Pinch me.

“In teaching the treatment of disease and accident, all careful teachers have first to show the student how to recognize accurately the case.  The recognition depends in great measure on the accurate and rapid appreciation of small points in which the diseased differs from the healthy state.  In fact, the student must be taught to observe.  To interest him in this kind of work we teachers find it useful to show the student how much a trained use of the observation can discover in ordinary matters such as the previous history, nationality and occupation of a patient.”

— Joseph Bell, M.D.
Dr. Bell (2 December 1837-4 October 1911) was, as his student Arthur Conan Doyle later described him, a “thin wiry, dark” man, “with a high-nosed acute face, penetrating gray eyes, angular shoulders.” Dr. Bell, who was thirty-nine when the seventeen-year-old Conan Doyle first met him, “would sit in his receiving room with a face like a Red Indian, and diagnose the people as they came in, before they even opened their mouths. He would tell them details of their past life; and hardly would he ever make a mistake.”

There’s no ambiguity.  This is not one of those fanciful stretches of fangirl lit crit.  Dr. Bell consulted with the newly-formed Scotland Yard on a number of cases, notably that of Jack the Ripper; his report on that case unfortunately has been lost.  Seven days after Dr. Bell submitted his report, however, the killings stopped.

About the only parallels that don’t exist are these: first, Dr. Bell was Queen Victoria’s personal physician when she was in Scotland.  Second, he was happily married and to all accounts a much less prickly and manic-depressive sort than his fictional counterpart.  And last, Dr. Bell spoke with a Scottish accent, an Edinburgh accent, rather than the plummy Oxbridge one would expect.


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