The 160th anniversary of the birth of Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle
I HAVE had a life which, for variety and romance, could, I think, hardly be
exceeded. I have known what it was to be a poor man and I have known what it was
to be fairly affluent. I have sampled every kind of human experience. I have
known many of the most remarkable men of my time. I have had a long literary
career after a medical training which gave me the M.D. of Edinburgh. I have
tried my hand at very many sports, including boxing, cricket, billiards,
motoring, football, aeronautics and skiing, having been the first to introduce
the latter for long journeys into Switzerland. I have travelled as Doctor to a
whaler for seven months in the Arctic and afterwards in the West Coast of
Africa. I have seen something of three wars, the Soudanese, the South African
and the German. My life has been dotted with adventures of all kinds.
Arthur Conan Doyle
1859, Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle was born on May 22 in Edinburgh, Scotland to
Charles Altamont Doyle and Mary Doyle. The Doyles were a prosperous
Irish-Catholic family. Charles Altamont Doyle, Arthur’s father was a moderately
1868-1875, Conan Doyle lived and studied in Stonyhurst College, a Jesuit boarding
school in Lanarkshire, England
I passed on to Stonyhurst, that grand medieval dwelling-house which was left some
hundred and fifty years ago to the Jesuits, who brought over their whole
teaching staff from some college in Holland in order to carry it on as a public
school. The general curriculum, like the building, was medieval but sound. <…>
There were seven classes—elements, figures, rudiments, grammar, syntax,
poetry and rhetoric—and you were allotted a year for each, or seven in all.
It was the usual public school routine of Euclid, algebra and the classics,
taught in the usual way, which is calculated to leave a lasting abhorrence
of these subjects. To give boys a little slab of Virgil or Homer with no
general idea as to what it is all about or what the classical age was like,
is surely an absurd way of treating the subject. I am sure that an
intelligent boy could learn more by reading a good translation of Homer for
a week than by a year’s study of the original as it is usually carried out.
It was no worse at Stonyhurst than at any other school, and it can only be
excused on the plea that any exercise, however stupid in itself, forms a
sort of mental dumbbell by which one can improve one’s mind. It is, I think,
a thoroughly false theory. I can say with truth that my Latin and Greek,
which cost me so many weary hours, have been little use to me in life, and
that my mathematics have been no use at all. <…> The life was Spartan, and
yet we had all that was needed. Dry bread and hot well-watered milk was
our frugal breakfast. There was a «joint» and twice a week a pudding for
dinner. Then there was an odd snack called «bread and beer» in the
afternoon, a bit of dry bread and the most extraordinary drink, which
was brown but had no other characteristic of beer. Finally, there was
hot milk again, bread, butter, and often potatoes for supper. We were
all very healthy on this régime, with fish, on Fridays. «Memories and
1876 –1881, Conan Doyle attended the University of Edinburgh Medical School where
he met Dr. Joseph Bell, the person who inspired the character of Sherlock
A tall strongly-framed but half-formed young man, fairly entered upon my five
years’ course of medical study. It can be done with diligence in four years, but
there came, as I shall show, a glorious interruption which held me back for one
year. I entered as a student in October 1876, and I emerged as a Bachelor of
Medicine in August 1881. Between these two points lies one long weary grind at
botany, chemistry, anatomy, physiology, and a whole list of compulsory subjects,
many of which have a very indirect bearing upon the art of curing. «Memories and
In February 1880, Conan Doyle put aside his medical studies to go off to the
Arctic for six months on a whaling ship.
It was in the Hope, under the command of the well- known whaler, John Gray, that
I paid a seven months’ visit to the Arctic Seas in the year 1880. I went in the
capacity of surgeon, but as I was only twenty years of age when I started, and
as my knowledge of medicine was that of an average third year’s student, I have
often thought that it was as well that there was no very serious call upon my
services. «Memories and Adventures», 1924.
1882 Conan Doyle left for Southsea, Portsmouth, to establish his own medical
practice. Published in London Society, All the Year Round, Lancet, and the
British Journal of Photography. Wrote his first novel, The Narrative of John
Smith, which was later lost and published in 2011.
