Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Pt. II Sherlock Holmes & the Real World

Read Part I of this entry first here.

Detective Caminada encountered Elizabeth Burch, a middle-aged dressmaker. She'd supposedly inherited £150,000 after helping a rich, old gentleman who’d collapsed in the street. She wrote extremely emotional letters on behalf of needy charities. The truth was there was no inheritance and she kept the donations. When she moved to Manchester she began calling herself Lady Russell and tried the same scams. Caminada caught on at once and soon found tons of documents in her home showing her scams. She ending up spending six months in prison after her arrest and conviction. 

In 1889 a young man took a ride in a Manchester cab with an older fellow. When the cabbie stopped to let them out, the younger man was gone and the older one, John Fletcher, was dead. Fletcher was known to be a drinker. That day he had been imbibing. It looked as if he’d died of natural causes but Caminada was suspicious. He had the man autopsied and chloral hydrate was found in his stomach. His killer could have put chloral hydrate into one of his many drinks and poisoned him. Caminada had an encyclopedic knowledge of poisons and chemicals and he knew of the locals who used such chemicals. One such fellow had a son who matched the younger man’s description, Charles Parton. Caminada tracked him down and built a murder case against him. Parton had poisoned Fletcher for his money. Parton had also foolishly been spending Fletcher’s money everywhere. after the murder. Caminada eventually found a witness who described how he’d seen Parton pouring a strange liquid into the businessman’s beer. Parton went to prison for life.
The Rev. E.J. Silverton, working out of Nottingham, claimed he could cure all diseases, even deafness. He made his own medicine. He had pamphlets and slick ads to sell his potion. He ran into Caminada in 1884 at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall where Silverton was huckstering. Caminada later limped into his office for medical help. His foot was ignored as he was diagnosed with rheumatism and charged 35 shillings for a bottle of medicine. He analyzed the “medicines” and found them to be common household foodstuffs like lentils, bran, and flour. He got Silverton to leave Manchester but periodically pursued him elsewhere to get him to stop bilking the ill. Caminada also sent other police in disguise after him. Soon Silverton tried to “practice” well away from Caminada.
There is a fourth influence and that is the author himself. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a British writer and physician, most noted for his fictional stories about the detective Sherlock Holmes. From 1876 to 1881 he studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh Medical School and became a doctor. He admitted Holmes was partially modeled on his former medical school teacher Joseph Bell. Doyle wrote to him, "It is most certainly to you that I owe Sherlock Holmes ... round the centre of deduction and inference and observation which I have heard you inculcate I have tried to build up a man." Doyle was at the leading edge university for medicine and for criminology in the world so was ideally situated for absorbing all he the knowledge he would need for his state of the art detective.

Robert Louis Stevenson is pictured left during his time at university with Doyle. He became as famous an author as Doyle with his "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" and "Treasure Island." He was able, even while in faraway Samoa, to recognize the strong similarity between Joseph Bell and Sherlock Holmes. He wrote to Doyle, "My compliments on your very ingenious and very interesting adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Can this be my old friend Joe Bell?” Stevenson and Doyle were students and friends at Edinburgh together. Stevenson's wealthy father had forced Stevenson to study law there and become a lawyer, although he never practiced. He was a writer from the time he was a child.

The University of Edinburgh, above, is ranked 17th in the world by the 2013–14 and 2014–15 QS rankings. It was founded in 1583 and is the sixth-oldest university in the English-speaking world. The university led Edinburgh to its reputation as an intellectual centre during the Age of Enlightenment. It gave the city the nickname of the "Athens of the North". Charles Darwin and a huge roster of other notables in the arts and sciences also were educated at this top tier university in Scotland. Its medical school has always been at the forefront of medical education in the world. This was the perfect place for the birth of Sherlock Holmes.

However, Doyle was not happy about his greatest creation. In November 1891 he wrote to his mother: "I think of slaying Holmes ... and winding him up for good and all. He takes my mind from better things." His mother dissuaded him. In December 1893, to dedicate more of his time to his historical novels, Doyle had Holmes and Professor Moriarty plunge to their deaths. Public outcry, however, led him to pick up Holmes in subsequent years. Doyle was also a fervent advocate of justice and personally investigated two closed cases, which led to two men being exonerated of the crimes of which they were accused. This shows Bell was correct in stating that Holmes had a good deal of Doyle in him. One of these cold cases was a murder. These took place in 1906 and 1907, right as Doyle was about to embrace the spiritualist movement. Spiritualism was a belief and religious practice based on supposed communication with the spirits of the dead, especially through mediums. It reached its highest level of popularity in England and the US from the late 1800s until about 1920. It is not popular in either country today but there are still some people in the movement.

Doyle in the early twentieth century was surrounded by familial death. He lost his wife, his son Kingsley, his brother and four other family members. Doyle sank into a deep depression. He found solace supporting spiritualism and its attempts to find proof of existence beyond the grave. Here is where he parted company with the teachings and beliefs of all of the people who had inspired Holmes. One cannot picture Bell, Littlejohn or Caminada having anything to do with spiritualism. They would have taken the practices apart with their abilities. The only thing they would have liked about spiritualism would have been in exposing it as a fraud. Bell died in 1911; Littlejohn in 1914; Caminada in 1914. They had all lived to be old men. Doyle was the youngest of them so his spiritualist belief continued until his death in 1930 at age 71. He had fallings out with numerous people over these beliefs. Harry Houdini was his close friend until he exposed one spiritualist after another. Houdini did this until his own death. Houdini had wanted spiritualism to be true so as to contact his own late mother but he could always find the trick. He told the spiritualists that he would come back when he died, if it were really possible to do so. But to their disappointment, Houdini never appeared before them and he died first. Houdini is shown to the left and Conan Doyle is to the right, with one of his alleged spirit manifestations. 
Doyle never budged on his belief in spiritualism. He believed Houdini had supernatural powers even though Houdini himself said all he did was tricks and illusions. Doyle was also into fairies when the photographs of fairies appeared in England. They were later proved to be bogus but this had no effect upon him. He is pictured below with one of their supposed appearances. Doyle also participated in seances and wrote books about the spiritualist movement. It is no wonder he wanted to get rid of Holmes as Holmes would have been his biggest critic, right after Bell, Littlejohn and Caminada. Although he had been a man of science, his grief and depression needed a spiritual outlet instead of science, deduction and logic.

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