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Doyle was born in Edinburgh in 1859, one of nine children of an alcoholic Irish artist who was consigned, in later life, to a lunatic asylum. Young Arthur Doyle was educated at the fee-paying Jesuit college, Stonyhurst. At 16 he spent a year in Austria before enrolling at Edinburgh University’s medical school. In 1880 he spent seven months in the Arctic as ship’s doctor on a whaler. The following year he graduated with a respectable degree, and made another trip to Africa before setting up, less adventurously, in medical practice near Portsmouth, in July 1882. His income had reached £300 a year by 1885, enabling him to marry the sister of one of his patients. Doyle had long written on the side and in 1886 he played around with stories centred on an ‘amateur private detec-tive’, called ‘J. Sherrinford Holmes’. The outcome was the Sherlock Holmes novella, A Study in Scarlet (1887). No top-drawer publisher would take it and it was eventually serialized as a Christmas giveaway in a magazine and then as what was called a ‘shilling shocker’ - pulp fiction for the masses:
Much as he came to hate him, Holmes made Doyle rich, and by the end of the century he was one of the wealthiest of British men of letters.
Doyle introduced a number of brilliant innovations into the genre. Taken as a whole, the novels celebrate (like the cricket Doyle loved) the British cult of ‘amateurism’. Holmes is brilliant, but he has no profession and - although cleverer, we are informed, than his professors - never troubled to finish his medical degree.
He is, as is proclaimed in A Study in Scarlet (Ch. 1), an ‘unofficial private detective’. This places him in a different category from the Scotland Yard detective, first introduced by Dickens’s Inspector Bucket, in Bleak House (1852). Private detectives were enlarged massively, as a profession, by the 1857 divorce (‘Matrimonial Causes’) Act. But Holmes is a ‘gentlemanly’ sleuth. Not for him any key-hole peeping on adulterous delinquency (then, as now, key evidence in divorce cases). ‘Not cricket’. His upper class chivalry and ‘English’ decency are hallmarks. In the one love affair we know Holmes to have had, that with (criminal) Irene Adler, in ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’ (1891), he behaves with impeccable, truly English, gallantry.
Another of Doyle’s innovations was the arch criminal, or ‘Napoleon of Crime’, who is far too clever for the clod-hopping, uniformed, agents of law and order (‘flatfoots’), such as Inspector Lestrade. In the Holmes stories the arch-criminal is ‘Professor’ Moriarty.
He is a man of good birth and excellent education, endowed by nature with a phenomenal mathematical faculty. At the age of twenty-one he wrote a treatise upon the binomial theorem which has had a European vogue. On the strength of it, he won the mathematical chair at one of our smaller universities, and had, to all appearances, a most brilliant career before him. But the man had hereditary tendencies of the most diabolical kind. A criminal strain ran in his blood…. He is the Napoleon of crime, Watson. He is the organiser of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected in this great city... (‘The Final Problem’ (1893)).
‘It is the most practical medico-legal discovery for years. Don’t you see that it gives us an infallible test for blood stains?’
In his second Holmes work, The Sign of Four, finger-prints are similarly introduced, as essentials in the detective’s tool-kit.
In one of the most loved, and filmed, of the adventures, The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902), for example, an aristocrat is frightened to death by a ‘demon dog’ which turns out to be a mongrel bought from a dealer in the Fulham Road. The luckless beast’s eyes are daubed, to create the necessary blood-chilling luminosity, with phosphorescent paint (not, any dog lover will testify, an easy operation). And what criminal, with the quicksands of Grimpen Mire handy, would bother with such an unnecessarily elaborate modus operandi?
Doyle’s personal favourite among his Holmes stories was ‘The Speckled Band’. A locked room mystery, its plot revolves around a trained snake (an Indian swamp adder - no such species exists) which can, on order by a whistle, descend and ascend a servant bell rope in the room (a physiological impossibility for snakes who rarely take orders). Error hunters have an easy time with the Holmes stories.
They do not, time and popularity have proved, matter. Most readers, still millions strong, have no difficulty at all in swallowing the flaws in probability, chronology, and detail in the 56 Holmes stories. They are so much fun.
It is significant that Holmes was a medical student and Doyle, himself, a trained, and practicing, physician from the leading medical school in Europe. At Edinburgh Doyle was deeply impressed by the ‘deductive’ method of his tutor, Professor Joseph Bell. He gave a vivid example of it, in later life.
In one of his best cases [Joseph Bell] said to a civilian patient: 'Well, my man, you've served in the army.'
'Not long discharged?'
'A Highland regiment?'
'A non-com officer?'
'Stationed at Barbados?'
'You see, gentlemen,' [Bell] would explain, 'the man was a respectful man but did not remove his hat. They do not in the army, but he would have learned civilian ways had he been long discharged. He has an air of authority and he is obviously Scottish. As to Barbados, his complaint is Elephantiasis, which is West Indian, and not British.' 
Compare the first encounter of Holmes and Watson, in A Study in Scarlet (Ch.1).:
‘How are you?’ he said cordially, gripping my hand with a strength for which I should hardly have given him credit. ‘You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive’
‘How on earth did you know that?’ I asked in astonishment.
‘Which is it to-day,’ I asked, ‘morphine or cocaine? He raised his eyes languidly from the old black-letter volume which he had opened.’ It is cocaine,’ he said, ‘a seven-per-cent solution. Would you care to try it?’
Dr Watson - the most undecadent of idiot friends - declines. And, for those readers and critics who have dared to see anything sexual in the relationship of the two men, in their digs, only one response is possible: ‘when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth’. Or, perhaps, not.
 The term ‘Napoleon of Crime’ was first applied to Count Fosco(a brilliant scientist), by Wilkie Collins, in The Woman in White (1860). It is a rich line of characterization culminating in Hannibal Lector.
 Hodgson, op cit, 4—5.
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