Detective Fiction. Conan Doyle on Random Topics
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
Detective Fiction. Conan Doyle on "Random Topics" is an article published in the Cape Times (Cape Town, South Africa) on 15 november 1928.
No More Humble Form of Literature.
Conan Doyle on "Random Topics."
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Lady Doyle and their sons and daughter were the guests of the University Club at a dinner given in their honour at the Mount Nelson Hotel last night. Senator F. S. Malan presided, and Sir Arthur's health was proposed by Dr. Fuller.
"It is 25 years since I was in this wonderful dream city of yours," said Sir Arthur in opening a brief address on "random topics." Then, he said, he saw Cape Town under grey and sad circumstances, but now he could see the wonderful improvements which had been made, not only in the city itself but in its broad extension.
"I am struck by the charming villas which are trying to climb to the top of Table Mountain, as I hope to do on Monday," he said amidst laughter. Particularly delighted had he been to see the New University at Groote Schuur.
"I view that building with mixed feelings," he continued, "because I know it will have the effect of cutting off from Europe a number of those splendid South Africans who used to come to our 'Varsities and who used to distinguish themselves not only in the classrooms but also on the Rugby football fields." (Hear, hear.)
Sir Arthur mentioned that on one occasion when he had £1,000 which he did not know what to do with, he had established at Edinburgh University a bursary which was open only to South African students.
"I thought this might have had some effect in a charming competition, between Britisher and Boer," he added, "but to my astonishment I found after the first year that it had been won by a full-blooded Zulu!" (Laughter.)
Sir Arthur then fell into reminiscent mood, and spoke of Edinburgh, "the Athens of the North," and particularly of the University, where he gained his degree of M.D. Cape Town, he thought, fully justified the title of "the Athens of the Southern Hemisphere."
Punctuated with a lively humour, his references to his early associations with the University created much laughter. Naming the "row of professors " whom the students looked upon as a "comic relief" or a "line of Aunt Sallies," at when boyish jokes could be hurled, he detailed their many peculiar characteristics.
Inspiration from Professors.
Professor Rutherford had been his inspiration in the creation of Professor Challenger, and the marvellous powers of observation and the remarkable gift of intuition of Dr. Jos. Bell (Professor of Surgery) had prompted "Sherlock Holmes."
Sir Arthur told how this professor would meet an acquaintance for the first time and simply by quick observation he would determine who the man was and from whence he had come.
"Dr. Joe Bell left a deep impression on my mind," he said, "so you can well imagine how later when I tried to write a few detective stories I resented the way the detective got his results by chance.... and that was the origin of Sherlock Holmes.
"I do not think there is any more humble form of literature than a detective story, but it gives a change of mind to men who may be doing more important work in the world."
He had always found that his reputation as a criminologist was one he did not value, although the French police had taken him seriously and had named laboratories after him !
But it was entirely by applying Joe Bell's manners to crime that Sherlock Holmes had established a little niche for himself.
He did not regard his time at Edinburgh University as having been time wasted.
"I think," he said, "to every man the study of medicine, and particularly the practice of medicine, gives the finest basis for practical thought and philosophy that any line can give which any man can follow. There you are brought down to that basis of life and the real facts of humanity. But I think that no medical man who does his duty can ever fail to be a happy man."
A vote of thanks to Sir Arthur was proposed by Dr. Marloth.