Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, M.D. (obituary BMJ)
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, M.D.
The death of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, on July 7th, at the age of 71 is regretted by all. He was one of many writers who have started out to make a career in medicine, and then under the impulse of the creative spirit abandoned practice for the life of letters. As a medical student at Edinburgh he came under the influence of a remarkable teacher, Joseph Bell, surgeon to the Royal Infirmary, whose gift of quick perception and rapid deductive reasoning from small observations he turned to good account later in delineating the character of Sherlock Holmes. Bell was for ever impressing upon his pupils by example and by precept the importance of small distinctions and the endless significance of trifles. Of Doyle he said in after years: "I always regarded him as one of the best students I ever had. He was exceedingly interested in anything connected with diagnosis, and he was never tired of trying to discover those little details that one looks for." After graduating M.B., C.M. at the University of Edinburgh, Doyle saw something of the world as ship surgeon in Arctic waters and on a small vessel trading to West Africa. Then from 1882 to 1890 he practised obscurely at Southsea, storing in his memory many scenes of medical life, both grave and gay, which he worked up afterwards into the material of fiction, in the Stark Munro Letters and Round the Red Lamp. They were lean years at Southsea; he went there as a stranger, without capital or influence. In the dull interludes of shabby-genteel practice he polished up his talent for writing, and from time to time short stories from his pen would be accepted by editors of magazines. It was in 1886, when his fortunes were at a low ebb, that Arthur Conan Doyle hit on the idea of an amateur detective who should apply the methods of Joseph Bell to the unravelling of mysteries, with a sort of medical Boswell as foil and showman. A Study in Scarlet — the first of the Sherlock Homes' tales — was followed by a good historical novel and several romances. Then on the advice of Sir Malcolm Morris he took a course in diseases of the eye at Vienna, and came to London in the hope of making a name in that speciality; but no patients knocked at the door of the house in Montagu Street, Portman Square, and the would-be ophthalmologist filled his time by writing further adventures of Sherlock Holmes for the Strand Magazine. This was the turning point; and, apart from service during the South African war as physician to the Langman Field Hospital, he never practised again. The subsequent career of this large-hearted and many-sided man is familiar to every newspaper reader.