Andrew Lycett

A Case of Identity

Arthur & Sherlock: Conan Doyle and the Creation of Holmes

By

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Michael Sims starts his sprightly disquisition on the origins of Sherlock Holmes with the familiar story of Joseph Bell, senior surgeon at Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary in the late 19th century. One day in around 1880 a visitor tells Bell that he is at the hospital seeking treatment for elephantiasis. Bell responds by showing off his well-honed consultation technique. He correctly surmises that, based on various visual and other clues, the man had, until recently, served as a non-commissioned officer in a Highland regiment and been stationed in Barbados. Why that in particular? Because elephantiasis was endemic in the West Indies. Bell could tell he’d been in the military because, although respectful, he hadn’t taken off his hat on entering the room.

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