Month followed month and I picked up a patient here and a patient there until
the nucleus of a little practice had been formed. Sometimes it was an accident,
sometimes an emergency case, sometimes a newcomer to the town or one who had
quarrelled with his doctor. I mixed with people so far as I could, for I learned
that a brass plate alone will never attract, and people must see the human being
who lies in wait behind it. Medical life is full of dangers and pitfalls, and
luck must always play its part in a man’s career. I made £154 the first year,
and £250 the second, rising slowly to £800, which in eight years I never passed,
so far as the medical practice went. «Memories and Adventures», 1924.
1885, Conan Doyle marries Louise “Toulie” Hawkins. She gives him two children (Mary
Louise and Kingsley) and encourages him to persevere in literature.
We were married on August 6, 1885, and no man could have had a more gentle and amiable
life’s companion. Our union was marred by the sad ailment which came after a very few
years to cast its shadow over our lives, but it comforts me to think that during the
time when we were together there was no single occasion when our affection was disturbed
by any serious breach or division, the credit of which lies entirely with her own quiet
philosophy, which enabled her to bear with smiling patience not only her own sad
illness, which lasted so long, but all those other vicissitudes which life brings with
it. I rejoice to think that though she married a penniless doctor, she was spared long
enough to fully appreciate the pleasure and the material comforts which worldly success
was able to bring us. She had some small income of her own which enabled me to expand my
simple housekeeping in a way which gave her from the first the decencies, if not the
luxuries, of life. «Memories and Adventures», 1924.
1887, A Study in Scarlet, the first Sherlock Holmes story, was published in the Beeton’s
It was about a year after my marriage that I realized that I could go on doing short
stories for ever and never make headway.<…> I felt now that I was capable of something
fresher and crisper and more workmanlike. Gaboriau had rather attracted me by the
neat dovetailing of his plots, and Poe’s masterful detective, M. Dupin, had from
boyhood been one of my heroes. But could I bring an addition of my own? I thought of
my old teacher Joe Bell, of his eagle face, of his curious ways, of his eerie trick
of spotting details. If he were a detective he would surely reduce this fascinating
but unorganized business to something nearer to an exact science.
I would try if I
could get this effect. It was surely possible in real life, so why should I not make
it plausible in fiction? It is all very well to say that a man is clever, but the
reader wants to see examples of it—such examples as Bell gave us every day in the
wards. The idea amused me. What should I call the fellow? I still possess the leaf
of a notebook with various alternative names. One rebelled against the elementary
art which gives some inkling of character in the name, and creates Mr. Sharps or Mr.
Ferrets. First it was Sherringford Holmes; then it was Sherlock Holmes.
tell his own exploits, so he must have a commonplace comrade as a foil—an educated
man of action who could both join in the exploits and narrate them. A drab, quiet
name for this unostentatious man. Watson would do. And so I had my puppets and wrote
my «A Study in Scarlet.» «Memories and Adventures», 1924.
1889, “Micah Clarke”, was published. «It was the first solid corner-stone laid for some
sort of literary reputation» Conan Doyle wrote in his memories.
I now determined to test my powers to the full, and I chose a historical novel for this
end, because it seemed to me the one way of combining a certain amount of literary
dignity with those scenes of action and adventure which were natural to my young and
ardent mind. I had always felt great sympathy for the Puritans, who, after all, whatever
their little peculiarities, did represent political liberty and earnestness in religion.
<…> in «Micah Clarke”, where I fairly let myself go upon the broad highway of adventure.
I was well up in history, but I spent some months over details and then wrote the
book very rapidly. There are bits of it, the picture of the Puritan household, and
the sketch of Judge Jeffreys, which I have never bettered. When it was finished
early in 1888 my hopes ran high and out it went on its travels. «Memories and
1891, After several months of advanced ophthalmology study in Vienna and Paris, A. Conan
Doyle opened a new practice in London continuing to write all the while, in what he
called his all too abundant free time. That summer, the overnight success of his first
Sherlock Holmes short stories, in the new periodical The Strand Magazine, convinced him
to give up medicine for writing.
1894 –Conan Doyle accepted to go to the United States to give a series of lectures. He
was booked to give talks in more than thirty cities. The tour was a huge success.
In 1900, when the Second Boer War broke out, Conan Doyle returned to medicine to spend
six months in South Africa as a volunteer field army surgeon.
