The Arthur Conan Doyle EncyclopediaThe Arthur Conan Doyle EncyclopediaThe Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
22 May 1859, Edinburgh M.D., Kt, KStJ, D.L., LL.D., Sportsman, Writer, Poet, Politician, Justicer, Spiritualist Crowborough, 7 July 1930

The Cheery Doctor

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

The Cheery Doctor is an article published in the Daily Mail on 4 october 1910, including a part of a speech by Arthur Conan Doyle.

The Cheery Doctor

Daily Mail (4 october 1910, p. 8)


Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's address at St. Mary's Hospital School was a mixture of grave and gay. "It has been said of me in America," he said, "that no living patient of mine has ever yet been seen. Personally I can remember some who are still living — but not many."

The romance of the medical profession was his theme. Thirty years ago, when he was a regular practitioner, the profession was divided into two classes, those who were qualified and those who were not. Sir Arthur began practice among the unqualified. "I served in the legion of the lost. After that I worked in the slums of Sheffield and Birmingham. Next I was an unqualified surgeon for an Arctic whaler, later the qualified surgeon for a West African vessel." Other personal adventures he recounted from his "migration from aristocratic Cavendish-square," where he had started a waiting-room to his six months' service in the South African war.

As yet the speech had been accompanied only by laughter. When he told of the tremendous value of a medical training for all men amusement gave place to earnest attention. A medical training tinged the whole philosophy of a man's life. It imparted a healthy scepticism, a desire to prove from facts only. Further it taught every man to act promptly and to keep his head in critical moments, to be kind and yet strong. Where else could be found so fine a training? Then, too, it set for the student a high standard of strenuous work. "For the man who has 'Gray's Anatomy' thoroughly mastered," Sir Arthur declared, "earth holds no further terrors."


Such a training was not free of dangers, most of which could be obviated in the great post-graduate course called life. First, there was undue materialism. "In my day we looked upon mind and spirit as secretions from the brain. I can see now that this attitude was only a protest against all transcendental dogma." The tendency of the medical student was to talk of immutable laws, and to say that laws were final. It was the post-graduate course of life that brought the realisation that there must be a lawmaker behind every law.

"Another danger is that of intellectual priggishness. There is a type of young medical man who has all diseases and remedies tabulated and labelled. You produce the symptoms and he will produce the tabloid. Life might serve, too, to convert him into a more finished product. A strong and kindly personality is as valuable as actual knowledge. I do not advocate that trained urbanity known as the bedside manner, but rather a true geniality. Above all, no doctor has a right to be a pessimist. For all time we have known that the cheery man is the healing man."


The relation of medicine to history was next discussed. "Certain characters," said Sir Arthur, "must be regarded in the light of certain diseases." Both Julius Caesar and Mahomet were epileptics, while many other great men might be said to be under suspicion. Napoleon must be suspect of nervous disease which could be traced from 1802, when occurred the inception of the disease which killed him in 1821. Undoubtedly the Emperor's whole career was entirely modified by his physical complaints. "Great results," said Sir Arthur, "may depend upon a king's jaw or a statesman's digestion."

The progress in the study of medicine during thirty years was best illustrated by a single story. "In the days of my student-ship the medical practitioner resembled a blind man with a club, who swung it at random. Sometimes he hit the disease and sometimes the patient. It is said of one country practitioner of those times, who as ...ted as his own dispenser, that he emptied all unclaimed medicines into one jar. From this he would dispense draughts for the more obscure diseases." Of another old-time country practitioner he told a still more amusing story. A patient whose disease had completely baffled the physician lay before him apparently dead. Turning to the sorrowing wife, the doctor said: "Your husband may be dead; I have no doubt he is dead; but I have no objection to meeting someone in consultation."