14 Jan The Doctor Who Changed History
The Doctor Who Changed History
Conan really wasn’t cut out to be a physician. He knew that – even if his family didn’t. But here he was, stuck in a practice that was failing and in a career that was going nowhere.
There were debts to pay – and so he struggled on, even as he watched the world pass by outside his office door.
Conan’s years of training were going down the drain – and yet he had enjoyed an impeccable education – to include apprenticing some ten years before to one of Europe’s most prominent surgeons.
Perhaps Dr. Joseph Bell had seen something in his young aide that others at the University of Edinburgh didn’t.
But then again, Dr. Bell was quite a fascinating character when it came to how he looked at others – one that mesmerized Conan and his classmates on almost a daily basis with his powers of observation.
Dr. Bell, you see, was gifted in a way very different than most. It was said that he could often tell the occupation of an individual simply by looking at them – and could go so far as reveal much of their history, their home, and even their habits. A sailor’s tattoos would tell him what parts of the world he had sailed in; the nature of a hand would indicate a profession; the way a patient responded to a question and Bell could often determine whether they were lying or being truthful.
A smudge on a knee, a callused thumb, the tilt of a hat, or a type of mud on the trouser leg were all important keys for a master of observation he reasoned – and he challenged his students to develop similar powers.
Few came close to matching their teacher – certainly not Conan. In his mind Dr. Bell was a peculiar type of genius – and his skills were far from transferrable. But Bell’s impact never went away.
One might wonder if thoughts of his old mentor might have crossed Conan’s mind as his practice – and his future continued to waver. There’s considerable evidence to suggest they did.
Conan, you see, fashioned himself a writer or sorts – and in those moments of melancholy – when he felt the frustration about his failed medical practice begin to peak he found a perfect antidote.
No one really took note of the short stories he authored – today there is little recollection of The Mystery of Sasassa Valley or J. Habakuk Jephson’s Statement.
History has forgotten them.
But not the novel he finally decided to attempt. Despite the rejections of so many in the publishing community Conan forged on – emboldened by a passion in the written word that he could never find in his role as a doctor.
The murder mystery he penned was compelling – set in Victorian England and with all the intrigue of the crafty felon who outthinks the authorities to commit his heinous crimes – but with a twist that would change everything for the audience that would soon discover A Study in Scarlet.
Because Conan had decided to create a protagonist unlike any other – a stark, serious fellow whose deerslayer hat and long coat cut a formidable shadow across the London underworld – a consulting detective with powers of observation unlike any the world had ever seen; capable of sizing up others with an insight that seemed almost supernatural.
That detective would march into history – becoming arguably the most famous fictional hero of all time.
Conan gave his hero a compatriot, a man he named John Watson – a physician who remained forever in awe of the powers of his friend – a concession perhaps to his own abiding admiration for the man he had trained under.
And the consulting detective – he named Sherlock Holmes.
In the days after A Study in Scarlet was published Arthur Conan Doyle rose from struggling eye doctor to the heights of popularity in first England, then Europe, and finally, the world.
Perhaps it was those pronounced powers of observation that first led Joseph Bell to see something in young Conan that no one else could. It’s certain that it took almost a decade for Conan to source a passion that was to propel him to first acclaim, then knighthood, and finally legend.
The impact of Sherlock Holmes would transcend literature – his legacy would lead to the birth of scientific investigation and forensic medicine – sparking advances in crime detection that continue to this day.
So whenever you see that shadowed profile of the man, the hat, and the omnipresent deerslayer hat – remember too, Dr. Joseph Bell – the teacher who reached across time and pulled Arthur Conan Doyle from a career that was destined to fail – to a passion that ultimately changed the world.
Three things dictate our career journey –
- The purpose that will be the fuel
- The direction that will be the guide
- And the practical tools that will ensure we make our way.
Far too many never find those simple keys – destined then for obscurity in their career.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle might never have found his Sherlock Holmes – had he not met Dr. Joseph Bell he surely wouldn’t have. But history will note that the failed doctor finally did find purpose in his life – and a direction that headed him far away from his practice of medicine.
It was, Holmes might say, “elementary.”