Can Sherlock Holmes Be Real

Danielle Fletcher
• Sunday, 15 November, 2020
• 8 min read

He may not have looked anything like Robert Downey Jr., but Dr. Joseph Bell was similar to Doyle's legendary hero in many ways. Bell was born in 1837 and raised in Edinburgh, Scotland at a time when his strict religious upbringing would seem very normal.

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Thanks to his father's involvement with the Free Church, which had no ties to the state or government, Bell and his siblings were well-educated in all things Biblical. His studious nature is what allowed him to make it through the class of one James Gloat, a math teacher at Edinburgh Academy who had a penchant for beating his students with a type of leather whip known as a “TAWS,” according to The Real Life Sherlock Holmes : A Biography of Joseph Bell.

Bell came out on the other side with a well-formed education, including several languages, and an extensive athletic resume that would turn into an intellectual love of boxing later on. It was a renowned school that educated the likes of Rene Descartes and John Quincy Adams, but Bell left early due to a serious case of homesickness.

This in itself is one heck of an accomplishment, although most people would have a hard time trusting a 22-year-old to cut them open and put everything back in the right spot. It was here, in 1876, according to National Galleries Scotland, that a certain student would walk through the doors expecting to graduate and live out his life as a surgeon, but that's not what fate had in mind.

The student would instead meet Dr. Joseph Bell and have his future and the world of literature change forever. Bell was known for teaching observational methods as an important part of medical diagnosis, believing that using your senses could tell you as much, if not more than, asking questions.

He enjoyed using his deductive and reasoning skills to impress his students by giving them patient histories that he seemingly pulled out of a hat. It was these skills, and his reported cold and calculated demeanor toward patients, that would be the basis for Sherlock Holmes, according to Stanford University.

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One of the symptoms of the disease is gross, puss-filled pockets in the throat, and doctors didn't have a way to deal with it at the time. Dr. John Watson, Sherlock's fictional sidekick and scribe of his tales, was played by Arthur Conan Doyle, for a while at least.

Doyle would take Bell's belief that observation was the key to being a good physician and to coming up with an accurate theory or diagnosis, and stow it away for future use as a character we know and love. When he later turned these observations into the Sherlock Holmes stories, Doyle essentially became Watson in real life.

He could seemingly tell you a person's life story from across the room, but according to Mount Sinai Journal, it wasn't magic at all. Bell would teach his students to use their eyes, ears, brain, perception, and deductive skills to piece “a broken chain” together or to untangle a web of clues.

We've established that Joseph Bell was a surgeon and a teacher, but we've talked very little about his detective work, mostly because it wasn't a big part of his life. Unlike the infamous Sherlock Holmes, whose investigative work was the mainstay of his identity, Bell's time as a detective was only a part-time gig.

There weren't cameras on street corners or FBI databases full of DNA sequences in the 1800s, so the police in Edinburgh had to use old-fashioned deduction. According to Mount Sinai Journal, Bell rather enjoyed detective work and fancied himself an amateur investigator.

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While working with Little john, Bell had been involved with the case of Elizabeth Cantrell's murder in 1877 and the Armament mystery in 1893. Little john and Bell found that Cantrell, “thought to have died of gas inhalation, had in fact been poisoned by her husband,” according to Scottish Field.

Bell used observational and scientific methods to find evidence at crime scenes and when examining the corpses of murder victims. Before forensic science, a court would need a confession of guilt or eyewitness testimony to convict a suspect.

Crime Traveler also claims the stories of Sherlock Holmes did a lot to further forensic science by highlighting Bell's techniques and increasing his popularity. The case of Jack the Ripper was filled with brutal killings that confused and frustrated investigators to the point that Scotland Yard began to enlist help from detectives around the United Kingdom, Joseph Bell and Sir Little john included.

As Bell put it, “When two men set out to investigate a crime mystery, it is where their researches intersect that we have a result.” During the beginning of Sherlock Holmes literary life, when Joseph Bell's friends and Edinburgh locals were making some “elementary” deductions of their own, Bell was getting slammed with the type of local fame and publicity that no busy person wants in their life.

Bell once wrote to a friend, according to Mount Sinai Journal, to call Doyle's stories “cataract of drivel” and to state Doyle never thought “such a heap of rubbish” would fall on Bell's head due to the stories he'd published. There's even a surviving photo of Joseph Bell in Sherlock Holmes traditional deerstalker hat and cloak, above.

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He adamantly campaigned for women to be admitted to medical school, according to National Galleries Scotland, unheard of at the time. Bell even wrote a helpful manual titled, one of the earliest medical texts for nurses.

Joseph Bell was also a key figure and founder of the Queen Victoria Jubilee Institute for Nurses in Edinburgh, where he held the office of vice president. Though controversial at the time, Bell agreed to formally teach medicine to female students, according to Scottish Field.

Thanks to Joseph Bell's relatively progressive views, according to Scottish Field, his work would lead to a close friendship with Florence Nightingale. Nightingale created the philosophy of care and comfort that would be the foundation for modern nursing, as Britannica recounts.

Nightingale and Bell made friends while he was helping to organize a series of medical lectures for nurses. Sure, Joseph Bell didn't write the sort of fiction that would bring him oodles of fame like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did, but he had a literary career of his own, mostly in the field of medicine.