The Colonel, a grizzled soldier, sat behind a deal table in an orderly room and dealt
swiftly with the applicants. He had no idea who I was, but seeing a man of forty before
him he intimated that I surely did not intend to go into the ranks. I said that I was
prepared to take a commission. He asked if I could ride and shoot. I said that I could
do both in moderation. He asked if I had had military experience. I said that I had led
an adventurous life and seen a little of military operations in the Soudan<…> However
the Colonel would only put me on his waiting list, took my name, still without
recognizing me, and passed on to the next case. I departed somewhat crestfallen and
unsettled, not knowing whether I had heard the last of the matter or not. Almost
immediately afterwards, however, I received an offer which took me out in a capacity
which was less sporting but probably in my case and at my age a good deal more
useful. <…> This came from my friend John Langman <…>
already chosen his staff of surgeons but not his personnel. Archie Langman was to go
with the Hospital as general manager. Langman’s idea was that I should help him to
choose the personnel, that I should be a supplementary medico, and that I should
exercise a general supervision over the whole in an unofficial capacity. «Memories and
In 1902, Doyle received his knighthood from the British Crown for a pamphlet, The War in
South Africa: Its Causes and Conduct and for his service to the nation.
ONE of the most pleasing and complete episodes in my life was connected with the
pamphlet which I wrote upon the methods and objects of our soldiers in South Africa. It
was an attempt to stem the extraordinary outbreak of defamation which had broken out in
every country—or nearly every country, in Europe, and which had attained such a height
that it really seemed that on this absolutely fictitious basis might be built up a
powerful political combination which would involve us in a serious war. «Memories and
In September 1907, Conan Doyle married Jean Elizabeth Leckie with whom he had been in
love since 1897 but had always maintained a friendly relationship until the death of his
first wife. He moved to Crowborough in Sussex, where Jean gave him three children
(Denis, Adrian and Jean).
1911- Arthur Conan Doyle took part in the Prince Henry Tour.
One of my most remarkable pre-war experiences, which influenced my mind deeply, was my
participation in the amateur motor race called the Prince Henry Competition. It was
rather a reliability test than a race, for the car had to go some 150 miles a day on an
average at its own pace, but marks were taken off for all involuntary stoppages,
breakdowns, accidents, etc. Each owner had to drive his own car, and I had entered my
little 16 horse-power landaulette. There were about forty British cars and fifty German,
so that the procession was a very considerable one. Starting from Homburg, the
watering-place, our route ran through North Germany, then by steamer to Southampton, up
to Edinburgh and back to London by devious ways. «Memories and Adventures», 1924.
1914 -When World War I broke out, Conan Doyle at once wrote a national appeal, To Arms!,
and was brought onto His Majesty’s Government’s secret War Propaganda Board.
1924, Arthur Conan Doyle published his autobiography, Memories and Adventures.
1930 — Arthur Conan Doyle died of a heart attack at his home on Monday, July 7,
surrounded by his family.
1200 other works such as essays, pamphlets, articles, letters to the press,
poems, interviews, plays. His works cover such subjects as politics, history,
spiritualism, war, crime, etc.
written by Sir
Arthur Conan Doyle
Songs of Action (1898), Songs of the Road (1911), and The Guards Came Through
and Other Poems (1919).
The Sherlock Holmes stories
All monthly Strand Magazines with Sherlock Holmes stories
Sherlock Holmes first appeared in a short story, A Study in Scarlet (1887). In
spite of how original it was, Doyle had great difficulty in persuading
publishers to accept the story. In the end, he sold it to Beeton’s Christmas
Annual for twenty-five pounds. The story is narrated by Dr John Watson who
shares rooms with Holmes at 221B Baker Street. The two men were to become
inseparable companions and share over fifty adventures together. Holmes’s second
published case was The Sign of Four (1890). The editor of The Strand magazine
commissioned Conan Doyle to write 12 short stories using the Holmes and Watson
characters, publishing one a month from July 1891 to June 1892. By the end of
the first series Conan Doyle’s detective had become a national institution. The
magazine wanted more stories. But as the author didn’t want to be overly
associated with the now-famous detective, he demanded an outrageous sum of
money. Expecting to be relieved of the obligation to write more stories, Conan
Doyle asked for 50 pounds per story. He was stunned when the magazine accepted,
and he went on writing about Sherlock Holmes. While the public was crazy for
Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle devised a way to be finished with writing the
He killed off the character by having him, and his nemesis Professor Moriarity,
die while going over Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland. Conan Doyle’s own mother,
when told of the planned story, begged her son not to finish off Sherlock
Holmes. When the story in which Holmes died was published in December 1893, the
British reading public was outraged. Doyle received many abusive letters. “I’m
glad I’ve killed him”, he announced. However, the demand for Holmes stories was
so great that Conan Doyle essentially brought the great detective back to life
by explaining that no one had actually seen Holmes go over the falls. The
public, happy to have new tales, accepted the explanation.
