Although Charles Doyle worked primarily as a civil servant throughout his life, he was also an artist who took positions illustrating high-profile criminal trials and news articles (Booth 2000). His younger son, bitterly disappointed by the alcoholic wreck of a man his father had become might have looked upon this aspect of his father’s past as an example of what might have been, using this as a stepping stone into his own future. However, a great deal of his thought and upbringing can be attributed to his mother and the boarding schools she sent him to as a means of separating him from the negative influences of a father lost to alcoholism and a home life limited by poverty (Booth 2000).
By 1876, he was studying medicine and became a student of Dr. Joseph Bell, a surgeon and forensic expert. “Doyle studied his mentor intently, noting Bell’s outstanding ability to deduce large amounts of information simply from looking at a patient. Bell told his pupils: ‘The student must be taught to observe … he can discover in ordinary matter information such as the previous history, nationality and occupation’” (Cooper 2002).
This became the model upon which Sherlock Holmes was built. However, before elements of forensic method can be traced within the stories featuring this legendary and influential fictional character, some basic concepts must first be made clear. The first is in recognizing the basic elements of the scientific method as it is discussed here and introduced by Doyle within his fiction. This is, roughly speaking, an empirical method employing analysis, comparison and evaluation (Nickell & Fischer 1998).
This implies that the method is based upon knowledge gained through direct observation rather than ‘feelings’, ‘intuitions’ or simple suspicion. “It [the knowledge] is amenable to being amplified or to having its errors corrected in the light of new evidence” (Nickell & Fischer 1998, 1). Analysis involves careful scrutiny of the unknown issue as a means of understanding its essential characteristics. This stage is followed by comparison, which helps reveal similarities and anomalies between the issue and other known items.
Finally, evaluation assesses the significance of these similarities and differences for a conclusion. In making this a ‘forensic’ science, one is practicing science that can be used in a court of law. With these conceptions in mind, it is possible to begin tracing these elements as well as the more specific methods of observation and investigation that were so influential upon forensic science practice through stories such as “A Scandal in Bohemia” and “The Five Orange Pips. ” The first of these stories was written in 1851 and was the first of Doyle’s short stories to appear in the Strand magazine (Redmond 2007).
“Baker Street Reflections.” Justice of the Peach and Local Government Review. (September 1, 1951). Reprinted in Sherlock Holmes Scrapbook. Peter Haining (ed.). New York: Crescent Books, 1986.
Booth, Martin. The Doctor and the Detective: A Biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. New York: St. Martins Minotaur, 2000.
Cooper, Nigel. “Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Legendary Crime Writer.” Life Stories. (December 2002). July 22, 2008 <http://www.channel4.com/science/microsites/S/science/life/biog_doyle.html>
Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan. “A Scandal in Bohemia.” Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories. Vol. 1. New York: Bantam Dell, 1986: 239-262.
Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan. “The Five Orange Pips.” Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories. Vol. 2. New York: Bantam Dell, 1986: 331-350.
Doyle, Lady Conan. “Conan Doyle was Sherlock Holmes.” Pearsons Magazine. (December, 1934). Reprinted in Sherlock Holmes Scrapbook. Peter Haining (ed.). New York: Crescent Books, 1986.
Nickell, Joe & John F. Fischer. Crime Scene: Methods of Forensic Detection. Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 1998.
Redmond, Chris. “The Original Sherlock Holmes Stories.” Sherlockian. (2007). July 22, 2008 <http://www.sherlockian.net/canon/index.html>