I went to see Sherlock Holmes and it dawned on me just how popular that guy is. Movies. Plays. Netflix...it never ends. But what do you know about the author of the original books, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? I bet, like me, you don’t know too much about the guy. It turns out that he was pretty interesting.
Doyle was a doctor. (big surprise to me!) He went to medical school and later studied ophthalmology. It is said that one of his teachers, Dr Joseph Bell, inspired his Sherlock Holmes character and it was during medical school that Arthur Conan Doyle started writing short stories and introduced Holmes as a detective. His dual careers continued--one career flourished and he became world famous as an author. And the other career? Doyle decided to stop practicing medicine after a serious bout of influenza helped him clarify his future path. But--if I was a psychoanalyst…I would say that he put his medicine career on the back burner when Sherlock came into existence. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the good Doctor Watson was the side-kick and not the primary investigator.
Despite how successful the Sherlock Holmes series was, Doyle grew tired of the detective. He wanted to write more important, impressive work but his fans (and his own mother) did not agree with his decision. Shortly after killing the famous detective at Reichenbach Falls, readers of his works starting wearing black bands on their sleeves in mourning for the imaginary character. A distressed fan attacked Doyle with her purse. On the whole, it was an unpopular decision which he remedied by producing a new series, also staring Holmes, that was supposed to have occurred earlier in the detective’s career.
Did you know that Doyle used his detective skills to help solve real mysteries? His investigation led to the release to two men who were accused of different crimes. You can google: George Edalji for an interesting story of one of his cases.
Lastly, the part for which he’s become my personal hero.
He was vocal against the anti-vaxxers, who he called anti-vaccinationists. I thought that the opposition to vaccines was a new problem, but that is clearly not the case. Harriet Hall MD, in her blog, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on Vaccination, came across letters that Doyle wrote for a newspaper in 1887. At that time the only vaccine available was for small pox—for which the risk of death from infection was 30%! Multitudes of survivors were left permanently scarred or blinded. Thank God that's gone!
Here are my favorite sections of her blog:
In the letters, he is responding to a Colonel Wintle, who objects to vaccination “upon two points: its immorality and its inefficiency or positive harmfulness.” Conan Doyle says “an enormous responsibility rests with the men whose notion of progress is to revert to the condition of things which existed in the dark ages before the dawn of medical science.”
If you practice medicine, maybe you’ve seen this too:
He says, “As to the serious effects of vaccination which Colonel Wintle describes as indescribable, they are to a very large extent imaginary … Some parents have an amusing habit of ascribing anything which happens to their children, from the whooping-cough to a broken leg, to the effects of their vaccination.”
I almost forgot to tell you about Holmes and Watson. It was great! Fabulous acting, lots of melodrama, several surprises at the end! It’s playing at the Stage West theater in Ft Worth. You should see it!
Here’s the link.