that I had as it were, a new idea of the detective and one which it
interested me to work out. I thought of a hundred little dodges, as
you may say, a hundred little touches by which he could build up his
conclusions and then I began to write stories on those lines. At
first I think they attracted very little attention, but after a time
when I began the short adventures one after the other coming out
month after month in The Strand Magazine, people began to recognize
that it was different from the old detective, that there was
something there which was new, they began to buy the magazine and
uh, it uh prospered and so I may say did I, we both came along
together. And from that time Sherlock Holmes fairly took root. I’ve
written a good deal more about him than I ever intended to do but my
hand has been forced by kind friends who continually wanted to know
more, and so it is that this monstrous growth has come out of what
was really a comparatively small seed.
But the curious thing is how many people around the world are
perfectly convinced that he is a living human being. I get letters
addressed to him, I get letters asking for his autograph, I get
letters addressed to his rather stupid friend, Watson, I’ve even had
ladies writing to say that they’d be very glad to act as his
housekeeper. One of them when she’d heard that he’d turned to the
occupation of keeping bees wrote saying that she was an expert at
segregating the queen, whatever that may mean, and that she was
evidently predestined to be the housekeeper of Sherlock Holmes.
I don’t know that there’s anything more that I can say with
advantage, about him.
In March 1901 Conan Doyle was taking a golfing break with a friend at Cromer in Norfolk. One
the hotel, the two men fell to talking about ghosts and Fletcher Robinson told Conan Doyle
legend of a spectral hound that haunted the moors of Dartmoor. The author was taken with the
saw in this legend the basis for an exciting story. He began working out the plot and
to research some locations. He was driven around by an old coachman called Baskerville and
supposed that Conan Doyle decided to use this unusual name in the title of his story. “The
the Baskervilles” was serialized in the Strand magazine. It ran for nine issues from August
April 1902. Readers were agog with excitement.
(1889), which is set in the seventeenth century during the Monmouth Rebellion. The White
(1891) recounts the history of a company of medieval English archers during the Hundred
Years’ War, in
the years 1366 and 1367. In 1906, Doyle published its prequel, Sir Nigel, which is set
phase of the Hundred Years’ War. Doyle also wrote a series of short stories about a
named Etienne Gerard, which was first published in magazines and eventually in book
of Brigadier Gerard (1896) and Adventures of Gerard (1903). Earlier in 1892, he
Shadow and Other Napoleonic Tales. It should be noted that Conan Doyle was often
disappointed at being
famous chiefly for the creation of the Sherlock Holmes character. He had much higher
historical novels than the Sherlock Holmes stories.
The Professor Challenger stories
novels and two short stories: The Lost World (1912), The Poison Belt (1913), The Land of
Mist (1926), “The Disintegration Machine” (1928), and “When the World Screamed” (1929).
Lost World introduced his second most famous character, Professor George Edward
who guides an expedition deep into an isolated plateau in the South American jungle
some prehistoric animals (dinosaurs) and indigenous race of ape-like people still live.
Challenger, a scientist of enormous intellect and adventurer, was designed to be a
to rival Holmes. The Poison Belt is an apocalyptic novel that features the same
who appear in The Lost World. Astronomers discover that the Earth is about to be
a belt of poisonous gas “ether” from outer space. Prior to (apparently) extinguishing
life on the planet, the belt causes a mysterious outbreak of illness whose symptoms are
irritability, loss of inhibition, coma, and (pseudo) death. The Land of Mist (1926)
Professor Challenger is converted to Spiritualism.