When we think of writers of the 19th century, one that stands out in our mind has to be the legendary Arthur Conan Doyle, author of Sherlock Homes.
Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle was born on the 22nd May 1859, in Edinburgh, Scotland. His parents were Charles Altamont Doyle and Mary Foley. Doyle more than likely got his talent for writing from his mother, for she was noted for her story telling.
Aged just nine, he was sent off to a Jesuit boarding school in England. Where he found he was good at cricket, and had a talent much like his mother as a; story teller.
In 1876, aged seventeen he graduated ready to face what the world would throw at him. His first task was to co-sign the papers, which would see his father committed to a lunatic asylum, for he was seriously demented.
Arthur was influenced by the family lodger at that time; Dr. Bryan Charles Weller. So Arthur Doyle followed in his footsteps, by training to become a doctor at Edinburgh University.
As a young medical student he met Robert Louis Stevenson, who was also studying at the university. One man who left a lasting impression upon him, was Dr. Joseph Bell one of his teachers. For he was a master of observation, logic, deduction and diagnosis, all the qualities found in a good writer, which would be used in the character of Sherlock Holmes.
Chambers Journal an Edinburgh based magazine, accepted his first short-story “The Mystery of Sasassa Valley.” His second attempt was “The American Tale” which was published in the London Society magazine. He soon learnt one could be paid for good fictional stories.
At the age of twenty, Doyle took a break from his studies and joined a whaling ship as ship’s surgeon, as it travelled to the Arctic Circle. The adventure of whaling and camaraderie on board fascinated the young medical student, for his soul had been awakened and parts are found within his chilling tale; “Captain of the Pole-Star.”
Doyle returned to his studies in the autumn of 1880, and a year later graduated with a “Bachelor of Medicine” and “Master of Surgery” degree. He drew a sketch of himself receiving his diploma, with a witty caption; “Licensed to Kill.”
His first job as a fully qualified doctor was as a Medical Officer onboard the Mayumba, working between England and Africa. He came to hate Africa compared with the love of the Arctic. He resigned his position when they returned home.
Upon arriving back in England, worked at a Plymouth doctor’s practice, which he described to, be rather dubious in its workings. It was not until forty years later, that the events of those times were published as part of “The Stark Munro Letters.”
With bankruptcy looming just around the corner, he took the brave decision to leave Plymouth and open his own practice in Portsmouth. The early years were hard, but by year three his hard work and dedication was showing a reasonable income, and in August 1885 he married Louisa Hawkins.
In March of 1886 he started writing the novel which was to catapult him to fame. Originally titled “A Tanged Skein” but by the time of its release had been given a new title “A Study in Scarlet” and so Sherlock Homes and Dr.Watson were to become household names.
His second novel “Micah Clark” was well received, but did not get the notable fame he had so wanted. His third novel “The Mystery of Cloomber” showed a different side to Doyle’s writing. For on one hand, he is capable of writing with pure logic and deduction, and on the other hand he enters the world of paranormal and spiritualism.
His life was to change in so many ways, when he met with Joseph Marshall Stoddart, publisher of Lippincott’s Monthly magazine in Philadelphia and Oscar Wilde at the Langham Hotel in London.
He received a commission to write a short novel for Lippincott’s magazine, which was published in 1890 in England and the United States simultaneously. “The Sign of Four” established Conan Doyle and his character Sherlock Homes as a serious fictional writer.
Doyle was restless for on one hand, he had achieved a profitable medical practice, and been accepted by his readers and the publishing fraternity as a serious writer. Life improved further when his daughter was born; Mary Conan Doyle.
He travelled to Vienna to specialise in Ophthalmology, but following a visit to Paris where he experienced language issues, returned home and opened a new practice in London’s Upper Wimpoole Street. It was to prove a disaster as not a single patient crossed the threshold.
His days of working as a doctor were slowly fading, giving way to the calling of an author, and in summer of 1891 he ceased being a doctor, to concentrate his time on writing.
Conan Doyle was represented by A.P.Watt and it was he who struck a deal with Strand Magazine to publish the Sherlock Holmes stories. Sidney Paget the illustrator created the image of Holmes, and was instrumental in making the author, the magazine and artist; world famous.
In 1892, his wife gave birth to their son; Kingsley Doyle.
Whilst in Switzerland, Doyle found the place where Sherlock Holmes and his arch enemy Professor Moriarty would plunge to their deaths; The Reichenbach Falls. The Final Problem was published in December 1893.
In the latter years of the 19th century his wife Louisa was diagnosed with Tuberculosis, with only months to live. He continued his writing and cared for her, determined to keep her alive into the new century.
Doyle declared to the public his interest in Spiritualism and the occult by joining the Society for Psychical Research. Then in September 1894, sailed to New York to give thirty lectures and arrived back in England by Christmas to see his new series “The Brigadier Gerard” stories published in the Strand Magazine. They were an instant success with the readers.
