22 May 1859 – 7 July 1930 was a Scottish writer best known for his detective fiction featuring the character Sherlock Holmes. Originally a physician, in 1887 he published A Study in Scarlet, the first of four novels and more than fifty short stories about Holmes and Dr. Watson. The Sherlock Holmes stories are generally considered milestones in the field of crime fiction. His non-Sherlock works include fantasy and science fiction stories about Professor Challenger and humorous stories about the Napoleonic soldier Brigadier Gerard, as well as plays, romances, poetry, non-fiction and historical novels. Doyle was born at 11 Picardy Place, Edinburgh, Scotland. His father, Charles Altamont Doyle, was of Irish Catholic descent, and his mother, Mary (née Foley), was Irish Catholic. From 1875 to 1876, he was educated at the Jesuit school Stella Matutina in Feldkirch, Austria. His family decided that he would spend a year there with the objective of perfecting his German and broadening his academic horizons. He later rejected the Catholic faith and became an agnostic. He also later became a spiritualist mystic.
Believe it or no, Doyle struggled to find a publisher for his work. His first work featuring Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, A Study in Scarlet, was written in 3 weeks when he was 27 was taken by Ward Lock & Co in 1886, giving Doyle £25 (£2700 today) for all rights to the story. Holmes was modelled on his university teacher Joseph Bell. In 1892, in a letter to Bell, Doyle wrote, “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”. Another Scot, Robert Louis Stevenson was able to recognise the strong similarity between Joseph Bell and Sherlock Holmes: “My compliments on your very ingenious and very interesting adventures of Sherlock Holmes. … can this be my old friend Joe Bell?” Doyle’s attitude towards his most famous creation was ambivalent. 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 responded, “You won’t! You can’t! You mustn’t!” In an attempt to deflect publishers’ demands for more Holmes stories, he raised his price to a level intended to discourage them, but found they were willing to pay even the large sums he asked. As a result, he became one of the best-paid authors of his time. In December 1893, to dedicate more of his time to his historical novels, Doyle had Holmes and Professor Moriarty plunge to their deaths together down the Reichenbach Falls in the story “The Final Problem”. Public outcry, however, led him to feature Holmes in 1901 in the novel The Hound of the Baskervilles. In 1903, Doyle published his first Holmes short story in ten years, “The Adventure of the Empty House”, in which it was explained that only Moriarty had fallen, but since Holmes had other dangerous enemies—especially Colonel Sebastian Moran—he had arranged to also be perceived as dead. Holmes was ultimately featured in a total of 56 short stories—the last published in 1927—and four novels by Doyle.
Doyle’s first novels were The Mystery of Cloomber, not published until 1888, and the unfinished Narrative of John Smith, published only in 2011. He massed a portfolio of short stories including “The Captain of the Pole-Star” and “J. Habakuk Jephson’s Statement”, both inspired by Doyle’s time at sea. The latter popularised the mystery of the Mary Celeste and added fictional details such as the perfect condition of the ship (which had actually taken on water by the time it was discovered) and its’boats remaining on board (the one boat was in fact missing) that have come to dominate popular accounts of the incident. Doyle’s spelling of the ship’s name as Marie Celeste has become more common in everyday use than the original form. From 1888 to 1906, Doyle wrote seven historical novels, which he and many critics regarded as his best work. He also authored nine other novels, and later in his career (1912–29) five narratives, two of novel length, featuring the irascible scientist Professor Challenger. The Challenger stories include what is probably his best-known work, The Lost World. His historical novels include Sir Nigel and its follow-up The White Company, set in the Middle Ages. He was a prolific author of short stories, including two collections set in Napoleonic times featuring the French character Brigadier Gerard. Doyle’s stage works include Waterloo, the reminiscences of an English veteran of the Napoleonic Wars, the character of Gregory Brewster being written for Henry Irving; The House of Temperley, the plot of which reflects his abiding interest in boxing; The Speckled Band, after the short story “The Adventure of the Speckled Band”; and the 1893 collaboration with J.M. Barrie on the libretto of Jane Annie. He died of a heart attack at the age of 71.
Some wee ditties you may not know … The Conan Doyle pub in Edinburgh a short stroll off Picardy Place, Cathedral Lane and Queens Street, a traditional pub of unique character, revered for its’ range of real ales and quality pub food. Grand place this, when in Auld Reekie give it a go. Doyle was a goalkeeper: Under the pseudonym AC Smith, the writer played as a goalie for amateur side Portsmouth Association Football Club. He ran for parliament, twice: representing the Unionist Party once in Edinburgh (1900) and once in the Border Burghs (1906). Although he received a respectable vote both the times, he was not elected. He coined the phrase ‘Licensed to Kill’: When Arthur Conan Doyle obtained his Bachelor of Medicine and Master of Surgery degree, he drew a funny sketch of himself receiving his diploma, with the caption ‘Licensed to Kill’. It became the tagline for another sleuth, James Bond. Doyle also played cricket: He was on the same cricket team as Peter Pan writer JM Barrie. He believed in fairies: When a photograph surfaced purportedly showing a young girl surrounded by fairies, Doyle enthusiastically hailed its’ authenticity and believed it was clear evidence of psychic phenomena. He even wrote a book called The Coming of the Fairies. He was friends with famous Harry Houdini. In 1902, King Edward VII Knighted Doyle, not for his famous fiction stories on Sherlock Holmes, but for his book that justified Britain’s involvement in the Boer War.
A man of many talents, great stories and much more but did he play the violin like Homes? Paul McLean, Perth 2019