Poetry never really became part of Bell's money-making career, but with all the other accomplishments under his belt, we can probably forgive the real -life Sherlock Holmes for not becoming a world-renowned poet as well. This article will examine if the character was based on a historical crime fighter or real -life detective.

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Doyle wrote over a dozen stories and two novels, but soon he became bored with Holmes and his assistant Dr. Watson's adventures. This led to a public outcry, and many fans of the investigator allegedly cried when they heard that Holmes had died.

Many movies are not based on the Conan Doyle stories but only use the unforgettable character in new plots. In recent decades there have been numerous television series based on the character, including Sherlock, which has the master-investigator living in modern London and stars Benedict Cumberbatch (2010-2017).

Many believe that Jeremy Brett’s portrayal of the detective in the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1984-1994) was the greatest ever. In 2020, Nola Holmes starring Millie Bobby Brown and Henry Cavil, based on a novel by Nancy Springer about Sherlock Holmes sister, was streamed by Netflix.

The Conan Doyle estate even filed a lawsuit regarding the Cavil's interpretation of Holmes even though the character is undeniably in the public domain. It has been speculated that Holmes, who never married, had a cruel governess in his youth, and this is why he never had a lasting relationship with a female.

Sherlock had an older brother called Mycroft, a genius who worked for the government and is often referred to in the stories. Holmes solved a mystery revolving around secrets from his friend’s father's dubious past.

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Holmes lived in London in 221 B Baker Street and eventually took in a lodger Dr. Watson a veteran of the British Indian Army, and they became partners. Watson later married and left Baker Street but returned to live with his old friend and partner after she died.

At some point, Sherlock became addicted to morphine, a common problem in the 19th century, and also occasionally took cocaine. The investigator had many wits with criminal masterminds, and his greatest enemy was the evil genius Professor James Moriarty.

In a fight with Moriarty, also known as the ‘Napoleon of Crime,’ the two men plunged into the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland, and it appeared that Holmes had died. He once again helped British police with some of their most perplexing cases, such as the mystery involving the Baskerville' Hounds.

At the time of the stories’ publication, many critics came to believe that Holmes was inspired not by a real -life detective but by fictional ones. Some critics believe that Conan-Doyle was inspired by the works of the English mystery writer Wilkie Collins.

However, undoubtedly, one of the main influences on creating the world’s most famous fictional detective was Edgar Alan Poe (1809-1849). The creator of the world’s best-known fictional crime fighter was a great admirer of the Baltimore born poet and short-story writer.

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Another potential model for Holmes was the fictional French detective M. Leon, created by Emile Gabriel (1832–1873). He joined the police force at an early age and studied criminals to catch them; this is something that Holmes also did during his many visits to London’s Underworld.

Canada was like Conan Doyle's literary figure, a master of disguise, and used a scientific method to catch criminals, which resulted in him apprehending over 1000 offenders. The Manchester-based detective was also like Holmes regularly consulted by the police when he became a ‘consultant.’ Then, as was the case with the man who solved the Mystery of the Hounds of the Baskerville, Canada had a nemesis, who was a criminal mastermind.

His enemy was not some egocentric Professor like Moriarty, but a young man who swore revenge on Canada for arresting him. Sir Henry Duncan Little john (1826-1914) was a Scottish medical doctor, a public health advocate, and a social reformer.

He was one of the earliest experts in the new forensic science, and like Holmes, he was regularly consulted by the police, especially in Scotland. Little john was frequently used as an expert witness in court cases, which brought him a measure of fame.

It is widely held by scholars of the works of Conan Doyle that the main model for Sherlock Holmes was Joseph Bell (1837 – 1911). He was a doctor and a lecturer and lived in Edinburgh, Scotland, and that Doyle was taught by Bell and later became his assistant, for a while.

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SherlockHolmes's creator, Conan Doyle, was influenced by other writers' work, especially that of Poe. However, there is a great deal of evidence that suggests that he based his classic character on a historical figure.

Sir Henry Duncan Little john was probably someone who inspired the young writer to conceive Holmes's famous powers of deduction. Certainly, the fictional detective's logic and rationality are very similar to the approach advocated by Little john.

However, the main influence on Conan Doyle when conceiving his immortal character was Joseph Bell, and he even admitted it in letters to friends and also publicly in interviews. Then there were his frequent consultations with the police and his involvement in mysterious cases, which no-doubt inspired the young writer.

It appears that the author mainly based on Sherlock on Bell but also used some characteristics of Little john. His imagination added memorable details such as the deerstalker hat and phrases such as ‘Elementary, Dear Watson’, which have made the criminal investigator such a beloved hero.

The Making of Addiction: The 'Use and Abuse' of Opium in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Burlington, VT: Ash gate Publishing Company, 2007) Doyle, Arthur Conan. References Edwards, Owen Dudley, The Quest for Sherlock Holmes : A Biographical Study of Arthur Conan Doyle (Edinburgh: Mainstream, 1983), p 114 Edwards, p 119 Tracy, Jack, The Sherlock Holmes Encyclopedia: Universal Dictionary of Sherlock Holmes (London: Crescent Books, 1988), p 112 Jack, p 141 Much, Alma Elizabeth, and Peter Owen.

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