In the winter of 1896, travelled to Egypt hoping the warmer climate would assist his wife’s health. Whilst there he created the idea; “The Tragedy of the Korosko.”
Conan Doyle cared for his wife Louisa dearly, the mother of his two children and is said to have remained faithful whilst she lived. Yet he fell in love with Jean Leckie in March of 1897, when she was twenty-four. An intellectual woman, interested in sports and a mezzo-soprano singer with family ties to the legendary Scottish hero; Rob Roy.
It was about this time he wrote the play based on Sherlock Holmes, revised for the purpose by American actor, William Gillette, and the play became a success in America and England.
With the outbreak of the Boer War, Doyle volunteered for active service, but was turned down as a soldier but accepted as a doctor. In February 1900, Doyle was not fighting bullets, but typhoid.
On his return he entered the world of politics, running for a seat in Central Edinburgh, one which he lost. He did try again in 1906 London, and lost once again.
In August 1901 he released the first episode of his novel; “The Hound of the Baskervilles” in the Strand Magazine, which was to delight his fans and became a worldwide hit, as it still is to this day.
1902 was a great day for Arthur Conan Doyle, for he was knighted by King Edward VII for his services during the Boer War.
1903, the Strand magazine published, “The Return of Sherlock Holmes.”
On the 4th July 1906, his beloved wife Louisa and mother to his two children died in his arms. He slipped into a state of depression which continued for many months. A little over a year later on the 18th September 1907, Conan Doyle and Jean Leckie were married, and moved to Windlesham in East Sussex with his children
His literary works faded slightly as he shared his wife’s pursuits. Produced a few plays, “Brigadier Gerard, The Tragedy of the Korosko” and “The House of Temperley” none of which fared well.
His next play was more captivating, for it featured Sherlock Holmes. Original title was The “Stonor Case” and later named as “The Speckled Band” received rave reviews and was a success at the box office.
His son Denis Doyle (1909), Adrian Doyle (1910) and Jean Doyle (1912) were born to his wife Jean.
His new character Professor Challenger in “The Lost World” which involved a group stranded in South America whilst discovering prehistoric animal and plant life. It was extended and became a set of five novels, which was noted as one of his masterpieces.
“The Valley of Fear” a Sherlock Holmes novel, was serialised in 1914 in the Strand magazine. It was to disappoint some of its readers as Sherlock Holmes was not present much of the time.
In May of 1914 Sir Arthur and Lady Conan Doyle visited New York and Canada returning to England within the month, for Conan sensed war was coming, and wanted to be back on home soil. He was right and as World War One broke out he enlisted, but aged fifty-five he was turned down for active service. In the latter part of 1914, he released the novel “His Last Bow” a tale of intrigue where his famous character Sherlock Holmes steps in and infiltrates a German spy-ring and goes on to expose and destroy it.
In 1916, whilst writing “The British Campaign in France and Flanders” he was granted permission to view the battle fronts first-hand. The horrors he witnessed would live with him for the rest of his life; blood soaked remains of fallen soldiers, lay in their thousands upon the battle fields.
The savagery of war left its mark with Doyle:
On the 28th October 1918 his son Kingsley Doyle died from pneumonia during convalescence after being badly wounded during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. His brother Brigadier-General Innes Doyle died, from pneumonia in February in 1919.
Conan Doyle’s character of Sherlock Holmes, also carried through to Doyle himself. Maybe that is why he rose up in defence of Sir Roger Casement, accused of being a traitor. He proved without doubt a case of insanity which almost saved his life. However his case failed on discovery of homosexuality which was classed as a criminal offence at that time.
Doyle switched direction in his latter years, to that of Science Fiction and Spiritualism. As his involvement deepened in the occult, little fiction was written for he concentrated more on the subject of Spiritualism.
Then in 1926 released “The Land of Mist, The Disintegration Machine” and “When the World Screamed” a set of Professor Challenger mysteries
In 1928 he compiled twelve stories about Sherlock Holmes adventures which became known as “The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes.”
Autumn 1929 and Conan Doyle was diagnosed as suffering with Angina Pectoris. Then on a cold day in 1930, he rose from his bed at the family home; Windlesham Manor, Crowborough, East Sussex and was discovered in the garden clutching his heart and holding a single white snowdrop.
Arthur Conan Doyle died on Monday 7th July 1930 in the presence of his family, aged seventy-one. His final words aimed at his wife were: You are wonderful. He was buried on the 11th July 1930 in “Windlesham Rose Garden”
We have lived for many years, with Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories of the great detective SHERLOCK HOLMES, whether it be in book form or on television.
There have been many actors who have played the part of Sherlock Homes on television, so I have listed a few of my favourite actors:
Jeremy Brett Peter Cushing Jeremy Irons Basil Rathbone