Concerning Sherlock Holmes and Where the Detective Idea Came From by Arthur Bartlett Maurice 1908
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"Sherlock Holmes," says Conan Doyle. “is the literary embodiment, if I may so express it, of my memory of a professor of medicine at Edinburgh University, who would sit in the patients’ waiting-room with a face like a red Indian, and diagnose the people as they came in before even they had opened their mouths. He would tell them their symptoms, he would give them details of their lives, and he would hardly ever make a mistake.” This professor was Dr. Joseph Bell, and that the resemblance to Sherlock Holmes was not merely intellectual, but strikingly physical as well may be seen from the accompanying portrait. There are the same sharp piercing eyes, the eagle nose and the hawk-like features. Like Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Bell was in the habit of sitting in his chair with his fingers pressed together when engaged in solving a problem. Twenty-seven years ago Conan Doyle came in contact with him when he was finishing his medical studies.
“Gentlemen,” Professor Bell would say to the students standing around. “I am not quite sure whether this man is a cork-cutter or a slater. I observe a slight callous, or hardening, on one side of his forefinger. and a little thickening on the outside of his thumb, and that is a sure sign he is either one or the other.”
Dr. Bell, as well as Sherlock Holmes, was often inclined to be highly dramatic in the exposition of his singular faculties. A patient would enter his consulting-room. “Ah,” the Professor would say. “I perceive that you are a soldier, a non-commissioned officer, and that you have served in Bermuda.” The man would acknowledge the correctness of the indictment, and the students would express their surprise. “How did I know that, gentlemen? The matter is simplicity itself. He came into the room without taking his hat off, as he would go into an orderly’s room. He was a soldier. A slight authoritative air, combined with his age, shows that he was a non-commissioned officer. A slight rash on the forehead tells me that he was in Bermuda and subject to a certain rash known only there.”
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The Genesis of Sherlock Holmes
THE figure of Joseph Bell was very clear in Conan Doyle’s mind when he sat down to write “A Study in Scarlet." Add to this the fact that he had been reading closely Edgar Allan Poe's “The Purloined Letter” and "The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” the tales which introduce M. Dupin, and had formed some very definite ideas of his own about the detective in fiction. “In a work which consists in the drawing of detectives.” he once wrote. “there are only one or two qualities which one can use, and an author is forced to hark back upon them constantly so that every detective must really resemble every other detective to a greater or lesser extent. There is no great originality required in devising or constructing such a man, and the only possible originality which one can get into a story about a detective is in giving him original plots and problems to solve, as in his equipment there must be an alert acuteness of mind to grasp facts and the relation which much of them bears to the other.” After thinking over his detective for some time Dr. Doyle began building up a scientific system by which everything might be logically reasoned out. Along purely intellectual lines Poe had done that before with M. Dupin. Sherlock Holmes was practical and systematic, and where he differed from Dupin was that in consequence of his previous scientific education he possessed a vast fund of exact knowledge from which to draw.
When he had written twenty-six stories about Sherlock Holmes. Conan Doyle determined that it would be bad policy to continue and decided to put an end to his hero. He feared that Holmes was becoming tiresome to others as well as himself. Above all, he was afraid that the public would come to think that he had only one idea and could write only one kind of story. Dr. Doyle was in Switzerland at the time. One day. while on a walking tour through the country, he came to a waterfall, and immediately saw in it a romantic spot for any one who wished to meet a spectacular death. Then and there he mentally mapped out. "The Final Problem.” in which Holmes and Moriarty settled accounts. But Holmes‘s death, instead of being welcomed, roused indignant protest. One lady wrote a letter to the author which began: “You beast.”
The Ultimate Source of Sherlock Holmes
While it remained for Sherlock Holmes to make generally popular the science of deduction. the methods employed, in some form or other, may be traced back from writer to writer until they are lost in the mists of antiquity. The reasoning of Sherlock Holmes is exactly along the lines of reasoning followed by M. Dupin in “The Purloined Letter” and “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” Poe probably drew his inspiration from the interesting story in Voltaire’s “Zadig” which tells how Zadig describes to the King's Chief Hunstman all the peculiarities of a horse and a dog which he had himself never seen. Voltaire, in his turn. probably derived his hint from a story by the Chevalier de Mailly, entitled “Voyage et Aventure des Trois Princes de Sarendip.” which appeared in 1719. or twenty-eight years earlier than Zadig. De Mailly's version is substantially as follows:
“The three princes. starting out on their journey, encounter a camel-driver who has lost one of his herd. They have noticed the tracks of such an animal, though not seen him. and when asked by the driver if they know of his whereabouts, the eldest replies: "Was he not blind?’ The second: ‘Did he not have a tooth out?’ The third: ‘Was he not lame?’ The camel-driver assents with delight to the questions and continues on his way rejoicing. Not finding his camel, however, he returns and accuses them of bantering with him. ‘To prove that what we say is so.’ said the eldest, ‘your camel carried butter on one side and honey on the other.’ The second: ‘And a lady rode the camel.’ etc. In the same manner they are arrested for theft and sentenced. And in the same manner the camel is refound and an explanation is given: ‘I judged that the camel was blind because I noticed that on one side of the road all the grass was gnawed down, while the other side was untouched. Therefore, I inferred that he had but one eye, else he would not have left the good to eat the poor grass.’ ‘I found in the road mouthfuls of half-chewed herbage the size of a tooth of just such an animal,’” etc.
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