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Monday, April 17, 2006

The inspiration for Sherlock Holmes

From The Sunday Times of London:

HE WORE a deerstalker hat and cloak, frequently gazed through a magnifying glass and boasted a razor-sharp mind, but, as far as history can tell, he never smoked a pipe or uttered the immortal words: “Elementary, my dear Watson.” A new archive to be displayed in Edinburgh this summer shows the remarkable extent to which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle drew inspiration for Sherlock Holmes from his cerebral university tutor. Dr Joseph Bell, Conan Doyle’s mentor at the University of Edinburgh medical school, was often able to diagnose patients before they had revealed their symptoms. As well as being a renowned professor of medicine, he also went on to become president of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (RCSE). Conan Doyle met Bell in 1877 and the tutor is said to have made a huge impression on the aspiring writer. However, until now it was not known that the writer had given his creation so many of his mentor’s physical characteristics. A picture in the archive shows a man who bears a striking resemblance to Basil Rathbone, the film actor who played Holmes. The RCSE has obtained a new collection of material that includes a letter from Conan Doyle to Bell, written in May 1892, which establishes the connection beyond doubt. The letter was held in a private collection by Bell’s family and is being put on public display for the first time after being donated to the RCSE. It states: “It is certainly to you that I owe Sherlock Holmes and though in the stories I have the advantage of being able to place him in all sorts of dramatic positions I do not think that his analytical work is in the least an exaggeration of some effects which I have seen you produce in the out-patient ward. Round the centre of deduction and inference and observation which I have heard you inculcate I have tried to build up a man who pushed the thing as far as it would go — further occasionally. I am so glad that the news has satisfied you, who are the critic with the most right to be severe.”
The exhibit will be displayed from July 1 to Oct. 29.


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