Back in 1887, Doyle published his novel, which was named “A Study in Scarlet.” It was his first work to start Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes and also the first documented record of magnifying glass being used as a tool for investigation. However, a study in Scarlet didn’t attract many eyeballs, and neither did its sequel named The Sign of Four.
But, in July 1891, Doyle published the first story starring Homes in Strand Magazine. From there on, the detective Sherlock Holmes started to become a popular character. Even In the early stage, readers wanted to know who was the inspiration behind the new type of crime fighter character.
Well, Doyle wouldn’t have just made this fantastic character out of thin air. After more than a century since Sherlock Holmes’s name was first heard and appeared, evidence shows that holmes character was primarily based on two individuals, and one individual was the teacher of author Doyle himself.
The inspiration behind Sherlock Holmes
When Doyle was 18 years old, he was studying to be a physician at the University of Edinburgh in the year 1877. It was a professor named Joseph Bell that caught Doyle’s attention instantly. Dr.Bell’s lecture, according to Doyle, was bombastic, fascinating, and entertaining. Using his deductive skills, Dr. Bell would make an immediate spot-on conclusion about his patients.
As written in Doyle’s autobiography, Dr.Bells strong point was a diagnosis of not only disease but of the occupation and the character. In a famous example given in Doyle’s autobiography, a man stepped forward to Dr.Bell without providing any information about himself. And just looking at him, Dr.Bell gave the conclusion about the man he’d never met before:
Well, man, you’re an ex-army officer… just discharged… A Highland regiment… A non-com officer… Stationed at somewhere in Barbados…
Dr.Bell was right on all the points. He also explained how he was able to tell everything right.
In his words, he said, “You see, the man was respectful, but he didn’t remove his hat. They don’t remove their hat in the army, but he would have learned civilians ways if he had been discharged from the army for a long time. He shows authority in his talk, and he is Scottish.” As to how he knew he was stationed in Barbados, well, his complaint was elephantiasis, which is the Caribbean, not British, and the Scottish regiments are only stationed in Barbados.
While there are elements of Dr. Joseph Bell present in Sherlock Holmes, but he wasn’t the only inspiration. The famous Edinburgh born forensic scientist, public health inspector, and dissector of human bodies, named Henry Littlejohn, is also an inspiration behind the Sherlock Holmes character. Henry was known to be involved in the investigation of the accidents, tragic deaths, or murders that took place in Edinburgh. Littlejohn’s way of the investigation was revolutionizing the way cases were cracked.
Dr. Joseph Bell and Public health inspector Little John were the two people who were the inspiration behind the Sherlock Holmes character that everyone loves today.