokes a seven-shilling pipe?" said I.

“This is Grosvenor mixture at eight-pence an ounce," Holmes answered. knocking a little out on his palm. "As he might get an excellent smoke for half the price, he has no need to practise economy."

"And the other points?"

“He has been in the habit of lighting his pipe at lamps and gas-jets. You can see that it is quite charred all down one side. Of course a match could not have done that. Why should a man hold a match to the side of his pipe? But you cannot light it at a lamp without getting the bowl charred. And it is all on the right side of the pipe. From that I gather that he is a left-handed man. You hold your own pipe to the lamp, and see how naturally you, being right-handed, hold the left side to the flame. You might do it once the other way, but not as a constancy. This has always been held so. Then he has bitten through his amber. It takes a muscular, energetic fellow, and one with a good set of teeth, to do that. But if I am not mistaken I hear him upon the stair, so we shall have something more interesting than his pipe to study."

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